Techno-Industrial Diagonal (#2)


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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


Techno-Industrial Diagonal

Vorticism 1

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’.

John Francis Bray

Lionel Walden Tutt'Art@ (44)

Back in early part of the summer I finally got around to looking into one of the so-called Ricardian socialists whom I was unfamiliar with – John Francis Bray. As it turns out, Bray’s status as a Ricardian socialist is disputed: unlike Thomas Hodgskin, John Gray, and others who suggested that a socialist society would naturally result from the proper application of laissez-faire principles (the sort of argument you later find in the writings of Benjamin Tucker and Kevin Carson, or at least in his early phase), Bray seemed less interested in the cultivation of the free market as the cure to society’s ails, and more so in a very idiosyncratic solution that drew from, but broke with, the organizing principles of early capitalism. Bray’s socialism was a kind of joint-stock socialism, something I find deeply humorous (and intriguing!) given the high premium placed upon this kind of corporate form in the writings of Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land.

Bray’s ideas were incubated during his time associated with Chartism, a working class reformist movement that emerged in Great Britain during the 1830s. He had been connected with the Chartist faction in Leeds that was centered around Feargus O’Connor and his newspaper, The Northern Star, which essentially served as the organ for O’Connor’s “Land Plan”. The Chartist movement had initially been catalyzed by the Reform Act of 1832 and the subsequent Poor Laws of 1834; the latter legislation had intended to eliminate various relief programs for the impoverished, while the former reinforced the requirement of land ownership for voting rights. O’Connor’s Land Plan aimed to remedy this state of affairs through peasant land ownership: 4 acres of land to working people and to the unemployed. The effect, O’Connor reasoned, would be three-fold: 1) it would bring those who had been barred from voting into the legislative mix, 2) it would lessen the dependency of the worker on the capitalist, and 3) it would shrink the numbers of what Marx would later describe as the ‘industrial reserve army of the unemployed’, which would in turn increase the bargaining power of those employed.

In order to finance and organize the venture, the National Land Company was established. Initially proposed as a “friendly society” – an economically-oriented mutual aid association – the company was formally launched as a joint stock corporation. Unsurprisingly, O’Connor’s plan was to ultimately be, for quite a few reasons, a dismal failure (check out this wikipedia list of flaws in the scheme for a good overview).

It’s hard to determine if the National Land Company and its joint-stock organization was indebted in any way to Bray. He had developed his ideas in essays in the Northern Star and in speeches given to Leeds’ Chartists – but the actual content of his vision was sweeping and comprehensive, in contrast to O’Connor’s piecemeal reformism. As the quote in the tweet above shows, Bray anticipated that the joint-stock model would operate beyond the division of the political and economic, with all production coming together through the joint-stock corporations and series of “alliances” between them that would be managed by trade boards. This transformation would be vast, as he described in his book Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedies:

Without, for the present, entering into a consideration of the possibility of effecting this change, let it for a moment be supposed that the whole five millions of the adult producers in the United Kingdom are formed into a number of joint-stock companies, containing from 100 to 1000 men each, according to locality and circumstance – that each of these companies is comprised of men of one trade, or confines its particular attention to the production or distribution of particular commodities – that these companies have in use, by hire and purchase, the land and fixed capital of the country – that they are set in motion and kept in motion by a circulating bank-note capital equivalent to £100 for each associated member of the community, which, taking into account the women and children connected together with the five million of producers, will comprise altogether, about twenty millions of individuals, and a capital of thousands pounds sterling. Supposing the productive classes of the United Kingdom to be thus associated together, for the production and distribution of wealth – that they trade together with a floating capital of £2,000,000,000 – that all their affairs are conducted through the instrumentality of general and local boards of trade, comprised of the most able and business-like men that can be found – that the members of the companies, after the manner of the present system, are paid weekly wages for their labour – what there is now accomplished in respect to production and distribution, either by joint-stock companies or individual capitalists, which could not likewise be accomplished by the productive classes thus associated?

These ideas were also partially influenced by the theories of the British Ricardian socialist John Gray, who was both an associate of the Chartist movement and of the various co-operative movements inspired by the efforts of Robert Owen. The circuit of influence here is important, because it is in this relationship that Marx glimpsed what he perceived to be the infrastructure of Proudhon’s thought, which he subjected to critique in The Poverty of Philosophy. “How deeply this utopia”, wrote Engels in his preface to the German edition of the work, “has struck roots in the way of thinking of the modern petty bourgeois – real or ideal – is proved by the fact that it was systematically developed by John Gray back in 1831”. Marx, meanwhile, declared in the second chapter of the critique to “have discovered in him [Bray] the key to the past, present and future works of M. Proudhon”.

Indeed, it’s easy to see in the efforts of people like Bray and Gray both the kind of crank reformism criticized by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, and – particularly in Bray’s joint-stock socialist model – something close to Proudhon’s ‘agro-industrial federation’ that, for him, would constitute the proper organization of industry after it had been transferred out of the hands of propertied and moneyed classes and into those of freely associating workers. Yet despite this, Bray’s influence appears to have lingered, not only within the American labor movement with which he later became actively involved in after immigrating to the continent, but with certain Marxists as well. Case in point was Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue, who had the following to say in a 1897 essay titled “Socialism in France from 1876 to 1896”:

…they [bourgeois reformers during the Congress of 1876] proposed to avoid the rocks of socialism by advocating such methods of ameliorating the lot of the workers as co-operative production, mutual credit, and people’s banks. They trotted out again all those small shopkeeper’s utopias which Proudhon advocated before 1848. The institutions that the Congress of 1876 wished to establish were the equitable labor exchanges, which had started at Bray’s instigation in the year 1840, in London, Sheffield, Leeds, and other towns, and which, after absorbing vast capital, had gone bankrupt under scandalous circumstance. But Bray, in his remarkable work, “Labor’s Wrongs and Labor’s Remedy” (Leeds, 1839), had at least refrained from calling these exchanges a solution to the social problem. They might be that to Proudhon; to Bray they were only a means of smoothing over the transition from the capitalist to the communist regime.

The ‘equitable labor exchanges’ alluded to here were, as Rosa Luxemburg summed up succinctly, “so-called ‘bazaars’… [where] goods were bought and sold to be exchanged without the intervention of money, strictly in accordance with the labor-time they contained” (and thus were akin to Josiah Warren’s Cincinnati, Ohio-based “Time Store”, which ran successfully between 1827 and 1830). One might wonder, too, whether or not the joint-stock concept falls under this criteria as well – as mentioned above, it receives its full elucidation in “Labor’s Worings and Labor’s Remedy”, right alongside the debuting of the equitable labor exchange system. LaFargue is silent on the question, but something of an answer might very well be found in Marx’s own comments, found in the Critique of the Gotha Program, on proletarian self-activity and the transition to communism might look like. Three key points:

1. The ability of the proletariat to develop co-operative societies:

That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not proteges either of the governments or of the bourgeois.

2. The persistence of the bourgeois system of rights:

…equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case. In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

3. The persistence of key elements of the capitalist mode of production that will regulate labor-time and the activities carried out in that time:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor.

Post-Autonomist Questions


Whilst thumbing through Hardt and Negri’s tome Empire this morning, I came across this interesting footnote (#26 for the chapter titled “Postmodernization”):

A number of Italian scholars read the decentralization of network production
in the small and medium-sized enterprises of northern Italy as an
opportunity to create new circuits of autonomous labor. See Sergio Bologna
and Andrea Fumagalli, eds., Il lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione: scenari
del postfordismo in Italia (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1997).

Sergio Bologna, like Negri, is a veteran of the nebulous Autonomia movement of Italy in the 60s and 70s. His best known work – outside of Italy, at least – was his 1977 text “The Tribe of Moles“, an examination of class composition in late-Fordist Italy and of how the ‘autonomous class’ developed within it. While personally quite close with Negri (a biography at the end of an interesting interview notes that the two were among the primary founders of Potere Operaio in 1969, had both worked in the same history department of Padua University in the early 1970s, and together edited a series on Marxist theory in 1972), the two underwent a theoretical divergence in the dawn of the New Economy of the 1990s. Negri would develop his theory of the immaterial laborer as the key social subject of the post-Fordist epoch, while Bologna would look to the “autonomous worker”.

There are deep similarities between these two approaches. On the one hand, Negri’s immaterial labor encompasses the capture and commoditization of affective, cognitive, and creative activities, and emphasizes the role of the internet and industrial autonomation in engendering this transformation. On the other, Bologna’s autonomous labor is akin to what we today might refer to as ‘precarious labor’ or the ‘gig economy’ – the great mass of would-be proletarians, shut-out from yesteryear’s world of Fordist industrial production, forced into part-time, temporary, situation-based work. For Bologna, however, such things compose what he calls the second generation of autonomous labor, in contrast to the first generation of independent artisans, merchants, and assorted professionals (doctors, lawyers, so on and so forth).

Sadly, I’ve yet find a translation of Il lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione: scenari del postfordismo in Italia, much less a pdf in Italian (plz drop a link in the comments if you have one!), but the description given by Hardt and Negri here – that the work offers the decentralized production in Northern Italy as a means of transforming the conditions of the autonomous laborer – is intriguing, especially in light of this recent post of just the other day. The area they are describing is Emilia-Romagna, an administrative region known for its robust industrial economy based on small-to-medium sized enterprises, flexible specialization, craft production, pull-based commercial dynamics, and worker co-operatives. Manuel Delanda has juxtaposed this region the top-heavy Fordism of American-style automobile production, while distributists have found in it as evidence for the durability of their socio-economic proposals. An interesting report cited by Kevin Carson (who elsewhere has referred to Emilia-Romagna, alongside Shenzhen’s Shanzai manufacturing, as a “model for the economic future”) has this to say about the organizational tendencies governing the region:

There are 90,000 manufacturing enterprises in the region, surely one of the highest densities per capita in the world! Small, medium, enterprises (SME’s) predominate. One person in twelve is self-employed or owns a small business. In recent years the region has produced the highest GDP per capita in the country, and it now ranks with the ten best in Europe…2/3 of the citizens of Bologna belong to a co-op…45% of the GDP is produced by co-ops…(and) 85% of the social services in Bologna are delivered by co-ops… Some of Emilia Romagna’s manufacturing companies that are world class high performance companies are cooperatives. Other private companies and cooperatives work together in flexible networks that combine a number of smaller firms into joint projects. And government has played a powerfully positive role in creating sector-based service centers that assist smaller companies in being competitive in the global economy… “Social Cooperatives” provide various services to the mentally and physically disabled—“privatizing” what historically were state services but to cooperatives that are frequently preferred by professionals because they permit creativity and the delivery of high quality services and work experience for the disabled….

Not everybody is as jazzed on Emilia-Romagna as the above, but nonetheless the convergence of so many different radical perspectives on a particular organization of production and exchange – that is, small-to-medium sized enterprises based on the miniaturization and localization of production technologies and rapid-response to demand – is noteworthy in itself.


Screenshot from 2018-04-07 23-13-59

There are many advantages to political decentralization as a structural limitation on government power. Imagine a country the size of the United States, but consisting of only five states. Now imagine the same region containing 500 states. All other things being equal, the second situation is likely to be much more hospitable to freedom than the first. The smaller the political unit, the greater the influence an individual citizen can have in politics, thus decreasing the lobbying advantage that concentrated special interests have over the diffuse general public. Further, as the number of available alternative political jurisdictions increases, the citizen’s exit option becomes more powerful. The freedom to leave one state is small comfort if there are only a handful of others nearby to go to; but with many states, the odds of finding a satisfactory destination are much better.

In addition, competition between states can serve as a check on state power, since if any state becomes too oppressive its citizens can vote with their feet. Also, decentralization softens the impact of government mistakes. If a single centralized government decides to implement some ill-conceived plan, everybody has to suffer. But with many states implementing different policies, a bad policy can be escaped, while a good policy can be imitated. (Here too, competition can serve as a discovery process.) – Roderick T. Long, “Virtual Cantons”


As always, Xenogoth’s blog is a machine for inducing thoughts and productivity over here on this side of things. Their latest post concerns Rana Dasgupta’s recent article for the Guardian titled “The Demise of the Nation State”, the topic of which (as the very name indicates) should be well familiar now. “For increasing numbers of people,” Dasgupta writes, “our nations and the system of which they are a part now appear unable to offer a plausible, viable future.” And yet solutions posed seems to be more of the same: avoid the fragmentation, shore up that which is dissolving, and keep on keepin’ on with progressive universalism. Xenogoth writes:

it’s universalism which is the problem here and its funneling progressivism into a single, unwavering straight line. Progressivism reveals itself to be political tunnelvision. When you’re political system starts to offer you the Kool Aid, progressivism becomes putting it down and heading for the exit. There are surely better paths on the outside.

Contra more radical (and perhaps dangerous) routes to the Outside, Dasgupta’s future-oriented politics revolves around three key elements: “global financial regulation”, “global flexible democracy”, and “new conceptions of citizenship”. Xenogoth points out that these are these continue to the drift into neoliberal globalization – and indeed, are these three things not the very idealistic summit of the global regime that has existed since the end of World War II? Empire, the Cathedral, capitalist realism, the Washington Consensus, what have you; it is the unity of regulated monopolistic competition in political economy and liberal democracy in the order of politics that serve as the twin pincers of the meta-system.

The first element will be met with inherent skepticism. After all, we’re told repeatedly that the between the crisis that brought a swift and brutal conclusion to the Fordist-Keynesianism that defined the immediate post-war period (beginning in 1968 and culminating in the Nixon Shock of 1972) and the inauguration of the so-called New Economy of the 1990s, a disastrous path of deregulatory behavior was undertaken, one that undermined the developed world’s industrial base, hollowed out civic institutions and the infrastructures of ‘modern democracy’, and sent us spiraling into cycles of crisis. But is this really the case?

In the United States, it is undeniable that there have been the neutering of regulations in certain areas – but this is only remains a part of the story. The cutting here and there – which has become major talking point for both the left and right, as objects of derision and praise, respectively – has served as the mask for a great explosion of regulatory activities. Take John Dawson and John Seater’s 2013 paper “Federal Regulation and Aggregate Economic Growth”, for instance. Looking at the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), which logs all regulations on the books in the US, Dawson and Seater discovered that its contents multiplied sixfold between 1949 and 2005, going from the (already significant 19,335 pages to a mind-boggling 134,261 pages). This already begins to overturn conventional wisdom on the left that consistent deregulation is the overarching trend in economic development over the last four to six decades – and Dawson and Seater can only pour more gasoline on this fire:

Periods of negative growth are infrequent, and, when they do occur, the absolute value of the growth rate is small. By far, the fastest percentage growth occurred in the early 1950s. High growth also occurred in the 1970s, even though there was extensive deregulation in transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Deregulation in that period was more than offset by increased regulation in other areas, notably pertaining to the environment and occupational safety, as Hopkins (1991) has noted. The Reagan administration of the 1980s promoted deregulation as a national priority, and growth in the number of CFR pages slowed in the early and late 1980s. Nevertheless, total pages decreased in only one year, 1985. The 1990s witnessed the largest reduction in pages of regulation in the history of the CFR, with three consecutive years of decline. This reduction coincides with the Clinton administration’s “reinventing government” initiative that sought reduced regulation in general and a reduction in the number of pages in the CFR in particular. (Interestingly, the greatest percentage reduction in the CFR did not occur during either the Reagan or Clinton administrations but rather in the first year of the Kennedy administration, 1961.) There thus are several major segments in regulation’s time path, with corresponding breaks in trend (dates are approximate): (1) 1949 to 1960 (fast growth), (2) 1960 to 1972 (slow growth), (3) 1972 to 1981 (fast growth), (4) 1981 to 1985 (slow growth), (5) 1985 to 1993 (fast growth), and (6) 1993 to 2005 (slow growth).

There’s a similar lip-service paid to classical political economy and ideological obfuscation going on where “free trade” is concerned. While the right-wing (outside of its populist sector, of course) sounds the trumpets in the name of laissez-faire and the nationalist right and the left-of-center viciously denounce it, what goes in the West under the name of free trade is anything but. While agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP and institutions like the WTO, the IMF, and the like seem to reduce this argument to an absurdity, there is an immense gulf between the sort of free trade advocated by classical political economists like David Ricardo – aaand Karl Marx – and these agreements reached by government negotiators.

Free trade would entail something very simple: the parties in question decide to mutually eliminate barriers, including but not limited to tariffs, to one another’s domestic market places. The contemporary agreement like NAFTA or the TPP, by contrast, consists of thousands upon thousands of pages of legal qualifications, special protections, and what are called “investor-state dispute settlements”. The result is an uneven playing field dominated by entrenched quasi-monopolistic corporations, protected by the state, who have suspended free trade for something profoundly different. Tariffs might have been avoided (until the looming US-China trade war, at least), but corporate protectionism reigns supreme.

A counterpoint might that this is precisely what free trade produces: concentration of power in a handful of corporate entities, who bend the legal apparatuses of the state to fix things their favor (such as implementing protectionist policies that further enforce their hegemony). It’s a good story, and one that makes clear who would be the bad guys and the bad systems (corporations! free trade!), and easy solutions (tightening the grip in advance on the exchange circuits before we get to this disastrous state of affairs). Unfortunately – or maybe not so unfortunately – it isn’t true, and one of the reasons has to do with the ubiquity of regulatory behavior. But more on that in a moment.

Perhaps the best way to look at the global system that is now in crisis is by returning to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of shifting modes of social organization around the mechanisms of warding off the forces that would undo them. The despotic state was dependent on coding and territorialization of flows in a particular way; it had to, at all costs, ward off the progressive decoding and deterritorializing of flows – and to do this, it had to prevent the arrival of capital, that alien mutagen that draws power from annihilating the very limits and barriers that a socius needs to maintain organization. Hence the sheer apocalypticism of capital and the dread it instills – but the despotic state does not disappear in its dark arrival. It undergoes a transformation into the capitalist state, a unit of “anti-production” that is subordinated to the flux of capitalist deterritorialization.

The capitalist state finds itself in a paradoxical situation: it is founded atop capital’s flows, but it still must ward off their ultimate – and inevitable – trajectory, that is, the acceleration into absolute deterritorialization. Maybe it is across this tension wire that we must place something like the free trade agreement, or even the rates of regulation growth and occasional deregulation. Read this way, the free trade agreement would be series of measures taken to channel flows, to situate institutional entities and political blocs atop the slipstream of global marketization, without falling into them – which would bring the order to its very demise.

Is this not precisely an incredible compensatory mechanism, at one time aimed at global installation? Is this not a more accurate picture of what is splitting apart than most progressivist ideologues argue? And, by extension, does this not mean that the progressivist solution is ultimately to turn back the clock and complete the global installation?


Braudel’s famous argument, implicit in Capitalism and Schizophrenia (this is the topic of a current in-progress work) and operationalized in full by Manuel Delanda, is that the market and capitalism must be made distinct from one another, and that capitalism must be thought as something oppositional to the market: an anti-market. The market – or micro-capitalism – is the realm of “economic life”; it is full of highly visible activities, the interchanges of commerce happening at rapid speeds, and variables profit rates attached to quickly shifting registers of price. “The market spells liberation, openness, access to another world”. Capitalism, by contrast, is defined large-scale centralization, bureaucracy, oligopoly, and decreased mobility in the price regime. Markets link themselves together in networks of “horizontal communication” between smaller firms and actors bound up in competitive behavior. Anti-markets are based around monopoly, and thus ward off the specter of competition.

We could say that, shifting into Deleuze and Guattari’s framework, the market/micro-capitalism corresponds the schizophrenizing, deterritorializing edge where capital rushes towards its ultimate limits, while the anti-market/capitalism side of the economic meshwork aligns with reterritorialization. Indeed, the capitalist state, identified by Deleuze and Guattari as composing a Katechonic mechanism for reterritorializing capital in order to avoid the end of things, is similarly found by Braudel as guarantor and protector of monopolistic entities. In the void of strong states, warding off occurs less and less, and the market emerges a norm; in the presence of them, it is capitalism that is business as usual.

I definitely hope to draw this argument out more in soon-to-be finished Vast Abrupt essay on SchizoMarketization and economic eschatology; in the meantime, however, I’d like to do something different and put forth the exceedingly questionable suggestion that the two of the ideological poles of economic governance in the US – Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism – can be roughly mapped to this schema of markets and antimarkets, in both their unity and opposition.

The Jeffersonian ideal moved power in a decentralizing direction, towards smaller and smaller, more localized levels; it opposed aristocracy and remained suspicious of mercantile, industrial and financial interests. The yeoman, an archetypal figure for small-scale, non-slaving owning farmers running the gamut from subsistence farmers to medium-range commercial entities, was the focal point of Jeffersonianism – making it a kind of populism that foreshadows many of the characteristics of certain libertarian factions in existence today.

Jeffersonianism seems to capture the ideological screen erected by the Washington establishment, but the order of business falls more under the purview of Hamiltonianism, with its emphasis on centralization of power, the supremacy of the Federal level above the local, and the creation of powerful and wealthy industrial and financial classes. The tenets of the “American School of Economics” (also known as the ‘National System’), developed in point-by-point opposition to those of classical liberalism, epitomize the Hamiltonian perspective. To quote from the wiki page, the three primary principles were:

  1. Protecting industry through selective high tariffs (1861 – 1932) and through subsidies (especially 1932-1970).
  2. Government investments in infrastructure creating targeted internal improvements (especially in transportation.
  3. A national bank with policies that promote the growth of productive enterprises rather than speculation.

If we’re to talk of the groundwork for the globalizing regime that is organized around transnational corporate protectionism, regulatory behavior, and liberal democracy, it is paramount not to mistake the Hamiltonian platform for free trade – especially given that the beginning of the globalization of this model corresponds with the arrival of US hegemony in the wake of the Second World War. It is an apparatus for producing monopolies – the dynamic generator of anti-market systems.

In 1888, well into the Hamiltonian era, Benjamin Tucker advocated what he described as an “unterrified Jeffersonianism” – a radical free market socialism that served as the “the logical carrying out of the Manchester doctrine; laissez faire the universal rule”. Blocking the path to this world were the four monopolies: “the money monopoly, the land monopoly, the tariff monopoly, and the patent monopoly.” The money monopoly is the state’s exclusive right to establish and produce a medium for circulation, which effectively cut-off the ability for competition between currencies to take place, and alloted greater power to banks and other lending institutions. The land monopoly, meanwhile, is “the enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation”, while the tariff monopoly needs little mention. The patent monopoly – which, up until recently, was the far more pressing obstruction to international free trade than tariffs – is the domination of ideas under the rubric of intellectual property laws.

To these Kevin Carson adds a fifth: the transportation monopoly, in which roads and other infrastructures are designed and paid for by the state. In both the land monopoly and the transportation monopoly, costs are externalized onto the taxpayer, either in the form of law enforcement or public works. While collective pooling of resources for a common goal is one thing, in the context of the monopoly system this means that businesses are automatically exempt from certain costs. Wal-Mart, for example, has its distribution infrastructure already established by the transportation system. Or, in another case, a landowner who must bear the costs of protecting ownership is going to own considerably less land due to that price tag.

For Tucker, examples such as these – and many others – point to how elimination of the monopolies would proceed from the elimination of the state that made them possible in the first place, and that their removal would clear the way for real competition to occur, the Braudelian market rising up to fill the void. With more competition comes lower costs, and without heavy regulatory burden the barriers to entry implode – which adds to more competition, and lower costs still. The effect would be less distance between market price and what the classical political economists called the “natural price” – the costs inputs that were expended in advance in order to initially bring something to the market.

Carson suggests an even radical transformation: the implosion of homogeneity in socio-cultural formation and politico-economic governance, and the rapid multiplication of other ways of life. Speaking from the left-libertarian perspective, he writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution that

…it’s extremely unlikely in my opinion that the collapse of centralized state and corporate power will be driven by,or that the post‐corporate state society that replaces it will be organized according to, any single libertarian ideology… although the kinds of communal institutions, mutual aid networks and primary social units
into which people coalesce may strike the typical right‐wing flavor of free market libertarian as “authoritarian” or “collectivist,” a society in which such institutions are the dominant form of organization is by no means necessarily a violation of the substantive values of self‐ownership and nonaggression… it seems to me that the libertarian concepts of self‐ownership and nonaggression are entirely consistent with a wide variety of voluntary social frameworks, while at the same time the practical application of those concepts would vary widely.

To exit from the globalist anti-market is to be propelled towards the strangeness of patchwork.

Speedy Mutualism


How will it take to get from this

 it.” (Kevin Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, 220)

to this?

Soon, no doubt, there will be a 3D printer in every home and social robots may well be providing the vigilant company to the elderly who live alone. The present machines,” wrote Samuel Butler in The Book of Machines, “are to the future as the early Saurians to man. The largest of them will probably greatly diminish in size. Some of the lowest vertebrate attained a much greater bulk than has descended to their more highly organised living representatives, and in like manner a diminution in the size of machines has often attended their development and progress.” Technology is plotting its own evolution and the purely human advantage is becoming increasingly small. New fusions and adaptions between the organic and the near organic continue. Silicon, once sand, the second most common element built into the earth’s crust, carries deep with in it an ironic reminder of our own amphibious evolutionary past. Our roots, as cybernetic organisms, come from the same source. Though we are often blind to the machines that surround us – technology is the ocean within which we swim – these exchanges and interactions fuel us. As evolutionary beings, we are willing participants, hungry to transform.

In Shenzhen companies, factories and markets are adjusting to the new products and modes of manufacturing that they bring. A realization is dawning. The age of the copy is over. It is time to mutate. (Anna Greenspan and Suzanne Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology, Shanzai, and the Evolution of the Species)

Old Nick chimes in to fill some gaps and provide some speculation on the height on this tendency: the convergence of miniaturizing manufacturing technology towards a “self-replicating symbiotically assembled Universal Constructor“.

In the more short term, Dubai is several years into an initiative to make itself into the world’s preeminent 3-D printing hub, which has already seen the launch of a 3-D printing factory, the construction of a 2700 square-foot 3-D printed office building, and ambitious plans to 3-D print some 25% of its building construction by 2030. Meanwhile, the US’s Department of Defense Subcommittee on Emerging Threats allocated $13.2 billion of the $639.1 billion for investments in 3-D printing technology, aiming to begin the process of bringing usage of the printers up to “tactical level”. On cue, fears have begun to circulate that (alleged) already-occurring usage of 3-D printers by terrorist organizations will have radical implications for future battlespaces.

Great Politics (assorted notes)


Convergent with the Proudhon’s anarchistic analysis of the primordial linkage between the State and war is Nietzsche’s critique of social contract theory, as detailed by Hugo Drochon in his book Nietzsche’s Great Politics. To quote him at length:

In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche also takes issue with Wagner’s On State and Religion—another manuscript that Nietzsche read while in Tribschen—which the latter had recently composed at the behest of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. There Wagner accounts for the emergence of the state as from a Hobbesian “fear of violence,” which leads to a “contract whereby the units seek to save themselves from mutual violence, through a little practice of restraint.” While Nietzsche concurred that the state of nature was one of bellum omnium contra omnes (GSt, 170), he disagreed with the idea that the state arose through a contract. He instead saw the state as originating from a “conqueror with the iron hand,” who “suddenly, violently, and bloodily” takes control of a yet-unformed population and forces it into a hierarchical society (GSt, 168). [54]


In “The Greek State,” Nietzsche concurred with the Hobbesian view of the state of nature being a bellum omnium contra omnes. But he did not account for its birth in a contract. Instead, as we just saw, he located thebirth of the “cruel tool” of the state in the iron “conquerors.” Indeed, these conquerors are themselves, on Nietzsche’s account, the state. Yet the “ignominious” birth of the state is justified as a means to genius and culture. “Nature”—we see the influence of Romanticism on Nietzsche’s early thought here—had instilled in the conqueror the state-creating instinct so that she might achieve “her salvation in appearance in the mirror of genius.” The “dreadful” birth of the state, whose monuments include “devastated lands, ruined towns, savage men, consuming hatred of nations,” is justified by nature because it serves as a means to genius. “The state appears before it proudly and calmly: leading the magnificently blossoming woman, Greek society, by the hand” (GSt, 169).

While Nietzsche’s genealogy of the state claims to be more realistic than the “fanciful,” in his own words, account of the social contract tradition, this does not imply that on his account the state cannot be justified. Of course there is a difference between normative and descriptive claims here: over the course of their writings, Hobbes and indeed Rousseau gave quite detailed accounts of the history of the state they understood to be at odds with the normative ideals they were recommending, and the social contract theorists are often thought of as having tailored their state of nature to justify the type of state they were advocating. But Nietzsche is here rejecting both their descriptive—how the state came into being—and normative claims—how the birth of the state can be justified.

The state, for Nietzsche, is justified because it opens up a space within which culture, through genius, can for the first time flourish. There are a number of elements to this claim. First, that the time and energy used to defend oneself in the “war of all against all” is redirected, within a pacified society, toward more artistic and cultural pursuits. Nietzsche explains that once states have been founded everywhere, the bellicose urge gets concentrated into “less frequent” yet altogether much stronger “bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning” of “dreadful clouds of war between nations.” Thus, much as it was for Hobbes, the “state of nature” gets transferred to the interstate level. In the meantime, however, the “concentrated effect of that bellum, turned inward, gives society time to germinate and turn green everywhere, so that it can let radiant blossoms of genius sprout forth as soon as warmer days come.” In other words, the energy that was used to simply stay alive in the individual war of all against all gets redirected, once encased in and protected by the new state, either collectively toward wars against other nations or, in the intermediary, toward satisfying a “new world of necessities”—namely, culture (GSt, 170).

The two interrelated justifications for the state—genius and culture— come together in the figure of the first genius—the military genius. Since the beasts of prey were organized on a “war footing,” the first type of state, even the “archetype” of the state, is the military state, and the first genius is a military genius. The first work of art is the state itself and its constitution; Nietzsche mentions the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus—a thought borrowed from Jacob Burckhardt. As a military state, the first state therefore divides itself into hierarchical military castes, and this “warlike society” necessarily takes the form of a pyramidal structure with a large slave-class bottom stratum (GSt, 172). [56-57]

As with all things, however, the state decays. For Nietzsche this appears in the time of the Kulturstaat, the modern state that treats its subjects as mere means to furthering the cause of “existing institutions”. “However loudly the state may proclaim its services to cultures, it furthers culture in order to further itself.” The state also loses what Nietzsche regarded as a sense of excitement regarding its function: mass bureaucracy and the dreary affairs of parliament tore from the governing institutions the “ancient Isis veil”. In an aphorism from Human, All Too Human, the cause of modern decline is highlighted: “modern democracy is the historical form of the state.”

Cue the transformation into what Drochon refers to as Nietzsche’s “postmodern state”:

Nietzsche concludes by proclaiming “with certainty” that “distrust of all government” will result from the “uselessness and destructiveness of these short-winded struggles,” and will “impel men to a quite novel resolve: the resolve to do away with the concept of the state, to abolish the distinction between public and private.” Instead, an “invention more suited to their purpose than the state was will gain victory over the state.” “Private companies” (Privatgesellschaften) will “step by step absorb the business of the state,” including those activities that are the “most resistant remainder of what was formerly the work of the government”: protecting “the private person from the private person.”

This marks another point of at least partial convergence with Proudhon, who also foresaw the unwinding of social and political relations into the hurried networks of economic exchange. He wrote in the General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century that

…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.

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.

Speaking of state decay, demotic chaos and long-term political cycles, Peter Turchin has written a brief-but-interesting response to Tyler Cowen’s recent “No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here”. He ultimately reaches the same conclusion as Cowen via a different route, but his final note is telling: “In my opinion, the greatest danger for us today (and into the 2020s) is not the rise of a Hitler, but rather a Second American Civil War.” The 2020s thread is picked up elsewhere.

Also keeping up with the troubles is Chris Shaw on zombie politics, which moves from the fragmentation and conflict internal to the dominant political structures towards a Carsonian-informed look at potential leverages for Exit. In other words, ideas that move in the same waters as Nietzsche’s postmodern state and Proudhon’s contract government.