The Kurz Gradient

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I recently came across a translation of a debate, held in 2012, between a handful of excellent Marxian economists and theorists—Michael Heinrich, Robert Kurz, Thomas Ebermann and Joseph Voegel. Of particular interest (to me, at least) is the dispute that occurs between Heinrich and Kurz over the current phase of capitalist development and its implications for potential future trajectories (or lack thereof). Generally I find Kurz’s project to be more fascinating and relevant than Heinrich’s, but in this case it was clear that the latter bested the former. For Kurz, the capitalist mode of development is currently in a terminal phase, with catastrophic collapse being the existential threat that is rapidly become an actuality. To put it simply: with the end of Fordism, a structural decoupling of finance capital from the physical conditions of production (from investments in infrastructure and productive forms to the circulation of non-financial instrument commodities) occurred, engendering a situation in which a ballooning mass of wealth is produced without recourse to labor and the production of value. While the detachment of financial from industrial production is a recurrent factor in the cyclical development of the capitalist system (signalling, as Arrighi and other world-systems theorists have shown, the interchange between ‘systemic cycles of accumulation’, which plays out in the transfer of power between global hegemons), for Kurz this simply cannot occur at the present stage. Even China, ostensibly the next great zone of productive growth—not to mention the country likely to serve as the next ‘capitol of capital’—is not free from this, having resorted to building ghost cities and the like to keep GDP afloat. He continues:

Something is happening now at the level of “normal” capitalist reproduction on a large scale that previously only happened in wartime economies: direct financing through the money presses. Up ’til now, that has not been transformed into real demand at a large scale; rather, it has merely absorbed bad loans. But that solves nothing. They’re still there. If the economic cycle dips, then the states and the world economy have no other option than to finance real demand by turning on the presses. That is the inflationary potential. In Great Britain, there’s already five percent inflation. In the eurozone and the USA three percent, in China six percent. The politicians will probably regard inflation policies as the lesser evil. But that would devalue money, the end in itself.

For Heinrich, however, this gloomy outlook is less than warranted:

I think you’re too oriented towards Fordism and post-war Wirtschaftswunder capitalism. And you correctly say there’s no starting point for something like that occuring again the near future – a long the lines of: “we have a structural crisis, but soon everything will take off again, like in the 50s and 60s.” I agree with you up to that point.

But then you draw the conclusion: if there is no possibility for something like that occuring, then capitalism is about to collapse. But Fordism and the “economic miracle” of the fifties and sixties were not the peak of capitalism, but rather an exceptional situation historically, the economic and political preconditions of which can be exactly stated. Accumulation will continue to proceed, even if bumpily. Even if all these financial claims are devalued, that doesn’t destroy a single factory. Maybe this or that enterprise will go bankrupt, but then it will be bought cheaply by a competitor and will continue to produce. With regard to your argument that production processes are set in motion that owe their existence to deficit flows, I can only say: so what? Then some creditor will go bankrupt. That doesn’t mean that everything will collapse.

Heinrich, alluding to the massive acceleration of industrial production and wealth in the Pacific and Southeast Asian regions of the globe, points out that capitalism is expanding. For Kurz, however, this growth, if it is occurring at all, is at best untenable and erected upon exceedingly shaky foundations:

But on what foundation? And here we come back to the deficit flows: on what foundation has Chinese economic growth occurred? Solely upon the basis of the Pacific deficit flow; without this, there would have been no industrialization of China. That means, it has feet of clay.

to which Heinrich offers the following fatal blow, which ends the debate (or at the part of the debate that has been translated into English and published):

But that’s always the case. That is in fact the same old, same old. How were the railroads constructed in the 19th Century? On the basis of an enormous credit and stock market swindle. With your argumentation, the collapse of capitalism would have already had to have come at the end of the 19th Century, since enormous infrastructure projects only came about on the basis of deficit flows. Immense processes of redistribution occurred. Small savers lost their savings, because they bought railroad shares at the wrong time. So there were enormous losses, but ultimately capitalism was pushed along by the deficit flows of the 19th Century. It seems to me that something very similar is happening right now in China.

Part of the problem with Heinrich’s treatment of Marx is that he swamps the various tendencies or laws that Marx poses into states of indeterminacy, most importantly that of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. In a 2013 essay for Monthly Review on the topic of crisis theory, he argued because Marx determined that countervailing factors would push re-inflate the ratio of constant capital to variable—and thus reverse, however temporarily, the falling rate of profit—the so-called law could not be treated as a law as such. This should be no surprise, even to theorists who accept the existence of the falling rate of profit (and I am, of course, including myself in this category); after all, there is a clear distinction to be had between laws and tendencies. For Heinrich, however, the ultimate conclusions that this tendency ultimately calls forth is an erroneous proposition: insofar as the tendency exists, it always stands to be beaten back (for a roundtable discussion on Heinrich’s interpretation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and crisis theory more general—as well as a response by Heinrich—see here). It is this opposition that stands at the root of Heinrich’s critique of Kurz in the above: if the objective tendencies do not exist, then the claims we base upon them fall away.

Kurz, on the other hand, remains committed to the theory of objective tendencies, and further offers an analysis of capitalism unfolding in stages. Fordism was one such stage, and what came after (post-Fordism or however else one might describe it) is another; these are splayed out across the oscillations of the rate of profit. The other benefit that Kurz has over Heinrich is the careful attention paid to the industrial basis that underpins growth and which serves as the attractor for investment capital. When speaking of the contemporary, he noted the distinction the high industrial capitalism of Fordism and the more contemporary regime organized around “micro-electronic” commodities and systems, and the way in which this shift (which corresponds precisely to the subsumption of Fordist capitalism by post-Fordism) has triggered not only a quantitative, but qualitative transformation in the nature of production.

In a 2010 interview on the topic of crisis theory, Kurz elaborated on how this epochal shift plugged into the greater arrangement of tendencies and counter-tendencies identified by Marx:

…productivity never increases value, but always diminishes it, as Marx demonstrated in the first volume of Capital. Anyone who claims the contrary confuses the social level with the level of the economy of each entrepreneur, or the totality of capital with individual capital. The individual capital that first increases its own productivity in isolation from its competitors achieves an advantage over its competition. It can offer its individual products at a cheaper price, and thus succeeds in selling more commodities and, precisely for that very reason, realizes for itself a greater part of the social mass of value. What appears from the point of view of the economy of the individual entrepreneur as growing profits and therefore as a growing “creation of value” leads socially, however, to the diminution of value, and indeed to the detriment of the other individual capitals. If the productivity gains are generalized, the innovating individual capital loses its advantage over the competition. This by no means, however, represents a return to zero or to a previous starting point. To the contrary, the increased productivity now becomes the new general standard. An hour of labor, as the basic unit of abstract labor, is always the same, since it cannot by any means have different “levels”. The new, higher standard of productivity, however, causes fewer of these always-equal hours of abstract labor to be necessary for an increasing mass of products. If capital is devalued and destroyed in the crisis, the already-attained level of productivity nevertheless remains, because it is inscribed in the totality of knowledge and know-how. We have to be clear about this: capitalism cannot go back from the level of microelectronics to the level of the steam engine. A new increase of value is becoming ever more difficult in the face of increasingly higher levels of productivity and, consequently, with an always diminishing substance of abstract labor. In the past, the constant reduction of value was only relative. With the increase of the standards of productivity, the individual product can represent ever less abstract labor and, therefore, ever less value.

Elsewhere, he suggests that part of the ongoing crisis arises from the contradiction between the actual possibilities latent in micro-electronics and the capitalist context in which they are being deployed: “[m]icroelectronic productive forces… have made a high potential of productivity utilizable on a small scale, but also remains imprisoned within the categories of commercial rationality”. This corresponds precisely to the what Postone and others have identified as the primary contradiction of capitalism—the increasing capacity for the producing immense volumes of material wealth and the simultaneous collapse of value imparted to the individual units that make up this mass.

Kurz’s model of the contemporary epoch is thus one characterized by a dual-faced crisis. On the one hand, there is the situation, the one anticipated by Marx, in which the capitalist mode of production is shaken apart by its own feverish drive to maximizing mechanical efficiency, bringing into play waves of overproduction and crisis. On the other hand, however, is this question of financialization, in which a tension between the direction of technological development (towards miniaturization) and the infrastructure of the world-capitalist system (still largely framed by that of the Fordist era) gives rise a situation in which the primary means of accumulation. M-C-M’ is short-circuited into M-M’—

As global finance evacuates the territory and begins to exchange, by itself, in an orbital, virtual dimension the city is abolished as a commercial centre.

—and the whole system begins to swing out of joint with itself. With anything short of a revolution that not only anti-political, but also anti-economic, Kurz sees an apocalypse (albeit one that unfolds in slow-motion) rising up on our horizon:

A collapse would mean that everything that can no longer actually be financed will be brought to a standstill. And we’re already experiencing that, but up ’til now the shock has been absorbed. Now, if in the dimension reached thus far a crash occurs, then things will come to a standstill in the real sphere of reproduction. Starting with the state sectors of infrastructure, healthcare, education all the way to industrial production and private services, everything.

And thus we return to Heinrich’s critique of Kurz, but with a bit more clarity. When it comes to the question of China, Heinrich is undoubtedly correct: the financial flows fueling the country’s industrial growth replicates a pattern that stretches back across the past five hundred. As alluded to earlier, Arrighi’s model of ‘systemic cycles of accumulation’ is instructive here. For Arrighi, these cycles are something like the M-C-M’ loop blown up to a macro-scale level and used to explain the transition of between hegemonic powers. By cleaving M-C and C-M into two very distinct but unified phases, he poses two phases to the cycle: the first, corresponding to M-C, is the industrial mobilization of industrial mobilization and the circulation of physical commodities, while the second, C-M, is the detachment of finance capital from this material substrate. There are two paths at this point: the recursion into an auto-amplification of financial growth (via M-M’), or the searching for greater returns elsewhere. Understood as a geopolitical process as much as a techno-industrial one, the first part of the cycle constitutes the acceleration of industrial power attached to a rising hegemonic state, with the second being its peak and ‘autumnal’ (as Braudel might say) phase. At this point, the ‘searching’ character of finance capital begins to engender the new wave of expansion elsewhere, within a new hegemony.

This is, of course, separate from Kurz’s issue, which is the problem of deficit spending—but the issue is exactly that these deficits must be contextualized within this wider shift of trans-territorial supremacy. And indeed, while China has kept certain limits on foreign direct investment (limits which, in the face of the US-China trade war, are slackening), it has been a vital aspect of China’s growth. None of this is to say that the dawning of a ‘Chinese century’ is guaranteed; as Arrighi says, “[a]ll previous hegemonic transitions were characterized by long periods of systemic chaos”, with highly variable outcomes—but at this stage, it seems highly likely (particularly as evidenced by the simmering tensions radiating from the United States, which itself in undeniable decline).

Setting this aside, another issue arises when considering Kurz’s argument and how it aligns with that of Marx. The entire line tracking into the increasing efficiency of ‘microelectronic’ production follows along the structure of the argument concerning the rising organic composition of capital—with one key exception. Kurz’s outlook was, at the end of the day, stagnationist, if not catastrophist (though by acknowledging the increasing efficiency of technology it cannot be classed as a decadence theory in the mode of the I.C.C., among others). For Marx, this was not the case. It was accelerative, compressive, and dynamic, with the modes of retrogradation—manifesting as overproduction—being annihilated by sharp, repetitive and increasing crises. The picture that is being offered here instead, where everything things shutdown one by one, does not correspond to this diagram, and likewise, neither does this vision of industrial disjointedness (which resembles more than anything the structure of historical development offered by Lewis Mumford and its more recent resurrection by Kevin Carson, of which much more will be said soon enough). If there is validity to this vision of stagnation, then we must consider a capitalism that, in the West at least, no longer corresponds to that tendential structure offered by Marx in Capital. It would mean that something else is going on.

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Vortex Notes (2)

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via the Outline:

 A new book by D.W. Pasulka — professor and chair of the department of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington — American Cosmic: UFOs Religion, and Technology, focuses not on grassroots investigative societies or marginal cults, but on UFO believers in the halls of power.

Her narrative begins on a drive through the hills with pioneering computer scientist, venture capitalist, and ufologist Jacques Vallee. “Silicon Valley is full of secrets,” he tells her. It ends in the Vatican Secret Archives (alas, not because the Ultimate Clue lies steganographically hidden in a Templar codex).

[..]

If media experiences of the UFO account were limited to a few blockbusters, it’s hard to see how it could have the effects Pasulka claims. But the advent of micro-media platforms like YouTube and the rise of faux-documentarian investigations in the style of the History channel have compounded the Hollywood effect by orders of magnitude. Any scammer with a camera or hustler with an eye for the weird can simulate strange lights and speeding objects, or cut together unsourced footage glossed with their own theories. And they do, in spades, to the endless dismay of serious investigators.

All religions depend in some way on technology: The relationship between the Protestant reformation and the Gutenberg printing press is a historical cliché. American Cosmic argues that for an alien religion to succeed, the screen is not merely an incidental component. It is both the organizing structure that defines the content of the religion, and the point of contact between believers and their object of worship: It is the synagogue, the madrasa, the tabernacle, the church.

There is, however, another way that the UFO religion may be a religion of technology. More than one person has pointed out that alien accounts have some odd similarities with older fairy folklore: the strange lights, the miniature people, the domestic disturbances, the appearances and disappearances.

Related:

 

 

 

Military Convergence

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Everything released by the Mad Scientist Laboratory of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) comes camouflaged in the most cursed of aesthetic choices (with no offender greater than their annual science fiction writing contest). Nonetheless, the content tends towards the extremely provocative. Even if we treat their anticipations of the immediate-to-near future with measured skepticism, the insight into how these fairly under-the-radar groups—think-tanks, study centers, R&D institutions, military wonk outfits of all stripes—think is instructive, and not simply because it tells us about how they think our time. When considered in light of the tendency of game theoritic and decision theory-incubated scenarios to tend towards the status of self-fulfilling prophecy, it becomes of utmost importance.

The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of War is the Mad Scientist Laboratory’s recent product, the end result of an intensive, five year study carried out by numerous individuals across dozens of publications, conferences and debate on the nature of warfare between the years of 2035 and 2050. As it grounds the question of military imperative in the context of rapidly accelerating technological advancements, the document’s scope overlaps significantly with the interests of this blog (for other scribblings on the topic of war, see here, here, and here). Of particular note is that the model of the near-future that is assembled over the course of the report features the notions of the intensive threshold and the convergent wave—though it, of course, fails to make this recognition. What is given instead is a schematism of two eras: the Era of Accelerated Human Progress and the Era of Contested Equality. The first is well underway, having been kicked off in 2017 (though perhaps a more appropriate anchor would have been 2016?), and culminating in an Era of Transition—that is, passes through an intensive threshold—around 2035.

The era that follows this transition moment, that of ‘contested equality’, builds to a crescendo slated to occur around 2050. The timing puts it in proximity to various singularitarian hypotheses that find around this time the ground zero for the Great Change. This is surely by no mistake; while the report doesn’t opt to speculate on what happens beyond 2050, it does make passing reference to the singularity by taking note of not only the ‘optimistic’ perspective offered by the likes of Ray Kurzweil, but also the dangers posed “to the very existence of humanity” by an “unboxed general artificial superintelligence [that] improves and evolves at… an exponential rate”. A third option is also offered, which sees the capacity of unlimited human adaptation via bioengineering and technological neuro-upgrades to allow the human to “keep pace” with superintelligence.

On the side of the transcendental wall closer to us, things still appear as exceedingly strange. The transition moment of 2035 is defined by the convergence of a series of scientific breakthroughs and technological systems: biotechnology, neurological enhancements, nanotechnology, advanced material sciences, quantum computing, AI, ubiquitous robotics, and additive manufacturing. Prior to the transition, conflict will be characterized more and more by the increasing role of robotics, cyberwar, and space-based surveillance and conflict. The principles of C3D2 will reign in this world: Camouflage, Cover, Concealment, Denial and Deception. These games will be played out against the backdrop of intensified hyper-urbanism, as the total magnitudes of humanity living in cities climbs ever-higher. This growth is warped and altered by immense changes in productive relations. Additive manufacturing will shatter the geopolitical order instituted by modern-day supply chain networks and trade flows, and the massified industrial working class will find its future looking dim.

Robotics and autonomous systems will underpin the smooth functioning of advanced societies. Additive manufacturing, computer-aided design and millions of industrial robots will dislocate significant portions of the global supply chain. Virtually anyone in the world with access to a computer system and 3D printer will be able to “print” anything from drones to weapons. Encrypted blockchains will be massively disruptive to commerce functions. Together with robotics, autonomy, and AI they comprise a perfect storm for “blue collar” and “white collars” alike, causing vast economic displacement as formerly high-quality information technology and management jobs follow the previous path of agricultural and manufacturing labor. Militaries, paramilitaries, mercenary groups, criminal elements, and even extremists groups all will be able to take advantage of this potential pool of manpower.

In this run-up to 2035, this all spells trouble for the dominant hegemons—that is, the United States and Western Europe. The battlespace, in keeping with Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui’s anticipated future of unrestricted warfare, cuts across all lines and scales, with the control of information flows and presentation taking a particularly high precedence. Going past 2035, however, everything changes. Where conflict had still been dominated by superpowers (the fading US and Europe, rising Russia and China), now any sort of long-term tactical superiority and political hegemony is undermined by the rapid oscillation of events and actors, displacements and shocks.

Limitations of Military Force. While mid-Century militaries will have more capability than at any time in history, their ability to wage high-intensity conflict will become more limited. Force-on-force conflict will be so destructive, will be waged at the new speed of human and AI-enhanced interaction, and will occur at such extended long-ranges that exquisitely trained and equipped forces facing a peer or near-peer rival will rapidly suffer significant losses in manpower and equipment that will be difficult to replace. Robotics, unmanned vehicles, and man-machine teaming activities offer partial solutions, but warfare will still revolve around increasingly vulnerable human beings. Military forces may only be able to wage short duration campaigns before having to replace expensive equipment, and even more priceless personnel. Militaries under these conditions will need to balance exquisite, expensive capabilities against less-capable cheaper alternatives, and also carefully balance the ratio of human soldiers to robotic or unmanned systems. As the skills and experiences that humans need to learn or acquire to be effective on these battlefields take long-times to develop, but will be expended quickly on the destructive mid-Century battlefield, militaries will need to consider how advances in AI, bio-engineering, man-machine interface, neuro-implanted knowledge, and other areas of enhanced human performance and learning can quickly help reduce this long lead time in training and developing personnel.

The Primacy of Information. In the timeless struggle between offense and defense, information will become the most important and most useful tool at all levels of warfare. The ability of an actor to use information to target the enemy’s will, without necessarily having to address its means will increasingly be possible. In the past, nations have tried to target an enemy’s will through kinetic attacks on its means – the enemy military – or through the direct targeting of the will by attacking the national infrastructure or a national populace itself. Sophisticated, nuanced information operations, taking advantage of an ability to directly target an affected audience through cyber operations or other forms of influence operations, and reinforced by a credible capable armed force can bend an adversary’s will before battle is joined. This will allow a nation to demonstrate to an adversary, or more specifically, to the adversary’s political leadership or national populace, that the “value of the object” in Sir Julian Corbett’s words, is too high to risk national treasure or lives. The most effective campaigns are ones that wield all elements of national power to compel an adversary to take or to acquiesce to a specific action, and it will be much easier, cheaper, and effective to use information, backed by credible military force, to achieve these goals. It also means that nations will increasingly look to use military force as a means of setting conditions for success in the political, economic, or even information spheres.

Expansion of the Battle Area. Nations, non-state actors, and even individuals will be able to target military forces and civilian infrastructure at increasing – often over intercontinental – ranges using a host of conventional and unconventional means. A force deploying to a combat zone will be vulnerable from the individual soldier’s personal residence, to his or her installation, and during his or her entire deployment. Adversaries also will have the ability to target or hold at risk non-military infrastructure and even populations with increasingly sophisticated, nuanced and destructive capabilities, including weapons of mass destruction, hypersonic conventional weapons, and perhaps most critically, cyber weapons and information warfare. WMD will not be the only threat capable of directly targeting and even destroying a society, as cyber and information can directly target infrastructure, banking, food supplies, power, and general ways of life. Limited wars focusing on a limited area of operations waged between peers or near-peer adversaries will become more dangerous, as adversaries will have an unprecedented capability to broaden their attacks to their enemy’s homeland. The U.S. Homeland likely will not avoid the effects of warfare and will be vulnerable in at least eight areas…

Alien Capital Redux

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There’s some fascinating comments by Louis Armand in an essay featured in Alienist #4 that deal with Primož Krašovec’s ‘Alien Capital’:

This Alien metaphor can be taken a step further, in that it exceeds the notion of simply an economic or social prosthesis – an addition to the world of human activity – & speaks rather of a condition. Like Power, capital isn’t abstract: it is abstraction itself. It isn’t  concept born in relation to a subject: it is the very operation of subjectivisation. In its “post-human” iteration, Power is precisely not wielded: like the old Soviet joke, Power wields you. This leads Krašovec to argue that “the two anthropocentric perspectives of capital” – corresponding to the “elemental class positions”: the capitalist & the proletarian – diff er from the perspective of capital itself, which is defined by the production of value for the purpose solely of “infinite technological self-improvement,” on the assumption that technology defines the exclusion of the social. Krašovec thereby identifies competition, or the classical idea of class antagonism, as the technological dynamics of capitalism.

But just as Marx indicated that alienation isn’t in fact an anthropological process (it is instead the condition of the anthropological), so too we must move here beyond the simple description of capital as technological, to the supposition that capital itself is indistinguishable from technology-as such. That capital is in fact a system of technology, just as the commodity  is the thought of capital. It should be evident that the Anthropocene can’t be acquitted by the convenient appeal to a malevolent doppelganger or rogue AIs, & neither can humanism mask the alienation that constitutes subjectivity. Technology isn’t, as Marcuse argued, the invasion of “man’s” inner-freedom. In the final analysis, the subjective is technological; the human is alien capital. And if the dream of humanity is to outlive itself by “alien” sublimation, the dream of capital is no less than to transcend History by becoming the future. Accelerating towards the limit of its own representability, it radiates in the illusion of a totality suspended over its own void – as if making possible the very thing it makes impossible.

The last point—that we ourselves are alien capital (another route to this conclusion, one which would be my own preferable pathway, is the by tracing the constitution of the subject through matrices conditioned by mediation of the value-form)—here at the converges in a curious way with a comments made by Xenogoth in his Note on Eerie Capital. Using  the alien environs explored by Conrad in Hearts of Darkness and Ballard’s The Drowned World (accounts of fateful voyages down the Kurtz-gradient) he writes:

Once this architecture — understood most generally as space-time but we can draw things into a sociopolitical infrastructure — is dissolved into the chaos of the jungle, you can only keep attributing your actions to a self for so long. Eventually, the familiar sociopolitical architecture of habit and understanding is no longer in place so that you cannot distinguish your agency from the agency of your own environment… This fictive realisation that our agency is indistinguishable from capital’s own is precisely the point made by countless theorists and fiction writers. The solution to this is not to double-down on one conspiratorial agency or our individuality, but rather hold both as influencing their other in tandem.

Is it not at this point, in the realization and appraisal of the situation, that the recursive loop of reason is capable of kicking in—and with it, the real struggle over futurity begins?

Mode-Shift

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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.

-from Marx’s preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy 

Transformation

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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.

Ruin and Freedom (More Thoughts)

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On twitter, Uri tweets:

 

While accelerationist discourse (at least that outside of the explicitly left variety) often seems to skip around the issue of climate change, the overlap of catastrophic ecological transitions with technomic take-off and socio-cultural mutation is enshrined in Plant and Land’s “Cyberpositive”. In this ur-text, global warming, feminization, the growth of drug trade networks, out of control computer systems, and schizo-culture run together as the entangling fall-out of self-organization kicking into overdrive. The end is near and it is hot (both in the sense of temperature and allure):

Replacing the cold war’s phallic stand off is the war on drugs, dissolutio into the jungle, the world’s states united in their terminal self-destructin strategy of prohibition. No more dreams of a nuclear winter. The 1990 begins the China Syndrome of capitalism.

Ice is crystallized speed. It is also Gibson’s name for dataprotection Intruder Countermeasure Electronics. Ice patrols the boundaries, freezes the gates, but the aliens are already amongst us. Convergent input is interpreted by security as intelligent intrusion, as a trap or conspiracy, with everything preprogrammed to connect. Doubting that women belonged to humanity, Burroughs imagined them to be extraterrestrial invaders. Viruses are like this too. Nobody knows where they come from. They always arrive from elsewhere, perhaps even outer space. Humanity is an allergic reaction to vulnerability, but allergy depends upon the health of the immune system: the ice has to work.

Tactics are subtlety, or intelligence. As things become more complex they become more female, but patriarchy prolongs the ice age of mankind. The fatherland is cryogenic, a fantasy of perfect preservation, whose bronze age ancestors are even now thawing out in the Alps, frozen assets under attack. Global warming melts the ice, raises the seas, subverts the glaciers. Computer viruses melt icebergs of data down the screens, burning through the bacterial frost, like Burroughs exploring his junkie cold with LSD.

Trending towards a similar space, through from a totally different beginning position, is Kevin Carson’s Tuckerite market socialism. In a 2013 blog post for the P2P Foundation, Carson took up Greer’s theory of catabolic collapse – which admittedly has more to do with vast resource depletion than just climate change – and twisted it by suggesting that what was being traced was the decay of the old technological superstructures, right as a new technologies and infrastructures burst forth from the ruin (Greer, as one might expect, took issue with the bent of Carson’s argument, which led to a lengthy and productive exchange. Ya’ll can check out the twists and turns here, here, here, and here).

What’s interesting about Carson’s argument is that it exhibits distinct parallels with the apocalyptic vision sketched out by Plant and Land, albeit in a very different register. Just “Cyberpositive” details the escape of self-organizing technomic processes and mutagenic cultural viruses from the restraints imposed by the Human Security System, Carson sees in the emergent economy a “singularity”, the launch of a stigmergic network economy that is much faster and more agile to the top-heavy corporate capitalism that will inevitability fight back against it. As he wrote in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution:

Localized, small-scale economies are the rats nest in the dinosaurs’ nests. The informal and household economy operates more efficiently than the capitalist economy, and can function on the waste byproducts of capitalism. It is resilient and replicates virally. In an environment in which resources for technological development have been almost entirely diverted toward corporate capitalism, it takes technologies that were developed to serve corporate capitalism, adapts them to small-scale construction, and uses them to destroy corporate capitalism… there are two economies competing: their old economy of bureaucracy, high overhead, and enormous capital outlays, and cost-plus markup, and our new economy of agility and low overhead. And in the end… we will bury them.

While agreeing with the overall dynamic being traced here, there are a few quibbles with this picture to be had from an [unconditional] accelerationist ground, but we’ll have to defer those to a future post. What’s of interest here is the idea that there is an intersection between a self-organizing, runaway auto-revolution in the development of technomic forces, and the self-organizing, runaway processes that underpin ecological systems and natural resources. The zone of this intersection is plugged into the question of decay and growth as operational cycles in the context of an uneven, combined, and accelerating world system, which is ensemble that serves as the heart of this blog (see Ruin and Freedom, Anarchy, and Wash Out for more on this particular theme). It’s an edge-of-the-edge kind of zone that hopefully we can explore more fully in the coming weeks and months: after all, those who don’t consider the annihilation of the neo-ancien regime in the technomic spiral’s compression chamber as imminent are likely delusional; likewise, those who don’t see this unfolding against a backdrop of socio-ecological ruination – coastal cities swallowed by angry seas, walls of fire devouring midwestern ‘burgs, super-hot asphalt running like water through empty streets, devastating geopolitical conflicts over resources and trade routes, on and on – have their heads buried in the sand.

This looks like a whole lot of ruin and not much freedom. Indeed, the U/ACC argument has already sought to assign the whole question to the trashcan in advance (hence the imperatives of “let go” and “do what thou wilt”), and on a (very shortened) timescale the duration of human existence implodes. But in the timespace between now and then, the swirling drift of development is what interests us: what trendlines already in play will advance into dominance? How will reactions to the great Lemurian insurgency unfold, and how will the fall-out frame necessary organizational infrastructures?

We can expect a greater proliferation of so-called resilient communities – bottom-up, networked forms of community that emerge despite the activities of top-down power systems (regardless of whether or not those activities are slated to encourage or discourage their growth). As Jon Robb describes, the “core process” of the resilient community is based on three elements that conform closely to Carson’s own analysis:

  • Resilience to rapidly propagating global shocks (an inevitable outcome of a global system that is too large, fast, and complex to control).
  • High productive in their ability to produce everything from food to products to energy (they produce wealth). Networked innovation.
  • Extremely efficient and low cost. This stems from: shorter distances, less energy, less space, less time, less mass, and less information (as in, less management overhead required).

The emergent trends that allow these sorts of ‘micro-level’ processes to kick into overdrive include “everything from high intensity small impact farming to personal fabrication to DIY synthetic biology to global tinkering networks to high efficiency local energy production”. The relationship between these things and the primary process should be clear. As more efficient, network-based, technological-bleeding-edge-type forces, they represent the output of the acephalic, market-driven drive towards optimization – modernity in its thrasher mode. Thus while one might hear the words “resilient community” and mutter f o l k p o l i t i c s under their breath, there is no true distinction between this drift and Leigh Phillips’ defense of modernization, growth, and industrialization as a response to the dread of eco-doom in Austerity Ecology & the Collapse Porn Addicts (at least after the universalist left pretenses have been ejected and some sense of abstract doom is reinstalled).

Into the compression chamber we go…

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While the recent past has seen growth in numbers of and memberships in rightist militias, there now is some early rumblings concerning a “Revolutionary Socialism with American Characteristics” (h/t to Nildicit for the link). There are worse things that could happen than mass militia proliferation – at least as long as their activities bend towards exodus.

Flipping the script a little bit: there is no time like the present to reread Alejandro de Acosta’s brilliant encounter between the anonymously-penned green anarcho-nihilist text Desert and Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet:

They should be read together; the thought that is possible in that stereoscopic reading is what my or intends. (I mean to gesture towards the passage from one perspective to the other, and perhaps back.) If Desert sets out from the knowability of the world—as the object of science, principally—it has the rare merit of spelling out its increasing unknowability as an object for our political projects, our predictions and plans. Dust of this Planet allows us to push this thought father in an eminently troubling direction, revealing a wilderness more wild than the wild nature invoked by the critics of capitalism and civilization: the unthinkable Planet behind the inhabitable Earth. As we slip in this direction (which is also past the point of distinguishing the voluntary from the involuntary), all our positions, those little compressed bundles of opinion and analysis, practice and experience, crumble—as positions. No doubt many will find this disconcerting. But something of what we tried to do by thinking up, debating, adopting and abandoning, positions, is left—something lives on, survives—maybe just the primal thrust that begins with a question or profound need and collapses in a profession of faith or identity. That would be the path back to the perspective of Desert (now irreparably transformed). What is left, the afterlife of our first outward movements, might be something for each to witness alone, in a solitude far from the gregarious comfort of recognizable positions, of politics. To say nothing of community.