Making revolution: a reply to Davidson

When you write a book about the technologies of today that are building the future, and hear that a Marxist science-fiction writer is going to review it, one is liable to get a little nervous. After all, he knows where the bodies are going to be buried. So I’m grateful to Rjurik Davidson for his generous review of A Revolution In the Making, my breezy (a word for light-on) romp through the new world of 3D printing, robotics and new materials, with an added fun chapter about the political implications of such for Marxist and radical liberatory politics, a section finished by about 11 percent of the readership.

My very general argument in that section was that replication (3D printing and related technologies) and robotics constitute a radical break with existing modes of production, and that they thus represent a process that undermines the value-form of capitalism, in a way that makes other relations of production possible. Eventually, I argued, many simple objects will be able to be produced at a cost approaching zero, and without a countercultural turn to pre-capitalist modes of production. In the future, both home-based replicators and more complex machines housed at depots and makerspaces – places currently developing where people use technology in a variety of ways, from hobbying to expertise – would provide networks of production wherein people could obtain complex objects, either by self-producing or by paying a depot fee and having unlimited access and supply of simple objects.

Rjurik’s core critique of this proposal is this:

Rundle’s future history is driven by two key ideas: the notion of ‘autonomous’ zones – makerspaces using ‘open source’ material – and technological determinism, the notion that the technology itself has the power to transform society. Admittedly, Rundle is never crude in his position, making his own critiques of these things, and pointing towards more dystopian future possibilities. But in the end, he still follows these general arguments.
Autonomous zones have a long history, dating back at least to the utopian socialist communities of the nineteenth century….Technological determinism has a longer lineage, but is found across the world today. Its embodied in notions like the ‘singularity’: the concept, driven by post-humanists (and familiar to anyone in the field of science fiction) that at some indeterminate point technological progress will ascend at such a rate that it will outstrip human control and lead to a radically transformed world of artificial intelligence, the end of death and virtual worlds into which we might download ourselves.
Both of these projects face the same problem, an objection that has as a history almost as long as autonomous zones and techno-utopianism. It’s one that Rundle never addresses front-on. The objection runs like this: the circuits of capitalism regulate society in such a way that transformative moments are always contained and re-integrated.

There’s perhaps a fair criticism that I underplayed the degree to which my forecast was the suggestion of a provisional future, that I should have teased some of that forward more. But I do think that Rjurik has read over, or misread, the caveats I did put in – and I think he’s also missed a larger and deeper critique, which is that of political Marxism in the twentieth century, over against a more determinist Marxism that was underplayed and submerged by the political success of Leninism. My argument is that an overemphasis of activist and voluntarist politics has led us to ignore both the possibilities of technical change, and the limits to activism imposed by material history, and that this reaches back fairly deeply into radical history and tactics.

First to the present critiques. Rjurik suggests that I am seeing makerspaces – collective high-tech/low-tech workshops that have developed over the last decade – as the possible core of autonomous zones, which would be in the lineage of utopian socialist communes and so on of Left history. But that is the opposite of what I said. Here’s what I argue:

The alternative [to dystopia] would seem to be a distribution of the new technologies. This could potentially provide the wider population with the tools to create forms and regions of countervailing power against centralisation…..– but in a way that does not require all those involved in it to be conscious ‘makers’, devoting their lives and expertise to reproducing their own environment…. The maker fraternity would like to see it as a process whereby everyone becomes a maker, intimately involved with the creation of their own objects. But that seems to me to be not only archaic and foolish, but also a step back from the full liberation that such integrated new technologies offer. The result of a generalised, easy-to-use and safe ensemble of new technologies would be to offer people a source of contemporary and up-to-the-minute set of visible technologies of life at a fraction of the production cost they have today, and therefore as something approaching a free good.

In other words, my priority is to avoid the trap of intentional communities of the nineteenth century socialists or after. I am taking exactly the position that Marx took in relation to these experiments – that they are either coercive, or, if freely intentional, demand an abnegation of the modern flourishing self that Marx saw as essential to communism. That’s my argument with the ‘makers’ of the makerspace movement, as well – their moralising idea that everyone should be bound up in the product is a return of a Puritan ethos. Some people will always want to do that, and that is surely what a communistic network of production would look like – something centred around a ‘production hub’, where a wide variety of objects can be printed out with close to zero human involvement, but where people have all sorts of relationship to such hubs. My suggestion is that such production levels would allow people who have zero interest in actual making and those totally into it (and all points in between), to simply interact in a free way, as an expression of their own abilities and needs (this is considerably elaborated in the book).

Indeed, I’ve seen this in some of these research institutes and spaces – places where someone is studying the molecular structure of grapheme on a screen while behind them, a 3D printer chuckles away making a spiral DVD tower. People make objects for each other, those with expertise run them for people who have none, because it takes very little time to do so, and the material and machine-time cost approaches zero.

My argument is that this new mode of production would spread not out of Owenite commitment to it, but because it would be better than capitalism at producing a whole range of stuff. Better, easier, more time free. Imagine having a 2m x 2m x 2m 3D replicator in your garage, loaded with ten different materials, capable of printing out a vast range of simple objects for use in everyday life. Printed out in the same way you’d print a Pdf, just by finding it on an internet site, and clicking print.

That does not succeed by asking people to make some higher moral commitment to the objectness of the objects. It will succeed only if it makes life easier: that is, if it eliminates or minimises shopping. You may find that hard to imagine – just as people a century and a half ago would have found it impossible to imagine that houses would be places where clean water, power, information and entertainment flowed without human carriage.

Rjurik criticises me for determinism in this respect, and compares such a prognosis to the crazy forecasts of the singularity. But mindful of such earlier forecasts I note:

There is not going to be any great transition to a printed-out world, onedevoid of mass manufacture, whether by human or robot. The development of 3D printing will continue in fits and bursts over the next decades. The mass production of new materials will be slow, and the introduction of everyday robotics capricious. The ‘period’ of co-existence between these two systems may well be an indefinite one – a new historical stage, to be sure, but one created by an accumulation and accretion, a change in quantity, while any qualitative change remains unclear. The most dialectical part of this revolution is that it offers no clean break, no way in which we could simply shift into another mode.

As regards singularity stuff, I note:

Transhuman futurists and the like have an arid vision of a world so dominated by technology as to be exhausted by it, its humanity squeezed out.

Finally, Rjurik argues, and one can agree with him, as a counter to wild optimism, that capitalism has a capacity to draw back just about everything into its dominant framework, recommodifying and reproprietising with a dismaying energy. Unquestionably true.
Rjurik’s answer: ‘The problem is one of political will, and it’s here that Rundle’s book, for all its vitality and verve, is silent.’

OK, that’s where we part company, absolutely, and that is one purpose of the book. Part of my interest in replication technologies comes from a familiar moment in Marx, in which he argues that history up to the rise of proletariat is technically determined – ‘the mill wheel gives you the feudal lord, the steam engine the capitalist’ – but that after that, with the rise of the proletariat, history becomes a process of self-knowing liberation, albeit one set within a growing technical/economic development that would make a socialist transition possible.

From the 1890s to the October revolution, the determinist view of Marx dominated – the contradictions of capitalism could not be forced, and the political task was to build mass parties and to be ready to take over when the moment arrived. The collapse of the German SDP (and just about every-bloody-one else) into chauvinism on the outbreak of the First World War, and the success of the October Revolution tilted conceptions of Marxism in a radically different direction – to audacity, dialectical thinking, and a radical voluntarism, in which historical crises could be engineered from relatively little, so long as people worked hard enough with a correct analysis.

My argument is that even if that was correct for a period, it sure ain’t now, and any notion of separating the technical change required for a post-capitalist free society from the political act of achieving it, is simply replaying an error of the century: an overvaluing of the possibilities of political will, and self-conscious liberation. Various forms of socialist transition failed for various reasons over the twentieth century. My argument is that post-capitalist socially just development – socialism – simply cannot be achieved within a mass-produced industrial context. The development of such distributable technologies offers a new path to socialism, by making possible the autonomy of networks of associated producers. The socialist transformation of mass production is still possible, but distributed production offers a better and more immediate path to transformation. It is already occurring with the mass distribution of renewable energy capacity, especially solar, and the reversal of grid supply involved therein.

Rjurik worries that this will be drawn back into a capitalist framework. My argument is that replication is the stage of automation that makes the rate of profit (prior to any manipulation or sequestration) drop like a stone, and thus undermines capitalism to enclose or recuperate autonomous production. Capitalism’s response to profit falls in base goods – visible now – is to commodify ever-greater areas of time, space and life and sell them back to people. A networked culture of replication, initially adopted by intentional groups seeking time-rich lives without deprivation, would spread until it offered a real alternative to those who wanted to take it up. It would only succeed if it was easier and more genuinely liberating than consumer capitalism, not an ethical step backward. Such production hubs and networks would not be like Owen’s pious communities in the 1800s; they would be like Ironbridge, Dudley and other cities in the English midlands in the 1700s, where one industrial discovery after another was made, as the Industrial Revolution regularised labour power and refined wage labour allowing it to spread out and transform the wider world of artisanal mercantilism and aristocratic pastoralism in which it was set.

The more fluid, abstract and general mode will always colonise the more particular and bound system. Capitalism and commodity production are to replication and open source what pre-capitalist eighteenth century England was to the ferocious energy of manufacture and commerce, and its yeast-like ability to transform everything it touched (and yes, I’m well aware what a gross oversimplification that is). It is the market and proprietorial relations that now slows things down so greatly, compared to the speed, fluidity and creativity of open source, hacking and replication. That’s why people everywhere – medical researchers for example – are rebelling against proprietorial intellectual property, and forcing institutions to restore open exchange between scientists – because science operates better, faster, when borderless co-operation and exchange can occur. Once replication technologies are better, easier and freer than commodity distribution, their enclosure becomes impossible.

That said, I do take Rjurik’s point that the more traditional processes of radical and transformative politics have to be factored into this scenario. But I also think that he has to burrow back into the really transformative layers of Marxism, the brute energies and ballet of object life to be found in the base. The transition between one mode of production and another is a rare thing, and we are living across it. The material revolution is an event of far greater moment than the ‘information revolution’, which was overvalued by a social class whose life practice was the manipulation of information, and who thus saw it as a world transformation, when it wasn’t. This is – and it is just beginning.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Guy Rundle is currently a correspondent-at-large for Crikey online daily, and a former editor of Arena Magazine. His ebook, And the Dream Lives On? Barack Obama, the 2012 Election and the Great Republican Whiteout, is forthcoming.

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  1. If we are birds living in a nest, what is the cost to the nest of simple objects being able to be produced at a cost approaching zero, through home-based replicators and more complex machines, I wonder? That is, is the cost to the environment of your material revolution factored in here? If not, there won’t be a future.

  2. Thanks Guy for responding to my review, which was intended at least in part to draw attention to your book, and also to hopefully open up the space for this discussion – which is important, it seems to me.

    It may not have helped to refer to the utopian communities of the 19th Century and after, because we have a responsibility to rethink the changing conditions as they are now – as you note, there’s nothing more tedious than rereading established verities rehearsed anew: we know where the bodies are buried. Using historical examples always flattens out the truly novel in any situation. So understanding that – and pointing it out – in that mode you refer to the emergence of industrial capitalism in the interstices of pre-capitalist Europe, as an analogy to the current period. Recognising the problems of erasure of the particularity, we might extend this a little further, because even then there was a period of radical rupture which included what Marx called ‘Primitive Accumulation’ in a famous chapter of Capital. That is, the State – and institutions of violence – intervened to violently assert the new social relations. People were thrown off their land, etc. That is, in that situation, the political was still fundamental. What’s more, the State was acting – to be awfully crude about it – to assert this new system.

    This immediately highlights what is really the essential difference between us, when it comes down to it: the difference in the weight we put on the political, and the larger state (or Integral State as Gramsci would have put it) as the decisive factor at the moment. In the end – and perhaps this is a weakness of imagination on my part – I can’t envisage capitalism going down without a fight. It’s a system that has all kinds of tripwires and safety switches to halt the sorts of changes you suggest. So one of the problems I had – and still have – with your argument, is that I’m not convinced these new “networks of associated producers” that you suggest might emerge can exist in the autonomy you claim for them.

    My reference to the various Utopian communities was less to their internal structure, or moral examples, as to their belief – more important in the 1960s – that they could exist in radical contradiction to the culture at large, and that this would transform that larger culture. I can see that what’s novel about this new situation is that, as you claim, we’re dealing with an emerging economic force, rather than an act of political will. You claim that force will grow whether we like it or not. This will happen precisely because it is economically more viable than commodity capitalism (cheaper, etc). But I find this to be something which is a question of speculation – in one sense it’s unprovable. One can only throw up objections which are mostly theoretical and historical. And here we come back to the regularities of capitalism.

    One analogy that might help your argument, or mine – it depends – is the transformation that’s undergoing the culture industry. The publishing industry (and film and music) has for some time been suffering from seismic strains. The essential problem, to use Marx’s terminology, is that the methods of reproduction and distribution have outstripped the social relations (the property relations). People can essentially download almost any digital product – book, film, music – for free, if they so chose. Thus we have all kinds of challenges to the laws, and threats against those who are doing the downloading. Without a doubt this is causing a series of related crises (as Marx suggested it would). Here’s the rub: I’m not convinced we’re facing a transformation, a post-capitalist economy, are we? Rather, a variety of ‘morbid symptoms’ have appeared (to steal again from Gramsci). In one sense this analogy is a good one, because this process is irreversible. And in one sense, this new set-up IS post-capitalist: one can get the latest book for free, outside of the realms of corporations. Yet, capitalism rolls on, as strong as before, without an alternative system in sight because the overarching mode is still dominant. One can also produce one’s own music, film, books, etc – and yet, this hasn’t resulted in a challenge to the dominant system (at least not yet, and perhaps never). Quite which way this develops is the question before us.

  3. Hi Rjurik

    A brief response on key points, because this item will click over. Perhaps to be expanded later.

    – the political/state origins of capitalism. I don’t think anyone historically, economically or otherwise, accepts Marx’s account of primitive accumulation any more. The better model is a slow transition to capitalism, with a continued exchange between inside and outside of an emerging system, often stewarded by the state, with violence.
    But it’s a long time since we’ve accepted that account as the whole or even half the story The transition debate – between people like Brenner, Mielant and Meiksins Wood – suggests the longer development of capitalist forms, prior to their full enforcement by the state.
    Indeed these accounts – and the evolutionist dimension of Marx’s approach – emphasises the point i’m making with regard to the development of new modes of production. They only acquire the capacity to challenge existing state structures when they have acquired a social and economic heft of their own, and a class to go with them.
    After all, the creation of the capitalist state was not only a necessary advance in broad historical terms, but also a liberation for a number of rural workers (those who left the land voluntarily). The Owenite etc communities that you, erroneously i think, compare to the new modes of production im talking about, weren’t an advance on capitalist development, they were a reversion to pre-capitalist scarcity, shared equally (rural idiocy as Marx put it, about Proudhon’s schemes). capitalist hubs, whether in venice in the 1200s, or england from the 1500s onwards, existed and grew within the wider, less abstract social form, before the form became large enough to gain force at the state level. thats what im analogising replicated production too. the utopian communities really is a false trail.

    You talk of the capitalist state’s capacity capacity to recuperate, trip up, etc and that is of course true. But that relies to a degree on a reification of a state that is always in contradiction in transitional periods. after all, some of the greatest opponents of capitalist development from the 1700s into the early 1800s were aristocratic forces trying to enforce limits on land use, prices and production.
    Their failure to restrain it was due to the degree that the new mode of production had already spread, and to its superior mode of reproduction and expansion.
    So, yes, things become a site of struggle at the state level. That’s been going on for a while, with attempts to limit the development of 3d printing by patenting holds – got round by successive open-source redesign – and related campaigns to change patenting and IP laws (with some success).
    My argument is that marx’s view of the c’ism-s’ism transition – as one more focused on political-social revolution than prior transitions – has distorted our idea of the multiple paths to radical transformation. Quite aside from the transforming effect of such a ramrodded production revolution, conducted for its own immediate rewards, rather than being an ethical project, it would create the social class with an interest in carving out a space within social and economic life. It’s clear that replication, as a new mode of production, radically automates to such a degree, that its spread would be the start of a change in the value-form that underpins commodity production. That does not guarantee that it will spread, but that it could be. It seems strange to call on Marx, and then suggest that arguing about the course of techno-economic development is ‘speculation’. marx’s whole project was to find the laws that would make prediction of future probabilities a do-able, and politically useful activity.
    Surely machines that produce complex-design useful objects with no attendant labour, at a material cost close to zero, represent a challenge to the deep structure of capital accumulation through surplus value? And there is a debate to be had at that level.

    That’s why the physical/material character of this transformation matters – and why trying to analogise it to the culture industry is to miss the connection between the two. this was a point i argued in the book – the online transformation made culture approach zero cost for physical production. inevitably the social class bound up in it mistook for a full transformation. but still needed shelter and food. free exchange in culture would only be a liberation in a wholly free exchange economy. set within an industrial-commodity one, it was simply a shift in specific vale-form with good and bad consequences for culture workers. what draws it back into capitalist relations is in part our insistence on that. i mean i still collect my royalties :-)
    i do feel that the whole question of production, its transformations, and different pathways has to be considered – especially as part of an evolving capitalist crisis of the base, of profitability and accumulation. That century-old ‘morbid symptoms’ thing is well past use-by date surely? after all, capitalism may be sick, but mass revolutionary socialism is dead, and there’s no large scale alternative proposal on the table. There’s a need to examine new possibilities outside older frameworks.
    But the general point about re-factoring in the state in these accounts is well taken.

  4. Okay, I’ve finally gotten some time to respond in a way which is less cursory than the last. I can see there’s some incommensurability of view – as philosophers of science would call it – going on here, and it’s certainly important to see other positions from the inside (as I’ve tried with yours – and will try again; apologies if I misunderstand your position). I will note that I’m neither an economist nor a historian, and so all my arguments – as I tried to indicate with my language in my initial review – come with that caveat.

    Just a methodological thing: perhaps it’s the way I’ve expressed it, but there are a couple of places where you’ve mistaken the form of my argument for its content.

    I brought up Marx not because it’s necessarily an accurate model of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, but because no account of the transition can succeed without taking into account the state’s role: whether it be resistant, or facilitate them (what Gramsci would have called Passive Revolution). One fundamental difference, which I didn’t spell out, is that in the transition between feudalism and capitalism, the emerging “bourgeoisie” were able to colonise that state and indeed intermix with the aristocracy – or the aristocracy began to invest in businesses themselves and became capitalists. The result was that political power often accompanied the rising social power of the business classes. So while I accept your points about the process of transition, we have to ask, will the process you describe result in a a similar change in the nature of the state – will the emerging post-capitalist spheres be able to rise economically and politically? Or, as is a usual Marxist position, is capitalism quite different, in the sense that its opponents have typically only very circumscribed power within that system – the power to withdraw labour and voluntarily associate, etc – and hence no ability to transform the state, in the way the capitalist interests did during the transition to capitalism? In this position, the State would remain -to lean on Poulantzas – an institution whose role is to ensure the reproduction of capitalism. More on these questions later.

    Similarly, I mentioned autonomous zones in general, not specifically the Owenites (say), simply to mention that all non-capitalist spaces have always been radically attenuated and temporally limited. Until now, none have survived for very long, or without interaction with capitalism. It seems to me that many of the contemporary maker-spaces face – as I mentioned in the review, similar challenges: “Some of the inventors will move on to other interests; others will be bought off by corporations; some will become entrepreneurs in their own right, making the kind of transition that Jerry Rubin did after the 1960s.” Mind you, I think this is a political process, and the task of the Left is to support the zones independence, to bring them into a Left hegemonic project, if you like. I’m not one of those who see such spaces as distractions from the “real tasks.”

    In response, you draw a distinction between the new maker-spaces and all previous “autonomous zones”, on the basis that the new economics of the maker-spaces – the fact that they are a change in economic “base”, not “intentional communities.” That what we’re seeing is the productive forces (as Marxists usually call it), breaking free of the social relations. The result will be a mixed capitalist and post-capitalist economy.

    This side of Marx – the structuralist side, if you like – is commonly, as Perry Anderson points out ‘In the Tracks of Historical Materialism’, brought into contrast with the side which focuses on agency – the Marx of the Communist Manifesto. But it seems to me you re-emphasis the first at the expense of the second. Let’s assume for argument, that these developments do occur. What, we might argue, would be the consequences? Most likely – and this is an old argument – the result would be economic and social crises, as capitalism is radically undermined by the emerging technologies. The result of this radical undermining – crises of use and exchange values, leading to crises of money, leading to crises of the property form, resulting in structural adjustments, etc – is typically political polarisation. In the political sphere, capitalism usually attempts to foist increasingly bellicose responses onto society and radical political movements tend to emerge to provide alternative, and sometimes anti-capitalist solutions. The inter-war period of the 20s and 30s was one such historic period, and it seems that we’re re-entering a similar (though obviously not identical) one now. A glimpse across the forces emerging in Europe suggests this is true: Podemos, Le Pen and Melanchon, Die Linke, the True Finns, UKip, etc. We are forced, then, to ask, what would their responses be to any emerging crisis? Would they let any post-capitalist zones continue on, would they crush them, incorporate them into the state, or encourage them? And so on. Factoring in the response of the state – which you admit we have to do – turns out to be far from a minor factor.

    Finally, you claim that, “It seems strange to call on Marx, and then suggest that arguing about the course of techno-economic development is ‘speculation’.” My point here was that we can’t actually be certain of the actual effects of 3-D printing, or robotics, etc. Perhaps 3-D printing will result in our ability to produce useful household items in our garages, but then again, we can all also – should we wish – make our own clothes using sewing-machines. Only a few do, though. I used the word speculation without any negative connotations, but in its literal meaning – it IS speculation quite what the effects of this new technology will be.

    You object to my analogy of the Culture Industry, but I used it advisedly, because I think you divorce the material and the cultural here in an unconvincing way. Each of us have the ability to download a PDF and print out a book, where once we bought them in bookshops sourced by printing factories – just as you suggest we might with household items using 3-D printers (though presumably not food, etc). It has radically undermined the culture industry, caused crisis, but we don’t have any emerging post-capitalist zones, do we? Aren’t you agreeing with me when you say: “free exchange in culture would only be a liberation in a wholly free exchange economy. set within an industrial-commodity one, it was simply a shift in specific vale-form with good and bad consequences for culture workers. what draws it back into capitalist relations is in part our insistence on that. i mean i still collect my royalties :-)”?

  5. You guys! Maybe if you actually read some Marx rather than just evoked him from time to time you wouldn’t make such silly claims as,
    “It’s clear that replication, as a new mode of production, radically automates to such a degree, that its spread would be the start of a change in the value-form that underpins commodity production.”
    First, Marx spoke of a ‘mode of production’ as a unity of forces and relations of production. At best 3D printing, replication, what have you, may constitute a new technique, new technology; but it does not constitute a new ‘mode’ by Marx’s reckoning. Even if we limited it to being a new ‘force of production’ it is not too clear that Marx would agree. For instance Marx considered new social relations under the rubric of ‘forces of production’, and indeed he considered the revolutionary proletariat as a new force of production. We should also not forget that Marx appropriated the term ‘force of production’ from (bourgeois) political economy in order to criticise the reduction of human activity to being a mere force of production.
    Secondly, let’s not forget that the ‘value-form’ is in fact a social relation. Not only does it ‘underpin’ commodity production in the words of Rundle, but in capitalist societies it is the very social essence of commodity production, circulation and consumption. Which is to say that value is not so much ‘congealed’ in commodities (as Marx’s ironically states) as it is the alienated ‘residue’ of human activity under capitalist social relations. Or better, the ‘value-form’ insofar as it operates at the level of the social totality (as a regulative principle amongst other things) *is* the capitalist social relation. So to say that that 3D printing technology changes, undermines, whatever, the value-form is like saying that machine production, electrical automation and nuclear power changes, undermines, whatever, the value-form. But that of course is silly. Technique in and of itself does nothing other than what it is developed for, or any new uses to which it is applied or extended. It’s we humans that do the changing, transforming, undermining, etc. To the extent that the labour-time congealed in objects produced under capitalist conditions of production (3D or otherwise) tend towards zero, is the extent to which the capitalist social relation is an antagonistic and crisis ridden social relation. Nothing new to see here folks. The problem as ever remains a question of consciousness and practice. And this is even to get into the silly conception of 3D technology still required the produced materials as inputs not to mention maintenance, repair, etc. (though Rundle may have gotten carried away and dreamt of a world of self-replicating bots a la Skynet).
    A now, a word from my sponsor:
    “to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. […] 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. […] He [the labourer] steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. 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. […] 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. […] 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.”
    (Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin ed., pp. 704-06)

  6. Yes, and if speaking of ‘replication as a new mode of production’, still within the bourgeois rationalization of the world, or capitalism, the opening sentence to Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, speaks volumes too: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities.'” And in respect of value-form, anti-commodities, if market forces so dictate, where gold (money) exchanges places with shit (junk), exchanges places with gold, exchanges places with shit, and so on, through a death dance withering its unwilling social relations of production. So much for the change in value-form underpinning commodity production.

  7. Anthony,

    You write that:

    “So to say that that 3D printing technology changes, undermines, whatever, the value-form is like saying that machine production, electrical automation and nuclear power changes, undermines, whatever, the value-form.But that of course is silly. Technique in and of itself does nothing other than what it is developed for, or any new uses to which it is applied or extended. It’s we humans that do the changing, transforming, undermining, etc. To the extent that the labour-time congealed in objects produced under capitalist conditions of production (3D or otherwise) tend towards zero, is the extent to which the capitalist social relation is an antagonistic and crisis ridden social relation. Nothing new to see here folks.”

    That’s all well and good, though the point you’re making, that capitalism can integrate these developments is pretty much the same as the one I am, in which case, I’m not sure whether you’re arguing just against Guy or myself too. However the idea that there is nothing new to see here is a strangely ahistorical way of putting it. These developments, as I mentioned above, are likely to result in crisis – in a way that plenty of technological developments (steam technology, for example), didn’t. I mean, surely you don’t think capitalism can integrate full automation and renewable power, right? I did enjoy your tone, though. It made me laugh.

  8. Rurik, the ‘nothing new to see here’ I am referring to is the capital-labour relation. No doubt it has been transformed in various ways, most notably through the incorporation of the representational forms of organisation thrown up by working class struggle into state and para-state organisations (labour parties, trade unions, soviets, etc.). But in its fundamentals the capital-labour relation remains, i.e. the enforced ‘need’ for people to sell their labour-power in order to gain access to the ‘means of subsistence’.

    Rundle’s argument reminds me of the type of crazy claims that were made for the ‘internet revolution’ in the late 1990s, or even the claims made regarding the computerisation concomitant with Western ‘de-industrialisation’ in the 1970s and 80s. Yes this technology is amazing, particularly with its implicit promise of the liberation of time away from work and the possibilities of automatizing production more generally. But this promise is perhaps the primary ghost that has stalked capital since at least the industrial revolution. As Marx pointed out (here we go…) capital can never overcome its prime ‘contradiction’ (or at least ‘opposition’): it tends to expel living labour from the production process and yet it depends upon it as the source of new value (NB. we can read this analogously to the opposition of forces/relations of production, i.e. the development of the forces of production tends to expel workers from the production process and the relations of production are what guarantee the extraction of surplus-value).

    So rather than saying, like you that ‘these [technological] developments […] are likely to result in crisis’ I would argue that technological developments are precisely a *result* of the crisis-nature of the capital nature relation. For instance when you go on to say that ‘plenty of technological developments (steam technology, for example), didn’t’ result in crisis, surely you are forgetting the real impact of such technology even in the early days of industrialisation. Most will rightly remember the Luddites. Indeed steam technology had far ranging effects, not only upon the local textile industries in the UK but further afield it helped to destroy the textile industries in India around the same time. If we were Stalinists we could shrug our shoulders and toast the progressive development of the forces of production and the ‘necessary’ slaughter. Nonetheless if this wasn’t a crisis I’m not sure what is.

    There is a great bit in Capital 1 in which Marx writes of considering all *applied* technical developments in the productive process as directly a result of ‘the refractory hand of labour’. Workers rebel; capital responds by expelling workers from production (primarily with technical development). And as Marx argued this changing ratio of the ‘organic composition’ leaves capitalists with intractable problems.

    Finally (and to bring this relatively long response to a close) I mostly disagreed with Rundle – so apologies if I seemed to lump you into the same oversized bucket. However your belief that crises are the result of the breakdown of capitalist social relations rather than the very heart of these relations is no doubt fertile ground for further argument.

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