djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Fri Sep 22 05:17:57 MDT 1995
The Oakland Tribune published the anarcho-terrorist's screed today. So
unthinking has been Marxism's anti-luddism that we have often not even
asked a very serious sociological question: why has there been so little
*actual* luddite destruction this century?
I have no answer to this question, but it is an important one, I believe.
It seems to me another key question has to be the real subsumption of
labor; here capital no longer takes over production as it is but attempts
to adequate it to the production of relative surplus value. Here we have
the basis for the technological progress which is the object of the
To repeat myself repeating others, Marx shows that each capital must, on
pains of extinction, adopt ever more powerful means of production. Moreover
the producers of these means confront the problem that capital goods are
turned over infrequently so these capitalists must thus continually
improve them so as to *force* their adoption by any producer who is going
to have a chance of its labor being validated as socially necessary.
And then there is the whole problem that once more powerful means are
adopted by one capitalist, its temporary advantage is eroded by the
adoption by survivors of the same means. Now as values crash, the average
rate of profit falls, forcing especially at this point the adoption of ever
more powerful means, continually being improved in the meantime and in
their own way forcing their own adoption.
It is not surprising that capitals would desperately seek to get out of
this rat race and try to find an island where so much of surplus value need
not be accumulated in ever more powerful technologically sophisticated
means in order to maintain competitiveness. Or perhaps the dream of every
capital is to dominate a field in which no competitor is as technically
equipped but there is a generalized demand for the product and that
technical revolutions are only undertaken to improve and cheapen the
product to increase demand, never to ward off competition.
This seems to be what is driving the big gamble by venture capital on
technical advance in genetic engineering, the hope that some firm will
patent a gene therapy which will be deemed generally necessary. This would
be to own outright a veritable continent of extra surplus value--which is
the basic drive of advanced capitalism as first theorized by Grossmann and
recognized to some extent by Mandel.
And as the Unamober correctly points out, this is both likely to happen,
and the result will be the commencement of eugenics as genetic screeing and
therapy for various ailments becomes mandatory. (On David Letterman
tonight: what happens if we remove the genes for fatness, baldness and
gayness? No Dom DeLuise).
I am not putting the point well. But there is no doubt that technical
change is not driven by human need (this particular point is also
emphasized by Schumpeter). It is indeed an imperative of the system. That
is obvious in a place like Silicon Valley where technical breakthroughs are
everyday but there is very little scientific understanding of the ecosystem
here or the health effects especially on workers of industrial waste.
Scientific research and technical progress are indeed demand-driven, but
driven by the peculiar demands of a system.
I think that the Unabomber takes it as obvious that in a system of such
rapid turnover and advance of ever more powerful labor-displacing means of
production, the result can only be the such leaps in productivity that
nature and man are destroyed in the process. But the Unabomber correctly
recognizes that this is common currency among the many radicals, and he
does not emphasize this in his Manifesto
But Marxists may well disagree with the Unabomber on the unintended
consequences of this technical change and consequent centralization as
capitals are winnowed out in the process. For Marxists this will make
central planning on a powerful technical basis possible, providing the
material basis for freedom and security.
The Unabomber seems to be a wee bit anti-Stalinist!
I also don't see why the unabomber attacked the modern psychology of
leftism instead of the modern psychology of PETTY BOURGEOIS dissent about
which he in fact has some pretty accurate things to say. Moreover, if he
had recognized it for it was--that is, the easily-mocked vacillation and
uncertainty of a privilged class doomed by the laws of capital-- he would
have perhaps been more sympathetic to it, more conscious of some of its
potential for real radicalism, more attentive to its underlying meanings.
But perhaps in ignoring the petit-bourgeois basis of what he calls the
whole of leftism, the Unabomber didn't want to deal raise the implications
of real proletarian class consciousness, as that *seems* to raise the
specter of Stalinism.
Not surprisingly, he has not a word to say about the abolition of wage
labor. Though the Unabomber is said to be a student of Marx, perhaps he
has forgotten the implications of the theory of fetishism: "Capital is not
simply a social relation. It is a materialized social relation. It
appears in the form of money, and of means of production and subsistence.
And bourgeois economists accept these external manifestations of capital as
the substance of capital. The social and historical nature of capital thus
vanishes. Capital according to this view is not value, bearing value
through the exploitation of wage labor, but is simply means of production
which serve further production. The social moment is replaced by the
technical; the technical process of production, common to all orders of
society, appears on the scene instead of the traits peculiar to the
bourgeois mode of production. Capital is thus transformed into a
non-historical eternal category....The theoretical basis for Economic
Democracy is thereby created, so as to justify the Social Democratic Policy
of furthering the formation of capital at the expense of the working
Marx does indeed oppose technical progress as embodied in capital
formation. But Marx's reason is as missing from my comments above as the
Unabomber's manifesto: that technical progress or capital formation can
only be the result of the intenstified exploitation of the working
class--upon whom the task of reorienting production towards human need
(instead of surplus value or technological progress or capital formation)
Far from being a productivist theory, Marxism is a theory of revolutionary
class struggle, culminating in the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Unabomber speaks much of what he calls the power process but he is not
interested, it seems, with the achievement of exclusive power by the
working class to subordinate man's productive capacities towards human
needs. The class struggle has receded in this vision and with it the real
and only lever for utopia.
Above quote comes from the 1933 GBCP Political Economy Pamphlets,
reprinted as Political Economy: Marxist Study Courses. Banner Press
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