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Cybernetic Communism / What democratic forms will the working class create?

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Harrison
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Apr 14 2011 09:00
Cybernetic Communism / What democratic forms will the working class create?

By cybernetics, i mean its true meaning: 'the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems'.
Not Sci-fi humanoid robots.

I'm posting this because this has been an obsession of mine; making loose predictions on how technology will impact upon the democratic forms that will be created by the working class in the struggle for socialism/communism/anarchism.

Bearing in mind Marx's important suspicion over building detailed blueprints of these forms (preferring instead that they should be found through class struggle), i would like to view these as loose predictions and guesses.

My point is, will we see worker's councils / soviets emerge, or something new (due to the rise of information communications)? Or perhaps new forms of councils, heavily embedded into information networks? The potential of the internet and computers is so great, it could really make central and local planning of production trivial. It also seems to me that they would facilitate greater use of assembly democracy, and therefore assist in preventing bureaucratic groups emerging.
It would without a doubt improve the coordination between councils spread across great distances - videolinks and all the technologies developed for business meetings could be put to use.

Something fairly interesting is that the forerunner to the internet was comissioned to have been built in Chile under Salvador Allende, to manage 'the transition from capitalism to socialism'. Personally i think it would have managed the transition from social democracy to state capitalism (abeit a weirdly technological one with some limited democracy). His system commissioned a computer scientist from Surrey (Stafford Beer) to build a system whereby every factory would have a network linked computer into which they would input statistics.

Here is the link if you want to read the whole paper about Cybersyn
http://itp.nyu.edu/~gab305/EdenMedinaJLASAugust2006-1.pdf

Despite its role in state capitalist matters, I still found the scientific aspect of Cybersyn really interesting, and saw how such feedback systems could be built around a councilist structure (although i think at its core a communist/socialist/anarchist council/federative structure would be a self-regulatory system anyway.)

Anyway, i suppose just like how the extensive spread of industry gave the working class the material abundance necessary to institute socialism, the extensive spread of the internet and computers has given us the means to highly coordinate our direct/delegate democratic structures, and certainly abolish money/markets immediately, and switch to completely planning all aspects of production and distribution, by having the councils index all available statistics using computer systems.

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RedEd
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Apr 14 2011 20:31

I think David Harvey talks somewhere about how the computerisation of supply lines makes central planning to a degree redundant since information about consumption can be given to sites of manufacture in real time, which, coupled with increasingly fast transportation and manufacture, allows production to simply replace things as they are consumed rather than having to plan what to make. Obviously this can't be done for everything, but if consumption patterns reflected things like seasonality of produce better (and I can't see why they shouldn't) this has interesting implications, I think. Tesco's supply lines seem to me much easier to expropriate for communism than the kind of things that have existed in the past, in my opinion.

Harrison
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Apr 22 2011 12:43

thanks for the reply RedEd,

Thats really interesting, especially that capitalists are preparing that sort of technology for us through actual physical applications. As i understand Stafford Beer himself was originally involved in developing cybernetics specifically for large corporations.

i remember reading a bit in Pannekoek's Worker's Councils where he talks about central planning he suggested lots and lots of book-keeping and pretty mechanical and calculated predictions by secretarial workers, which seems rather redundant and could be automated now by computers.

What is also interesting is that cybernetic systems (such as the ones first developed by Beer and more evolved ones presumably used by Tesco) have the capability to learn and correct themselves over time, so they might be a bit crappy the first year, but they will have improved a lot by the next year and so on, gradually needing less human intervention

So i guess a possible situation might emerge where councils are freed up from menial economic matters altogether

i think some would find this scary and Skynet-ish, but the machine is merely dealing with the administration of things, humans in assemblies and councils would deal with the administration of themselves and their communities

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Khawaga
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Apr 22 2011 21:02

I think you're on to something Harrison. I've always argued that the market/price mechanism can easily be bypassed by transforming exchange into a generalized gift economy and by using sophisticated logistics systems, which in essence, is simply a cybernetic system. If you've got something written about this stuff I would very much like to read it.

Quote:
As i understand Stafford Beer himself was originally involved in developing cybernetics specifically for large corporations.

Was he the one that wanted to develop an organic computer to regulate businesses (which he saw as cybernetic systems)?

Harrison
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Apr 22 2011 23:12

yes, i think technology now makes collectivist vs communist arguments irrelevant.

i havn't got much material about this (especially from a libertarian angle).
i'd recommend the PDF linked in the first post. its worth printing it out, despite the fact its mainly preoccupied with the Allende mess. i've made my post extra long to try and sum up what i've learnt from it, synthesised with my libertarian concerns.

Cybersyn's (the system designed for Allende) dual purpose was that it was supposed to manage a nationalized (state-capitalist) economy and then later in a socialist economy it be used by worker's councils. I think Allende (as a leninist) saw it as a way to manage state capitalism without necessitating a bureaucratic class as per the Soviet Union, whilst also giving the workers some participation in the running of the state.

however, i'm still firmly against any state capitalism, as there is no guarantee it will ever resolve itself to socialism, and (as Stafford Beer acknowledged) in the wrong hands this machine could be used for very hierarchical purposes

heres a pic of the very 70's scifi themed Cybersyn control room

the most libertarian examination of computer regulation of labour and goods i've come across is DivLab in Ursula le Guin's The Dispossed, but she mostly focuses on the (also important) social impact of it, and it's a tiny tiny side pre-occupation of the book.

Beer developed the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viable_System_Model , which he detailed in his book Brain of the Firm. it was exactly as you described, an organic computer whose main goal was to survive. i'm not sure he saw businesses as cybernetic, but he saw they potentially could be.

IMO what is really interesting (and can only be grasped by us libertarians) is that a federated assembly/council structure would very much be a cybernetic self-regulated survival-seeking organism in itself, especially considering the
a) recall of delegates that fail to perform
b) intervention (helping to correct a problem) of a regional council (representing the will of many local councils) in the affairs of a local council if it under-performs below a certain level for a certain amount of time.

note that b) is a likely a necessary practical arrangement that would have to exist to ensure our survival, and is totally described in the Viable System Model by Beer's 'Algedonic Alerts'

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Khawaga
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Apr 23 2011 03:04

As soon as I get to a printer, I will give that document a read. I will also see if I can get hold of Beer's book that you mentioned. I recently read about him in the book "The Cybernetic Brain", which includes a part on the Chilean economy (though I've yet to get to the actual discussion as to why that is a cybernetic system).

Quote:
the most libertarian examination of computer regulation of labour and goods i've come across is DivLab in Ursula le Guin's The Dispossed, but she mostly focuses on the (also important) social impact of it, and it's a tiny tiny side pre-occupation of the book.

DiVLab came to my mind when I read your OP.

I also think that it would be interesting and necessary for libcommers to understand and learn logistics systems, like the Tescos one you mentioned. Gonna be real important ATR.

Harrison
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Apr 23 2011 22:33
Khawaga wrote:
I also think that it would be interesting and necessary for libcommers to understand and learn logistics systems, like the Tescos one you mentioned. Gonna be real important ATR.

yes i agree.
appreciating cybernetics could really overcome certain deficiencies in libertarian thought.

ie. i'm sure many libertarians would fear instances of a higher council intervening in the affairs of a lower council.

cybernetics studies exactly when it is necessary to intervene within a small malfunctioning part of the system, just like a nervous system. if we can rationally accept that for the system to survive, it may be necessary to submit a small part of that system to evaluation and impositions from above, to rectify production.

(its useful to remember that 'above'/'higher' in this context is actually horizontal because of the recallable delegate systems -- its more like submitting one council to the others than to any higher authority.)

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Khawaga
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Apr 25 2011 20:28
RedEd wrote:
I think David Harvey talks somewhere about how the computerisation of supply lines makes central planning to a degree redundant since information about consumption can be given to sites of manufacture in real time, which, coupled with increasingly fast transportation and manufacture, allows production to simply replace things as they are consumed rather than having to plan what to make.

Can you remember which Harvey text he talks about it? I'd be interested to look it up again as I think I might have read about that a few years back, but I can't for the life of me remember which text it was. I think it might've been Spaces of Hope, but I don't have a copy so can't look it up at the moment.

Harrison
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May 16 2011 07:30

tesco supply chain provider:
http://www.importservices.co.uk/site/content/new-site-08/tesco-supply-chain

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Croy
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May 27 2011 19:28

I dont know much at all on this sort of stuff but it sounds abit like the huge computer model described in the zeitgeist movements proposal of a resource based economy. From a lib com perspective, my general feeling about using the internet etc for operating the means of production/direct democracy is very positive. I think it could work very well in eliminating the possibility of bureaucracy and generally the time consumingness (not a word) of having to have constant assemblies as we believe everything should be decided collectively by all people who would be effected.