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’.

The Vast Automaton: Notes on Alexei Gastev, Marx, and Andrew Ure


In 1916 his poem Express: A Siberian Fantasy, Alexei Gastev depicts a journey, undertaken by a high-speed passenger train, across a vast wasteland that has been transformed by the pulsing tumult of industrial modernity. The vision is one of an open future, characterized by the tearing away of the parochial and the old: where there was once empty wilderness, now there are gardens, and where rural backwardness reigned supreme, connections of all sorts proliferate. Cascading networks of electrical systems, towns, roads, railways, and man-made rivers pierce the once-pristine wilderness and draw themselves as the circuits linking great automated factories. Roaring across this landscape at a quickening pace, not even able to stop in order to offload passengers (train cars are simply detached and rolled off onto parallel tracks when destinations come into view), the great train is moving eastward; shrinking behind it is the Old World of Europe, land of decrepit aristocracies and worn out traditions, and coming into view just ahead is the New World, just through a tunnel that passes deep beneath the Bering Strait. “[T]he motors are breathing fast and rumbling, pumping the air, and the tunnel is shaking like a steel pulse in the sleeping waters of the ocean. One half hour—and America”.

The situation depicted in Express is, as Charles Rougle describes, “a vision of the world on the threshold of a great revolutionary cataclysm”. With the real events of the October Revolution still a year out, the near-utopia of the poem was still that of a world dominated by capitalism, albeit one that was in the process of shedding its most regressive features. The anarchy of the market, where firms small and large collided freely in combat, was coming under the sway of great industrial monopolies led by faceless collectives. This is the importance of the ultimate collision of the train—itself perhaps a symbol of the revolutionary agency itself—with America, which in contrast with Old Europe was seen as a laboratory where the cutting-edge of techno-industrial tools and techniques were being forged. There is thus, already at this early of a stage, a foreshadow of Stalin’s comments, laid down in 1924, that the essence of Leninism consisted of the marriage of the “Russian revolutionary sweep” with “American efficiency”.

Indeed, Gastev would play an essential role in promoting this particular synthesis at his Central Institute of Labor (or, as it was more formally known: the Institute for the Scientific Organization of Work and the Mechanization of Man), opened in Moscow in 1920 with the personal support of—and funding arranged by—Lenin. Echoing Georges Sorel’s distinction between the ‘ethics of consumers’ and the ethics of ‘producers’ (the latter of which corresponded, appropriately, to the proletariat), Gastev had described mass society as being the battleground between “two demons”, one aligned with consumption and the other production. Revolution entailed a pact: “We are definitely on the side of the second. And our task is to infect these masses with by every possible proof with an unquenchable passion for effort, labour, energy” [quoted in Kendall Bailes, ‘Alexei Gastev and the Soviet Controversy over Taylorism’]. It was an uphill struggle, as Gastev had to work hand-in-hand with the dominant union system to convince the workers to submit themselves to time-motion studies in order to optimize their movements during the process of industrial production (a goal which could not, of course, be realized, as Gastev’s less mechanistic successors came to realize), which would have the correlated effect of speeding-up work. The horizon of this great work was to be, ultimately, the automatic factory, as he described in a 1919 article for Proletarskaya kul’tura (the official organ of the Proletkult movement, of which he was part):

Before us there is the prospect not only of an individual mechanized worker but of a mechanized system of labour management. Not a person, not an authority, but a “type”-a group-will manage other “types” or groups. Or even a machine, in the literal sense of the word, will manage living people. Machines from being managed will become managers.’



It is for this reason that Gastev is best remembered as a Soviet Frederick Winslow Taylor. Lenin himself had declared in 1918 that embracing Taylorist scientific management was vital in developing the productive forces, describing it in ‘The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government’ as “the last word of capitalism” and “a combination of the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation and a number of the greatest scientific achievements”. He continued:

The Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field. The possibility of building socialism depends exactly upon our success in combining the Soviet power and the Soviet organisation of administration with the up-to-date achievements of capitalism. We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends.

What Gastev sought to develop and deploy through his work at the Central Institute could not, however, be reduced to the simple goals pursued by the Taylorists. “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country” was the dictum put forth by Lenin during the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets. The higher stage of production could only be realized when the symptoms of underdevelopment and reactionary consciousness—small-scale production, the individual proprietor, the shysters and deal-makers, etc—were swept away by the advance of large-scale, industrial production, and it was precisely electrification that served as the necessary precondition for this evolution: “Only when the country has been electrified, and industry, agriculture and transport have been placed on the technical basis of modern large-scale industry, only then shall we be fully victorious”. What this meant, for Gastev, was nothing less than the production of a new type of person, a realization of a New Soviet Man appropriate to this convulsive, energetic epoch. “Electrification is the highest expression of machinism”, he wrote in How to Work. “This is not one machine, this is not a complex of machines, it is not even a machine-factory, not a machine-city, it is a machine-state, and when it is international, it is in the full sense of a mechanized globe… And, of course, in unison with this new machine worldview, you need to take a fresh look at the person”.

The new person would be a “man-assembler, who is full of ideas of treatments, technical tuning and adaptations”. Taylor’s scientific management sought to bring the human laborer into alignment with the operations of the machine, but for Gastev this was but only the first step. Everything was to be optimized in conjunction with the machine, including creativity and the drive to innovation itself. And once these powers were cracked open, penetrated by the radiant light of techno-science and their inner logic demystified, those tropes so hallowed by the capitalist bourgeoisie—individual creativity and the innovative entrepreneur—would fall away. They would be universal, anonymous, and collective, no different or separate from the universal, anonymous, and collective industrial system that was taking shape. Gastev:

We must deal with the energy of the human mechanism. In this century, when there are chronoscopes showing ten thousandths of a second, when there are ammeters and voltmeters, we will have to “measure” human energy. The science of nutrition of a working organism must be as exact a science as thermal sciences, like the science of nutrition of the steam engine, the nutrition of the electric motor; the consumption of human energy must be instrumentally measured to the thousandths of a small calorie, and the regulation of the work of the human body must be built on a system of carburetors feeding heat engines. There should be nothing sacred here. There must be a complete revolution. In this area, we need the same revolutionary appeal for scientific biologists, which the authorities have done in relation to engineers and economists in the electrification issue.

While there was a close relationship between Gastev’s thought and that of the Soviet leadership—despite his status as an outsider to the party, having distanced himself during a period of forced exile that resulted from his activities in the 1905 revolution—his promotion of scientific management and biomechanics triggered an opposition that congealed into an organization with a simple, but effective, name: the “Group of Communists”. In many respects, the Group’s opposition to Gastev and the activities of the Central Institute of Labor was that they fell short of the lofty goals that they had set for themselves, and that commitment to a Taylorist base prevented the realization of this higher stage of industrial culture. As Bailes summarizes, “The use of the stop watch as the sole means of determining work norms was an especially exploitative and uncritical application of Taylorism to Soviet industry. The most important problem of Soviet industry was to raise productivity without increased intensification of labour, and to raise wages in proportion to increased productivity”. What was desired was a means to scientifically manage production, and to increase the process of its processes and the volume of its output, without the influence Taylor—but in the end, the opponents gradually conceded. “Taylorism could not be rejected per se, [they] affirmed; the most ‘useful’ parts of the system, as Lenin had pointed out, must be tested and selected in practice”.

Decades later, Autonomous Marxists like Paolo Virno and Carlo Vercellone argued that the ‘phase’ of capitalist development that had come into being in the first half of the 20th century, characterized by the gradual evolution from Taylorism to Fordism to what we might describe as international Fordism, had been anticipated by Marx in the Grundrisse, and particularly within the pages of the ‘Fragment on Machines’ [for an overview of Virno and Vercellone’s argument, see Tony Smith’s essay “The ‘General Intellect’ in the Grundrisse and Beyond”, in the book In Marx’s Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse]. Marx, in an uncanny foreshadow of the Taylorist moment and semi-automation, had situated the worker as becoming suspended between machinic systems, stripped of their individuality and their autonomy with regard to the production processes. This same movement was fundamentally connected to increasing technoscientific knowledge, which emerges from the drives of production and innovation, and then feeds back into it to push this great apparatus into higher orders. This knowledge becomes socialized, diffused, and universal in its application—a general intellect. It is in this stage interzone that Marx’s vision of post-capitalism emerges: the worker ceases to be an autonomous agent piloting production from within, but becomes a manager of that system. “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” (see my earlier post on the question of an ‘Eco-Marx’ and ‘Promethean Marx’ for more on this).


Gastev offered a similar assessment in How to Work, paralleling Marx’s concept of the General Intellect by describing the way in which the rapid innovation of technological systems compelled the further development of scientific knowledge. Swept deliriously by the machine and the stopwatch, Gastev went as far to the suggest the impending merging of the scientist and the engineer, noting how “it was not for nothing that [a] person who attempted to study the movements of an employee turned out to be the engineer Gilbert, and it was not for nothing that such a biologist who studied human labor movements, like Professor Sechenov, previously graduated from an engineering school. The development of modern technology pushes and transforms biology, it gives the formulation of these problems and forces biology to think so”. The engineer, here, is both a master of techniques and a product of them, and the recasting of all scientific professions in the model of the engineer comes from the deepening penetration of industrial modernity in every discipline, in every endeavor, in every facet of life. To flesh this out further, Gastev turns at last to Marx himself, citing from the first volume of Capital passages that illuminate the way in which individualized, independent ‘subjective character’ is leveled by a collective and cooperative “purely technological principle”. Speaking of large-scale production, Marx had written that the “whole process is decomposed here objectively, depending on its own nature, into its constituent phases, and the problem of performing each partial process and connecting various partial processes is resolved through the application of mechanics, chemistry, etc”.

Gastev praises Marx for his “amazing erudition” in drawing on a now-largely forgotten source: Dr. Andrew Ure and his 1835 book The Philosophy of Manufacturers. Described by Marx twice, one in the first volume of Capital and once in the third, as the “Pindar” of large-scale production, Ure’s influence radiates through Marx’s passages on the nature of industrial systems, stretching from his early critique of Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy to his late-stage works. It might seem curious that Ure, a consistent opponent of efforts to alleviate the conditions of the proletariat—and whose work Marx himself described as ‘naive’ in its ceaseless ability to “blurt out the thoughtless contradictions of the capitalist brain” [Capital Volume 1, p. 564]—would be so influential. Nonetheless, The Philosophy of Manufacturers was, for Marx, the “classical expression of the spirit of the factory”, and the reason for this was that Ure glimpsed the strange horizon that was being inexorably pulled towards:

Manufacture is a word, which, in the vicissitude of language, has come to signify the the reverse of its intrinsic meaning, for it now denotes every extensive product of art, which is made by machinery, with little or no aid of the human hand; so that the most perfect manufacture is that which dispenses entirely with manual labor. The philosophy of manufacturers is therefore an exposition of the general principles, on which productive industry should be conducted by self-acting machines. [The Philosophy of Manufacturers, p. 1]

The tendency of industrialization, in other words, was that of the progressive elimination of the human as an element in production. Ure breathlessly described the “sagacity” of the industrial giant Richard Arkwright, who had played a role in the invention of the spinning frame (and the immensely profitable organization of production that followed in its wake), for perceiving the outlines of a future world characterized by a “vastly productive human industry”. No longer a subordinate to the limitations of “muscular effort”, the output of these combines would be “the work of mechanical fingers and arms, regularly impelled with great velocity by some indefatigable physical power” [p. 14-15]. Elsewhere, Ure defined the “factory system” not in terms of a distinct plant or industrial site, but as “the combined operation of many orders of work-people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a series of productive machines continuously impelled by a central power” [p. 13]. For Steve Edwards, these sorts of descriptions are a “revelry”, marking the “the closest capitalist thought has ever managed to a fully Dionysian moment”. Yet if Ure is intoxicated by the churn of capitalistic processes, it is hardly from the classical image of the commercial giant or by the mad-dash of the market; it is the machinic processes themselves that give rise to this Dionysian moment. Arkwright is not praised for bringing massified industry into being, but for understanding where it was going. Likewise, the “central power” that puts in motion the “work-people” and their “productive machines” is neither capitalist nor capital—it is thermodynamic power, heat converted into mutable energy.


If the capitalist is rather unimportant except in its most abstract role, labor, likewise, is only important insofar as it disappears. Class struggle is for Ure a means to the ends of this disappearance, with the threat of the strike—or the event of the strike itself—serving as an impetus for the automation of functions previously served by the proletarian. “…surely science, at the call of capital, will defeat every unjustifiable union which labourers may form”. In many respects, Ure here anticipates the arguments of both Sorel and the Autonomists, particularly that of Mario Tronti. For the former, the cessation of the class struggle through the alignment of reformist ‘parliamentary socialists’ and the ‘humanitarian-minded bourgeoisie’ stalled out industrial development, a situation that he described as “decadence”. For the latter, the class struggle comes to unfold in cycles, characterized by the dialectic of proletarian offensive and the bourgeois response, which is to recalibrate the production process through the introduction of new technological systems and organizational paradigms. This argument arises in particular from a close reading of Marx’s chapters on the working day in the first volume of Capital, which illustrate quite clearly how the struggle to shorten the length of daily labor led to the introduction of machinery that intensified both the pace and the output of production—an analysis that was no doubt influenced by Ure’s own studies.

While labor gets squeezed out of the production process, it does not, Ure argued, disappear in full:

The principle of the factory.. is to substitute mechanical science for hand skill, and the partition of a process into its essential constituents, for the division or graduation of labour among artisans. One the handicraft plan, labour more or less skilled, was usually the most expensive element of production—Materiam superabat opus; but on the automatic plan, skilled labour gets progressively superseded, and will, eventually, be replaced by mere overlookers of machines [The Philosophy of Manufacturers, p. 20].

This language immediately recalls that of “Fragment on Machines”, with its depictions of future labor as the overseers of industrial-scientific processes—and indeed, the spirit of Ure’s Dionysian moment hovers above the pages of the Fragment. At the conclusion of the section just prior to the Fragment, Marx offers a lengthy citation from The Philosophy of Manufacturers that culminates in the following: “In its most rigorous sense, this term [factory] conveys the idea of a vast automaton, composed of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs operating in concert and without interruption, towards one and the same aim, all these organs being subordinated to a motive force which moves itself” [The Philosophy of Manufacturers, p. 13; cited in Grundrisse, p. 690, emphasis Marx’s]. Compare this quotation with the most famous passage from the Fragment, which appears but a page later:

…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 [Grundrisse, p. 690].

Much of this is a paraphrase of Ure, particularly concerning the self-movement of the automaton, set in motion by some motive force—but it is of particular interest that he is cited word for word in the description of “numerous mechanical and intellectual organs”. It is clear of the immense importance of this idiosyncratic conceptualization of the factory to Marx, and it would be a mistake to consider its vital role as diminishing in the passage from the notebooks that compose the Grundrisse to the final drafts of Capital. In the fifteenth chapter of  Capital Volume 1, Marx deploys a distinction between the tool and the machine by describing the latter as a “mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations as the worker did with similar tools [Capital Volume 1, p. 495]. Later in the same chapter, in the section dedicated to examining the factory system proper, Marx begins by offering once again the aforementioned quote from The Philosophy of Manufacturers, before discerning—in language drawn directly from the Fragment in the Grundrisse—a Janus-faced position embedded in Ure’s description. Noting a disjunction between the characterization of the factory system as the organization of massified labor and as something driven by a ‘central motive force’, Marx writes:

These two descriptions are far from being identical. In one, the combined collective worker appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object; in the other, the automaton itself is the subject, and the workers are merely conscious organs, coordinated with the unconscious organs of the automaton, and together with the latter subordinated to the central moving force. The first description is applicable to every possible employment of machinery on a large scale, the second is characteristic of its use by capital, and therefore of the modern factory system [Capital, Volume 1, p. 544-545].

Thus the depiction of labor from the Grundrisse, as ensnared within the gears of fearsome and inhuman machinery, is retained, as it captures the reality of production under capital, that is, under the regulation of the law of value. Insofar this situation tends towards the autonomization of production, the increased centrality of technoscientific development, the lessening dependency on direct labor, and the opening up of free time as a historical force unto itself, it is a progressive development—but it is here that the real contradiction in Ure’s thought moves to the fore. Consider the following, drawn from the twenty-third chapter of Capital Volume 3, which resumes in brief the sketch of communism put forth in the Fragment:

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.”…

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. Inasmuch as the capitalist’s work does not originate in the purely capitalistic process of production, and hence does not cease on its own when capital ceases; inasmuch as it does not confine itself solely to the function of exploiting the labour of others; inasmuch as it therefore originates from the social form of the labour-process, from combination and co-operation of many in pursuance of a common result, it is just as independent of capital as that form itself as soon as it has burst its capitalistic shell. To say that this labour is necessary as capitalistic labour, or as a function of the capitalist, only means that the vulgus is unable to conceive the forms developed in the lap of capitalist production, separate and free from their antithetical capitalist character.

Both Ure and Marx conceive of the destiny of the development of the productive forces to be the automatic factory, watched over and steered by humans freed from the bondage of labor—yet there is a critical different, in that Ure sees this as the reality of capitalism itself, whereas for Marx this exists beyond domination by capital. The capitalist may be rendered redundant by the rise of the industrial manager, but this redundancy does not in anyway imply the elimination of the capitalist as a figure who persist as something glued, apparently permanently, to the side of production. This is because the law of value itself persists: capital may tend towards autonomization in lockstep with industrial automation, but because it remains structurally wedded to the labor of humans, this status cannot be automatically transcended. The progressive and regressive forces put in motion by this development come to lock into an infernal, self-reinforcing circuit that constantly unleashes this beyond, while always pulling it back lest these energetic torrents overflow the present conditions.

Conrad Bongard Hamilton, in an essay that covers much of the same ground as here, argues that Marx, under the influence of Ure, comes to give a new articulation of the proletarian revolution, and it is this particular conception that illuminates a way out from this seemingly impossible impasse. Taking cue from Marx’s argument (put forth in both Notebook VII of the Grundrisse—tellingly, the section that immediately follows the Fragment on Machinesand in the chapter 15 of Capital Volume 1) that communist society will be more appropriate for the application of large-scale machinery than capitalism, Hamilton urges a recognition of “the inevitability—and even desirability— of machinic agents as founding partners in a new society”. The proletariat is in the position to abolish the value-form, to break the imperceptible laws that regulate this society and block the emergence of the next—but it is also these same ‘machinic agents’ that appear as the ruination of the capitalist class by putting into motion the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. That this tendency is indistinguishable from increasing automation, and thus of the necessary conditions for the higher stage of production, illustrates how intertwined these forces are within the pages of Marx’s theory. It also illustrates the way in which Ure remains, despite all his foresight, within the confines of the bourgeois ideology.

When Gastev wrote that “[e]lectricity, electrical engineering, electrical industry” was the “most advanced industrial force” that “fatally requires a new person”, he was describing precisely a proletarian that was aligned with the machine. The paradox of his position was that this alliance was taken up in the wake of a revolution, and not prior to it, and it is within that paradoxical space that his enthusiasm for scientific management techniques, hatched in the laboratories of bourgeois ideologues in faraway America, must be understood. There are, of course, limitations to these thoughts, separated as we are by a near-century of events, many of them profoundly counter-revolutionary in character, others progressive in that they have advanced the scope and scale of productive capacity (consider the historical irony highlighted by Peter Drucker, that yesteryear’s Taylorism was the skeletal base for contemporary industrial automation). We’ve passed beyond proto-Fordism to Fordism to post-Fordism and perhaps something beyond, and industrialization has been supplanted by the fangs of de- and post-industrialization. The current moment resembles, more than anything else, a phase of industrial and cultural decadence, as the class struggle is violently ground to dust and any sense of forward progress entropically dissipates into a haze of generality.

Is there a more apt time, then, for a return to the revolutionary enthusiasm and development drive sketched out so briefly here? Not a return in the sense of farcical repetition, but to their spirit: the recognition that history isn’t over, and that a higher stage is still yet to come.

Plekhanov on Bergson


Some interesting comments on Bergson by way of Georgi Plekhanov’s pen (Russian revolutionary and Marxist theoretician, opponent of Lenin and the Bolsheviks):

….we shall draw the reader’s attention to what might be described as the materialist element in Bergson’s views.

Here, for instance, on page 99 of his Creative Evolution, we read:

The vegetable manufactures organic substances directly with mineral substances: as a rule this aptitude enables it to dispense with movement and consequently with feeling. Animals, which are obliged to go in search of their food, have evolved in the direction of locomotor activity, and consequently of a more and more ample, more and more distinct consciousness. (p 99)

This means that the development of consciousness is conditioned by the needs of being. Apply this remark, which, incidentally, is only the translation into the language of contemporary biology of one of Aristotle’s most profound thoughts, to the explanation of the development of social thought and you will get the theory of historical materialism. Bergson, indeed, comes quite close to this theory, it might even be said that he is one of its followers. He writes:

As regards human intelligence, it has not been sufficiently noted that mechanical invention has been from the first its essential feature, that even today our social life gravitates around the manufacture and use of artificial instruments, that the inventions which like milestones mark the road of progress have also traced its direction. (pp 118-19)

This is one of the basic principles of historical materialism. But as will be seen by the reference in the footnote on page 119, Bergson was familiar only with the very vulgar variety of historical materialism represented by P Lacombe in his book Sociological Foundations of History. Marx’s historical materialism has remained quite unknown to Bergson, otherwise he would not have credited Lacombe with something that had been done much earlier and better by Marx. Being unfamiliar with historical materialism in its classical formulation, Bergson could not grasp the proper significance of the changing succession of relations of production in the process of development of human society.


Life is a creative action, an ‘élan’. Matter is the halting of the élan, the cessation of the creative action. We are sure that nowadays many Russian readers will find this both easy to comprehend and profound. We congratulate them heartily, and wish them further penetration, under Bergson’s guidance, into the essence of life seen from its internal aspect. To those who are not attracted to the present philosophical fashion for idealism, we shall, in ending this long review, offer the remark that Bergson in his intuitive philosophy makes two great errors.

First, the attempt to observe the process of the formation of reality from its internal aspect is condemned in advance to dismal failure; nothing has ever, or can, come out of it but a dense fog of mysticism. Why? Spinoza gave the answer already in Proposition 23 in Part 2 of his Ethics.

Secondly, the process of becoming, about which Bergson has such a lot to say, is understood by him very one-sidedly: the element of existence is utterly missing. This, of course, facilitates the decomposing of ‘the material world’ into a simple ‘jet’, which he advocates in the interests of his mystical idealism: but thereby he transforms dialectics into simple sophistry, as has been made clear from the history of Greek philosophy.

Bergson sympathises with Plotonius, which is quite natural and could not be otherwise. But that Bergson has an attraction for certain theoreticians of French syndicalism is one of the most ludicrous misunderstandings known in the history of philosophical thought, so rich in misunderstandings. It demonstrates the low theoretical level reached by the theoreticians of French syndicalism, so low that, in fact, they cannot fall any lower.


There can be little doubt that it is none other than Georges Sorel who is the largest of Plekhanov’s final comments here. He was, after all, the primary theoretician of the syndicalist movement at its most powerful, and had argued for the unity of Marxist thought with Bergson’s philosophy (though he was far from the only one).

Sometime soon—tomorrow evening at the earliest—I’ll post a rather rough translation I’ve put together on the correspondence between Bergson and Sorel, which hopefully will illuminate further the ins and outs of this little triad.

State of the Art // Art of the State


*disjointed ramblings incoming*


There’s a great new post up from Xenogoth this evening: ABCcru: Applied Ballardianism and Accelerationism. The primary content of the post deals with a recent hellthread on Twitter (whatever the opposite of a hellthread is would actually be the more proper term – healththread? Not sure.) that began with a probing of the connection between the writings of J.G. Ballard (as well as the applied Ballardianism of Simon Sellars) and the various strands of accelerationist thinking. I’m not going to summarize or go into too much detail surrounding this thread – XG has done it wonderfully in his post – but I would like to look at a particular tendril that radiated out from it. At one point Alex Williams (of the #Accelerate Manifesto and Inventing the Future fame) commented:

 I agree with Ballardian acc in aesthetics, but not in politics. Because the aestheticisation of the political = fascism (simplifying a bit)… the asetheticisation of the political ends up somewhere deeply boring, as well as unpleasant. Jordan Peterson, not Ballard.

and at another point:

There’s a distinction between use of aesthetic things, objects, processes… And the subsumption of politics to aesthetic imperatives.

Robin Mackay, in response, noted that

a lot of loose terms rattling around here, art, politics, aesthetics.. it can’t be this simple, it was a virtue of post-68 to insist this, nothing is solely political, merely aesthetic, etc.

and Williams again:

So politics involves signs, symbols, may deploy art in different forms and modes. It might build on cultural currents that are partly recomposed through art works. But its ultimate logic is not to build a nation as an art work

As these little nuggets show, both sides clearly raise important points – for Williams, it is essential to note lose sight of Benjamin’s identification of the aestheticization of politics as a central pillar in the constitution of fascist governance. Mackay, meanwhile, draws us towards the insights offered by the various political and subcultural strands that blended the political with the aesthetic in order to, on the one hand, reveal the difficulty in posing stark divides between the various of spheres of life, and on the other hand to articulate a revolutionary vision. We could sum it up as thus, in terms proper to spirit of Benjamin: Williams sees the dangers in aesthetic politics, Mackay sees the possibilities of political aesthetics. Of course these two points are instantly problematized, and in it hard to draw the line where aesthetic politics and political aesthetics can be properly cleaved apart – if they can at all. And that’s even before we get to the question of how this relates to industrial modernity understood as a temporal acceleration and spatial compression.

For now, I’d like to somewhat take a step away from these questions and use this as a leaping-off point to parse through some things that have been rattling around in the brain lately, which nonetheless I think are relevant here because it cuts straight into the ambiguity that problematizes the aesthetics-politics distinction and how this distinction bears on the activities of each respective ‘sphere’.

In the ‘Refrain’ plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari present an idiosyncratic account of territory formation that bases itself upon the animal behavior theories of biologist and proto-cybernetician Jakob von Uexküll, the zoology of ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, and sociologist Gabriel Tarde’s account of ‘having’. To sum up Deleuze and Guattari’s distillation as much as possible: what we might consider as territorial markings – from “territorial excrement” to bird songs – are not, in fact, a function that flows from an established territory. It is instead the inverse, the marking that establishes the territory. Thus “the territory, and the functions performed within it, are products of territorialization. Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become expressive, or of a milieu components that have become qualitative” (ATP, 315).

Territorialization itself, then, is a process of becoming, as the “becoming-expressive” of the rhythm. And it is at this point that Deleuze and Guattari turn towards the aesthetic:

Can this emergence, this becoming, be called Art? That would make the territory the result of art. The artist: the first person to set out a boundary stone, or to make a mark. Property, collective or individual, is derived from that even when it is in the service of war and oppression. Property is fundamentally artistic because art is fundamentally poster, placard. As Lorenz says, coral fisher are posters… Take anything and make it a matter of expression. The stagemaker practices art brut. Artists are stagemakers, even when they tear up their own posters. Of course, from this standpoint art is not the privilege of human beings.  (ATP, 316)

This provides, in turn, evidence for that the claim that the political – or at least the way in which our relation to this thing is mediated – has an aesthetic foundation a priori, which the further implication being that both spheres are therefore intertwined on a very fundamental level. What is the formation of the State, for instance, but a great act of territorialization, and what is property, a property emergent from the marking, but something that is managed by the State? To go further: if we recall from Anti-Oedipus, the mark is tied directly to the processes of coding via Nietzsche’s account of the painful marking of the body as the basis for the development of social memory. In the pages of A Thousand Plateaus this is taken up again, where they describe the Urstaat, the archaic megamachine, as an agent of “overcoding” that captures the territorialization process, and imposes markings and regimentations of its own. Even transformation of the body and its activities into a mechanism of labor:

The physiosocial activity of Work pertains to the State apparatus, it is one of its two inventions, and for two reasons. First, because labor appears only with the constitution of a surplus, there is no labor that is not devoted to stockpiling; in fact, labor (in the strict sense) begins only with what is called surplus labor. Second, labor performs a generalized operation of striation of space-time, a subjection of free action, a nullification of smooth spaces, the origin and means of which is in the essential enterprise of the State… (ATP, 490-491)

Earlier, in the “Refrain” plateau:

…a territorialization of function is the condition for their emergence as “occupations” or “trades”… [this] is no reason to conclude that art in itself does not exist here, for it is present in the territorializing factor that is the necessary condition for the emergence of the work-function. (ATP, 321)



Deleuze and Guattari’s account of the State in both volumes of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia project is that it arrived ‘like lightening’ in the annals of history (or, more properly, as the beginning of history, as the point in which historical processes were first inaugurated).  This is an account of the State derived from Nietzsche. In his early text “The Greek State”, Nietzsche speaks of the “horrible origin of the State” as “sudden, violent, bloody, and at least at one point, inexplicable usurpations” – yet, by the same token, the conditions are primed for the production of art. This is art pursued in a different direction than that of the art-as-territorialization that sets the stage for the arrival of the State, but there exists a continuity between the two in Deleuze and Guattari’s extensive borrowing from Nietzsche’s reflections.

Hugo Drochon, in Nietzsche’s Great Politics, describes Nietzsche’s “two interrelated justifications for the state”, that is, “genius and culture” (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 57). Because the State arrives to impose order on the Hobbesian state of nature, the war of all against all, it rechannels this ferocious energy in two directions: on the one hand, in the direction of the occasional war as an immense discharge, and on the other the more generalized proliferation of culture. Drochon writes that from Nietzsche the “first work of art is the state itself and its constitution”, for it is the through a state’s organization of political and social life that the groundwork is laid for the proliferation of culture. The pinnacle of this situation was, for Nietzsche, the Greek state, as it was capable of incubating the philosophers, people so essential for the health of the state, and the highest form of dramatic art, the Greek tragedy – but this would not last, with the strange winds of nihilism, understood as a historical situation, beginning to blow across the face of civilization, ratcheting up in intensity through the passage of time. By the time we arrive at the blossoming of modern nation-state, the winds are gale force.

Nihilism, of course, can at this stage be closely linked to capitalism. Marx certainly glimpsed this, as evidenced by the feverish exultation, in the Communist Manifesto, of the tearing asunder of all past relations and the profaning of all that is holy – but there is perhaps no better correlation that the invisible hyperlink set-up by Deleuze and Guattari when they plugged together planetary marketization with Nietzsche’s nihilistic leveling process by way of the specter of acceleration. And here, again, art arises, but it is the promise of a future art, a new art and politics that overcomes the condition of nihilism. I’ve written before about Nietzsche’s future state as a unity of statecraft and commerce, a rupturing of the boundary between public and private, but this is another vital element. From the decay of the modern state and the stagnation of healthy aesthetic impulses, a new society, and with it the founding of great institutions capable of upholding communities dedicated to maintaining this re-invigoration. Drochon writes that

Nietzsche explains that the institution they require would have “quite a different purpose to fulfill.” It would have to be a “firm organization” that prevents them from “being washed away and dispersed by the tremendous crowd,” to “die from premature exhaustion or even become alienated from their great task.” This is to enable the completion of their task—preparing “within themselves and around them for the birth of the genius and the ripening of his work”—through their “continual purification and mutual support,” and their “sense of staying together” (SE 6). Nietzsche insists that “one thing above all is certain: these new duties are not the duties of a solitary; on the contrary, they set one in the midst of a mighty community held together, not by external forms and regulations, but by a fundamental idea. It is the fundamental idea of culture” (SE 5). His insistence on the community— as opposed to the individual—in carrying out the mission of culture seriously challenges the view put forward by Kaufmann, Leiter, and Williams, among others, that Nietzsche’s writings are destined solely for the solitary thinker cut off from the rest of the world. (Nietzsche’s Great Politics, 66)

In fragment #898 of The Will to Power, the source of Klossowski, Deleuze, and Guattari’s famed injunction to ‘accelerate the process’, this community is described as the “strong of the future”, a force swept to the “highest peak of the spirit” (The Will to Power, 478). Elsewhere, in fragment #960, he speaks of the “artist-tyrants [who] will be made to endure for millennia” (The Will to Power, 504), while at various other points they appear as the “aristocracy of the future”.


This transition, from the leveling of the modern nation-state, the democratic state, to a strange and barely-glimpsed aristocracy, is returned to – unsurprisingly – by Deleuze and Guattari, this time in the pages of their final work, What is Philosophy?:

The creation of concepts in itself calls for a future form, for a new earth and people that do not yet exist. Europeanization does not constitute a becoming but merely the history of capitalism, which prevents the becoming of subjected peoples. Art and philosophy converge at this point: the constitution of an earth and a people that are lacking as the correlate of creation. It is not populist writers but the most aristocratic who lay claim to this future. This people and earth will not be found in our democracies. Democracies are majorities, but a becoming is by its nature that which always eludes the majority… the race summoned forth by art or philosophy is not the one that claims to be pure but rather an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race the very ones that Kant excluded from the paths of the new Critique. (What is Philosophy, 108-109)

And yet “[t]he artist or the philosopher is quite incapable of creating people, each can only summon it with all his strength. A people can only be created in abominable sufferings, and it cannot be concerned any more with art or philosophy” (What is Philosophy, 110). What is occurring in these passages is the intertwining of the position cultivated in the A Thousand Plateaus – the emergence of the conditions for the state and politics as art, perhaps in its most primordial sense – with the more future-oriented Nietzschean vision of aesthetic restoration.

(I wonder if we can draw a connection between these reflections and Marcuse’s 1970s turn towards a defense of classic aesthetics and the bourgeois ‘high culture’ of the past. Whereas once he had championed modernistic  and antagonistic forms of art, primarily surrealism and then the art of the 60s counterculture, and called for the rupturing of the boundary between art and life, now art had to remain “alienated” from life – a vision of perfection that is out of joint with the real conditions of present capitalist society. At the same time, however, Marcuse stressed in interviews with Douglas Kellner that there was in fact continuity between his earlier aesthetic theories and the views he promoted in the 70s – after all these writings were done in the context of the advent of postmodernism, which as Jameson noted is characterized in part by the elimination of boundaries between high and low art as a means of producing commodities in the situation of late capitalism. This is discussed in Kellner’s book Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism, and it’s a topic I hope I can think and write about more in the future. In the meantime, however, it might be interesting to think about Marcuse’s occulted continuity linking together classical aesthetics, modernist aesthetics, and a vision of the future life in regards to Mark Fisher’s suggestion – in one of my all-time favorite K-punk posts, one that has been stuck in my head since I first read it in 2012 – to overcome aesthetics as a matter of style and to make it a blue-print for living:

Like punk, Surrealism is dead as soon as it is reduced to an aesthetic style. It comes unlive again when it is instantiated as a delirial program (just as punk comes unlive when it is effectuated as an anti-authoritarian, acephalic contagion-network). Chtcheglov resists the aestheticization of Surrealism, and treats De Chirico’s paintings, for instance, not as particular aesthetic contrivances, but as architectural blueprints, ideals for living. Let’s not look at a De Chirico painting —- let’s live in one.




For Deleuze and Guattari, politics and art are not simultaneous or identical; the people do not emerge as a political subjectivity through their creation of art objects – but it is through artistic processes that a people do emerge, just as artistic processes set the stage for the emergence of the political since the ‘dawn’ of history. In the “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal…” plateau, they discuss the molar “punctual system”, which is a system of spatio-temporal organization through molecular lines are coordinated along a grid device. The political, the State, history, etc. – these are the punctual systems par excellence. Against this, art – but even art is capable of manifesting in the form of the punctual system:

Opposed to the punctual system are linear, or rather multilinear, systems. Free the line, free the diagonal: every musician or painter has this intention. One elaborates a punctual system or a didactic representation, but with the aim of making it snap, of sending a tremor through it. A punctual system is most interesting when there is a musician, painter, writer, philosopher to oppose it, who even fabricates it in order to oppose it, like a springboard to jump from. History is made only by those who oppose history (not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it). (ATP, 295)

This enters into the territory that I began sketching in the first two installments of my Synthetic Fabrication series (1 and 2) (I promise I’ll finish these someday soon!), which is Deleuze’s account of fabulation. Fabulation takes roughly the same role as the ‘fabrication’ alluded to in the quote above; the goal of this process is the creation of a people, a minoritarian political community capable of acting contrary to the conditions of the world. By giving it this term, Deleuze short-circuits the connection between myth, understood politically, and the aesthetic. Politics (especially of the divergent, revolutionary type) is, then, apprehended primarily through aestheticized myth-making. In an essay titled “Literature and Life”, for example, he writes that “There is no literature without fabulation, but as Bergson was able to see, fabulation-the fabulating function does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers” (Essays Clinical and Critical, 3), before continuing in a distinctively Nietzschean vein:

Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people who are missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe “inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man. ” This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 4)

(Through the invocations of American and the ‘universal people composed of immigrants’, the account of fabulation is plugged neatly his considerations on American patchwork elsewhere, which is considered by Xenogoth in his inaugural post on the latest season of Westworld. I have some scribblings on the topic here.)

And again, in an essay of T.E. Lawrence, Deleuze writes of a

profound desire, a tendency to project-into things, into reality, into the future, and even into the sky-an image of himself and others so intense that it has a life of its own: an image that is always stitched together, patched up, continually growing along the way, to the point where it becomes fabulous. It is a machine for manufacturing giants, what Bergson called a fabulatory function. (Essays Clinical and Critical, 117-118)

I’m going to avoid going too far down this rabbit-hole, as we’re in the territories I want to continue to cover in the SynthFab series, but to reiterate a key point from there: Deleuze’s account of fabulation puts him squarely in the same province as Georges Sorel in his theory of the myth (and indeed, both share a common ancestor in Bergson). In both fabulation and the generative myth, the political is something that is approached through this mediator, which is operating beyond the conscious control of the agents who rally beneath it. As Deleuze puts it, fabulation is bound up with a profound “profound desire”, which is never unidirectional or mobilized by a powerful agent. It is related to conditions of history – of being “an oppressed, bastard, lower, anarchical, nomadic, and irremediably minor race” that becomes the aristocracy. Likewise, for Sorel, the generative myth is connected to a horizon of deliverance, of exodus – nomadism! – from the desert of now-ness, deliverance to the promise land.

This fundamentally problematizes all attempts to disconnect the political from the aesthetic, as well as the subordination of these forces to political imperative. The traditional sequence is reversed, just as it was – if Deleuze and Guattari are correct in their primordial account of art and territorialization – in the beginning. From this perspective, the great promise of positivist politics, that of a fully rationalized, technocratic governance, is not only a stark impossibility – it is itself a mythic form, erected on a foundation of sequential givens, yet it is one that is closed from itself. It is in this sense that it acts not as that which is capable of overcoming nihilism, the postmodern condition or whatever – it is, in actuality, the very ideal of its historical perfection.

In lieu of a real conclusion to this overly-wordy and disjointed poast, here’s a weirdo garage track from the 60s psychedelic scene in Austin, Texas. It has nothing to do with the above, but I’m quite taken by the perfect marriage of the teenage populism of the garage instrumentals and the acid millenarianism of its lyrical content. Soz for the retro-mania



In his recent post on modernity and myth, Vince Garton notes Sorel’s interest – in sharp distinction to the majority of Marxist currents of his day (or today, for that matter) – in small-scale, workshop-based production. Vince writes:

Against the mainstream of Marxism—and against later theorists such as Schumpeter who would decisively identify the trajectory of capitalism with indefinite industrial concentration—Sorel’s vision of the far future self-abolition of capitalism was one of distribution, the internal development of workshop organisation; we may say, in the tradition of Catholic social thought, subsidiarity.

An exceedingly brief thought (and a sideways preview of a work in progress): industrial disintermediation  will be the process through which hyper-capitalist atomization is converted into subsidiarity. 

Edit: If communism is to be based, as Xenogoth suggests, on otherness and differentiation, then a neo-Sorelian perspective on industrial disintermediation – and the question of ethics that are tangled up in this complex – is of immediate interest. After all, such processes constitute the fragmentation of the current industrial order, which on the one hand opens up escape routes from the present through the increased ability to produce independently, while on the other hand it poses hard questions fully-automated, luxurious Walmart Socialism advocated by so many on the radical left.


Screenshot from 2017-08-11 15-39-20

Recently I started reading Tudor Balinisteanu’s Violence, Narrative, and Myth in Joyce and Yeats: Subjective Identity and the Anarcho-Syndicalist Tradition. The first chapter proceeds with a very interesting comparison of Yeats’s gyres of creative destruction as recorded in “The Second Coming” and Sorel’s account of the Myth of the General Strike:

…, on the one hand, for Yeats, the two cones represent contrary tendencies within the self. On the other hand, as Yeats put it, ‘this figure is true also of history, for the end of an age, which always receives the revelation of the character of the next age, is represented by the coming of one gyre to its place of greatest expansion and of the other to that of its greatest contraction’. At the moment Yeats was writing he perceived that the life gyre was sweeping outward, having almost reached its greatest expansion: ‘all our scientific, democratic, fact- accumulating heterogeneous civilisation belongs to the outward gyre and prepares not the continuance of itself, but the revelation as in a lightning flash, […] of the civilisation that must slowly take its place’ Critics have noted that Yeats’s fear of the forthcoming disintegration of human civilisation was brought ashore by ‘the blood-dimmed tide’ of historical events… Such frightening falling apart of established authority, mere anarchy loosed upon the world, inspired in Yeats the apocalyptic vision of the beast which struggles to become born in the violence of the world’s remaking. But this violence is a whirl of contrary tendencies: even though destructive it is also darkly creative. As Bakunin would have it in ‘The Reaction in Germany’ (1842), ‘the passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!’ The revolving gyres unravel the world at the same time as they weave a new one: a terrible beauty is born in which both grace and violence are manifested.

Yeats’s ‘The Second Coming’ is of course but one example, a most expressive one, of the perception of contrary tendencies within the modern consciousness, a consciousness in which grace and violence set each other in motion even as they revolve in opposite directions. Another expression of this dynamic can be found in Georges Sorel’s work… [it is] not so much the idea of disrupting the economy that matters to Sorel, as the idea of a narrative capable of accommodating those images which best represent the aspirations of social agents in a way that compels a joining of the fictional narrative subject and the subject of action. One finds that Sorel’s picture of the general strike has features in common with Yeats’s apocalyptic vision of the approaching of a new age, even though, it seems, Yeats feared what Sorel welcomed. While both visions of the future to come are seemingly steeped in violence, this is not merely the violence of force, but also the violence of recreation. Yeats fears the possibility of ‘new creation gone wrong’, but not the violence of creation. Sorel values the violent break with retrogressive patterns of social action, produced through the rejection of Utopias and consent to participate in the unanalysable unity of vision in which narrative subject and the subject of action inhabit each other, but not destructive violence or mere anarchy loosed upon the world.

Sorel’s position regarding the general strike as social myth expresses a movement toward unity at the levels of history and the self which in terms of Yeats’s figure of the gyres would correspond to the gyre’s movement to its place of greatest contraction. That would be the place of becoming the subject of a myth expressed in an imaginary picture (of the general strike) which embodies all the aspirations of a social group (the Socialists) giving precision and rigidity, or, rather, coherence and strength, to philosophical and political thought on social change. At the same time, this movement toward unity in the myth involves a movement toward disintegration in the sense that it expresses a complete break away from the tenets of the age which passes. This chasm which widens the opposition between the faithful and the faithless makes visible the contradictions of the established social world, thus fragmenting it and bringing it to a point which in Yeats’s figure would be that of a gyre’s greatest expansion.

Cue Amy Ireland, in The Poememenon:

When applied to the task of historical divination (our interest here), the waxing and waning of the gyres can be charted in twenty-eight phases along the path of an expanding and contracting meta-gyre or ‘Cycle’ which endures for roughly two millennia and is neatly divisible into twelve sub-gyres (comprising four cardinal phases and eight triads) each of which denotes a single twist in the larger, container Cycle. According to the system as it was originally relayed to George Yeats through the automatic script (an exact date does not appear in the Speculum Angelorum et Hominis or Judwali teachings), the twelfth gyre in our current—waxing—Cycle turns in 2050, when ‘society as mechanical force [shall] be complete at last’ and humanity, symbolized by the figure of The Fool, ‘is but a straw blown by the wind, with no mind but the wind and no act but a nameless drifting and turning’, before the first decade of the twenty-second century (a ‘phase of crisis’) ushers in an entirely new set of twelve gyres: the fourth Cycle and the first major historical phase shift in two thousand years.Laying Yeats’s awkward predictions (which he himself shelved for the 1937 edition of A Vision) to one side, the system provides material for the inference of several telling traits that can be combined to give a rough sketch of this imminent Cycle upon whose cusp we uneasily reside. Unlike the ‘primary’ religious era that has preceded it—marked by dogmatism, a drive towards unity, verticality, the need for transcendent regulation, and the symbol of the sun—the coming age will be lunar, secular, horizontal, multiple, and immanent: an ‘antithetical multiform influx’. The ‘rough beast’ of ‘The Second Coming’, Christ’s inverted double, sphinx-like (a creature of the threshold) with a ‘gaze blank and pitiless as the sun’, will bear the age forward into whatever twisted future the gyres have marked out for it.

In ‘Teleoplexy’, as the most recent, succinct expression of accelerationism in its Landian form (distinguished from the Left queering of the term more frequently associated with Srnicek and Williams’s ‘Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics’), Land draws out the latent cybernetic structure of the Judwalis’ system and employs it to reach a similar catastrophic prediction, although the somewhat restrained invocation of ‘Techonomic Singularity’ dampens the rush of what has previously been designated as ‘a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch’ in which ‘[z]aibatsus flip into sentience as the market melts to automatism, politics is cryogenized and dumped into the liquid-helium meat-store, drugs migrate onto neurosoft viruses and immunity is grated-open against jagged reefs of feral AI explosion, Kali culture, digital dance-dependency, black shamanism epidemic, and schizophrenic break-outs from the bin’. Like the Judwalis’ system, the medium of accelerationism is time, and the message here regarding temporality is consistent: not a circle or a line; not 0, not 1—but the torsional assemblage arising from their convergence, precisely what ‘breaks out from the bin[ary]’. Both systems, as maps of modernity, appear as, and are piloted by, the spiral (or ‘gyre’). As an unidentified carrier once put it, ‘the diagram comes first’