VI

"Just like modernization did in a prior era, today's post-modernization (or informatization) marks a new way of becoming human.  Regarding the production of souls, as Musil put it, one would really have to replace the traditional technology of industrial machines with the cybernetic intelligence of information and communications technologies.  We will need to invent what Pierre Levy has called an 'anthropology of cyberspace.'"

Michael Hardt & Toni Negri,  Empire, 1999.

 

"Communication is the fundamental 'third way' of imperial control... Contemporary communications systems are not subordinate to sovereignty; on the contrary, it is sovereignty that appears to be subordinate to communications... Communication is the form of capitalist production in which capital has succeeded in entirely and globally subjugating society to its regime, suppressing all the possible ways of replacing it."

Michael Hardt & Toni Negri,  Empire, 1999.

 

 

The cybernetic utopia has not only sucked all the blood out of socialism and its force as an opposition by making it into a "proximity democratism."  In the confusion-laden 1970s, it also contaminated the most advanced Marxism, making its perspective inoffensive and untenable.  "Everywhere," wrote Lyotard in 1979, "in every way, the Critique of political economy and the critique of the alienated society that was its corollary are used as elements in the programming of the system."  Faced with the unifying cybernetic hypothesis, the abstract axioms of potentially revolutionary antagonisms - class struggle, "human community" (Gemeinwesen) or "social living" versus Capital, general intellect versus the process of exploitation, "multitudes" versus "Empire," "creativity" or "virtuosity" versus work, "social wealth" versus commodity value, etc. - definitively serve the political project of a broader social integration.  The critique of political economy and ecology do not critique the economic style proper to capitalism, nor the totalizing and systemic vision proper to cybernetics; paradoxically, they even make them into the engines driving their emancipatory philosophies of history.  Their teleology is no longer that of the proletariat or of nature, but that of Capital.  Today their perspective is, deeply, one of social economy, of a "solidarity economy," of a "transformation of the mode of production," no longer via the socialization or nationalization of the means of production but via a socialization of the decisions of production.  As writers like for example Yann Moulier Boutang put it, it is in the end a matter of making recognized the "collective social character of the creation of wealth," that the profession of living as a citizen be valorized.  This pretend communism is reduced to no more than an economic democratism, to a project to reconstruct a "post-Fordist" State from below.  Social cooperation is presented as if it were a pre-ordained given, with no ethical incommensurability and no interference in the circulation of emotions, no community problems.

 

Toni Negri's career within the Autonomia group, and the nebula of his disciples in France and in the anglo world, show just how much Marxism could authorize such a slippery slide towards the will to will, towards "infinite mobilization," sealing its unavoidable eventual defeat by the cybernetic hypothesis.  The latter has had no problem plugging itself into the metaphysics of production that runs throughout Marxism and which Negri pushed to the extreme by considering all affects, all emotions, all communications - in the final analysis - as labor.  From this point of view, autopoïesis, self-production, self-organization, and autonomy are categories which all play a homologous role in the distinct discursive formations they emerged from.  The demands inspired by this critique of political economy, such as the demand for a guaranteed minimum income and the demand for "citizenship papers for all" merely attack, fundamentally, the sphere of production.  If certain people among those who today demand a guaranteed income have been able to break with the perspective of putting everyone to work - that is, the belief in work as a fundamental value - which formerly still had predominance in the unemployed workers' movements, it was only on condition - paradoxically - that they'd be able to keep the restrictive definition of value they had inherited, as "labor value." Thus they were able to ignore just how much they contributed, in the end, to the circulation of goods and persons.



It is precisely because valorization is no longer assignable to what takes place solely in the production sphere that we must now displace political gestures - I'm thinking of normal union strikes, for example, not even to mention general strikes - into the spheres of product and information circulation.  Who doesn't understand by now that the demand for "citizenship papers for all" - if it is satisfied - will only contribute to a greater mobility of the labor force worldwide?  Even American liberal thinkers have understood that.  As for the guaranteed minimum income, if that were obtained, would it not simply put one more supplementary source of income into the circuit of value?  It would just represent a formal equivalent of the system's investment in its "human capital" -- just another loan in anticipation of future production.  Within the framework of the present restructuring of capitalism, the demand for a guaranteed minimum income could be compared to a neo-Keynesian proposal to relaunch "effective demand" which could serve as a safety net for the hoped-for development of the "New Economy."  Such reasoning is also behind the adherence of many economists to the idea of a "universal income" or a "citizenship income."  What would justify such a thing, even from the perspective of Negri and his faithful flock, is a social debt contracted
by capitalism towards the "multitudes."  When I said, above, that Negri's Marxism had in the end operated, like all other Marxisms, on the basis of an abstract axiom concerning social antagonism, it's only because it has a concrete  need for the fiction of a united social body.  In the days when he was most on the offense, such as the days he spent in France during the unemployed workers' movement of winter 1997-1998, his perspectives were focused on laying the foundation for a new social contract, which he'd call communist.  Within classical politics, then, Negriism was already playing the avant-garde role of the ecologist movements.

 

So as to rediscover the intellectual circumstances explaining this blind faith in the social body, seen as a possible subject and object of a contract, as an ensemble of equivalent elements, as a homogeneous class, as an organic body, one would need to go back to the end of the 1950s, when the progressive decomposition of the working class in western societies disturbed marxist theoreticians since it overturned the axiom of class struggle.  Some of them thought that they could find in Marx's Grundrisse a demonstration, a prefiguring of what capitalism and its proletariat were becoming.  In his fragment on machines, Marx envisaged that when industrialization was in full swing, individual labor power would be able to cease being the primary source of surplus value, since "the general social understandings, knowledge" would become the most immediate of productive powers.  This kind of capitalism, which PEOPLE call "cognitive" today, would no longer be contested by a proletariat borne of large-scale manufacturing.  Marx supposed that such contestation would be carried out by the "social individual."  He clarified the reasoning behind this unavoidable process of reversal: "Capital sets in motion all the forces of science and nature; it stimulates cooperation and social commerce so as to liberate (relatively speaking) the creation of wealth from labor time... These are the material conditions that will break up the foundations of capital."  The contradiction of the system, its catastrophic antagonism, came from the fact that Capital measures all value by labor time, while simultaneously diminishing it because of the productivity gains granted it by automation.  Capitalism is doomed, in sum, because it demands - at the same time - more labor and less labor.  The responses to the economic crisis of the 1970s, the cycle of struggles which in Italy lasted more than ten years, gave an unexpected blow of the whip to this teleology.  The utopia of a world where machines would work instead of us appeared to be within reach.  Creativity, the social individual, the general intellect - student youth, cultivated dropouts, intangible laborers, etc. - detached from the relations of exploitation, would be the new subject of the coming communism.  For some, such as Negri or Castoriadis, but also for the situationists, this meant that the new revolutionary subject would reappropriate its "creativity," or its "imagination," which had been confiscated by labor relations, and would make non-labor time into a new source of self and collective emancipation.  Autonomia was founded as a political movement on the basis of such analyses. 

 

In 1973, Lyotard, who for a long while had associated with Castoriadis within the Socialism or Barbarism group, noted the lack of differentiation between this new marxist, or post-marxist, discourse and the discourse of the new political economy: "The body of machines which you call a social subject and the universal productive force of man is none other than the body of modern Capital.  The knowledge in play within it is in no way proper to all individuals; it is separate knowledge, a moment in the metamorphosis of capital, obeying it as much as it governs it at the same time."  The ethical problem that is posed by putting one's hopes in collective intelligence, which today is found in the utopias of the autonomous collective use of communications networks, is as follows: "we cannot decide that the primary role of knowledge is as an indispensable element in the functioning of society and to act, consequently, in place of it, if we have already decided that the latter is itself just a big machine.  Inversely, we can't count on its critical function and imagine that we could orient its development and spread in such a direction if we've already decided that it is not an integral whole and that it remains haunted by a principle of contestation."  By conjugating the two nevertheless irreconcilable terms of such an alternative, the ensemble of heterogeneous positions of which we have found the womb in the discourse of Toni Negri and his adepts (which represents the point of completion of the marxist tradition and its metaphysics) is doomed to restless political wandering, in the absence of any destination other than whatever destination domination may set for it.  The essential issue here - an issue which seduces many an intellectual novice - is that such knowledge is never power, that this understanding is never self-understanding, and that such intelligence always remains separate from experience.  The political trajectory of Negriism is towards a formalization of the informal, towards rendering the implicit explicit, making the tacit obvious, and in brief, towards valorizing everything that is outside of value.  And in effect, Yann Moulier Boutang, Negri's loyal dog, ended up dropping the following tidbit in 2000, in an idiotic cocaine-addict's unreal rasp: "capitalism, in its new phase, or its final frontier, needs the communism of the multitudes."  Negri's neutral communism, the mobilization that it stipulates, is not only compatible with cybernetic capitalism - it is now the condition for its effectuation.

Once the propositions in the MIT Report had been fully digested, the "growth" economists highlighted the primordial role to be played by creativity and technological innovation - next to the factors of Labor and Capital - in the production of surplus value.  And other experts, equally well informed, learnedly affirmed that the propensity to innovate depended on the degree of education, training, health, of populations - after Gary Becker, the most radical of the economicists, PEOPLE would call this "human capital" - and on the complementarity between economic agents (a complementarity that could be favored by putting in place a regular circulation of information through communications networks), as well as on the complementarity between activity and environment, the living human being and the non-human living thing.  What explains the crisis of the 1970s is that there was a whole cognitive and natural social base for the maintenance of capitalism and its development which had up to that time been neglected.  Deeper still, this meant that non-labor time, the ensemble of moments that fall outside the circuits of commodity valorization - that is, everyday life - are also a factor in growth, and contain a potential value insofar as they permit the maintenance of Capital's human base.  PEOPLE, since then, have seen armies of experts recommending to businesses that they apply cybernetic solutions to their organization of production: the development of telecommunications, organization in networks, "participatory" or project-based management, consumer panels, quality controls - all these were to contribute to upping rates of profit.  For those who wanted to get out of the crisis of the 1970s without questioning capitalism, to "relaunch growth" and not stop it up anymore, would consequently need to work on a profound reorganization of it, towards democratizing economic choices and giving institutional support to non-work (life) time, like in the demand for "freeness" for example.  It is only in this way that PEOPLE can affirm, today, that the "new spirit of capitalism" inherits the social critique of the years 1960-1970: to the exact extent that the cybernetic hypothesis inspired the mode of social regulation that was emerging then. 

 

It is thus hardly surprising that communications, the realization of a common ownership of impotent knowledge that cybernetics carries out, today authorizes the most advanced ideologues to speak of "cybernetic communism," as have Dan Sperber or Pierre Levy - the cybernetician-in-chief of the French speaking world, collaborator on the magazine Multitudes, and author of the aphorism, "cosmic and cultural evolution culminate today in the virtual world of cyberspace."  "Socialists and communists," write Hardt and Negri, have for a long time been demanding free access and control for the proletariat over the machines and materials it uses to produce.  However, in the context of intangible and biopolitical production, this traditional demand takes on a new aspect.  Not only do the masses use machines to produce, the masses themselves become more and more mechanical, and the means of production more and more integrated into the bodies and minds of the masses.  In this context, reappropriation means attaining free access to (and control over) knowledge, information, communication, and feelings/emotions, since those are some of the primary means of biopolitical production."  In this communism, they marvel, PEOPLE wouldn't share wealth, they'd share information, and everybody would be simultaneously a producer and consumer.  Everyone will become their own “self-media"!  Communism will be a communism of robots!

 

Whether it merely breaks with the individualist premises about economy or whether it considers the commodity economy as a regional component of a more general economy - which is what’s implied in all the discussions about the notion of value, such as those carried out by the German group Krisis, all the defenses of gift against exchange inspired by Mauss, and `the anti-cybernetic energetics of someone like Bataille, as well as all the considerations on the Symbolic, whether made by Bourdieu or Baudrillard - the critique of political economy, in fine, remains dependent on economicism.  In a health-through-activity perspective, the absence of a workers' movement corresponding to the revolutionary proletariat imagined by Marx was to be dealt with by the militant labor of organizing one.  "The Party," wrote Lyotard, "must furnish proof that the proletariat is real and it cannot do so any more than one can furnish proof of an ideal of thought.  It can only supply its own existence as a proof, and carry out a realistic politics.  The reference point of its discourse remains directly unpresentable, non-ostensible.  The repressed disagreement has to do with the interior of the workers' movement, in particular with the form taken by recurring conflicts on the organization question."  The search for a fighting class of producers makes the Marxists the most consequential of the producers of an integrated class.  It is not an irrelevant matter, in existential and strategic terms, to enter into political conflict rather than producing social antagonism, to be a contradictor within the system or to be a regulator within it, to create instead of wishing that creativity would be freed, to desire instead of desiring desire -- in brief, to fight cybernetics, instead of being a critical cybernetician.

 

Full of a sad passion for one's roots, one might seek the premises for this alliance in historical socialism, whether in Saint-Simon's philosophy of networks, in Fourier's theory of equilibrium, or in Proudhon's mutualism, etc.  But what the socialists all have in common, and have for two centuries, which they share with those among them who have declared themselves to be communists, is that they fight against only one of the effects of capitalism alone: in all its forms, socialism fights against separation, by recreating the social bonds between subjects, between subjects and objects, without fighting against the totalization that makes it possible for the social to be assimilated into a body, and the individual into a closed totality, a subject-body.  But there is also another common terrain, a mystical one, on the basis of which the transfer of the categories of thought within socialism and cybernetics have been able to form an alliance: that of a shameful humanism, an uncontrolled faith in the genius of humanity.  Just as it is ridiculous to see a "collective soul" in the construction of a beehive by the erratic behavior of bees, as the writer Maeterlinck did at the beginning of the century from a Catholic perspective, in the same way the maintenance of capitalism is in no way dependent upon the existence of a collective consciousness in the "masses" lodged within the heart of production.  Under cover of the axiom of class struggle, the historical socialist utopia, the utopia of the community, was definitively a utopia of One promulgated by the Head on a body that couldn't be one.  All socialism today - whether it more or less explicitly categorizes itself as democracy-, production-, or social contract-focused - takes sides with cybernetics.  Non-citizen politics must come to terms with itself as anti-social as much as anti-state; it must refuse to contribute to the resolution of the "social question," refuse the formatting of the world as a series of problems, and reject the democratic perspective structured by the acceptance of all of society's requests.  As for cybernetics, it is today no more than the last possible socialism.

 

 


changed April 27, 2010