A complete online archive of journals produced by the Midnight Notes Collective.
Midnight Notes Journal
Midnight Notes vol 01 #01 (1979) – Strange Victories
First issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes. From http://www.midnightnotes.org/mnpublic.html
A text version of this document (with an additional introduction by Alfredo M. Bonanno) is here:
Midnight Notes vol 01 #02 – No Future Notes: the Work/Energy Crisis & The Anti-Nuclear Movement
Second issue of the autonomist Midnight Notes journal.
I. An anti-nuclear summer?
From the point of view of the development of the antinuclear movement, the Three Mile Island accident was well timed and extremely beneficial. This is not to say, that the antinuclear movement would have disappeared without it or that the accident changed it radically. But the unexpected proof of one of the main arguments of the movement - i.e. that nuclear reactors are dangerous - helped expanding it both in numbers and in its regional distribution.
A superficial check of the materials available to us shows that approximatively 300,00 persons took part in antinuclear demonstrations, rallies, pickettings, alternative fairs etc. since March 28, including the 100,00 who attended the national rally in Washington DC on May 6. There were at least 80 anti-nuclear mass-events since Three Mile Island, among them 8 major demonstrations with more than 10,000 participants.
More important, perhaps, than the increased numbers of people involved was a wider regional distribution of the movement. It expanded from its former strongholds in New England (Seabrook), California (Diablo Canyon) and Colorado (Rocky Flats) into the Midwest (especially Illinois) and even the South (demonstrations were reported in Atlanta, Georgia, Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida, Bay City and Glen Rose, Texas)1
There were also small rallies in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Arizona, New Mexico. New in the history of the antinuclear movement were also large demonstrations in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco etc., which signalled an expansion of the activities from rural or suburban areas into the metropolitan concentrations.
But the most important question for us is whether this quantitative expansion of the movement has also affected its qualitative aspects, i.e. the type of people involved, its organisation, tactics, or more generally its class-composition. For, as impressive the numbers might seem at a first glance, they do not indicate any kind of an “historical break-through“ like the anti-war, civil-rights or student-movements of the sixties which were able to mobilize millions. Even the Washington rally was in fact a “deception” for many militants.
Considering the demonstrations in which we participated personally and the reports we got from friends on others, we conclude, that the class-composition of the antinuclear movement as it socially manifested itself has not significantly changed in this summer. By this, we mean, that mainly white intellectual workers (more or less involved in alternative ways of production or life style), including students, made up for the bulk of the participants. This is confirmed by the regional distribution which shows centers of educational industries (university-towns) as its organisational bases. What happened after Three Mile Island was merely that this type of people got mobilized also in minor educational centers, without changing the class-composition.2
It was typical, that an antinuclear march near Detroit (at Monroe, June 2nd), which drew several thousand participants, consisted almost exclusively of white students. Its class-basis was only the considerable university-industry in that city, but not the important automobile industry and its mainly black workforce
And this happened in a city which was, during the Enrico-Fermi-reactor accident of May 5 1966 “almost lost”, with all its workers, students, races and qualifications.
This general statement of a superficially stable class-composition of the movement must, however, be modified in some minor, but important aspects. A first modification occurred, of course, in Pennsylvania itself, where the movement not only expanded in numbers on its old class-basis, but also, in several demonstrations (in Harrisburg, Lancaster, York on April 8, Reading on May 20 etc.) included mainly “local residents”, i.e. clerical and state bureaucracy workers, Which make up a large part of that population.
The same type of people appeared also marginally in other demonstrations outside of Pennsylvania. This first modification is easily explained by the direct impact and health hazards of the accident itself (which, of course, cannot be considered as an “organisational model" for the movement as a whole). The material interests of these people are obvious, also concerning the possible decay of property values (even surveys showing so far no decline but the accident is not yet over).
Another important "marginal" change were "local kids” who intervened (or tried to intervene) in some demonstrations with unplanned and unpredicted actions, like storming and pulling down a gate during the Shoreham demonstration of June 6, without any consecutive effort to get arrested by the police. The official leaders of the movement had then, of course, to take their distances from such actions, which hurt the non-violent image of the movement (but also, we must add, the image of invulnerability of the nuclear reactor sites). These class-impurities put the “auxiliary police forces” of the movement to sometimes hard tests.
Other "local kids" were simply disappointed by the symbolistic and ritualistic tactics of the movement. After the Indian Point rites of August 5, I heard a group of such “kids" talk to each other on the way back from the ConEd gate (Where the Civil Disobedience-arrests were still going on) : "They are not serious", one said and tried to flush away his deception with a can of beer.
Is resignation the price of "non-violence"?
The counterattack with higher gasoline prices contributed to the preservation of the old class-composition of the movement. This is indicated by a growing gap between those who, in polls, are against nuclear energy and those, who are, additionally, for the closing of all nuclear plants. The fear of capital's "revenge" with price-hikes was stronger than the fear of radiation-dangers and created a paralysing schizophrenic attitude; if you are in a cage together with a lion, you don‘t tease him without, at least, a chair in your hands.
II A pro-solar summer?
But the almost 100% price-hike of the gasoline (over a year) was on the other side not as bad for the "antinuclear" movement as it might seem. This is why the “anti-nuclear” movement”, which has been very concerned about the "energy crisis” in general, never came out with any type of action against this ferocious attack on the working-class income and mobility. While the concerns of more and more people shifted away from Harrisburg to their own gas tanks, the “anti-nukers” continued their old civil-disobedience rites at nuclear plant fences, diminishing in numbers and enthusiasm.
But meanwhile, a “new optimism” grew within the movement: for the more expensive petroleum and nuclear energy became in this summer, alternative energy sources became "cheaper”.3 The pro-solar wing of the ”antinuclear” movement grew more optimistic while its anti-nuclear component felt a little bit “left alone" and went on biting its own tail. A shift from apocalyptic anti-nuke to optimistic pro-solar (or pro-alternative-energy-development) was visible in the "antinuclear“ movement long before this summer: alternative energy fairs began to replace anti-nuclear rallies already last year and a large part of the antinuclear militants, especially “informal” leaders, were stressing more the solar options than the antinuclear fights. Some of them are also involved in the alternative energy business which is booming especially in New England.4
The rise of the petroleum prices and electricity-rates has dramatically accelerated the pro-solar/alternative development, as is illustrated by the following statement:
"Earlier this year, when I was preparing my paper for this meeting," an expert on fuel cells said, "I made my calculations assuming that the price of diesel fuel would rise to 62 cents a gallon by 1985. It already reached that level, so the proposals in my paper have become economically attractive practically overnight.” (NYT, 8/10/79, report on the 14th Intersociety Energy Conversion Engineering Conference in Boston)
With diesel fuel being 90 cents (or more) by now, we are not living in 1979, but somewhere in the early nineties - as far as energy-profitability thresholds are concerned. The price-hikes of this summer have brought about a jump of a decade or so in the profitability of alternative energy-sources - and profitability is still the real planning instrument of capitalism. Higher energy prices are not just another rip-off, another attack on our income to raise the oil-companies' profits, they express a choice, an ultimately conscious choice made by capital in the planning of our future.
It is a choice that will be tested out exactly in the current recession, which, not by coincidence, is the third “accident" this summer. This choice creates an intense division between those, who have, financially or politically, invested in alternative energy and those (the majority) who don't have the means or the will to do so. While the pro-solar “anti-nuclear" movement can only be happy about the petroleum-price-hikes, most other working-class households experience it as a harsh attack on their income and are unable to see the “positive aspects”.
Why this attack and why now? First, it has to be stressed, that this crisis is by no means an energy-crisis. In a certain sense there was never and will never be a true energy-crisis, because, by the first law of thermodynamics, there is always a constant amount of energy. What capital faces (and wants us to work and pay for) is not in fact an energy- , but a work-crisis, a crisis of the transformation of natural and human energy into social energy, into surplus value and profits.5
The current work-crisis goes back to the early seventies when capital tried to reverse the drop of social productivity caused by the welfare struggles of the sixties (which resulted in a kind of “wages for housework” for a lot of people, especially women) by pushing people back into the waged labor-force and thus getting back more work for its money than from the (collapsing) households. Scores of women obviously accepted that deal, hassled by tougher welfare-procedures and tired of the continuous insecurity and struggles. But consequently they showed not much more enthusiasm for work in the expanding service-sector, where they mainly were employed than in their households before. Additionally the level of reproduction of their husbands and children (as future workers), of their lovers or brothers was damaged.
Capital tried to counteract these effects by a reorganisation of the work-day, introducing more part-time jobs, allowing more time for self-reproduction (like jogging, yoga, meditation etc.), redefining the role of the men, modelling the work-day on the pattern of housework (several small Jobs, high mobility, mixture of work and "recreation“). Waged work was generally expanded, but wages and work-time dropped, as well as productivity. Even the counterattack with inflation did not incite workers to work more.
Instead of working more intensively, they preferred to look for an additional little job or have two wage-earners in the household.
An expanded wage-fund combined with lower productivity means profit-crisis for capital. The broadly based inflation eroded the command-function of money, clearly visible in the expansion of consumer-debts. The response to this situation was the petroleum-price-hike, a “specific” inflation which was to produce a capillary profit-drain from low-productivity-businesses and working-class-income to the centers of highly productive, capital-intensive industries (among them not only petroleum, bud also nuclear, computer and chemical). With these profits, capital should then be able to make the next "jump". This solution, however, had its own economic and political dangers: petroleum-inflation reduced working-class consumption (e.g. car-sales), but was ineffective against the stubborn work-crisis. On the other end, isolated intensive-capital-production proved to be highly vulnerable and politically risky. 6
The current recession is the laboratory where a capitalist solution for this dead-locked profit situation is to be found. Capital is exploring the mysteries of the work-crisis by means of deep cuts into the social factory. Obviously capital is risking serious disruptions of the process of material production and reproduction, a certain level of destruction of its own assets (among them labor-power) and of its own political personnel (Carter). One surprising finding of this social surgery could be the alternative-energy production and lifestyle as a capitalist option.
III. Is small profitable?
The choice of the alternative lifestyle and way of production (appropriate technology, Buddhist economy) was an attack against the capitalist policy of the early seventies to push people out of their households in the offices, stores or factories, to become more productive. The retreat to the countryside (which in fact is nothing else than a big, natural household, with trees, mountains etc. as furniture) or to low-level consumption and ”tinkerer"-production was a response of a sector of the working class (mainly intellectual workers in a broader sense) which contributed during all this period to the capitalist work-crisis.
But on the other side, this political and (more and more) also technical creativity of the working class can be transformed from an instrument of attack into a condition of defeat, i.e. into the possibility of a “new mode of production" for capital itself. (This is just one example more for the basic logic of capitalist development, which has always been sustained by the antagonistic creativity of working class-struggle: as the 8-hour-day-struggle, the struggle for pensions etc.)
The alternativists have always stressed their interest in new ways of working, in human work and micro-productivity in the household, or small, autonomous communities. Already Schumacher in his famous book ”Small Is Beautiful“ discovered in 1973 the unexplored resources of our work day: only 3.5% of our "total social time” is actually used for material production in a developed capitalist society. Then, he concludes:
"Imagine we set ourselves a goal in the opposite direction - to increase it sixfold, to about twenty percent, so that twenty percent of our total social time was used for actually producing things, employing hands and brains and, naturally, excellent tools! An incredible thought! Even children would be allowed to make themselves useful, even old people. (…) Think of the therapeutic value of real work; think of its educational value." 7
There is no doubt, that Schumacher and the alternativists in general are sincerely interested in the good of mankind and are not mere apologetics of capitalism. But their interest in real work happens to be also the main interest and problem of capital at this moment. Capital is struggling against “unreal” work, unprofitable and unproductive work, and is on its way to destroy it: the lay-offs of this fall will show that.
Also capital wants to have a closer look at the immediate-work process and the structure of the work-day, after the obvious failures of previous explorations (Fordism, Taylorism, income-incentives, part-time work etc.).
The energy-price-hikes make “human energy" and other alternative energy and work-sources more profitable: a messenger on a bicycle is now even more profitable than before. "Man" becomes competitive again therefore also child-labor, grandpa-labor.
The decentralized, ecological, self-managed, self-disciplined, yogic”8 and appropriate-technology-work is now a viable option for capital. But this does not mean, that capital is willing or able to abandon the ”old" 3.5%-social-time-sector and that it is going to give up its command over the whole social factory. Its option is rather a combination of a modified "old" sector with a disciplined "new” alternative area.9
The capital-intensive industrial sector will be connected by various "umbilical cords" with the work-intensive sector and suck out its profits. Also for capital, such a proposal was until now a daring, an incredible thought! For the "productivity" of this alternative sector will certainly be lower as that of the old sector, when measured merely by output per capita. But on the other side, the reproductive productivity will be very high, although difficult to measure (the “therapeutical and educational value" of the new work, as Schumacher puts it). The work-day or work-life could be reorganized between these two poles of social production.
The exhausted labor-force or the intensive 3.5% sector could be recycled in the alternative "complementary paradise" and then re-enter intensive exploitation for another cycle. This would be the main source of profits extracted from the alternative sector. For capital, it could mean savings in social expenditures, welfare, health care etc. for all these services would be done "for free" by unpaid alternative labor. The alternative to such, a solution would anyway only consist in mass unemployment or “faked” employment in service jobs like in the seventies and would infect the productivity of the rest of the workers.
If the profit-transfer is secured, low-level-productivity is still preferable to no productivity or counter-productivity, even in “developed" countries. Jonestown, the fourth ”major accident“ in recent US-history, was nothing else than a model of this new mode of production. Otherwise unproductive or unemployed people (mainly black welfare-people) were put to work, not only for their reproduction but also for external profits, and their "wages” were used for capital investments in the alternative sector. This experiment failed, mainly because of the unability of the “command-personnel" (Jim Jones and consorts) to deal with the highly explosive internal dynamics of “voluntary alienated” work. His people began in fact to refuse the 24-hour-work-day and that could only mean the break-down of Jim Jones' complete control over them.
Refusal of work, refusal to love work, ended also the "love affair” with Jim Jones. In such a situation, death was preferable. What else can you do with a labor-force which even refuses "alternative work"?
Following a more balanced and less isolated "Jonestown"-model the alternative option could mean that energy and other commodities (also food) which had previously been produced in the 3.5%-sector would be produced by our unpaid housework and that we would have to invest our external wages as capital in our household economy. For example, we would have to pay for our solar collectors and bio-mass-devices and additionally have to take care of their maintenance. The establishment of this expanded household sector (which could also exist on a neighborhood or community-level) creates a tremendous new market for “3.5%-industrial products" (solar collectors, sheet metal, storage batteries, electrical appliances, all types of hardware, electronical equipment etc.) and so secures another profit-transfer-”umbilical-cord", a source of profits. A relationship of unequal exchange, comparable to that between developed and underdeveloped countries, would be established. Capitalism, after all, has always been a combination of development and underdevelopment and cannot exist in any other way.
The difference between those two complementary sectors is not, that has to be stressed, the choice of the technology. There will also be a solar-industry in the 3.5%-sector, e.g. huge solar collectors in Arizona or ugly shale-oil-mining, or bio-mass gas-plants. Capital is more and more interested in this use of "alternative” technologies, but this has nothing to do with the establishment off a parallel "soft path". Not only Big Alternative is acceptable for capital, but also small alternative.
Decentralisation of things, e.g. self-made solar collector on the roof versus giant collectors in deserts or nukes versus windmills, does not automatically imply decentralisation of command over our life, as many alternativists hope. If this was true, capital would never have admitted the individual car as a means of very "decentralized" transportation and would have favoured railroads which are much more centralized and easier to control (a central headquarter could determine the schedules, the location of stations usw [sic].). Capitalist command is far more sophisticated and is essentially not command over things, but control over circuits, movements, connections and exchange (mainly done by money, with fiscal policies, but also electronics and by police or other “physical" interventions only in case of breakdowns). Material decentralisation and destruction of capitalist command are not the same thing.
The shift from antinuclear to pro-solar within the antinuclear movement, the emergence of more and more “anti-planning"10 and less and less ”obstruction" in relation to capital are an expression of an underlying capitalist option. It‘s revealing that these anti-planners, though they base their confidence on the technical creativity of the working class-tinkerer, have no confidence in the political creativity of the class, i.e. are continuously concerned about what could happen "afterwards" and are afraid of so-called chaos or anarchy. (This is also visible in their police-tactics in demonstrations and in the fact, that some of them now stab in the back as the direct-action-people, who are ready to rely more on the political creativity of the movement.)
Capitalism is depicted as a mere self-destructive, suicidal monster and they propose to organize an alternative “where capital has left“. But while focussing on the oldest and politically already harmless sectors of capital, they cannot see, that capital never "leaves" and that they are only in competition with more capital-intensive paths of development (nuclear, Big Solar etc.) which in reality will go together with “soft paths", unless capital and all its "possible alternatives" are definitively blocked and the monster is blown out in space from our spaceship Earth.
IV Who can do it?
With its numerical and regional expansion the antinuclear movement has increasingly become the theatre of a struggle around the question: who will provide the polit/economical personnel capable of managing the alternative sector and the "new mode of production" as a whole? Who will be able to domesticate the alternative area, which is still an ambiguous and explosive mixture?
Who will function as "social control rods" that would guarantee an orderly combustion of the new human work? Who has the experience and the political credibility? Time has come for a completely new type of polit/economical personnel, for "soft" social engineers.
Some of these command problems are presently being rehearsed in the antinuclear movement. In large measure it appears as a spectrum of choices ranging from Jerry Brown's Presidential Bid, to the Citizen's Party of Barry Commoner, the legalistic Friends of the Earth, the “old" antinuclear types pushing consciousness-raising, the re-initiators of the Clamshell tactics of ritualistic fence climbing (SHAD etc.) and the “extremists" of the Coalition for Direct Action. The future of the movement appears as a “choice” between these tendencies, which can be looked at as various political approaches to the "new mode of production".
Though, at times, they take themselves as mutually exclusive, there is a constant shifting among their personnel, for they all find their material interests forwarded by the increase of energy prices (For example, there has techno serious attempt on the political horizon stretching from the electoralists to the direct actionists to even rhetorically combat the energy price hike.)
The various demonstrations of the summer were supposed to demonstrate the mobilizing capacities of the different tendencies and were explicitly meant not to accomplish anything substantial against the nuclear industry or even the plants. There was no need to push a development which was already being accelerated through the price hikes by capital itself. In this situation fence-climbing and the star-shaped die-ins a la Jonestown left the civil-disobedience-tendency in the awkward position of l'art pour l'art. With the state closing down plants, the utilities and the banks refusing to finance the nukes, and the business press filled with solar optimism, what was the need for jumping fences into the arms of the bemused police?
The main effect of these disguised political power-games was the growing deception and disaffection of the sincerely anti-nuclear militants and a certain erosion even among the ranks of the most disciplined non-violence activists.
By the end of the summer the crisis of the movement is more than visible. It expresses itself in the decadence of the commitment to non-violence, consensus-decision making and affinity-groups.
This process is exemplified most starkly by the SHAD-alliance in New York which attempted to follow as rigidly as possible the precedent of the Clamshell. But after its almost Racinian demonstration at Shoreham (June 6), it was forced to "compromise" its consensus-procedure and go along with a ¾ majority-rule in the preparations for the Indian Point demonstration of August 5. Following on the consensus degradation, SHAD accepted the heresy of affinity groups being formed right at the demonstration, with little or zero non-violence training. As all non-violence cards have been played and “strange victories“ are being won elsewhere, the old social activist part of the political personnel is becoming increasingly nervous and feels cheated by the legalist tendency which is beginning to harvest the electoral fruits of their own labour. Who needs militants experienced in crowd-control when the crowds disappear by themselves?
Thus, the direct actionists have to prove that the movement can still "get out of hand" and that they are needed for the future management of the alternative area. They have to act quickly, before capital may do the Job by itself with its price policy, or the legalists may establish themselves too firmly. This situation is partly responsible for the sudden "extremism" displayed by the Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook in its organisation of the Oct. 6 occupation. The ante is dramatically upped by the disavowal of absolute non-violence and the call for the use of "tools" such as ladders, shovels and wire cutters.
The aim of the demonstration lies no longer in the “symbolic value" of the numbers arrested, but in its “effectiveness in directly blocking further construction" (cf. Handbook for Oct.6). All the previous ingredients of a tight crowd control have been reduced.
The participants will have a choice of 35 assembly points before the planned occupation and are free to take the type of action that they want. Moreover, the size of the affinity-groups has been been reduced to 5-10 (instead of 15-20 as before), which allows for quick decisions and unpredictable behaviour. All this indicates that the organizers have to make large concessions in order to win back the antinuclear militants who have been "abused" during the summer. And there is at least the possibility that something could happen, especially if large contingents of urban blacks or “local kids" were to take advantage of this occasion to show their interest in social disruption (see our description of the Levit-town-riots below). The October 6 occupation as a final battle is an attractive bet also for scores of "old" militants who cannot afford to wait for an alternative future. It has the attractiveness of a reversed Minas Tirith, where all free nations of Middle-earth join their forces to beat the Black Lord before the long winter begins. But they should not forget that some unknown nuclear worker is still on his way to Mount Doom with the Ring.
At the same time the organizers keep the cards in their hands.
First, the model of the occupation (Marckolsheim and, more particularly, Whyl) involved only planned reactor sites and not almost finished plants like Seabrook. The marginal tolerance of the nuclear industry and the state will be much lower than in any previous occasion while the support of local residents is by far less impressive than in the German model case. Indeed, one of the organizers told us that "just anything that happens is a victory". It is as if they knew they are going to fail, and this very knowledge will be the main element of control over the demonstrators.
Conceived as an “effective" antinuclear action, the demonstration has only a very slim chance. However, for the first time in the American anti-nuclear movement a space is opened to the political creativity of various types of people. The organizers are going to take a risk - why should other people not take a chance?
The lateness of the planned occupation (nights in New Hampshire get cold in October) indicates another source of anxiety for the direct actionists. The connection with the first primary of the 1980 Presidential election in NH, only four months after the demonstration, is more than obvious. The occupation date seems to be a compromise between climate and electoral politics: continuous with the anti-nuclear summer, cool enough to make it short, and close enough to the spring to have an impact on the primary.
If the direct actionists cannot display strength and control in October they will be completely washed up in the melting snow of early March. For the electoralists present a very powerful argument; the price hikes have established the material feasibility of alternative production; consequently the point is not to push capital, but to institutionalize this production. What better way to institutionalize it except through elections? A lot of "older" social activists in the movement have already made this choice.
They are now afraid that an “ugly” outcome for the October 6 action could damage their electoral positions, spoil the party -and delay this institutionalization process. That's why even Anna Gyorgy, Harvey Wasserman, Sam Lovejoy and others, although officially ”endorsing" the demonstration, are in fact going around and stabbing in the back the direct actionists. (Our hope is, that everybody’s party gets spoiled!)
The clearest example of the new electoralist tendency is the Citizen's Party (a "Third Party" against the Democrats and Republicans). Barry Commoner is its mentor and likely candidate, while its organizational units (beside some “socialist" elements from the Democratic Party and some unions) are the "grass-roots” organizations of the ‘70s. These locally based, issue-oriented or constituency-focused groups expanded during the 1973-74 crisis involving themselves in "bottom line” economic issues, ranging from taxes to utility rates. But the present energy squeeze, and recession price hikes are putting this movement into crisis. They are facing the futility of single-issue-campaigns, which fail to build a wider social power. At the same time, their bases in the community and the neighborhoods makes them the natural allies of the alternativists. This is what Barry Commoner represents.
He speaks for a "new rationality", i.e. an alternative, decentralized but supremely efficient production and reproduction. Although his anti-capitalism is very much of the Second International variety, he does not opt for the archaic nationalization of large industries, but finds in the home and the community the basic mode of production. The ideology of alternatives meets with "neighbourhood-power” in the Citizen's Party, whose very name indicates its acceptance of the most abstract form of capitalist work: voting.
As for Jerry Brown, he represents the future interaction between the alternative sector and the 3.5%-sector (Big Business). Cutting social expenditures, implementing unpaid alternative services and using the money instead for productive investments (also in the alternative energy sector, in mass-transportation etc.) is his program. It makes perfect sense for capital and is not just an expression of demagogical opportunism, as many of his critics argue. Jerry Brown's weakness is probably his lack of a grass-root basis. But Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda are working on this with their Campaign for Economic Democracy.
Power in the antinuclear movement (which went from the legalistic Friends of the Earth to the alternativist mass movement, as e.g. the Clamshell) seems to be shifting back from the direct actionists to the electoral sphere. Only an unexpected turn could reverse this tendency which undoubtedly represents an immediate defeat.
V. Who won't do it?
The enemies of the alternativist proposal are two: one apparent the other real. The alternativists take as their enemy capital-intensive, centralized industry (which they at times identify with “capitalism”). But this “enemy” is now more concerned with hiding his sympathy for the alternative mode of production than attacking the alternativists. (In this context, Jerry Brown is already a very "compromising” figure for capital.)
There is, however, a more immediate enemy: the movement against the energy price hikes. This movement got its most concrete social expression in the independent truckers' strike and the "gas" riots of Levittown, Pennsylvania, (June 23/24). This movement is a "diffuse" movement, almost subliminal, completely distinct from the “Newtonian“ anti-nuke movement which is obsessed with getting the exact number of participants at a demo (e.g. at the Indian Point rally of August 5 people were stamped not to be double-counted by the organizers, so anxious were they to give accurate accounts of mass, space and time).
Another “Newtonian" aspect is the use of buses (with sharp schedules) to ship home demonstrators exactly at the point when ”interesting things“ begin to happen. The anti-price-movement appears to be ruled by a kind of "Heisenberg“ principle of class struggle: when you look at the mass, you don't see the movement; when you look at the movement, you don’t see the masses.
While its action seems swift and involves only relatively few people (e.g. Levittown involved at most 2,000 to 3,000 at its peak, though nobody was counting) it obviously has a large working class potential. This movement, that is against the price hike, thinks the gas shortage is a ”hoax", but presents no plans, appears to both capital-intensive industry and the alternativists as purely negative and even ”reactionary“. Further, it is of necessity violent since only the "dangerous types" can have an effect on a target like oil prices, which appear unassailable by the usual methods of protest and subversion.
One important fact that must be stressed is that the price hike had no pre-determined limit (in Europe, gasoline prices are now between $2.50 and $3), for all prices, especially oil and energy prices, are determined by the class struggle. There was no necessity for the price of gasoline to settle at about $1 at the beginning of July. As Marx pointed out, the prices of commodities are determined not by the value (socially necessary labor time) crystalized in the commodity, but by the ratio of capital to labor absorbed in its production. When there is a lot of capital compared to labor in a commodity then its price is higher than its value, while if a commodity is labor-intensive its price is lower than its value. (This principle underlies the unequal exchange between developed and underdeveloped countries.) This is especially true of gasoline which is produced with very little labor, because there is very little labor to exploit in a refinery, e.g.
Where, then, are the profits of the oil industry coming from? From the discrepancy between the gasoline price and its value. It is surplus appropriated socially, from the totality of exploitation induced in all the other areas of production and reproduction.
Hence, the subtleness of the exploitation and the difficulty of confronting it directly.
The struggle that has most helped determine the price was the truckers’ strike and the Levittown riots. Neither attacked the oil companies directly; rather, they were directed at the social and political circuits upon which the surplus of the energy corporations depend. Both the strike and the riot threatened the functioning of the exploitative mechanism which determines the value of capital and, therefore, the price of oil.
In one sense the truckers strike was a classic struggle; it began with wildcat disruptions, grew to a point where the union officials had to take on the strike, then it got out of control, turned into a riot followed by a “compromise” settlement and the return to work. But though the details are familiar, the shape is quite different.
In late May and early June sporadic reports of blockades at truck stops began. For example, on June 3 there was a blockade at a truck stop in Oklahoma City.
Then followed reports of sniper fire throughout the Midwest, from Rapid City (South Dakota) to Lolo Hot Springs, Montana and Sioux City, Iowa. As the heat built up the Independent Truckers Association (ITA) was forced to formally back the strike on June 12. But the formal backing by the ITA neither halted the shooting nor the unannounced blockades of gas stops, diesel-depots and highways all around the country. June 22-24 was the climax of the strike. Carter’s first concession was followed by gunfire in Louisiana, Minnesota, Tennessee and Illinois. The scene was set for the Levittown "white riot", at the cross-section of the gas-powered, suburban-based proletariat.
It was meeting of truckers and kids going through the "cold-turkey“ that exploded and it was the decisive point of the oil price hike curve in the U.S.
The site of the riot, Five Points Intersection, is the natural spatial spot of this ignition, for it is literally the auto-highway-heart of the suburbs! A meeting place of five roads, at each of the vertices three gas stations, a tire shop and a produce market in front of a diner. Around it is Levittown, the first planned working class suburb of the post-WWII period, all neat and deceptive in the now relaxed grass plots and shade trees. On June 23 the truckers helped spark a confrontation between young guys hanging out or cruising and the gas station owners. They were blockading the produce market on the other end of the intersection and when one of the station owners tried to shut down "for lack of gas” tires began burning, rocks were thrown and cars wrecked in the middle of the intersection.
When the police arrived they were met with sticks and the fire men were met with bottles. The local cops were completely overwhelmed by their own "citizens" and had to call in reinforcements from all over the area as well as the state police. After arrests and battle, things quieted down only to be met the next afternoon by a neighborhood crowd milling at the intersection. An old sofa is pet up in flames, a junk car is dumped in the intersection by an unidentified tow truck and the battle explodes again. "Firecrackers, including powerful M-80s, boomed and sparked throughout the night."
At the height of it Bucks County Sheriff, John Mitchell, said:
“There is a complete breakdown of law and order in Lower Bucks, all police powers are exhausted” and asked for ”partial martial law“. As Mitchell continued: "(The first night) was well planned... they (the truckers) are very well organized, probably better organized than we are," while the second night was "spontaneous"; but either way the police was definitely spooked. They had a “police riot" of their own, beating up “innocent bystanders", roughing up the arrested and chasing the "protesters" in "a guerrilla type warfare into the residential areas surrounding the intersection."
They continued their jumpiness into the next day when they arrested a local woman for "assaulting a police officer" after she threw iced tea and ice cubes at him. Their “own people" were striking back at them and they didn't know whom to trust.
After the riot the truckers strike began to taper off. (although June 26 saw a blockade snarling up 30 miles of traffic in the Long Island Expressway) even though the official demands of the strike were far from met. For example, the elimination of the 55 mph speed limit was never negotiated, while the fuel pass along and the uniform weight standards were postponed.
However, the essential demands of the strike - more diesel and stabilization (if not roll back) of the prices - began to be met in a ghostly fashion. By the last weekend of June and the first of July the gas situation began "improving” - the alien threat of shortages disappeared as quickly as it struck.
Though the strike and the riot could be looked upon as the work of a very small section of the working class (the truckers and auto junkies of Levittown) having rather precise needs dictating an assault on rising fuel prices, theirs turned out to be the most visible action against the gas shortage. But its archaic details mirrored important novelties in its targets (the state directly), breadth (continental), organizational form (uncentralized, flexible, unpredictable), technology (the extensive use of CBs to coordinate blockades and police confrontations), and generativeness (across age and occupational gaps).
At the very moment when capital lives or dies by the price of oil, those who were considered the most anti-revolutionary and bought off sectors of the working class became the most obstructive to capital (whatever the reasons in their heads). The truckers put their demands as pure income/work issues: they wanted to go faster (finish earlier), carry more and not pay for the gas hike. In this, however, they expressed the demands of most of the working class: they did not propose another plan for more work (as the alternativists have). They refused to provide a solution to the work crisis, and respect the demands of "general" capital and insisted on their particular interests. In this they appeared “backward"; but in the context of the present crisis any attempt to holdback preserves the work-crisis that capital so desperately needs to transcend.
VI. Where is the real anti-nuke movement?
The whole point of our analysis up to now is to drive a wedge between the alternativist ("pro-solar") and the anti-nuclear movements. Though historically they have developed together, the last few months have increasingly separated them out. The reason for the initial identification of these two movements has a simple “economic" determination. The alternativist movement understands that it was in its interest to make nuclear power more expensive so that “solar" costs would be more competitive. Hence, it has always "fought the nukes". At first they fought against "3.5%" capital for in the 1960's up to the early 70's expensive nukes were not in the interest of this capital. But since 1973 ”3.5%" capital's strategy has definitely changed. (Cf. "Introduction" and "Notes on the International Crisis" in Zerowork 1.)
The leap of oil, coal and uranium prices in 1973-75 made it clear that capital's mode of realizing its profit would take the energy instead of the "auto-industrial" sector as its basis in the U.S. Since then the interests of the alternativists and the "3.5%" capitalist have increasingly coincided and in the recent months have all but become identical. That is, both are interested in higher energy prices though they compete on what forms of energy production will be developed.
The argument for nukes, shale-oil or coal gasification does not depend any longer upon the possibility of lower prices as a selling point. Carter's recent speeches on energy have taken the "millions for independence and not a penny for tribute to the Arabs" line. Presumably “we" are interested in buying freedom from shortages at any price.
The only question asked is whether the money will go into shale, more oil drilling, alternative technology, coal gasification, nukes or whatever.
As a consequence of the shift in capital‘s strategy since 1973 and, more immediately, the price squeeze of 1979, capital-intensive industry and the alternativists have a common interest and a sphere of negotiation. The ground has been prepared for a kind of energy Magna Carta. For example, the alternativist movement can concede to the completion of, let's say, 50 or 60 plants under construction on condition that a certain level of investment goes to the "alternative technology" sector.
Indeed, the recent interest in the electoral "solution" is a natural result of this new commonality. The Brown and Commoner campaigns can be seen in this light. For, after all, where better to make a deal except in the ”smoke filled rooms" of electoral politics, even if the smoke is grown in Columbia instead of the Carolinas. The alternativist element of the movement, who believes the time is ripe to begin to actualize its envisioned form of production, will undoubtedly flock to these campaigns (under the banner of "realism” no doubt).
Where is, then, the real-anti-nuclear movement? It must clearly be built out of those whose material interests cannot be negotiated with either the "3.5%" capitalists or the alternativists. At this point there are two movements in this position: the anti-price-hike movement and the movement of nuclear workers (in the narrow and broad sense). The anti-price movement is directly anti-nuke simply because the strategy upon which nuclear development depends is based on the increased price of energy. Every victory of the anti-price movement undermines the expansion of the nuclear industry. The nuclear worker's movement is based upon the refusal of the work of absorbing radioactivity and it has two sections: those in the plants and those outside.The anti-price aspect is the money side while the other aspect is the work side. The real anti-nuke movement is the refusal of wasting your body and your life for radioactive capital.
The truckers and Levittown rioters are the most visible protagonists of the anti-price movement; the rest is subliminal and indirect because the energy price impact is "capillary" and is felt as just another consequence of “inflation". The anti-price struggle is ultimately a wage struggle. However, the problem of this struggle is that the wage is less and less determined at the locus of the job or state agency (e.g., the welfare office) but is increasingly a direct social quantity determined by the transformation of basic commodity prices.
Hence the sense of a pervasive but almost invisible conflict throughout the post-1973 period in the U.S. In order to see this conflict a reclassification of working class action is necessary.
Consider bank robbery. At one time bank robbers were divided into the professionals for whom the heist was a kind of wage and the unemployed "amateur" who took the money as an alternative wage. But the explosion of bank robbers (33% increase in two years since 1976) in a period of dropping unemployment indicates that bank robbery is increasingly a way of fighting inflation for those who have a wage (in one form or another) but whose wage is being attacked by the energy-price inflation. As Jay Dixon, security director for the Crocker National Bank, analyses the situation: "the bulk of bank robbers are not professionals; for one reason or another, it is someone who needs money..." (N.Y. Times, 8/25/79). Bank robbers increasingly lose their precise socio-economic categorization (no more being the "pro" or the "hard-luck losser") and merge once again, after a century and a half, with the working class as a whole, i.e., as "someone who needs money". (Cf. "Wages of Crime” a forthcoming Midnight Notes publication).
While the bank robber takes the money form directly as the target of the price struggle, other elements of the anti-price movement take the more traditionally defined wage form as the ground of battle. For example, the collapse of the Carter wage-price guidelines indicate that this terrain is still very dangerous territory for capital, perhaps permanently. The anti-price-hike movement has different strands that are far from connected and have many contradictions among them, but it forms a basic root of anti-nuclear behavior today. For the anti-price-hikers approach the energy/work crisis of capital not with an alternative way out but merely" a "plan“ for intensifying it. That is why, undoubtedly, they appear to the alternativists as "reactionaries" who must be educated.
But what kind of education are they proposing? That radioactivity is dangerous? Every five year old child knows that. No, this education mania in the alternativist anti-nuke movement is really about re-educating the working class out of its struggle against work and for wages. They are to be taught that their interests are misguided, their needs are false and their desires are illusions, not that nuclear plants and wastes can kill.
The other root of anti-nuclear behavior lies in the nuclear workers' movement, which includes both those who work directly in the plants and fuel cycle and those living around the plants. Even the nuclear industry recognizes that living around the plant is work for it pays the bulk of the town taxes for local residents (which many consider a kind of wage). It is anxious, however, to "limit its liabilities" since, after all, a large portion of the population is immediately affected by radioactive emissions (e.g., traces of radioactive iodine showed up in N.Y.C. milk after TMI). The focus of this movement is the work we do, more or less directly, for the nuclear industry. The essence of this work is most clearly seen in the case of nuclear workers proper like the 'jumpers‘ who are paid $100 for turning a single screw in two minutes in a highly radioactive area: their work is to have their bodies exposed to radiation for in this industry work appears in its pure form: not as physical effort,but as the destruction of the body.
The struggle of nuclear workers against their work inside the plants is shrouded by a thick security web of nuclear industry cops, F.B.I. and military agents, NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and union bureaucrats. Thus, very little gets out. But the nuclear workers' subversion of the plants has its muffled echo in the increasingly elaborate security procedures and continuous anxiety concerning "human error" infecting the official guidelines and reports of the state and industry. We are told that TMI itself was due to "human error" and we know that on April 27, two nuclear workers, William E. Kuykendall and James A. Merrill, in the Surrey, Virginia nuclear plant carried a bucket of caustic sodium hydroxide past about 15 other workers into the fuel storage room and damaged about $30,000,000 worth of rods.
A month and a half later they held a press conference to charge that the plant was making illegal radioactive releases, had been poorly maintained and had violated technical specifications set by the NRC. This incident touched off another flurry of public nuclear soul searching with the NRC's Frank Gillespie saying: “What can you do?...It would be like your wife going and setting a fire in your house. It presents us with difficult questions. How many people do you need watching each other to be safe?" Clearly the "wives" of the industry are refusing the nuclear housework.
The nuclear worker movement is not confined inside the plants for increasingly the plants are becoming the targets of attacks from the outside. These attacks range from "local residents" demonstrating against the plants (e.g., at TMI), and refusing to provide water and other services (e.g., at Seabrook) to real or implied physical assault.
For example, the General Accounting Office reported that 62 incidents occurred in the 21 weeks ending Sept. 30, 1976 "involving bomb threats, extortion attempts and actual security breaches." The assumption of the nuclear industry that if you locate a plant in a "conservative” rural area all will be well no matter what happens is wrong, as the aftermath of TMI shows. Psychologists in the area say their caseloads for youngsters of preschool age increased 25% after the accident and a suit is being filed by some local farmers against Met Edison for the psychological damage done to their children (many of whom believe they will die in a decade).
Months after the accident, Middletown “the once closely-knit community is now split over the merits and hazards of its nuclear neighbor, the division spilling over into heated debate across backyard fences and at borough meetings." (Philadelphia Bulletin, 7/8/79) The social "peace" the nuclear reactor depends upon and was meant to deepen had turned into a protracted guerilla warfare. TMI won't be over for decades.
The anti-price-hike and nuclear workers movements form the basis of a real anti-nuclear movement that will not, because it cannot, compromise with the development of nuclear capital.
The crisis of the anti-nuclear movement, as presently constituted, is whether it will continue to develop as the cutting edge of the alternativist movement or will separate from it. The tension within the anti-nuke movement this spring and summer does not come merely from the choice of pro-solar tactics, but rather from the fact that many in the anti-nuclear movement are increasingly unable to follow the alternativist path. They are interested in closing the plants and not in an "alternativist future". This tension and division infects all the different strategies mentioned before (from the electoral to the direct action). Many of us simply can't afford the alternativist future.
For this spring and summer have modified the "old" class composition of the anti-nuclear movement. The mostly precariously employed white intellectual workers increasingly feel the strain of unemployment, inflation (especially after the "counter-attack” on gasoline prices) and in their material perspectives are increasingly pushed to the present, away from "alternativist futures options".
What then could the real anti-nuclear movement be? A meeting point, perhaps, of the anti-price-hike and nuclear workers movement, a nexus of money and body politics. On the one side, the anti-nuclear movement could be a catalyst for anti-price-hike struggles, e.g., struggles against utility rate increases and fuel pass alongs which will undoubtedly increase this winter as the price of warmth will become impossible for many. On the other side, it could materially support nuclear workers in the plants in order to bring about a live option for them (e.g., by supporting an immediate pension plan that would make it possible for plant workers to leave their jobs without hurting) and increase our resistance to all the nuclear work that they try to make us do.
The problem for the anti-nuclear movement is not to provide a solution to the work/energy crisis but to intensify the refusal of the nuclear and "alternativist" future that capital will try to synthesize in its search for survival.
August 28, 1979
491 Pacific Street
Brooklyn NY 11217
- 1The antinuclear movement had expanded in new regions even before Three Mile Island to a minor degree. The last year saw small demonstrations in Louisana and on the eve of TMI, there was the first demonstration in Mississippi (Coleman St. Park, March 24) which drew 200 people.
- 2How this class-composition deveIoped historically and what it signifies for the organizational and ideological character of the movement we have attempted to analyse in Midnight Notes, "Strange Victories: The Anti-nuclear Movement in the US and Europe”
- 3This relative cheapness doesn‘t mean that solar will be more expensive than any other energy before. It requires furthermore initial investments that poorer people will not be able to afford. The cheapness pays off only after a long period of operation which has to be anticipated financially.
- 4Cf. “Hands On: A Guidebook to Appropriate Technology in Massachusetts”, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1978.
- 5Even on the level of presently available energy-sources, there is no real shortage: petroleum can last for decades, coal for hundreds of years.
- 6Cf. Midnight Notes, - Strange Victories, Bad Surprises, on safety-problems.
- 7Small Is Beautiful, Harper&Row,1973,p.151/152
- 8Cf. the “eight aids to the achievement of the goal of yoga are listed as: (1) abstinence from injury, falsehood, theft, incontinence, and the acceptance of gifts; (2) cleanliness, contentment, self-castigation, study, and devotion to the Ishvara; (3) stable and easy posture, accompanied by the relaxation of effort, or by a state of balance; (4) restraint of breath; (5) withdrawal of the senses; (6)not allowing the mind-stuff to wander;'(7) focusing the mind-stuff, or contemplation; (5) concentration, wherein the object of contemplation is transcended and duality destroyed." (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali [illegible in original] Harvard Oriental Series XVII (Cambridge; Harvard University Press, 1914) quoted in: Bierman/Gould,Philosophy for New Generation, Macmillan, New York, 1970, John Koller, Self-discipline and Yoga, p. 487.
- 9Already Schumacher is for a “mixed economy", for a co-existence of different levels of productivity.
- 10Cf. Midnight Notes, “Strange Victories”, on the “Self-definition of the Movement” and the ”anti-plan-problem”.
Midnight Notes vol 02 #01 (1980) – The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse
3rd issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes.
The apocalypse...is capital's threat, if we go too far, to take us all down with it. If we annoy God too much, if we agitate tooo much, of we become too unavailable for work, then the “mutual destruction of clases” is used as a club to bring us back into line. But must the molecule fear if the engine dies?
The true cause of capital's crisis in the last decade is work, or more precisely, the struggle against it... The proper name for the crisis then is the “work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy” crisis.
The essence of transformation of values into prices is that through capital extracts surplus locally, it does not let those who do the extracting command and expend this surplus value.
“I am I” booms capital out of the whirlwind and the petty bosses slink away with their boils.
The revolutions of desires that lay behind the tides of capital's technological “creative destruction” are rooted in the refusal of the working class to just be.
Big Mother Nature is now used to squeeze little mother dry. If Big Mamma is stingy and has turned cold, capital turns to little mamma: “Help me out or we'll all go down together.”
As women refuse this deal...the energy crisis collapses. As this final veil falls capital is faced with a working class untorn by the pose of sexual powers. An apocalypse indeed.
The latest joke of the polish workers: “Only those who strike eat meat.”
Science, Capital and Apocalypse
Midnight Notes on Newton, thermodynamics, class struggle and the refusal of work. Published November 1980.
The litany of natural stuffs — petroleum, natural gas, uranium, coal, wood, water, sunlight — apprehension about their limits, joy in their abundance, scepticism about their benefits, pass for the bulk of “analyses” of the “energy crisis” that “we” face. Whereas in the ’50s and ’60s Nature was “under control” and the robots (e.g. Hal in 2001) were rebelling, now it appears that Mother Nature is turning a new face: instead of the obedient, invisible and infinitely malleable material of social development, the terrestrial abode seems stingy and treacherously seductive. For the energy crisis is usually traced to two problems:
(a) the “limited” or “finite” amount of fossil and uranium fuels in the earth;
(b) the increasingly “surprising” discovery of interactions between the use of these fuels and their
biological and social effects.
Although the analysts place different emphases on these two “problems”, their “solutions” usually
address both. Indeed, the “great energy debate” (at least what passes for it) is a confrontation between the anti-limitationists, who are anxious about the rapidly approaching abyss of zerooilcoalnaturalgasuranium and are ready to introduce any “way out”, however untried, and the collective interactionists, who argue that the “balance” or “fabric” of Nature is so intricate and fragile (to mix metaphors) that any of the schemes of the anti-limitationists would drive Mother Nature into a schizophrenic breakdown.
From this debate one would presume that these are momentous times. They are, but not in the way that is being implied. On the one side, the anti-limitationists cringe in terror at the prospect of a “day the earth stood still” repeated so often that “civilization” (sometimes with the proviso “as we know it”) collapses into an age of social anarchy — starvation, rape, murder and cannibilism. (“What’s new,” we might ask...) On the other side, stand the equally apocalyptic interactionist envisioning of huge floods let loose by the CO2 “hot house” effect or the end of all biological life due to the depletion of the ozone layer causing a tidal wave of high-energy radiation to penetrate the chromosome linkings and breakdown the proteins, or a festering mutant jungle released by the radioactive wastes of nuclear reactors. Conclusion: either social anarchy or natural anarchy, “take your choice” we’re told. But must we choose? Are these our alternatives?
This debate with its apocalyptic overtones indicates a crucial crisis for capital and its attempt to carry through a major reorganization in the accumulation process to overcome it. The Apocalypse is no accident; whenever the ongoing model of exploitation becomes untenable capital has intimations of mortality qua the world’s end. Every period of capitalist development has had its apocalypses. Here I’m not referring to the micro-apocalypse of death: everybody dies and even if everybody dies at the same time (I mean everybody) what’s the problem? The earth becomes a cleared tape and why should the angels grieve?
I am talking about those functional apocalypses that mark every major change in capitalist development and thought. For the Apocalypse approached at other times in the history of capital, when (as in the last decade) the class struggle reached a level that jeopardized capital’s command.
In the seventeenth century, a pervasive premonition of apocalypse was voiced by the “philosophers”, “astronomers” and “anatomists” (i.e., capital’s planners) in the face of the revolutionary upheavals of the newly-forming proletariat that was being introduced to the capitalist discipline of work. In this phase questions of inertia,1 time and order were paramount. The working class seemed full of inertia, lacking inner control mechanisms and manageable only by external forces. Capital’s concern with its apocalyptic potentialities can be seen reflected in Newton’s theory of the solar system: the planets revolve around the sun, but their revolutions continually deviate from the equilibrium path because of the random, irregular gravitational impulses they communicate to each other. Ptolemy’s crystal suddenly looked like a mob that with this-and-that, slowly, imperceptively, became unruly, though it was nominally dominated by the gravitational field of the sun. The deviations accumulated to a point when some planets would spin off into the stellar depths while the others would dive into the sun’s inferno. Hence Newton’s argument for the necessity of God’s existence, whose function in the universe was to prevent this catastrophe by periodically returning the planets to their equilibrium orbits via a true miracle. The solar system was the “Big Watch” and God was not only the watchmaker but also the watch repairer, otherwise the mechanism, through its blind obedience to the laws of inertia, would snap and break however finely wrought. God must intervene to create orderly time from chaotic mixtures of inertia and attraction. Given the universal identification of God with the state in the seventeenth century, it is not hard to decipher Newton’s prescription for the state policy visa vis the apocalypse portended by its “wandering stars”, the proletariat. (A prescription Newton embodied in his job as the inquisitor and torturer of counterfeiters for the Royal Mint).
In the Newtonian period capital’s main task is the regularization of time as a precondition for lengthening the working day. Medieval production time was circular and the pacing of work and “rest” fixed by “eternal” seasonal and diurnal dichotomies. Summer and days could not be stretched, winter and nights could not be shrunk at will. Newton and his fellow “century of genius” planners had to create a non-terrestrial work-time, that would be the same in winter and summer, in the night as in the day, on earth as it is in heaven. Without this transformation of time, lengthening the working day would be impossible to imagine, much less impose “with fire and blood”.
By contrast, the “revolutions” and organizational forms thrown up by the working class in the first half of the nineteenth century spelled the end of a period where profits could be created by stretching the working day to its limit. Capital had to “revolutionize” the technical and social conditions of production to turn the proletarian revolt against work into an intensively productive working day. Absolute time was no more of the essence, productive intensity was. Capital could no more complain that the working class was inert, unmotivated or tending to rest. The class was on the move, scheming, energetic, volatile. If the work-house prison sealed from “the elements” was the first laboratory of work, the working class was clearly blowing out the sides of the container and destroying the experiment. The problem was no more how to confine workers as long as possible but how their energy and revolutionary heat could be transfered into work. Not surprisingly Thermodynamics, “the study of energy, primarily with regard to heat and work”, becomes the science after 1848.
Thermodynamics begins with Sadi Carnot’s attempt to determine the possibilities and limits of creating productive work out of heat and energy when in confining it, it explodes. His leading idea is that if a mass is exploding you should give it a way out so organized that it will push a piston and thus do work for you. Carnot’s analysis focused upon an idealized version of Manchester’s “demonic” steam engine and attempted to determine under what conditions the expansion/compression cycle of a gas would give a maximum amount of work. Carnot’s cycle, thus, became a representation of the cycle of class struggle that was taking shape in the nineteenth centry, putting the working class’ wage demand at the center of the “business cycle”.
Carnot’s laws of thermodynamics grew out of his memoir and led, as Ariadne’s threads, out of the “crisis labrynthe.” For Physics is not only “about” Nature and applied “just” to technology, its essential function is to provide models of capitalist development, i.e., models for the organization of work. The ultimate nature for capital is human nature while the crucial element of technology is work. The First Law of Thermodynamics, e.g., did not simply recognize that though energy has many forms (not just “mechanical”), each can be transformed into the other without loss. Its consequences impinged on capital’s conception of labor power. A more general view of energy was imperative if the technical and social conditions of production were to be “revolutionized”, for the old mode of production assumed a fixed limit on the forms of energy that could generate work. This new Law taught capital a generality and" flexibility in its productive arrangements that it did not even experiment with in the First Industrial Revolution.
Like Darwin’s discovery, Gustav Mayer’s first enunciation of the law of the conservation of energy occurred in a typical nineteenth century way: on an imperial voyage to the tropics:
A sailor fell ill of some lung disease. Mayer bled him, observed that venous blood was a brighter red in the tropics, much closer to arterial, and concluded that metabolism drew less oxygen from the blood in hot climates because maintenence of body temperature required less heat.2
In Mayer’s perspective the sailor’s body was the mediator of manifold forms of force that are “indestructible, variable, imponderable”. Though the forms of force and energy would change their transformations they conserved the basic quantity of production, energy. The concept of energy is thus defined on such a level of generality and abstractness that an enterprising spirit would see the possibility of producing work from novel, untoward sources.
While the infinite multiplicity of energetic forms inspired a tremendous optimism in capital’s search for new work forces. Thermodynamics laces this high with arsenic: the Second Law. An ominous version goes like this; a perpetual motion machine completely transforming the energy of the surroundings into work without any loss is an impossibility. The Second Law however has even darker consequences than deflating capital’s dream of getting work for free (having workers “living on air”). It states that in any work-energy process less and less energy becomes available for work. ENTROPY (the measure of work inavailability) INCREASES. Clausius put it in cosmic form; “The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe increases to a maximum.”3
The Second Law announced the apocalypse characteristic of a productivity-craving capital: THE HEAT DEATH. Each cycle of work increases the unavailability of energy for work. As the efficiency of the heat engine depends on the distance between heat input and heat output, the Second Law predicts a slow, downhill leveling of heat-energy differences, (on a cosmological scale) until there are no more flows of energy for work. “The world is living on its capital” and all around is the whisper of the impending silence. This image of an undifferentiated, chaotic world had a two-fold echo: in the rhetoricians of mass culture like Henry Adams (“the so called modern world can pervert and degrade the concepts of art and feeling, and that our only chance is to accept the limited number of survivors — the one in a thousand born artists and poets — and to intensify the energy of feeling within that raidant center”4 ), and in the pragmatic thought of Taylor. The Henry Adams’ mourned over the loss of accumulated values that, at best, could only be “saved” in the leveling of social and cultural differences announced by “energy’s dissipation” into a heat death apocalypse, Taylor instead saw the essence of a project: productivity is efficiency. His answer to the second law (if not absolutely, relatively) is not “conservative”, it is a “revolutionary” attempt to create a far more efficient organization of work and to perfect the intermeshing of worker with environment. Taylor attempted in practice what Carnot did in theory: test the limits of an efficient transformation of energy into work. In a typical American fashion, he turned to the man-machine instead of its reflection in the machine-machine. Once again, it seemed that the apocalypse could be averted if Action was taken. This time, however, it was not the action of God qua super-State, but capital’s planning in its own self-conscious, scientific analysis: scientific management.
Newton’s apocalypse and Clausius’ apocalypse do not simply have analogical connections with capital’s crisis in their respective periods. The theories they derive from do not merely have contingent or ideological relations with the contemporary, on-going organization of work. Capitalist crises stem from refusal of work. Thus, in times of crisis new analyses of work, new schemes for overcoming resistances to it become imperative. Physics, in this context, does not have a separate content, but provides definite analyses of work and new plans for its organization. Its “models” may appear abstract but they are directly related to the labor-process.
Newton’s parable of the transformation of working class inertia into work and his appeal to God qua State to restore equilibrium under centripetal and centrifugal pressures is a general methodological scheme. The relation of thermodynamics to work is more explicit. The WORK of thermodynamics and the WORK of capital are no mere homonyms. Capital faces working class resistance to work in continuously new ways as this resistance changes in its power and organization (though it may seem “impotent” and “chaotic”). Capital is concerned with physical work because the labor-process is the transformation of labor-power (energy, inertia) into labor (work). This is the “eternal necessity” of capital and physics provides models for overcoming “resistances” and measuring-rods of levels of crisis. The Apocalypse is an extreme measure of the failure of these models. Capital’s problem in the nineteenth century changes from that of Newton’s time in the same way the resistance of inert machines shifts into the chaotic energy of random micro-particles. Essentially, however, it remains the same: what is the possibility, limit and method of creating useful work (“order”) out of the “almost natural evasion, subversion, resistance and covertness of the working class.
Capital’s despair is always hypothetical, yet always virtually existent. This is the multiple function of the apocalypse. It serves not only as a parameter for the on-going process of work organization and experimentation, it serves also as a reminder and a threat. A reminder, because capital’s control is contingent, and revolutionary potentialities exist at each instant. A threat, because it attempts to project the destruction of capital as the destruction of the universe (as in the heat death). As long as the “elements” of the working class are attached to the totality, the apocalypse is the extreme point where opposites meet in avoidance. It is capital’s threat, if we go too far, to take us all down with it. If we annoy God too much, if we agitate too much, if we become too unavailable for work, then the “mutual destruction of the classes” is used as a club to bring us back into line. But must the molecule fear if the engine dies?
What of the “energy crisis” and its apocalypses? The first thing to note is that the term “energy crisis” is a misnomer. Energy is conserved and quantitatively immense. There can be no lack of it. The true cause of capital’s crisis in the last decade is work or, more precisely, the struggle against it. The proper name for the crisis then is the "work crisis” or, better, the “work/energy crisis”. For the problem capital faces is not the quantity of work per se, but the ratio of that work to the energy (or labor power) that creates it. Capital is not just a product of work. Capital is the process of work- creation, i.e., the condition for transforming energy into work. Energy has within it a restless activity, an unpredictable microscopic elusiveness, antagonistic, indifferent as well as productive of the work capital so desperately needs. Though the eternal cycle of capitalist reality is the transformation of energies into work, its problem is that unless certain quantitative levels are reached, the relationship expressed in the work/ energy ratio collapses. If entropy increases, if the availability of the working class for work decreases, then the apocalypse threatens.
The forms the apocalypse takes in this crisis are crucial. They signal both a warning and a specific threat, as the heat death apocalypse inspired Taylorism and the Newtonian centripetal/ centrifugal catastrophies dictated certain features of mercantilist state intervention. What do the anti-limitationists and interactionists allow for decoding the present crisis? The first step in the decoding must lie with “Nature”. It appears that Nature and its stuffs are an independent pole, given and distinct from capital — its “raw” material, as it were. From the exhaustion curves of oil or natural gas it appears that a black hole is absolutely devouring them. But for capital, Nature qua Nature is non-existent. Nature too is a commodity. You never have oil, or natural gas, or even photons that do not take a commodity form. Their commodity reality is what is crucial; even when you talk of the Earth or the solar system you cannot speak of a non- capitalist reality. The energy problem is unequivocally a problem of capital and not of “nature” or “Nature and Man”. OUR problem is to see that capital’s difficulties in planning and accumulating spring from its struggle against the refusal of work (the multi-dimensional subversion of the orderly transformation of energy into work). Thus, according to our decoding, through the noise of the apocalypse, we must see in the oil caverns, in the wisps of natural gas curling in subterranean abysses, something more familiar: the class struggle.
- 1 The following quotations from R.H. Romer, ENERGY: AN INTRODUCTION TO PHYSICS, (San Francisco, W.H. Freeman and CO., 1976) might be of help:
“The principle of inertia: an object that is at rest remains at rest unless
acted upon by a force; an object that is in motion remains in motion,
moving the same direction with constant speed unless acted upon by a
force.” (p. 84)
“The First Law of Thermodynamics states. . . the total energy of a
system is conserved. Any increase in, say, thermal energy, must be
attributed to a decrease of equal size in the sum of all other forms of
energy. Any or all of the various forms of energy may be changing, but-in
a closed system-always in such a way that the sum of all forms has a
constant value.” (p. 128)
“The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that in every process
there is a universal tendency toward increasing disorder, increasing
entropy, a degradation of energy.” (p. 255)
“Entropy has often been called Time’s arrow' because w ith its aid we
can distinguish past and future. If we are given descriptions of two states
of a closed system, we can tell which state preceded the other in time; the
state with the smaller entropy, the state with the smaller amount of
disorder, is the earlier one.”(p. 243)
- 2 C. Gillespie, THE EDGE OF OBJECTIVITY, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, I960), p. 376
- 4 Quoted in J.C. Leventon, THE MIND & ART OF HENRY ADAMS, (Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1957), p. 377.
A. One’s Apocalypse is Another’s Utopia
Midnights Notes on eco-utopian visions, from 1980.
To decode the messages of the apocalypse we should see that both the anti-limitationists and the interactionists demand a complete change in the mode of production. They are “revolutionaries” because they fear something in the present mode that disintegrate’s capital’s touch: a demand, an activity and a refusal that has not been encompassed.
The anti-limitationists focus on the “need” to end the oil-auto-assembly line economy of the post-war era. Taking “the father of the H-bomb”, Edward Teller’s “Energy-A Plan for Action”"1 as indicative of their position we see that by the beginning of the next century they would have a completely different world of production compared with the ’70s. Consider some proportions. (See graph #1)
In 1973 electricity production demanded 25% of the total energy of the U.S. while transportation (excluding auto production) demanded 25%. There was a rough balance between these two sectors in the last decade. Teller, on the contrary, envisions a radically new system where electricity would demand 50% of the total energy, with transportation reduced to 11%. (The “raw material” would come from a vast increase in Western coal strip mines and the use of nuclear reactors.) This would involve a complete reorganization of production and reproduction, though the number of workers necessary to supply the fuel and run the power plants would undergo relatively minor increases. Teller argues not only for a substantial increase in “energy” consumption, in line with the historical trend, but for a radical shift in the structure of work. What he has in mind is revealed by his “Manpower Requirements”:
No matter what popular opinion asks us to believe, technology will be crucial for human survival. Contrary to much of our current thinking, technology and its development is not antithetical to human values. Indeed, quite the opposite is true. Tool-making and the social organization it implies are very deeply ingrained in our natures. This is, in fact, the primary attribute that distinguishes man from other animals. We must continue to adapt our technology, which is, in essence, our ability to shape nature more effectively in order to face the problems that this human race faces today. It is for this reason that the development and expansion of technical education is so important. It is only through the possession of high skills and the development of educational systems for the acquisition of these skills that human prosperity can be insured.
Teller envisions a new “New Atlantis” with a priesthood of highly “skilled” scientist-technicians surrounded by an army of “craftsmen” who monitor, develop, and control the automated production processes with computer networks. This is a sample of how his vision would work:
Computers have been introduced in central control stations to control interties for the purpose of optimizing the use of energy by drawing at any time of the cheapest available source of electricity. These computers are also beginning to be used to store and display data about the state of the major components of the generating plants and transmission lines. This will help the dispatcher to make the right decisions, for instance, by accepting a local and temporary brownout, or even blackout, rather than permitting an overstrained system to breakdown.
We have here a centralized neural society where the work process is integrated at the speed of light in reverberating feed-back circuits modulated to prevent total breakdown. Capital finally finds its etymology. Teller spells the end of the ass-kicking truckers’ songs, the lyric of the stoned highway at 3 AM; everything is concentrated now, controlled in the wires of an air-conditioned brain. For the internal-conbusion engine, after all, has been an enormous source of “decentralization” of desires that cannot be tolerated, for it seems to lead to catastrophe.
Teller’s apocalypse flashes the desolation of an oil-starved assembly line economy, his utopia is an electronic techno-nuclear model of capital allowing for a new leap in accumulation. Yet one’s apocalypse is another’s utopia. We see this when we turn to the interactionists, who argue that any step down Teller’s path leads to human annihilation. The Odums, an ecologist and a social worker, serve as a precise counter-pole to Teller for they are extremists even among interactionists.2 They agree with Teller that the assembly line economy is over, but argue that the future holds no technological solution to declining “energy”. They dismiss both the solar energy enthusiasts and the fusion freaks. In their view, “various schemes for harnessing solar energy turn out to be installations based mainly on fossil fuels, with their main energy flows not really supported by the sun.” Their argument against the possibility of fusion power is certainly original: “Fusion could be disastrous to humanity either if it were so rich that it gave too much energy, or if it took all our capital and gave us no net energy. ” If it failed and all the energy eggs were in the fusion basket, disaster would follow; but if it were successful it would release such an intense energy flow that too much energy would be required “to maintain control as it is diluted to the intensity of the human system.’’ The very price of success would guarantee disaster.
Thus “we” can neither remain with the present mode of production based upon dwindling reserves, nor can the path of “technological leap” save the system. They propose a new mode of production, a “steady-state and low-energy” economy, bringing the human race into a safe equilibrium with Nature. The price for survival, however, is not only the disco beat:
To become adapted to the steady state, people will have to give up their restlessness and their insistence on the large, the new and the different. But the young people who tried to form a low- energy subculture to avoid the excesses of the high-energy growth period will also have to change. More work will be expected from each individual in the low-energy society because there will be fewer machines.
Examples of the Odum’s steady-state utopia are rain forests, coral reefs and the “uniformly cold bottom of the sea (near freezing)”, as well as pre-industrial-India agricultral villages. The common element in such systems is “a great diversity; intimate, highly organized symbiotic relationships; organisms with complex behavior programs by which they serve each other; well timed processing of mineral cycles that do not lose critical materials; and highly productive conversions of inflowing energy.”
“The Octopus’ Garden in the Shade” becomes the solution to the energy crisis.
Here are some features of the steady-state economy that more precisely describe the Odum’s vision:
— Growth-stimulating industries are eliminated.
— Less emphasis on transportation.
— Balanced governmental budgets.
— Miniaturization of technology to use less energy.
— Decrease in public and private choices and experiments.
— Urban construction will be replaced by separate and smaller houses.
— Farms use more land, less fuel and more hand labor.
— Properties of high concentration of energy will decrease: crime, accidents, law enforcement,
noise, central services, taxes.
No more cities, no more travel, no more factories, no more power plants, and presumably no state. Just the quiet labor-intensive life on Jim Jones’ farm (after they’ve seen Paree?). The necessary restructuring of employment to realize this utopia is obvious. Unemployment in the “growth and luxury industries” will “shift people to agriculture” with wages being steadily cut and unions taking on the role of employment transformers.
It all sounds so wholesome, a world apart from the nuclear-computer-philosopher-kings of teller! Spots on apples! Birds and Bees! Nature’s watchful eye assures a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay instead of Teller’s electronic-eyed cyclops monitoring our neural hook-ups tottering on the edge of breakdown. However, there is a coldness here, for all the cosiness, reminiscent of the H-bomb’s daddy; an anger, a fear that Teller and the Odums share. They offer opposite revolutions of production, apocalypses and utopias, but they agree on one thing: the present state of capital has had it, not only because it has lost its “energy” but because there is too much “chaos”, uncontrolled behavior, too many demands and not enough work. This commonality emerges sharply in what appear as marginal remarks upon the “youth” of the ’60s and ’70s. Both anti-limitationists, and interactionists agree: they are lazy! So Teller complains of “an antiscientific trend among young people,” while the Odums (in a passage quoted above) clearly expect the fuck-off young rebels to get down to work. Their deepest commonality however is that, like the apocalypticians of the past, problem in Nature. On the one side the raw limit of energetic stuffs, and on the other side the “ecological” catastrophe induced by industrial development. They postulate a limit either on the natural “input” (fuel) or on “output” onto nature (pollution). But once again we cannot read their fears and solutions straight, for in their text Nature is identified with Capital pure and simple. They never declare the obvious: capital is a relation of struggle. Once this translation is made, their sybilline visions can be deciphered and their ominous somberness dispelled. Their limits are not ours.
B. Decoding the Apocalypse
Midnight Notes on America post-WWII.
The decoded message of the Apocalypse reads: Work/Energy. Both sides of the “great energy debate” want to rebalance the ratio, but what unbalanced it in the first place? If the “energy crisis” began in 1973 the logical place to look is the period immediately before. What was happening to work/energy then? ... a capitalist catastrophe in commodity production and the reproduction of labor-power. Need we take out the old film strips? The ghetto riots, the Panthers, campus “unrest”, SDS and the Weatherpersons, a strung-out imperial army, DRUM in Detroit and the West Virginia wildcats, the welfare office sit-ins, the shooting of Andy Warhol, SCUM, the Stonewall blowout, Attica. Let graphs 2 and 3 suffice:
The first deals with a historic transformation in the wage profit relation, the second depicts the changed relation between defense and “social” expenditures. Both indicate that the late 60’s and early 70’s saw the inversion of long term trends.
If we look, e.g., at the two decades between 1947 and 1967 we see that in this period wages and profits intimated the fulfillment of an American Capitalist Dream: the class struggle can be bypassed, wages and profits can grow together, perhaps not at the same rate, but in a long-term growth equilibrium path. The Keynesian strategy of matching real wage increases with productivity increments seemed to succeed. To each his own, and thou wilt be satisfied. 1967 through 1972 was the shocker: for the first considerable period there was a decline in profits. This decline appeared at the cost of increased wages. The bets were off. Once again wages seemed antagonistic to profits as in the bad old days of Ricardo and Marx (lately exhumed by Sraffa). This period marked the end of the “social peace” worked out with the return of the vets from Europe and the Pacific into the plants. It was not, however, a period of wage “explosion” (as it could be characterized in Germany, Italy and France). Rather, it involved a mathematical inversion and the return to the zero- sum game of wage negotiation that seemed transcended by capital’s game-theorists during World War II and immediately after.
The second chart (#3) deals with the state’s function as the general guarantor of the average rate of profit. This requires that the State oversee the reproduction of the working class and provide for proportionate revenues. The bottom graph indicates the quantative increase in the state’s “share” of the total social value. It is not surprising that it should increase during the Vietnam war. What is surprising is that at the very moment the war was ongoing, the proportion of “defense” spending dropped dramatically.
“War” and “defense” are an essential, though unrecognized, part of the reproduction of labor power, which can dictate the death of millions of workers. Aushwitz, Dachau, Belsun, were extermination factories whose product — the suffocation and cremation of millions of bodies — was an essential moment in Nazi capital’s “labor policy”. The reproduction of labor power should not be identified as the reproduction of “human bodies” and “beings”. Moreover, “social welfare” spending by the state can be defense spending. Indeed, this second aspect was apparent in the late ’60s. Another war was being fought white-hot in the streets of the USA that needed immediate attention. Hence the precipitate increase in “social welfare” expenditure, i.e., “transfer” payments (but what is not a transfer payment in this system?) to deal with women, blacks, youth, who were increasingly refusing the way they were being reproduced. This chart indicates that whether you call it “war” or “welfare”, the process of ensuring a population accepting the large-scale wages, profits and productivity relations as well as the microrelations of love, job, discipline and quiet dying was in crisis. Not only was the work/energy ratio immediately in trouble, it was in more serious trouble over the long run.
Trouble, however, inspires thought and capital’s thinkers turned with new apprehension to the work/energy ratio. Now a ratio is an expression of a two-sided relation and can be looked upon from either side. From capital’s point of view, the work/ energy ratio is a more generalized form of the exploitation (or profit) rate. The crisis appears through these lenses as a decade-long, from the mid-60s to the mid-70s, plunge of profit rates. What were the causes of this decline? From the humblest industry gab and gripe sheets to the mathematical stratosphere of capital’s computer self- consciousness the answer comes in reverberations: TAXES and TIMIDITY.
The state is taxing “us” to death while “we” all too often take the “safe and secure path” that guarantees a small profit (but slow “growth”) instead of attempting risky, long-term ventures that really pay-off. The statistics showed this. Taxation on profits (calculated on “current production” profits) rose from 40% in 1965 to 60% in 1974. At the same time, the risk of investment fell. If we take as the measure of “risk” the interest rate on debt and equity corporations must pay to raise financial capital it is clear that capital collectively became chicken. The interest rate decreased from 8% in 1966 to 4% in 1972-73. Capital’s “claims” to its share of income were decreasing while what was claimed had to be increasingly given over to the state. U.S. capital appeared to be catching “the British disease”.
W.D. Nordhaus, in his celebrated article “The Falling Share of Profits”,1 appeals to Keynes’ subjective theory of investment to explain why the interest on investment faced such a decline. According to Keynes, the capitalists must overcome their “ignorance of the future” through calculation of “mathematical expectations”, second-, third-(and even higher) order judgements on the “average opinion” of other capitalists in the investment market, and finally with “animal spirits”, i.e., capital’s “spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction”. In agreement with this Keynesean existentialism, Nordaus claims that the fall in profits was due to an extra-ordinary period of calm in capital’s heart and mind:
The answer seems to me to lie in the general dissipation of the fear of a new Great Depression. For many years after the Crash, investors justifiably worried about a repetition of those events. Even as late as March 1955 when the fear might have reasonably faded, the statement by Prof. Galbraith that the Great Crash could repeat itself was sufficient to send the market into a temporary panic — or so he claims. Since that time, however, the memory of the bad old days has dimmed, and this freedom from fear may well provide a rationale for the post-war movement in the cost of capital.
Presumably, in the different psychic “climate” prevailing in the post-WWII era, investors became more confident in the future, had a new sense of guaranteed horizons, the risk factor seemed reduced. Thus, (according to this theory of profits) the expected returns on investment fell. For if risk is high the investor demands high profits, if the risk is low, he will settle for lower profits. What had brought about this freedom from fear, what psycho-analytical therapy had the capitalist mind undergone? Nordhaus does not explain, but to any therapist this much should be obvious: the healer must be paid his dues. In this case the healer of capital’s long term fears was the state and the “dues”, taxes. This is why the major structural transformation of the GNP was in the share of the State. The Federal budget increased from 10% of GNP in 1940 to an average of 20% in the period between 1960 and the present. In other words, by investing in the reproduction of labor power the State exorcised the trauma of the Depression (and its potentially revolutionary consequenses), and the increased tax on corporate profits was its fee. Every step capital takes in feeling more secure leads to a loss of profit.
But why should capital fear, why is investment risky, and the future so obscure? Why, indeed, must capital have “animal spirits” in the first place? Is this a metaphysical truth? Not really, because there are risks of different sorts. Some are dealt with in an almost mathematical manner, e.g., in fair toss gambling or in predicting the weather. You calculate future probabilities from past data, lay down your money and wait for the outcome. Such risks are not what Keynes is talking about. There are also strategy-game risks, those you take when you depend upon (or reply to) the actions of another player in a game where all the players agree to and are governed by the same rules. Here you cannot simply go upon past behavior; any game with a rich enough set of rules and positions can present completely novel situations and this forces you to speculate on the strategy of your opponent, to read out his likely move. This involves a risk, but the risk is encompassed in the network of rules that bind you with your opponents and allies (who may be continually turning into each other). This risk, typical of the poker game, is also calculable, as von Neumann showed. There is however a final risk that is not dependant upon mathematical expectations nor upon considerations of strategy because your opponents are neither predictable nor in agreement about the rules. Here, you have no clear basis for judging their future behaviour in response to your moves. This is a totally new kind of risk that requires “animal spirits”, a “spontaneous optimism”, an “urge to action” or, perhaps, a “will to power”. This is the class struggle.
Keynes worried about capital’s “state of confidence” during the Depression not because it involved a downturn in the business cycle, however steep. Such dips in capital’s life are to be expected and capitalized upon. What concerned Keynes was the altogether novel “sixth sense” capitalists had to develop in their investment decisions after the revolutionary wave that followed the First World War. This involved shifting attention from risks “outside” (market flucturations, weather, mineral discoveries, etc.) to risks “inside” (working class attitudes, training, work habits) the process of social production. The State had to intervene in Keynes prescription because of the increasing realization that the working class was not predictable nor “part of the game” but powerful enough to rip up the rules. The mixture of taxes and timidity are a direct consequence of Keynes’ recommendations.
Since the New Deal the State by careful use of collective bargaining, nuclear terror, FHA loans, had increasingly reduced the risks of investment. Hence the reduced interest on capital, for cooling capital’s anxiety inevitably reduced the pay-off of its projects. The transformation of the composition of the federal budget from “defense” to “welfare” in the ’60s indicated, however, that not only would the State’s “taking care” have an increased cost, but that the direction and nature of working class insubordination was changing in new, unpredictable ways. The period between 1967 and 1972 showed that the cost of calmness was increasing to a point where the therapy was ruining the patient. Freud never wrote that therapy could create the anxiety it was reducing. While the interest on capital followed the historical post-WWII trend, capital began to confront the fact that this trend meant euthanasia. Moreover, confidence was diminishing in the effectiveness of the State’s therapy when applied not to the traditional line workers, the veterans of Flint, Guam and McCarthy, but to altogether new subjects. Just what did those blackpowerlonghairdopesmoking-flagrentqueerhousewifelesbians want!
Between the mid-60s and mid-70s, the tax-timidity syndrome intensified. The relation between state and individual capital proposed by Keynes was in crisis. Capital was in a knot, a double bind, and it attempted to cut it in October 1973. The relaunching of the profit rate depended upon capital taking the initiative, cutting out its most vulnerable areas and, most crucially, quit playing by its old rules.
- 1 W. Nordhaus, “The Falling Share of Profits" in BROOKINGS INSTITUTE PAPERS, (Brookings Institute, 1975).
C. The Keynesian Crisis
Midnight Notes on Keynes – and cars – in America in the 1960s-1970s.
What was the relation between state and society during the “Keynesian” period? What distinguished US Keynesian planning was its concern with the reproductive sector. This was because US capital did not have an experienced working class whose production and reproduction had been bargained over for centuries. The waves of immigration and genocide barely gave any demographic and geographic constancy to rely on. The US working class was inevitably “volatile” and “unstable”, almost a “thing in itself’.
The basic realization of US Keynesian policy was that the enormous accumulation of fixed capital embodied in the assembly-line factories required a proportionate accumulation of capital in the working class (“human capital” as it was called later). Once capital reaches River Rouge dimensions, the short-term disciplinary effect of unemployment is more than counter-balanced by the long-term loss in the productivity of workers. And it was exactly in this productivity that profit was to be found. The obsession of New Deal planners was that the long stretches of unemployment would sap the “work ethic” from the latest generation of factory operatives who had undergone the rigid education of the line in the ’20s. (You can learn a line job in a day, but it takes years to learn a life-line!) This discipline could not be kept in “cold storage” until individual capitalists were ready for it; it depreciated and could turn inside-out explosively. Thus the ultimate profitability of capital based on increasing the productivity of work made “mass unemployment” intolerable.
Not only must labor power be produced, it must be reproduced. The housewife becomes the correlate of the line worker in the Keynesian equations. Standardly, the housewife is taken as the consumer, but the Depression planners were more concerned with her as the producer of a “very special article”, the ability for work of a factory worker. This requires capital, the home. It was exactly the capital that was disintegrating during the Depression as more and more women left home, divorced and in general “gave up”. The Keynesians saw that no high-intensity line worker would work or return to work without an equally high-intensity reproduction process. The assembly line is peculiarly vulnerable to individual variations of work pace: the rhythmn must be kept off the job as on. Regular meals, regular fucks, regular shits are essential for the gearing of labor power and capital in a stamping plant.
Not only had unemployment to be “conquered” but the real wage, which the working class “defended” during the starkest years of the Depression and later forced up, could be capitalized upon. If wage increases could be used to capitalize the home, this would eventually increase the productivity of tabor, hence increase profit. Here we have the basis of a class deal: happy workers, happy capital, a compromise! The Keynesian system is delicately balanced upon the symbiosis of home and factory and the use of the wage not only for working class subsistence but as a form of investment for capital.
The dynamic equilibrium between home and line required a precise meshing of the variables of wage, factory work and housework. In the period from the late ’60s to the mid-70s the mesh began to tear. Divorces, for example, accelerated with the wage, which revealed a new tension between the poles of the Keynesian synthesis, but “surely nothing that would be enough to cause a crisis.’ ’The trouble with the Keynesian equilibrium however is that it is supremely vulnerable to such lapses (perhaps more vulnerable than to a “small” nuclear war). They were “boom” years, but not for capital. Not only did the struggle in the factories, homes and streets force capital to pay more for factory work, increasingly, capital had to pay, through the state, directly for reproduction work that had previously come financed via the male, factory wage. Women and young people would no more “naturally” do what they used to do under the direction of husband and daddy. Thus, though there was an enormous increase of energy generated by the working class during that period, it proved especially resistent to the transformation into work. There was a precipitous drop in the work / energy ratio, this was translated into a “profits crisis” and a subversion of the axioms of Keynsianism.
EULOGY FOR THE AUTO
The crystalization of this symbiosis was the car and truck. Not only were they the concrete vehicular mediators between home and line, they were a combined home-line itself. On the basis of the car-truck economy you get the space-time geometry of American Keynesian society: the car is a little home on wheels and a little factory you can sleep in. The workers at Flint in 1936 recognized this when they took to sleeping and cooking in the hulks of half built Chevys. A car is an ambiguous piece of capital, a tool and a plaything: a serious, expensive and heavy piece of machinery and bedroom, dining room and kitchen; something highly standardized and then deeply personalized. The nomadic tribe of truck drivers are the paragons of this economic geometry, they created a work-life society of speed on the basis of this crystalization. (In 1950 the real revenues of railroads and trucking were almost identical, while in 1976 trucking was pulling twice the money the railroads made; in 1960 trucking had fewer employees than railroads in 1977 it had more than twice as many.)
The car became the model of the intermeshing machine and worker throughout the social factory. The spatio-temporal freedom and power it delivers in the hands of male workers, the decentralization of life it provides, had to be, and was, countered by even more precise termini of life. The home schedule and the work schedule increasingly was timed to the minute. It is no accident that the car for Neil Cassidy, in Kerouac’s On the Road, became the expression of all that was anti-capitalist, anti-home, anti-factory because he saw in it a potentiality that existed in the metal but was fought by all the levels (from the “carmortgage” to highway police radar). . . the transformation of the productivity o/labor into the freedom/rom labor. But the ’60s went further. The distance between Cassidy’s drive-away Cadillac and Kesey’s Merry Prankster bus reveals the distrance between two periods of working class discovery. . . and Cassidy’s difficulty in bridging it: LSD approaches light speed while benzedrine and wine 120 mph. Ginsberg, who was always wiser in these matters, saw the mediator in the van of Wichita Sutra, perhaps. Kerouac went home and died.
D. Prices and Values
Midnight Notes from 1980 on structural changes to capital in the 1970s.
Capital’s response to this invasion of entropic energy was not a “strike”, an “investment freeze” or the beginning of an era of “slow investment economies”. Allowing for the recession of 1974, investment since 1973 (relative to GNP) has sustained and even surpassed the levels prevalent in the ’60s (for all the crocodile tears of the business journals). There has been, however, a shift in the composition of investment, which to many, capitalists and workers, appears as a lack of investment. Why? Simply because fewer people see it. (See graph #4)
What has been seen by everyone, however, is the leap of the relative, as well as absolute price of “energy” commodities (in the form of oil, natural gas, coal, uranium as well as electricity). Inflation has directly attacked working class income by reducing the “average” real wage, but the changed ratio of energy prices to other prices has an immense indirect effect on the composition of the working class and organization of exploitation. Consider these relative price changes (graph #5):
All throughout the post-WWII period up until 1973 a rough equality obtained between price increases in the industrial and energy sectors. From 1973 to the present a major structural change occured. Though both price series went up, the industrial price index rose by approximately 100% while the energy price index rose by more than 200%. Along with these price changes have gone parallel changes in the relative “sales” and “profits” of the two sectors.
These numbers are the hieroglyphics of capital’s response to the struggles of the late-60s and early 70s, they spell the end of the assembly-line-auto-home political economy, the end of the “blue collar” line worker/housewife nexus, the end of the delicate machine of Keynesian society. By giving primacy to the energy sector, capital can command an enormous amount of work because this command takes place away from the actual scene of exploitation. It almost feels ghost-like and it short-circuits the nodes of class power accumulated in the factories, mines and streets. For this reorganization centralizes the accumulation process while at the same time enormously decentralizes the exploitation process. By developing the energy sector capital is able to exert its magnetic command and extract surplus from every “pore” of the social fabric; every coffee shop, every apartment, every sweat shot must pay for energy costs.
The very image of the worker seems to disintegrate before this recomposition of canital. The burly, “blue collared” line worker seems to blur in the oil crisis, diffracted into the female service worker and the abstracted computer programmer. The large concentrations of factory workers that proved so explosive are dispersed, the specific gravity of the worker’s presence is dramatically reduced. And it all feels so different! Your wages go up but they evaporate before you spend them, you confront your boss but he cries that “he has bills to pay”, and, even more deeply, you don’t see your exploitation any more. On the line, you literally could observe the crystalization of your labor power into the commodity, you could see your life vanishing down the line, you could feel the materialization of your alienation. But in the service industries your surplus labor seems to be non-existent, even “non-productive”, “just” a paid form of “housework", cleaning bedjtans, massaging jogger’s muscles, scrambling eggs. While in the “energy/information” sector you seem to be engulfed by the immense fixed capital surrounding you, it feels as if you were not exploited at all, a servant of the machine, even “privileged” to be part of “brains of the system”. These feelings disorient struggles as the vast spatial migrations “to look for a job” disagregate militant circles, the old bastions are isolated and appear archaic, almost comic.
Finally, these price indicies summarize the beginning of a shift in the organization of reproduction. A “society” built on autos is not like a “society” built on computers, McDonalds and nukes, where by “society” we mean the entire reproduction process. The new form of life dictated by the primacy of the energy/information sectors, like the struggles against it, is only beginning to be formed.
The “rationality of the energy crisis” for capital as a response to (and an attack on) working class struggles against the poles of Keynesian “auto- industrial” society will be shown below. However, an important objection to this account could be made immediately: if capital can, at will, change and manipulate energy and industrial prices on the basis of multinational corporate power, i.e., independent of the amount of work that goes into the production of commodities, then we must abandon work and surplus value (exploitation) as our basic analytical categories. Marx would be an honored but dead dog. We would have to accept the position of Sweezy and Marcuse that monopoly organization and technological development have made capital independent of the “law of value”, (viz, that prices, profits, costs and the other numerology of accounting are rooted in (and explained by) the work-time gone into the production of the commodities and reproduction of the relevant workers). Capital, it would seem, can break its own rules, the class struggle is now to be played on a pure level of power, “will to domination”, force against force, and prices become part of the equation of violence, arbitarily decided like the pulling of the trigger. We disagree with these “monopoly power" theorists; work and exploitation still remain the basic determinates of motion in capitalist development whether you deal with computers and nukes or spades and cotton gins.
How then, do we explain the apparent freedom the capitalists seem to have in setting oil prices independent of the labor that goes into the production of oil (i.e., its value)?
The divergence of prices and values is nothing new. On the contrary, it has always been an essential aspect of capitalist rule. Values (work-time) must be transformed into prices and this transformation is never one-to-one. The essence of the transformation of values into prices is that though capital extracts surplus value locally, it does not let those who do the extracting command and expend this surplus value. The hand of Capital is different from its mouth and its asshole. This transformation is real, but it causes illusions in both the brains of capitalists and workers (including you and me!) It all revolves around mineness, the deepest pettiness in the Maya of the system. For capital appears as little machines, packets of materials, little incidents of work, all connected with little agents of complaint, excuse and hassle. Each individual capitalist complains about “my" money, each individual workers cries about “my" job, each union official complains about “my" industry; tears flow everywhere apparently about different things, so that capitalism’s house is an eternal soap opera. But mineness is an essential illusion, though illusion all the same. Capital is social, as is work, and pitiless as Shiva to the complainers, but needs their blindness to feed itself. It no more rewards capitalists to the extent that they exploit than it rewards workers to the extent that they are exploited. There is no justice for anyone but itself.
The transformation of values into prices is ruled by capital’s instinctual demand to “get its just recognition”. For the body of capital has many different limbs, organs, arteries and veins, nerve strands, sensors and processors, each with its organic composition, its own need to be fed-back. The needs, balances, proportions and ratios they imply must be met — or else it would not see its illusions.
How much surplus value goes to a particular organ of capital is determined by its organic composition: the mixture of dead and living labor that is found there. Lets take three examples: a nuclear plant, an autoplant, and a local “greasy spoon” restaurant and bar. Each is a machine with different needs and different products. The bar needs Jack Daniels, while the nuke needs refined U- 235; the restaurant and bar needs an easy-talking bartender and a speed-freak grillman, the auto plant needs welding bonders and line workers. All these “needs” have histories derived from struggles. The nuke “needs” to have a “two man rule” in monitoring all vital operations; the autoplant “needs” guards at the gates and computers assessing the speed of flow to detect slowdowns; the restaurant “needs” dishwashers that can’t talk English. The struggles are written in the machine; they create the need for redundancy since the struggles are a noise that keeps the message the machines send out from being reliable and eternal.
Each of these mixtures of living and dead, animal and mineral, energy and work, can be measured in a mathematical proportion roughly corresponding to the ratio of the value of constant capital (the value of the means of production) and the value of labor power (the value of the wages). A typical nuclear worker works with about $300,000 worth of equipment, a typical autoworker mixes with about $30,000 worth of other machines, while a typical restaurant-bar worker uses $3,000 worth of “means of production”. Yet, the wages of the typical- autoworker and nuke plant worker are almost the same, while that of a restaurant-bar worker is officially half (although the inclusion of tips would increase it). Clearly the differences in capital per employee swamp out the differences in wages and we see a segmentation in the skeleton of capital delineated in the exponential powers of the organic composition; 10^3, 10^4, 10^5. Let us call these the low, average and high sectors of capital and consider the following chart (graph #6):
There is much to say of these vertebrae of capital, but let us concentrate on the work/energy relation in each of these sections. In the average section there is an obvious relation between the energy put in, the work that comes out and the profit gotten from it. It is clear to the autoworker that a speed-up increases the flow of cars off the line and GM’s profits. There appears to be here a one-to-one relation between increased investment in machinery and the productivity and intensity of work. This is the range of relative- surplus value. The worker here can see his exploitation via the speed of the line. In the low sector the length of the work day becomes important. This is the area of absolute surplus value where the work comes by storing the energy of the worker within the job as long as possible. The problem here is that the worker cannot see the surplus. The local restaurant might kill its employees with overwork and still look like it’s making “no money”. The boss may be as depressed as his workers and poring out his energy “for nothing”. Thus the tears of the small business types, the “hard working” sector of capital. Finally, there is the high sector. There enormous profits are made, but not off the workers who operate the nuke plants per se. True, they earn their wages on the way from the parking lot to the control room, but the amount of surplus value “produced” in the ensuing eight houses is absolutely minescule, though relatively enormous! Where do their profits come from?
Surplus value is transformed into the nuclear industry by the divergence of prices and values. As Marx points out, social capital needs an average rate of profit while individual capitals must be rewarded differentially according to the amount invested in each organ. But each organ has a different amount of constant capital in it. Those organs with a high capital investment per worker need an above average amount of surplus value fed- back into them, those with an average amount of investment per worker requires an average feed¬ back, while those with a low amount of capital ‘need’ only a low return.
“Equal weights and Equal measures”, says social capital over the lamentations of its Jobs in restaurants, sweatshops and construction companies. “I only recognize myself,” “I am I” booms capital out of the whirlwind and the petty bosses slink away with their boils. This feed-back justice is determined by prices. Commodity prices in the High industries are always greater than their values. Low industry commodity prices are always below their value. High industries “suck up” the surplus value produced at the bottom of the system through this price structure. The diversion of price and value makes it clear that extraction of surplus value and command over the expansion of the surplus are different operations. The boss of Alice’s restaurant can complain but he must still pay his electricity and heating bills (though he tries hard to avoid it). Like Job, the petty boss recognizes a higher power he cannot deny for though it hurts him he would be annihilated if it abandoned him. So he must pay this power tribute, however unjust it appears. He perhaps even glimmers on the deeper, larger schemes of the Savage God, though it crusheth him.
E. The Deduction of the 'Energy Crisis': a Theoretical Interlude
Midnight Notes on crisis, energy and capital in the 1970s.
The divergence of prices from values shows how there is a possibility of an energy price rise versus other prices without abandoning a work-exploitation analysis of capitalism. For by investment in the High sector to escape assembly-line insubordination, women’s refusal of housework and urban insurrections, the High sector attracts higher commodity prices. But why did the profits crisis actually require an “energy” crisis” and not simply the traditional tools of the capitalist cycle? Why was the profit-fall-unemployment-wage-rate-reduction-pro fit-rise sequence (i.e., the “old time religion” of capital), which retains the general physiognomy of the system, not adequate anymore?
The answers to these questions has many parts but one thing is clear: the source of the crisis is in the breakdown of the Keynesian factory-home circuit that was the basis of the post-WWII political economy. Capital, like an amoeba, contracts in areas of acidity and expands in more nutritious and bland waters. In the profits crisis decade the areas of acidity concentrated in two spots: (a) the assembly line production in “middle level” manufacturing and extraction industries, (b) in the “home” where reproduction work is centered.1 Capital experienced the crisis of profits both as a local and global irritant as well as a decline in its self worth and “castration” by the big-bad State (the tax timidity syndrome).
A typical “common sense” response to the questions of this section is that the taxation- timidity syndrome has brought on a chronic PRODUCTIVITY CRISIS of which the energy crisis is one instance. From the winged words of corporation executives, from the pulpits of economic Poloniuses, the same evil is identified and decried: the collapse of productivity. But are the sermons total myths? YES, myths indeed, in the narrow sense of “productivity”.
If by “productivity” we mean (as econometricians do) “real” output per working hour, then capital had no productivity problem. On the contrary, the post-WWII period has seen a productivity boon, at least compared with the 1914-1947 period which saw two wars and the Depression. Moreover, though both periods showed comparable increases in output per hour, the previous one showed a greater increase in the real wage and a reduction in the work week. If the performance of the first period had been repeated in the second, the work week would now be 27.8 and the average real wage would be substantially higher. (See graph #7)
Further, in the energy crisis period (1973-present), though output per work hour was rising slower than in the past, real wages lagged even behind this pace. But capital is not interested in output per se, it is interested in its share. The relation between changes in real profit and changes in productivity shows the statistical anomaly of the 1965-1973 period. (See graph #8). In the post- WWII period up to 1965, year-to-year changes in profits tended on the average to be twice as much as changes in productivity: but in 1965 they began to equalize. Only after 1973 did the ratio return to its historical portion. This shows that the 1965-1973 period cut down the attractive power of profits and further disintegrated the profits-wages ratio. Somewhere there was a leak. Everywhere there was the search for the thief of profit. Youth, women, blacks, the “collapse of the work ethic”, were the likely suspects. Consider the sage words of Ford’s Malcolm Denise in December of 1969:
Nowadays employees are (1) less concerned about losing a job or staying with an employer; (2) less willing to put up with dirty and uncomfortable working conditions: (3) less likely to accept the unvarying pace and functions on moving assembly lines; (4) less willing to conform to rules or be amenable to higher authority. Furthermore, the traditional U.S. work ethic — the concept that hard work is a virtue and a duty — has undergone considerable erosion .... There is also, again especially among the younger employees, a growing reluctance to accept shop discipline. This is not just a shop phenomenon rather it is a manifestation in our shops of a trend we see all about us among today’s youth.2
The wind was full of such lamentations! “LSD will eat up the line!” “The feminists will wreck the family!” The blacks want everything!” ... ad nauseum.
When output per hour collapsed in mining and began to slow down in auto, steel and rubber, the volume on the capitalist dial was turned up a few notches. But the source of complaint was not output per hour but profit per work hour. The share of profits in productivity increases was in peril. . . Hence the need for a total change in the structure of prices and work. For this was not another statistic, but the basis of the relation between working class and capital. As our introduction pointed out, a satisfactory matching of productivity to profit has been the essence of capitalist strategy since the end of the nineteenth century. Any serious disturbance of this strategy puts into question a century of that capitalist wisdom embodied in the “Marginal Theory of Value and Distribution”.
Capitalism is a system of margins, accelerations, of changes, differentials; not flows, but flows of flows. Thus, the appearances, though obvious and bemoaned, did not tell the tale. Capital is abstract, and its snapping is at first abstract as well, for the problem is not speed but lack of impulse. The 1965-1973 profits crisis stopped not the flow, but the flow of flows. To understand the strategy of accumulation that was put in jeopardy by the class struggle of that period we must do some investigation of capital’s mind, not so much psychoanalysis as theoretical eavesdropping.
“Marginal Theory”, the economics we get in every introductory course, significantly appears on the scene at the very time of the explosion and slaughter of the Paris Commune. It claims that in order for individual firms to maximize profits and for the accumulation process to flow throughout capitalist society, wages and profits must be correlated with the ever increasing productivity of social labor. In other words, productivity increases achieved by new technological leaps, more “efficient” organization of work in factories, mines and farms, more “scientific” planning of family, school and health, had to be shared with the working class. Capital could not appropriate it all. A classic application of this strategy is the early Ford wage policy that combined relatively capital- intensive, mass production techniques with bonuses for punctuality and a “clean family life”. Without such schemes, the worker turnover rate which was approaching 300% per year would have interminably broken the continuity of the line (the very basis of its productivity). Nobody is born an auto worker, they must be made, and their production in the home must be planned. Ford understood the other side of Marginal Theory: not only must wages be used to “induce” workers to accept the discipline of the assembly line, but with higher wages the working class can become a dynamic consumer and push the system to higher levels of production (hence profitability, since a concentration of fixed capital such as River Rouge requires continuous utilization to pay off). Once wages are as dynamic as social productivity the working class becomes a production agent integrated into the capitalist system through the consumer-goods market. Reproduction becomes a “dynamic force of production” instead of merely guaranteeing the subsistance of labor power.
Marginalist Theory has been criticized by Marxists as a subjective mathematization of vulgar economics ideologically motivated to slay Marx. Bukharin calls this theory, “the ideology of the bourgeoisie who has already been eliminated from the process of production.”3 In reality, it is the strategy of introducing the working class into the process of consumption. Marxists did not see that the legitimizing purposes of marginalist’s theory were tangential, and that its primary purpose was to provide a new strategy to capital, in front of a radically different class struggle. By the 1870’s and the Paris Commune’s volcano of desires, it became clear that the working class could not be taken as a separate, almost-natural species, with fixed needs that might or might not be satisfied depending on population growth. As Marx’s 1867 Value, Price and Profit, suggests, in this period the struggle for the normal working day was slowly yielding, in the most advanced sectors, to the struggle for wage increases.
The class forces were entering into a new constellation. To see this, let us get back to basics. The working day resolves itself into two magnitudes;
V / S
V represents the amount of social labor time necessary to reproduce the working class in its capitalist function, S is the surplus labor capital appropriates in the working day. This unpaid labor, the secret of capital, appears in many forms, not only in the factory but in the kitchen, the ghetto street and the laboratory. Mathematically, the class struggle resolves itself for capital into the relation between V, S and V+S. The object is the accumulation of surplus, S, and there are only two ways of increasing it: absolutely and relatively. Absolute surplus value is appropriated by lengthening the working day, V+S, without changing V. This was the type of surplus value developed in Newton’s time. But capital’s ability to generate absolute surplus value was undermined by the working class struggles for a “normal” work day, i.e., the “ten hour” and “eight hour day” campaigns. Capital’s response was relative surplus value which is appropriated by reducing V relative to S while leaving V+S constant or even decreasing it. Relative surplus value is the type of production that is at the basis of thermodynamic’s investigation of work/energy.
It can only be produced by constant revolutions in the forces and relations of production, requiring the application of science, memory and skill at every linkage. Marx saw the turn to relative surplus value as the necessary tendency of capital:
The increase of the productive forces of labor and the greatest possible negation of necessary labor is the necessary tendency of capital . . . The transformation of the means of labor into machinery is the realization of this tendency... In machinery, objectified labor itself appears not only in the form of product or of the product employed as a means of labor, but in the form of the force of production itself. . . The transformation of the production process from the simple labor process into a scientific process, which subjugates the forces of nature and compels them to work in the service of human needs, appears as a quality of fixed capital. Thus all powers of labor are transposed into the powers of capital.4
The Marginal Theory reflects capitalist strategy in the era of relative surplus value. “Productivity” becomes a central political category, “efficiency” the battle slogan in the regulation of the class relation as the shillobeth of “unproductive” was hurled at the feudal landowners by the early bourgeoisie. Thus Jevons, the “father of Marginal theory”, saw it as a statistical thermodynamics accounting for the transformation of energies (in the form of desires, pleasures and utilities) into work. For him the capitalist system is a gigantic social steam engine that turns the millions of separate energetic impulses of the working class into accumulated capitalist power. It took a relatively short time for this theory to enter into the curriculum of the capitalist manager. Its pedagogical function is immediately evident even in its abstract form (despite the eternal complaint of the “shirt sleeve” business economists against their theoretical colleagues) for it accustoms capital to a fludity in productive arrangements, the expectation of constant change in productive relations (aimed at destroying nodules of working class organization) and an appreciation of its own abstractness. At the same time, the theory taught a complementary lesson: the working class could no longer be merely resisted, repressed and killed when it struggled; it had to be allowed a dynamic function in the system of productive relations and the market . . . the struggle could and had to be used.
This theory, e.g., showed capital how unions could be used instead of being outlawed and crushed whenever they appeared. For it maintains that unions cannot increase wages beyond the productivity of labor in the long run, because wages are ultimately controlled by supply and demand in labor market. At worst, unions are innocuous; at best, though they may hurt individual capitalists, unions, by bargaining over wage and working conditions, can spur changes in the organization of work and stimulate productivity.
Consider Bohm-Bawerk, the Austrian Finance minister and discoverer of the “error in the Marxian system” (i.e., the deviation of prices from values). In 1914 he wrote:
If the entrepreneur finds his hands tied by the price of labor, but not in regard to the physical equipment of his factory, and he desires to adopt the presently cheapest combination of factors of production he will prefer a combination different from the one used before, one that will enable him to make savings in the now more costly factor of labor, just as, for example, an increase in the cost of land may cause the transition from extensive to intensive methods of cultivation.5
In other words, if unions force wages up, this will force the capitalist to reorganize production by making it, e.g., less extensive and more intensive in time, (for space becomes time when we go from land to work). Unions can force a transition from absolute to relative surplus value and become a factor in the development of capital, provided they are attuned to the system: don’t agitate too much, don’t desire too much and most important “get down with us”. Although the variety of tactics capital uses to attune the working class are barely mentioned in the textbooks and treatises, the “entrepreneur” should figure it out himself: sometimes head bashing, sometimes prime ministerships. What was crucial was the strategy that was taught to generation upon generation of capitalists: one doesn’t fight the class struggle any more with the tactics of Scrooge.
Such a century old strategy is not abandoned easily. Even the so-called “Keynesian revolution” did not question the importance of linking wage and profit increases with productivity increases. Keynes saw that it was crucial for “collective capital”, the State, to intervene and guarantee this correlation, should the individual capitalists refuse. Yet throughout the 60s and 70s Marginal Theory was systematically attacked in debates on capital’s theory. “What”, say the marginalist economists, “can’t wages and profits grow and twine together like tendrils from the graves of dead lovers?”
Just as statistical surveys were proclaiming the long run success in linking real wages with productivity, there was increasing disquiet in the councils of the wise, By the early 70s it was obvious that profits and wages were again antagonistic, as in the days of absolute surplus value. Profits were not gathering a normal share of productivity increases and, even more ominously, the institutions of bargaining essential for the equilibrium (the unions and social-democratic parties) were subverted or bypassed by the struggle. Welfare struggles, ghetto revolts, wildcats, factory occupations and a “breakdown” in discipline from the army to the university (reflecting a “disorder” in family and sexual relationships) all moved outside the orbit of union-management corridors and club house crap tables. Though the absolute content of these struggles took seemingly opposite poles:
THE END OF WORK -- PAY FOR ALL THE WORK WE DO
MAKE LOVE NOT WAR — LOVE IS WORK
FREEDOM NOW — NO MORE FREE WORK
Capital was more concerned with their “non-negotiability”, their “unreasonableness”. Capitalism lives on the future and the immediate quality of these demands spelled: NO FUTURE, WE WANT IT NOW! What might have appeared as slight statistical shifts had the nature of auguries from the tangled guts of date charts and computer printouts. Productivity was no more guaranteed by the new class forces, who sniffed the astronomical level of accumulation achieved, and were demanding it all and now.
As in the epistemology of pragmatism, irritation leads to thought, and these demands rubbed capital’s managers raw. Lucky for capital, the needed thought had already risen to consciousness. Piero Sraffa had developed a system that suggested a strategy radically different from the Marginalist. Like all genuine capitalist responses to working class struggles, Sraffa’s took up the class’ demands, but with a twist of its intent. Just as early capital took the Diggers’ anti-landowner slogan: “those who don’t work should not eat’’ and turned it against them, the new capitalist strategy takes the working class’ refusal of work, and relativizes it to itself.
Sraffa’s strategy begins with capital’s perception of the crisis as an inability to link, in a balanced way, wage and profit growth with productivity changes. Sraffa argues that wages and profits must be considered antagonistic magnitudes. In Marginal Theory, on the contrary, the wage is a payment for the use of a certain “factor of production” labor, to its owner, the worker; while profits are payments for the use of invested capital (in the form of machines, raw materials or money) to its owner, the capitalist, i.e., wages and profits are theoretically independent of each other. The Marginal theory begins with the individual firm and each factor, labor and capital, contributes to the firms production and is presumably rewarded accordingly: “a fair day’s work tor a fair day’s pay” and “a good tool is worth its hire".
Sraffa, instead, considers the capitalist machine as a whole, with its total inputs and outputs, its food and its shit. He has the total output cut in two: wages and profits. The wage is part of the total value appropriated by the whole working class. His image is that the capitalist machine (a complex intermeshing of material and work flows, transfers, creations and interruptions) stops at every period and drops out a total product, then capitalists and workers struggle over how much each gets. No more “to each his own", now it is lex talonis, dog packs and the wolf packs warring over the carrion. But there is a limit as to how little workers can get. They must receive enough of the total product to subsist and reproduce their race. The wage, then, must be divided into two parts:
We have up to this point regarded wages as constituting of the necessary subsistence of the workers and thus entering the system on the same footing as the fuel for the engines or the feed for the cattle. We must now take into account the other aspect of wages since, besides the ever-present element of subsistence, they may include a share of the surplus product. In view of the double character of the wage it would be appropriate when we come to consider the division of the surplus between capitalists and workers, to separate the two component parts of the wage and regard only the “surplus” part as a variable.6
The ‘subsistence” part of the wage is reminiscent of the classical notion of the wage (e.g., Ricardo’s natural price of labor . . . that price which is necessary to enable the laborers, one with the other, to subsist and to perpetuate their race, without either increase or diminuation. ”)7 By its nature, the subsistence wage is not proportional to the amount of work done, though it is fixed by the constraints of the particular productive system and the presumably fixed (quasi-biological) needs of the “race of workers”. The necessity of a subsistence wage reflects a problematic truth individual capitalists try to elude, but capital as a whole cannot: in order to work, you must remain alive even though you are not working. This is the final “externality” of capitalist production. It is the pollution of non-work eternally produced by work that somebody must “clean up”.
Classical economic theoiy led to “the iron law of wages”, but discovered that iron can melt under intense heat. Thus, Marginal Theory conceeded that the wage can be a variable as long as its variability is ruled by the productivity of labor. For Sraffa, on the contrary, the variable part of the wage arises from the existence of a total surplus, produced by the production apparatus as a whole, beyond mere subsistence. Sraffa argues that the “race of workers” struggles with capital to appropriate part of this surplus independent of its productivity. This “surplus wage” is a sort of “political wage”, for it is not determinable within the system of technical relations of production. With Sraffa, Bohm-Bawerk’s confidence that the wage will in the long run be determined by the “free” market of labor is exploded. Sraffa’s framework describes a world where the working class has effectively broken the tie with productivity and the relationship between wages and profits is strictly antagonistic. With Sraffa, capital conceptualizes a situation where the quantity of the total machine’s production is no longer proportional to the amount of work squeezed out of the working class: the wage becomes independent of work. It spells the end of the Marginalist’s attempt to justify profit as a “fair reward” for capital’s contribution to the production process. Nothing is due to capital, everything must be fought for. We reach here that situation of great class tension anticipated by Marx in the last century:
Real weath manifests itself, rather — and large industry reveals this — in the monstrous disproportion between the labor time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labor, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labor no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being come to relate more as a watchman and regulator to the production process itself.8
When the productivity of labor increases beyond certain limits, Marx argues, any attempt to use “labor time” as the measure of wealth fails and “exchange value ceases to be the measure of use value”. Capital finds itself in its deepest contradiction:
On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labor time employed in it. On the other side, it wants to use labor 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.9
When working class struggle pushes capital to a point where necessary work time approaches zero, Sraffa’s system can be profitably applied.
What can determine the wage in such a situation if not productivity? Sraffa turns to the old discussion of the Corn Laws, i.e., to the manipulation of the wage by control of the relative prices of commodities. He argues that prices are fixed by the wage rate; at the same time, given commodity production, the wage rate can also be determined by exchange relations between commodities. As long as capital has the power to relate prices it has the power to control how much of the (surplus) “political” wage the working class will appropriate. But not just any commodity will do.
Sraffa distinguishes between two types of commodities: basic versus non-basic. Basic commodities enter into the production of all commodities, while non-basic ones do not.
These (non-basic) products have no part in the determination of the system. Their role is purely passive. If an invention were to reduce by half the quantity of each of the means of production which are required to produce a unit of a “luxury” production of a basic commodity which does enter the means of production, all prices would be affected and the rate of profits changed.10
In other words, if one wanted to influence the wage (and hence the profit) rate, it would make no sense to change the price of Pennsylvanean coo-coo clocks or even of stereos and TVs, i.e., the “consumer durables” that have proven so crucial to the development of the system in the past. A Sraffa-type strategy must employ energy commodities (e.g., oil and electricity) since they enter directly or indirectly into the whole spectrum of production from fertilizers to computers. “Energy” commodities are basic commodities. Thus, any attempt to affect the wage-profit relation in a period when Marginalist Theory is inoperative must involve price changes of basic commodities.
This excursion into Sraffa’s theory explains why the profits crisis of the 1965-1972 required an energy crisis. Only with price changes of the energy commodities can the average real wage be reduced and investment moved from lower organically composed industries to the High industries. Such price changes dispose of both global and local irritants affecting the profit rate, since they reduce the general wage (whether paid on the job or through welfare checks, pensions, unemployment checks) and, at the same time, reduce the share of value that goes to the Average and Low industries. Energy plays a central role both in the wage commodity “bundle” (heating, food, etc.) and in the production of “capital" goods. To change its relative price is inevitably to affect the average rate of profit, instead of cyclically returning to a predetermined profit rate. The profits crisis heralded not another fluctuation around a given “long run” average rate of profit, but a fall in the average that could not be dealt with on the basis of the Keynesian wage-inflation cycle that coordinates real wages and productivity via the “money illusion”. No “State Bank induced” inflation or “monopoly capital” pass-along of wage increases would deal with the surprising totality and novelty of working class struggle. The essential mechanism to reshape the system had to be an energy price transformation that would effect the profits crisis both globally, in the realm of social reproduction, and locally, in the closedown of insubordinate factories.
- 1 What of race? We agree with the wages-for-housework analysis: the essence of the racial (as well as sexual) division is to be found in the hierarchy of wages and it was indeed that hierarchy that the black movement attacked most directly in the welfare women’s movement, in the formation of black factory unions & caucus, in the youth gangs and “parties" of the ghetto streets. The explosion of black women, men and youth attacked the Keynsian model of accumulation at its heart since the thrust was from the largely unwaged sector. Cf. Maria Rosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, POWER OF WOMEN AND THE SUBVERSION OF THE COMMUNITY (Bristol, Eng, Falling Wall Press, 1972) for the seminal work on this matter.
- 2 Quoted in B.J. Widick “Work in Auto Plants: Then and Now", in AUTO WORK AND ITS DISCONTENTS, (Baltimore; John Hopkins U. Press, 1976), p. 10.
- 3 Bukharin, THE ECONOMIC TH EORY OF THE LEISURE CLASS, (N.Y., AMS Press, 1970), p. 31.
- 4 K. Marx, GRUNDRISSE, (N.Y., Vintage Books, 1973), p. 700.
- 5 Bohm-Bawerk, “Control or Economic Law” in SHORTER CLASSICS OF E. VON BOHM-BAWERK, (South Holland, Ill.; Libertarian Press, 1962) p. 192-193.
- 6 P. Sraffa, PRODUCTION OF COMMODITIES BY MEANS OF COMMODOTIES, (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1960), p. 9.
- 7 D. Ricardo, PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY & TAXATION, (N.Y. MacMillan Co., 1914), p, 80
- 8 K. Marx, GRUNDRISSE, p. 705
- 9 ibid., p. 706
- 10 R. Sraffa, PRODUCTION OF COMMODITIES, p. 7-8.
F: The Manifold of Work: Reproduction
Midnight Notes on social reproduction, work and jogging from 1980.
Sraffa’s distinction between basic and non-basic commodities is essential to our explanation of the energy crisis as a response to working class attack on capitalist accumulation in the late 60s and early 70s. However, there is one crucial flaw in Sraffa’s theory. Capital does not produce things, “commodity bundles”, “finite pies”, or physical shit but values, work. It is a system for the exploitation of time, life and energy. Though we have reached the period when all the “powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse” are integral to the process of production, capital has in no way gone beyond its measuring rod — work-time -- as Sraffa suggests. The “law of value” has not been repealed; on the contrary, it rules with the greatest rigor. Similarly, the relation between capital and the working class is not a “pure power relation” (like that between De Sade’s aristocrats and their subjects) but one in which work remains the basis of capital’s power. What is transformed by the change in basic commodity prices is work from the Low sector to the High sector.
For the energy price rise strategy to succeed an enormous amount of work must be produced and extracted from the Low sectors in order to be transformed to capital available for the High sector. In order to finance the new capitalist “utopia” of “high-tech”, venture-capital demanding industries in the energy, computer and genetic engineering areas, another capitalist “utopia” must be created: a world of “labor-intensive”, low waged, distracted and diffracted production. The price rise would be reduced to paper unless it imposed a qualitative increase in shit work. This is the crisis within the crisis. Can energy price hikes be backed up with the requisite work? In this juncture, as always in capital’s history, a leap in technology is financed out of the skins of the most technologically starved workers. Those in the anti-nuke movement who have as their slogan “Nukes destroy. Solar employs” are wrong. A nuclear society requires an enormous increase in work, not in the plants or the fuel cycle, of course, but in the capitalist environment. Utilities might invest in nuclear plants and the engineers and guards necessary to run them, but the investment goes not guarantee a given “return”. For profit to be made out of such a “high-tech” investment, it must be transfered from “low-tech” exploitation. As always. “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is... at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.1 The resolution of the energy crisis requires the destruction of the old type of line worker and the creation of a new figure of exploitation. Where is this work to be extracted from? Or rather, from whom?
Capitalist development feeds on the energy of the working class, on its revolutionary disgust. Ironically, capital’s answer was provided by the struggle itself If the profits crisis had its epicenter in the fission and explosion of line workers and housewives, then its resolution had to use these energies against themselves. Such is the capitalist dance called the dialectic. To the men who said, “Take this job and shove it” capital responded by closing auto and steel plants; to the women who said, “Hit the road. Jack” capital responded with the “service sector” job. The increasing refusal to accept the Oedipal wage relation by women and youth forced a complete re-organization of the wage and the structure of work. The energies released by women’s revolt against unpaid labor in the home have been the basis of the enormous expansion of a low organic composition sector which has provided the work necessary for the energy price transformation. Women’s revolt, while revealing their exploitation through the Oedipal wage, opened a new path for capitalist development.
The “Oedipal” wage is the wage paid to the male worker for his reproduction which also, though in a hidden and distorted manner, is to reproduce his wife and children and which gives him real power over them. The structure of the nuclear family is buried in this wage, the whole complex Of power relationships between men and women is summed up in a number. But it is another example of the illusory nature of the wage.
The wage — economists say — is “the price of labor”, but what is this price about? $5 an hour, $200 a week, $10,000 a year, $400,000 a life... what does the money per time really pay? Does any amount pay for your life-time? Not really, it merely pays the time it takes to make you;
The value of labor-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labor-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labor of society incorporated in it... the value of labor power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the laborer.2
So says Marx, but here he’s wrong. For the production of labor-power does not “reduce” to a bundle of commodities, the means of subsistence. Labor is also necessary to produce this "special article", that must be included in the value of labor-power. It is the essential micro-work, largely feminine, unpaid and thus invisible. Housework... from raw to cooked . . . washing, fucking, cooling tempers, picking up after the bash, lipstick, thermostat, giving birth, kids, teaching them not to shit in the hall, curing the common cold, watching the cancer grow, even lyric poems for your schizophrenia ... sure Marx points out that there is a “historical and moral element” in the quantity of the means of subsistence, but his servant girl and Jenny seemed to come for free.
Why the micro-invisibility and virtual character of housework? Simply because, as long as capital didn’t have to pay for it, it could repress the demands of the female houseworkers and have the sexual poles of the working class at each others’ throats. Only when women refuse to do this work does capital begin to recognize it and pay it, i.e., only when women struggle against this work does it become a commodity. For the primary way capital recognizes itself is in the mirror of the commodity form, and the necessary condition for something to be a commodity is that it satisfies a desire “real or fancied”.
However, something cannot be desired if it is there, being qua being, pure facticity, if it is natural. Something cannot be a commodity unless someone lacks it. But what is lacked can be made to be lacking. Capital creates commodities by making what is natural, un-natural, as in the case of land. But there is a complementary operation of making what is un-natural, natural. These two operations have been applied to work. Regular waged work is desired by capital, it needed it, wanted it and can be denied it by a struggle: hence it is un-natural, a commodity, paid. However:
In the case of housework the situation is qualitatively different. The difference lies in the fact that not only has housework been imposed on women, but it has been transformed into a natural attribute of our female physique and personality — an internal need, an aspiration, supposedly coming from the depth of our female character. Housework had to be transformed into a natural attribute rather than be recognized as a social contract because from the beginning of capital’s scheme for women this work was destined to be unwaged.3
When women refuse to do “what’s natural” then their services become commodities for capital, whole industries are born. Similarly, at the moment black lung disease began to become “unnatural for a coal miner” when the miners’ struggle refused the “constant concomitance” between their job and slow suffocation, the respirator industry “took off’. So capital develops both from our death and our refusal of it, appears. The revolutions of desires that lay behind the tides of capital’s technological “creative destruction” are rooted in the refusal of the working class to just be. This is the dialectical harmonic that joins class struggle with capitalist development. This general correlation applies to this crisis as well.
At the very moment when Nature “refuses to give its gifts in abundance”, the “Nature” within society, the woman, refuses its place. The fights, the visits to the therapist, the affairs, the divorce, the welfare line, the service sector job meet the oil price hikes. The destruction of Oedipus is not just a psycho-analytic comedy, it is out of the revolt of the women and children and the wandering of the men that capital must create commodities in order to generate the work, and surplus value, essential for this period. A dangerous and even desperate ploy? Perhaps. But these are “apocalyptic” times.
Take jogging for instance. Men now know that the wife, or even mommy, will not necessarily be around after the open heart surgery, and that the cost of a private nurse would be prohibitive, especially given that the very requirements of a steady job over a few decades (which would make the private nurse possible) call for a care-and- feeding that only the now non-existent family can provide. So you jog, you “take care of yourself’. The same is true of women, as there is no insurance, no steady man’s job with fringes, no regular wage coming. Part time jobs just don’t provide. So you jog. Even the kids jog from the start since they've learned the facts of life early. At the end of the day, you invest your hour around the park, reproducing yourself since no one else will do it for you for free any more. But around this twilight act revolve whole industries, new health technologies, new clothing for jogging in the rain, new sneakers, massage specialists, health clubs, etc.
Indeed, as the death fear mounts, as you know that Colonus does not wait, but the leukaemia, the I.V. and the oxygen tent remain, a new industry around death develops: death nurses guiding you through the “five stages” calmly, for it is all preplanned and researched, massaged with a cocktail of morphine and whisky on the tray. As the family evaporates, the most explosive industry is that of the body. Not accidently, we see that independent of the ups and downs of the business cycles, “health services” have nearly doubled in employment in the crisis to fill up the vacuum. In this industry there are approximately 4 million women and about one million make workers. The scene is obvious: your former wife, mother or sister is now doing something that she used to do for free, but now she gets paid for it. "What was natural before is problematic now and you wonder if anybody will answer as you press the button beside your bed.
Unfortunately for capital, labor power needs a body, it “pre-supposes the living individual” and so capital must keep us alive in order to make us work (and die) in its monitors. But there is nothing automatic about living, work must be done to carry it on, and when the women of the family stop their work somebody must pick it up. Take the question of food ... certainly its price has a crucial impact on the wage, but an equally important factor is brought in by the question “Raw or cooked food?” Who is to cook it, serve it and talk to you while you eat it? Mama? Increasingly it is the teen-aged Vietnamese girl at McDonalds’, now that approximately half the meals in the U.S. are eaten outside “the home”.
The “service economy” becomes the counter-pole of the “energy/information” economy and it’s the growth sector of the crisis. This sector is but an extension and socialization of women’s work in the home. In the Keynesian period the “institutions of the state”— schools, hospitals, jails and army were supplements to the home. They would take over when the “woman” failed, or finish off and standardize her work . . . Yet, at the hub, women’s work in the home remained the fundamental producer of subsistence for the male worker. But with the work/energy crisis, the center cannot hold any longer. Increasingly the invisible work previously crystallized in the assembly lines appears qua work in the service sector. The Oedipal wage gets disagregated. The “external” agencies and industries expand and become replacements instead of aids for the home.
Women’s struggle against housework has forced a reanalysis of the wage and the reproductive work done in the home. Whereas before it was hidden in the male wage, now it takes on a separate status. The invisibility of housework, veiled by the wage is nothing new for the wage is designed to obscure:
The wage-form thus extinguishes evertrace of the division of the working-day into necessary labor and surplus labor, into paid and unpaid labor. All labor appears as paid labor. In the corvee, the labor of the worker for himself and his compulsory labor for his lord differ in space and time in the clearest possible way. In slave labor, even that part of the working-day in which the slave is only replacing the value of his own means of existence, in which, therefore, in fact, he works for himself alone, appears as labor for his master. All the slave’s labor appears as unpaid labor. In wage- labor, on the contrary, even surplus-labor, or unpaid labor, appears as paid. There the property- relation conceals the labor of the slave for himself; here the money-relation conceals the unrequited labor of the wage-laborer.4
The slave’s revolt has forced the master to recognize the slave’s labor power as alien to him and has forced him to buy it, to pay for it. But in the wage another form of exploitation is again hidden. Mirrors don’t all lie in the same way. Formal slavery is not the same as waged work. There are
forms of work organization that are impossible under slavery, types of rhythms that are not sustainable. Capital learned that the whip and chain are not the most profitable forms of work control. The slave is “inert”, “invisible”, “opaque”, and he must be pushed around to get anything from him. It is capital’s great discovery that “freeing” labor power actually leads to greater levels of exploitation, and its occasional returns to slavery (Nazi Germany, Jim Jones, Southwest immigration) have reconfirmed this truth. The free laborers’ “freedom” gives capital a new dimension of movement while the slave sticks, is mechanically dependent upon the production process, is a machine among the machines and must be cared for when it breaks down.
Women’s labor has had a formal status intermediate between the slaves and the waged worker, for she is technically free but actually unpaid. In some ways, her status is worse than the slave’s for she was “the slave of the worker”, instead of the master. But her revolt, while destroying the old system, creates the possibility of a new source of exploitation (as well as the possibility of capitalist catastrophe). For with the explosion of the service' sector’s extensions of housework, capital reopens a forgotten page in its history: absolute surplus value production.
Since housework has always been a “labor-intensive", low tech form of work, the service sector is low on fixed capital. (Sexual technology, e.g., has barely recovered the level of ancient Egypt in recent years and though billions have gone into the research of better methods of conception there has been next to no official research on the bio-chemical roots of pleasure, sexual or otherwise.) Hence the “low productivity” of the services, a fact used by some economists to explain the breakdown of the economy-wide productivity trends in the crisis. If relative surplus value productivity is not the source of exploitation, then capital must have recourse to time and the length of the work-day, i.e., absolute surplus value.
For there is a major problem in extracting relative surplus value from housework: although it can be industrialized, there are bottlenecks and anachronisms limiting its productivity. Take prostitution: though there are all sorts of tricks to make the John come faster, there must be some time-consuming contact and an immediate struggle over time (hence the pimp). In fact, the reproductive effect of many services seems to necessitate some minimum amount of time (like the limits imposed on agriculture by the seasons). Theoretically, these too can be disposed of in the same way that agriculture can be completely detached from seasonal cycles, but this would require a history of struggles that have not yet taken place. Hence service work, because of its unit by unit character, largely allows only absolute surplus value production.
This development of absolute surplus value work is not statistically evident because much of this work is “part time”. This does not imply that a woman’s working day is reduced by working part time. On the contrary, it means that an enormous part of the total housework women still do remains unpaid. In this transition period, capital is still interested in getting as much unpaid work as possible out of women both via the job and what remains at home. Thus we have women in the 70s, in the midst of a jungle of microcomputers, genetic technology, and fission reactors, with work schedules that would make Manchester operatives nervous: 6:30 get the kids and hubby ready, 9:00 on the “part time” job, 2:00 off the job and go to pick up kids, 5:00 make dinner, 8:00 school-time for Mommy to up-grade employment someday, 12:00 fuck and sleep (?) There is an enormous amount of surplus value in this schedule, though the energy to do it comes from the desire to get “from under the thumb” of hubby.
Housework then is externalized and waged. Surplus value is extracted directly from the labor¬ time of the women on the job in addition to her reproduction work being extracted from the male workers on the assembly line. With the growth of the service sector in the crisis, the “human capital” experiments of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were either abandoned or curtailed, for the indirect method of capitalizing on housework was too uncertain. The State’s idea in the 60s was that by investing in the home (via welfare, food stamps, etc. ) women would do a proper level of housework with their children. But increasingly in the 70s the state was not willing to wait for the growing productivity of labor-power due to the human capital investment to produce the relative surplus value that would give a proper return to the investment.
As long as there was faith in the future, capital was willing to wait, sometimes a generation, to pick the fruits of the houseworkers’ labors. However, the profit crisis showed that the future was in short order, it was no longer guaranteed. Thus, the surplus value of the housework had to be realized immediately, sucked up just at the moment of its exuding rather than the next day in the reproduced line worker or the next generation in the new cohort of workers entering the labor marker. It is at this point that the energy crisis enters. Big Mother Nature is now used to squeeze little Mother dry. If Big Momma is stingy and has turned cold, capital turns to little momma: “Help me out or we’ll all go down together.”
As women refuse this deal, as they demand “too much” for their work, as they refuse to do it properly and efficiently, the energy crisis collapses. As this final veil falls, capital is faced with a working class untorn by the poles of sexual powers. An apocalypse indeed.
G. The Manifold of Work: Anti-Entropy Qua Information
Midnight Notes text on work, energy and Three Mile Island - from 1980.
The female service worker meets her complement in the computer programmer and technician in the energy crisis. For while the most archaic forms of exploitation are resurrected by the energy price rise, at the opposite pole there is an intensification in the development of the instrumentalities of information and control. Why the rise of the computation industry at the peak of the energy crisis? In order to understand this development we must turn again to the work/ energy crisis of the late 60s and early 70s.
The overflowing of working class energy imposed an energy crisis on a number of counts. First, energy prices, which are basic, have allowed capital to tip the wage/ profit ratio in its direction and increase the average rate of profit. Second, these prices are the vehicle for the re-organization of the organic composition of capital, making the realization of profits insensitive to “immediate” factory worker’s struggles. Third, the price transformation has made it possible to directly extract surplus value from the reproduction work.
But this was still not enough. The mere fact that women were increasingly employed in the low sector of the economy did not guarantee that this would turn into profit, into capital. The mere fact that auto plants are closed does not mean that cars and trucks are no longer produced, they are just made with fewer workers. Finally, the mere fact of investment in the high tech areas does not mean that this investment will pay off, for the high organic composition sector is very sensitive to breakdown, indeed, catastrophic ones. Thus the energy crisis imposes a new premium on information, control and communication (transfer). The enormous decentralization of employment in the service industry has required a new methods of transferring surplus value from one end of the system to the other. The expulsion of the mass factory worker reintroduces the drive toward robotization. Finally, the concentration of productive capital in complex machines requires an intensification of self-policing and conservation of capital.
To better understand the simultaneous rise of the information processing industry with the service industry, we must descend into the vulcanic heart of capital: the work process. Work kills, and that is a problem, for capital needs to be able to reproduce the work process. Production is linear, but it must go around. There must be a mechanism of “eternal return” in the work process that will bring it back into the initial position (so that it can be done again). Work kills but in each death there must be the seeds of its rebirth, a cycle of production and reproduction. As Mengele discovered, you can work a human to death in a few minutes, but you won’t be able to do anything with the scraps except as art-deco lamp-shades and inefficient fertilizer.
Capital then must plan the reproduction of the work process on a continuing basis. As in Carnot’s cycle, though only one stage accomplishes the thrust, the others are essential, to restore the engine to a position where work can be done again.
To do without the reproductive part of the cycle is capitalist suicide. Moreover, as the example of the early post-Columbian silver mines and the Nazi work camps show, there is no “instinct for survival”, only conditions and thresholds. Capital can only approach the thresholds of survival with the utmost caution: suicide always beckons at the margin of survival. The pleasure of suicide that would rob the capitalist of his value becomes attractive to a worker when s/he can do nothing else.
To ensure the reproduction of production, however, it is not enough to reproduce the worker. Capital too must be preserved. Constant capital is an essential part of the production process which must be protected from workers’ corrosive energies. Capital’s drive to self-preservation and self-reproduction appears in the classical personality of the little capitalist: “the capitalist taking good care that the work is done in a proper manner, and that the means of production are used with intelligence, so that there is no unnecessary waste of raw material, and no wear and tear of the implements beyond what is necessarily caused by the work.”1 The micro-capitalist is so concerned about his fixed capital because there is a constant threat of the worker who does the work “unintelligently”, “sloppily” and is, above all, wasteful. For workers can not only kill themselves in times of frustrated struggles, they can always kill capital in its most embodied and vulnerable form: the machine. To control this most basic form of class struggle it is not enough to bring the cycle back to the initial state, it is all-important to bring about this return without “waste”, “wear and tear”, “loss of work”, and “depreciation”. For not only is work “expenditure” of energy that must be “reproduced”, this expenditure must be controlled so that the amount of work required to reproduce the initial state is not excessive. This problem becomes agonizing when the constant capital reaches certain critical points of concentration, if the possibilities of rapid depreciation are not thwarted, investment in constant capital is the source of an enormous disaccumulation. This poses an exact limit on the energy price strategy: if the Low sector work is transformed into High sector captial and it becomes so concentrated and vulnerable that it can be immediately depreciated, the whole strategy collapses. Protecting constant capital is a primary function of the information/computation industry.
We have already seen the game that can wreck the “energy crisis” strategy in the case of the nuclear industry. Consider TMI. To make up for the late start-up of the plant, its managers ordered it to be run at higher than normal capacity (for nuclear plants) from the beginning. Workers were often assigned to overtime and the intensity of “getting rid of the bugs” was beginning to wear. Then at 4:00 AM on an early spring morning a near meltdown. Thus in the process of producing a few million dollars of extra profit in its first few months of operation. Met Edison is suddenly faced with the need of shelling out almost a billion dollars just to get half of TMI operating again, and that with some difficulty. Here we have a situation where the amount of work needed to bring the nuclear plant back to the initial state, pre-4:00 AM March 28, 1979, will be many times the work produced by the plant in the first place. In fact, given the general work environment in central Pennsylvania, including the surrounding class composition, one might say that in no way will the plant be brought back to its initial state. In TMI we see that the energy crisis response to the class struggle is far from stable. Indeed, it introduces a novel form of class confrontation, or rather recalls the ancient “strife between workman and machine”.
The Accident becomes a central category of the political economy of the energy crisis, but what is an accident anyway? Accidents are work situations in which the amount of work that goes into reproducing the initial state (of the work process) becomes extraordinary. Accidents demonstrate the mortality of the work process. But as the Kemeny Commission report, Accident at Three Mile Island noted,
... the major factor that turned this incident into a serious accident was inappropriate operator action, many factors contributed to the action of the operators, such as deficiencies intheir training, lack of clarity in their operating procedures, failure of organizations to learn the proper lessons from previous incidents, and deficiencies in the design of the control room. . . . The control room, through which the operation of the TMI-2 plant is carried out, is lacking in many ways. The control panel is huge, with hundreds of alarms, and thereare some key indicators placed in locations where the operators cannot see them. During the first few minutes of the accident, more than 100 alarms went off, and there was no system of suppressing the unimportant signals so that operators could concentrate on the significant alarms. Information was not presented in a clear and sufficiently understandable form; for example, although the pressure and temperature within the reactor coolant system were shown, there was no direct indication that the combination of pressure and temperature meant that the cooling water was turning into steam.2
Here Kemeny, a co-author of the computer- language BASIC, issues the latest edition of the old capitalist wail: “Workers are stupid, if only we knew how stupid they are, if only we knew!” Machines breakdown, that’s bound to happen, they depreciate after all, but such breakdowns are only “incidents”; what turns an incident into an accident is that the worker cannot or does not control the breakdown to bring the machine back to its initial state with no appreciable cost. The accident need not have happened. What stops accidents is immediately available knowledge, information and foresight and, most important, communication. Consider the following:
A senior engineer of the Babcock and Wilcox Company (suppliers of the nuclear steam system) noted in an earlier accident, bearing strong similarities to the one at Three Mile Island, that operators had mistakenly turned off the emergency cooling system. He pointed out that we were lucky that the circumstances under which this error was committed did not lead to a serious accident and warned that under other circumstances (like those that would later exist at Three Mile Island), a very serious accident could result. He urged, in the strongest terms, that clear instructions be passed on to the operators. This memorandum was written 13 months before the accident at Three Mile Island, but no new instructions resulted from it.3
“If only we had told them, if only we made the new information part of our commands,” goes the lachrymose bitching. But it is just bitching, as Kemeny knows, for though any particular accident, by definition, can be avoided, accidents in general are unavoidable. It is in the fact that not every process is reversible that time itself has a direction.
There is a deep relation between accidents, information, time and work. Marx described this relation in the following way: the means of production created no new value; at best, their value is transferred and preserved in the product. Machines merely wear out or transfer their energy to the new form produced. The work process therefore has two components: (a) production of “fresh value” (both surplus value and the reproduction of variable capital) and (b) the transfer and preservation of the value of the means of production. As Marx points out, work must do both (a) and (b) at the same time; though for different reasons:
On the one hand, then, it is by virtue of its general character, as being expenditure of human labor-power in the abstract, that spinning adds new value to the values of the cotton and the spindle; and on the other hand, it is by virtue of its special character as being a concrete, useful process, that the same labor of spinning both transfers the values of the means of productions to the product, and preserves them in the product. Hence at one and the same time there is produced a two-fold result.4
There are no machine-machines that create value out of nothing, no perpetuum mobiles; further, the value incorporated in the machines is continually wearing out, being transformed into “a new use value in which the old exchange-value re-appears”.
All the devices of the capitalist magicians end up as corpses, not even the most ingenious thought can add a cubit to capital’s stature:
The technical conditions of the labor-process may be revolutionized to such an extent that where formerly ten men using ten implements of small value worked up a relatively small quantity of raw material, one man may now, with the aid of one expensive machine, work up a hundred times as much raw material. . . Such a revolution, however, alters only the quantitative relation between the constant and the variable capital, or the proportions in which the total capital is split up into its constant and variable constituents; it has not in the least degree affected the essential difference between the two.5
The work process not only must expand and be reproducible, it must conserve old while creating new work. Computerization of a production process creates no new value: however, it makes it possible to make the variable part smaller while guarding against the too rapid exhaustion of constant capital. It is the mechanization of the “little capitalist” mentality. No elements of the production cycle must be wasted, neither the time of the workers nor the time of the machines. Capital must make the cyple smooth, efficient and as close to “reversible” as possible for it determines, in part, the rate of profit:
If the surplus-value is given, the rate of profit can be increased only by reducing the value of the constant capital required for commodity-production. So far as constant capital enters into the production of commodities, it is not its exchange-value, but its use value which matters... the assistance rendered by a machine to, say, three laborers does not depend on its value, but on its use-value as a machine. On one level of technical development a bad machine may be expensive and on another a good machine may be cheap.6
Concurrently, each aspect of work has its peculiar repulsion. As far as the process of preserving and conserving the value of the means of production is concerned, the tactic of refusal is obvious. As constant capital increases with the development of industrialization the gap between the value of the means of production and the part of the value used up during a unit cycle of production widens appreciably (think of the difference between an atomic power plant and a cotton gin). This leaves an enormous amount of capital hostage to the workers who have access to the machines. This intensifies with every new leap in the organic composition of capital, which is why slave labor cannot be incorporated in a highly capital-intensive process. For the gap between variable and constant capital would grow so enormous, i.e., the balance between the value of the slave and the value the slave could destroy would become so precarious, the slightest gesture of revolt would force capital’s retreat. Capital, however, has organized the work process of “free laborers” in such a way that the hostage drama is rarely played out (one remarkable example to the contrary was the Flint “sit-down”, or, better, “live-in” in 1936.)
There is an enormous amount of work involved in ensuring that the value of the means of production is slowly, efficiently and carefully transferred to the product. Not--only must a fulfledged hostage drama be averted daily (for a Gdansk move is always beckoning); the invisible instants of revolt that continually pulsate through the work process wearing out the constant capital beyond “what is warranted” must also be constantly thwarted. Thus Kemeny’s lament beseeches “more care”, “more policing”, “better training”, “better information display systems”, “emergency planning”. In a word, greater “efficiency” in the wearing out of enormously concentrated, volatile, perhaps “critical,” pieces of constant capital.
Eternal vigilance is necessary to attain the circularity of a perfect production process. But a work process is never completely reproducible. There is always some little “blow-out”, some little “fuck up” that makes returning the system to its initial state a work process also. Capital always dreams of a perpetuum mobile, work from energy without loss. But time is asymmetric, the future is not going to be like the past. Through our refusals, our insubordination, all the plans come to nothing, all the machines wear out, breakdown. Capital’s contradiction is that the very agents that create the “fuck up” possess the energies it needs. Only we are in perpetual motion: eternally energetic, crafty, obedient, cowardly, insolent, revolting, but always in a motion that is the only source of work, development, surplus.
A parallel deduction of the need for a tremendous development of an “information” industry during the crisis arises from Thermodynamics, the late 19th century science discussed in the Introduction. The paradox that has troubled capitalist science since the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics is that though energy is conserved, the energy available for work in a system diminishes. Energy comes in ordered grades, thus what is essential is not its quantity per se but its structure. Some types of energy can easily be turned into work while others cannot. The amount of raw energy in the waters of a calm lake might be enormously greater than that of a slight wind blowing above it, but the wind can more easily be turned into work. The measure of the inavailability of energy for work is entropy which, within a closed system, increases to a maximum (the Second Law of Thermodynamics). This Law enshrines capitalist pessimism for it announces that the work creating process degrades energy invested in any and every system, including the human.
If we take a system as made up of millions of micro-particles, the Second Law can be rephrased as the constant tendency for an ordered structure of micro-particles to turn into a disordered chaos. In any system there is a constant “shuffling” of micro-particles due to their eternal random motion eventually leading to a breakdown of any highly ordered structure. Schrodinger7 gave a telling example of such “shuffling” on the human plane. Imagine an unruly mob that assaults a library of computer tapes for the fun of it and, while not taking away or destroying the tapes, simply rips them off from their assigned places to play games with them. At the end of the party the tapes are conserved but their order is totally destroyed. Further, the work of recreating that pre-riot order is as real as the work of making new tapes and can be even greater.
The problem, according to this branch of capitalist science, is that Nature spontaneously loves Chaos; it is a perpetual upsetting of plans, orders and wearing down of accumulated work, just like the lazy, anarchic, drunken, and riotous workers of the past. [If God is not on the side of the working class, certainly Nature is its darling.] Systems that apparently upgrade energy are eventually doomed; systems like the steam engine, or capitalism that transform energy into work (“upgraded” energy) are continually threatened with disaster, with accidents and the catastrophies of entropy invasion.
The Second Law shows a deep connection between time and accidents. Time is one-directional because work processes are not reversible, as there is always a positive amount of work necessary to return the system to its origin. However smoothly the fit is made between piston and cylinder, however carefully the emergency cooling systems are calibrated to switch on beyond a threshold temperature, there is always friction, and stuck valves. Accidents will happen that turn reversibly planned processes, (potentially having an eternal return) into irreversible vectors leading to higher entropic states. They create time as flow to death, for time, as capital knows it, is not just flow but the dissolution of what has been accumulated: the death of dead labor.
The “unruly mob” of molecular agents causing the wearing down of low entropy (highly ordered structures) into high entropy (disorganized fields) continually creeps in to create the conditions of the Grand Accident. Nuclear engineers may be right when they claim that the probability that a reactor core may become critical by itself is infinitesimal; but the probability of a stoned engineer, of a forgotten open valve, a sudden breeze shifting a candle’s flame, are conditions that create the entropy for the Meltdown. That the molecules will win is the secret thought of capital. “Time is on their side . . . Time is them,” whispers through the boardrooms ... but something can be done, something that will allow them to hold on: INFORMATION. If enough information is gathered and communicated rapidly enough then time can be slowed down, perhaps indefinitely. Thus the cruciality of machines that can store and compute information at light speed.
Information about the location of low entropy systems is an essential part of the production process. As the parable of Maxwell’s demon shows, a machine with “intelligence” or “information” can thwart for a time the operation of the Second Law. When Clark Maxwell suggested the parable he intimated the possibility of perpetual-work machines based not upon some complex and ultimately foolish contraption but on the application of thought and categorization. His demon works like a sorting machine in the midst of an eternal shuffle. (See graph #9).
Consider a perfect gas at an equilibrium temperature in compartment A. The particles of that gas are not all moving at the same velocity, though their average velocity remains constant. Some are moving faster than the average, some slower. Consider further an empty compartment B next to the volume of gas A connected by a small gate and a gate-keeper. This gate-keeper is smart: he opens the gate only to the faster than average molecules. Within a short time the empty compartment is filled with molecules whose average velocity is higher than before, while the original compartment is filled with molecules whose average velocity is lower than before.
Thus A is cooler than before while B is hotter, and if the two compartments were connected by a heat engine we could create work out of the temperature difference. At the end of the process the demon can create a new division between fast and slow molecules. Thus we have a recipe for a perpetual motion machine: just combine a steam engine with a sorting-intelligent machine! If you could only identify the irresponsible workers, if you could only identify the faulty parts, if you could just pick out the micro-acts of carelessness, then you would have a new cycle that could possibly go on for-ever, recycling, upgrading and reusing the used up energy for work.
This scheme has a hitch however: the demon must be able to know which of the molecules impinging on the gate are faster than the average and which slower. “Time can be turned back, if we know enough,” capital pleads with the grim reaper... but the reaper replies, “You must work to know and work is death.” Information is not free. True it reduces entropy but the process of its accumulation, retrieval and communication is a work process as well that is filled with entropic menaces which eventually triumph. The question is, “How soon?" As Weiner put it:
In the long run, the Maxwell demon is itself subject to a random motion corresponding to the temperature of its environment, and, as Leibniz says of some of his monads, it receives a large number of small impressions, until it falls into a “certain vertigo” and is incapable of clear perceptions. In fact, it ceases to act as a Maxwell demon. Nevertheless, there may be a quite appreciable interval of time before the demon is deconditioned, and this time may be so prolonged that we may speak of the active phase of the demon as metastable. There is no reason to suppose that metastable demons do not exist ... We may well regard living organisms, such as Man himself, in this light. Certainly the enzyme and the living organism are alike meta-stable: the stable state of an enzyme is to be deconditioned, and the stable state of a living organism is to be dead.8
The work process can be saved from degradation by proper information decelerating the inexorable workings of the Second Law, if areas of low entropy can be found. But the search costs. Hence the explosion of the information industry, the emphasis on programming, the dissemination of the microcomputer, and the crucial importance of another cost statistic: the costs of computation. For one of the most important developments in the crisis is the dramatic inversion of the energy price rises relative to the costs of computation.
This opens up the hope that the increase of entropy can be indefinitely held off, and a perfect circularity in the work/energy “interface” approached. Thus while the feminine service worker is to provide the emotional surplus labor necessary for accumulation in the high tech sectors, the computer programmer is to be the eternally vigilant Charon, identifying the stable worker, the stable situation, the stable machine: separating the quick from the dead.
Hence the concern of programming industry ideologists with the uncodable, the deliberately unidentifiable and uncategorizable: the Zen and criminal aspects of the struggle. For it is exactly at this point that very success of the strategy of the energy crisis makes quite crucial the ability to select with a high level of certainty the different gradations of entropy in the labor-power of the working class. Deception, conning, cheating and lying (i.e., all the self-reflexive moves of the slave) become problematic. Consider the polygraph tests given to more and more workers. They attempt to find out who is the low entropic worker via interrogation coupled with the detection of sweat production and blood pressure. But increasingly workers with training in meditational processes are beating the machines and sailing to positions of responsibility in, of all things, programming. Again, and always, the problem capital faces with the new Maxwell’s demons of the crisis is: “Who will select the selectors?”
- 1 A free copy of MIDNITE NOTES for the Marxologist who can spot this quote.
- 2 REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON THE ACCIDENT AT THREE MILE ISLAND, (John G. Kemeny, Chairman), (Washington, D.C., Oct. 1979), pp. 11-12.
- 3 Ibid, p. 10.
- 4K. Marx, CAPITAL, Vol. 1, p. 200.
- 5Ibid, pp. 210-211.
- 6K. Marx, CAPITAL, Vol. 3, p. 88. (Moscow: PROGRESS Pub., 1966)
- 7 Schrodinger, one of the founders of quantum mechanics in 1944, drew the connection between genetics and information.
- 8N. Weiner, CYBERNETICS, (Cambridge, MIT Press, 1965), pp. 58- 59.
H. The Manifold of Work: Anti-Entropy qua Shit
More on work. energy and thermodynamics from Midnight Notes in 1980.
Entropy can be reduced by information, i.e., by locating pockets of low entropy and incorporating them into the work process; the inevitable reduction in the availability for work can be held at bay. The more the information and the less the cost of creating it and communicating it, the more the stalling of Time. But this process can be reversed, i.e., the increasing entropy within a work process can be localized and expelled. Every production process shits, the question is, “Where is it going to be put?” If this shit, i.e., the material, social, physiological, radioactive, psychological waste that cannot be re-swallowed and re-cycled, is allowed to remain in the vicinity of the production process, each new cycle of production will intensify the entropic rise exponentially. The reproduction of the machine cycle will be clogged by the left over shit, and the costs of returning to the initial state will be so overwhelming that it will outpace the work produced by the thrust stage of the cycle. The net work will fall into negativity, and needless to say, profit will be in jeopardy.
This aspect of capital’s struggle against entropy involves the possibility of ejecting areas of high entropy into the surrounding environment without effecting the net work production. For not only must waste be controlled and accidents prevented (the job of the computer controllers); if waste must be created, if little murders must be condoned, then it is crucial that the shit be localized and expelled.
The corpses must be buried or burned. We have the final aspects of work: the passive work of absorbing capital’s wastes. For in addition to the work of producing, reproducing, informing and controlling, there is the immense work of absorbing, imbibing capital’s shit. Not only is capital concerned with transferring as much of the value of the means of produciton to the commodity product without waste and accident. The work process must also intensify the entropy of its local and global workers. Marx comments on this aspect work:
Capitalist production, when considered in isolation from the process of circulation and the excesses of competition, is very economical with the materialized labor incorporated in commodities. Yet, more than any other mode of production, it squanders human lives, or living labor, and not only blood and flesh, but also nerve and brain .... Since all of the economizing here discussed arises from the social nature of labor, it is indeed just this directly social nature of labor which causes the waste of life and health.1
Capital is more finicky than a cat when it comes to shitting. The whole debate on the location of nuclear plants is an example of this sensitivity. For there are complex considerations arising from the class composition to be found in any particular location. Will they riot if there is an accident, will they get nervous about the transport and spillage of used uranium, will they get “hysterical” when cancer rumors and chromosome damage reports begin seeping in, are they desperate enough to take the tax write-offs but not so desperate that they won’t care and will explode anyway? Certainly, it was no accident that Three Mile Island was located in the center of the heartland of patriarchy in the U.S.A. surrounded by phallic silos, bearded Amish Jobs and state employees.
At the same time, when capital discovers high entropic sinks in the production process, the expulsion is swift and violent. Need we refer to the execution of workers throughout capitalist development? Why is capital murdering its own labor-power? Why the Aushwitz’ and Chiles? Quite simply because certain types of labor power becomes too entropic for production, they become living shit for capital that must be eliminated. Of course, the direct slaughter of workers is just the most dramatic event in the never ending struggle of capital to beat the odds. The endless string of methods to identify high entropic workers, “weed” them out, “blacklist” them, jail them, starve them and kill them, gag us now, it is too much past midnight! But if there is an institution for localizing, expelling and exterminating entropy, the “criminal justice system” is the one. Its function: to rid the production process of the “elements” that are completely unavailable for work.
There is, however, the work not only of locating high-entropy, and the work of expelling it, there is finally the job of absorbing it. Consider the “jumper”. The disintegrating, entropic aspect of the reactor core of a nuclear plant is the radiation that does not go into the production of heat but “escapes”. One of the main jobs of the nuclear worker is to absorb this entropy.
There are nuclear workers whose job is just that: to suffer the shit of the reactor. This is the part-time jumper hired to be sent into areas dense with radioactivity and absorb the full “quota” for radioactivity (absorbed by a regular worker in a year) within a few minutes. He picks up his $100 after twisting a valve and disappears, perhaps to return in a few months, perhaps to discover a suspicious lump ten years later. The “jumper” is an extreme figure, an ideal type; but certainly the proliferation of chemical and radioactive dump sites across the country has made “fallers " of us all. For it is apparent that the “squandering of human lives” does not occur only within the gates of the nuclear plant or chemical factory but is as “social” as the labor that produces the radioactive electricity and poisons.
As we are dealing with the asshole of capital we inevitably must deal with all that is most foul, decaying and frightening: corpses, cancer, executions, slavery, the Gilmorean joke. It is at the lowest level of the institutional heirarchy, at the bottom of our fear as to what they are doing to us, that the basic profit level is guaranteed. It is not because of any melancholic humors we have wandered here. Since it is exactly in these dumps of matter, body and nerve that you find the famous “bottom line”. It's all in the physics: the efficiency of a heat engine is not only proportional to the work it produces, but is inversely proportional to the entropy it creates. The less the entropy the greater the “efficiency” hence the greater the work/energy ratio: the profit.
Prisons are as integral to the production process as the gas that makes the engines go, as the caress that sends one off to the plant, as the print-out that tells you of your fuck up. For if there were no dumps of labor-power and constant capital, no way of eliminating entropic contamination, the system would stop. Of course, the capitalist idea is not to end the shit but to control it, dumping it in isolated, unobjectionable places, on unobjecting or invisible populations. Thus with the energy crisis comes the death penalty.
This is the last element of the profits crisis and the last reason for the energy crisis response. As the working class through the 60’s and 70’s has increasingly refused to be the dump of capitalist shit, the collective sewer of its entropic wastes, some antagonistic compulsion was in order. Energy price rises immediately put this refusal to absorb the shit on the defensive, for the high cost of energy seems to justify the need for entropy control and for expelling highly concentrated entropy deposits from the production process. Thus the explicit and implicit anti-nuclear movement meets its response: nuclear plants can only pass once energy prices go up. But once Teller’s system of nukes and coal electrification is introduced, then the intensification of the mechanisms of control and information in the production process are inevitably realized. Finally, only with such increased prices (imposed by the very investment in this High sector), can the “need” for accepting the disintegrating excretions of the plants be forced down the throats of the surrounding populations.
The rate payers of Three Mile Island are financing the repair of the plant with increased electricity bills, and the state’s increasing pressure to open up the radioactivity dump sites throughout the country is felt by all.
- 1K. Marx, CAPITAL, VoL 3, p. 88.
I. The End of the Apocalypse
The final part of Midnight Notes' "The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse".
We began with the end of the world, the Apocalypse. All the noise of capitalist prophets has taken as the cause of the impending catastrophe the problem of energy: either too little (the anti- limitationists) or too much (the interactionists).
Even the “revival” of “nuclear holocaust” thinking of the unthinkable takes energy as the trigger of the Bomb, for invariably it is seen as the most pressing Natural scarcity. The scenarios of nuclear war obsessively turn to the Gulf of Hormoz, for there appears here an inevitable source of international antagonism. When faced with a fundamental scarcity the only way to move, according to the anti-limitationists, is to face the possibility of a military confrontation and prepare for it. On the other side, the interactionists warn that if we want to escape the threat of nuclear war we must retreat to a “clean”, “stable state” economy autarchic enough to remove the need for such a confrontation. Both sides accept the “problem” as a collection of, at base, “natural, brute facts”.
Now the facts might be brute enough, but they are not “natural”. Whenever capital announces a new apocalypse, we must see that the culprit is not Nature, the Bomb or some autonomous bureaucratic drive to “exterminism”. Capital’s Apocalypse is the inverse image of the struggle against it, as it reaches critical proportions. For you don’t fight shadows with shadows, you don’t walk about “delicately and non-provocatively” for fear of setting off the irrational Beast. At the root of all the missies, bombs, atomic power plants, all the “idols of the theatre” that capital displays so provocatively, is the struggle against capitalist accumulation, against a life dominated by work and exploitation. This struggle is the source of the current Apocalyptic Rumors and this struggle can end them. What ended the Bomb Apocalyptics in the early 60s? It was by no means the rhetorical battle between pro- and anti-bomb movements.
Capital had to demote the Bomb because the class movements in the early 60s made it clear that they would not be intimidated by all this nuclear rattling. The riots in Watts, the revival of wildcats in coal, the refusal to accept Civil Defense regimentation even after the exercise of the Cuban crisis, made it clear to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations that the Bomb had begun to loose its hold. The^ip of terror could not constrict the new class movements, their desires and disgusts.
The same holds for the present. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, “given a fourth of the earth, to kill with the sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts”, can only be stopped by the development of the very struggles that unleashed them. Any “solutions” to the Energy crisis that attempt to by-pass the struggle, whether Teller’s electronuclear path ringed with missle silos or the Odum’s “alternativist” path of agricultural homeostasis and defensivism, merely repropose the crisis. As we have shown, capital can not do with either Teller or the Odums alone. The seemingly opposing utopias of High and Low organic composition necessarily complement each other, indeed, they potentiate each other.
Capital has turned the world upside down to deal with the struggle against work, against the muscle, heart, nerve and asshole of capital.
Against the four levels of work:
- the relative exploitation of the factory;
- the absolute exploitation of the housework;
- the reduction of entropy via smoothing of the work process with the detection of low entropic pools
- the reduction of entropy via the expulsion of high entropic wastes
we have seen the corresponding levels of struggle:
- refusal of “productivity deals” on the assembly lines
- disintegration of the family and the reproductive apparatus that keys workers into the production process
- refusal to accept the entropy sorters of capital e.g., in ._.the education system and through the intensification of “crime”
- refusal to passively absorb the expulsion of capital’s shit into the bio-social process of reproduction, e.g., the struggle against prisons and radioactive dumps
All these forms of refusal directly caused the profits crisis and the subsequent “Energy Crisis” Restoration of profitability. These struggles, however, remain intractible whatever the total “apocalyptic” attack that capital has confronted them with. As Polish workers have shown, the only way to confront the missiles is to demand more and juicier sausages: “Only those who strike eat meat.”
Midnight Notes #04 (1981) – Space Notes
4th issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes
The initial Reagan year was one of world-wide capitalist recession, wage cutting, union busting and...space wars in Berlin, Brixton, Amsterdam and the key vault of capital, Zurich. Space Notes includes a long interview with a participant of the glass breaking struggle for a new social space. This is followed by a historic piece by the murderedYolanda Ward, "Spatial Deconcentration in Washington, D.C.," where the detailed government plan for "the transformation of parts of Washington, D.C. from a riot-torn, abandoned murder-city to a fast growing executive's paradise" is uncovered. The issue concludes with a discussion of race as a class special category in the U.S.
Space is but Time congealed.
An arrangement of Work/Life in integrated sequences.
The Earth is another Matter however.
So why this urge to get out of Earth? To simultaneously destroy it and transcend it?
Is this capital's nasty little secret: the destruction of the final recalcitrant Body? The in-itself of capitalist functionality, the residue of a billion years of non-capitalist formation...why should there be Mountains here, Rivers there and an Ocean exactly here after all?
Why indeed space shuttles, space colonies mixed with such a density of bombs, bombs and still more bombs...to destroy the Earth n--times over as if to assure not the least roach existence.
Why the simultaneous attempt to re-code chromosomes and the neural system?
Why if not to define a truly capitalist BEING, in a purely capitalist plasm and a final purely capitalist sequence of work events. Weightless, formless neuro systems unwebbed and ready for infinite rewebbing.
Why if not a search for a being unprogrammed by millennia shifting at the bottom of a ton of oxygen, lugging all this weight around, this gravity against work.
Space is ultimately the obstacle of Time. Bergson got it wrong...Lukacs too... capitalism is not the spatialization of Time but rather the temporalization of Space, the dissolving of distance, of the Just-Thereness of where we come from.
"Outer space" is not Space as we know it; but a final merging with the relations of time. It is lusted for not because of the minerals on Mars--no more than the gold and silver in the rivers of the Caribbean isles was--but what they can do to you on Mars when they get you there.
This is why the working class is so archaic, such a malfunctioning machine. The early Hobbesians were only partly right: Humans are not Machines but only poor copies of them. Their desires are too limited and then again too wide. They have a desperation for a housework built on a million years of non-capitalist pleasures and pains and a revulsion of their own archaic-ness that is too arbitrary.
The Lebensraum of Hitler was really an Arbeits raum that required an immense destruction of “leben" to achieve and then finally failed. So too with porcelain tiles glued on, computers in a soap opera of "You don't understand me": the return of the space shuttle is heralded with a desperation that you wonder at this desire for a biologically pure realm, freed from the seasonal, diurnal and lunar cycles, airless, weightless and open to infinite reductions.
This has always been capital's fatal attraction: its indifference to Space. For the Here-Now disappears when your essential problem is not what I need, desire and want now but what another needs, desires or wants of what I need, desire or want. The Here vanishes in an abstracted There-Here-There.
You can see capital from its space stations looking down..."Those poor, slightly crazed machines! Their needs have been so thoughtlessly defined, their sexuality is inconsiderate, and their desires are fixed by bio-chemical cycles so local that they make you want to cry! When will we finally be able to rid ourselves of these Bodies?"
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou has hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
I. In the Beginning
Capital is the process of transforming human energy into work: creating work for the purpose of creating yet more work. For this process to be the human who works must first of all see no escape to the fate of being a worker except the usually illusory "option" of becoming an exploiter. But forcing someone to become a worker is a continuous and continuously perilous task. Capital must not only create the worker --itself a paradox-- but must also create the proper worker and the correct mix of types of labor power with past-dead labor in a hierarchy of wage divisions so as to guarantee the accumulation of work.
From conception to birth, through school, children must be "socialized" and "educated" into becoming "productive": a good worker. Mama, Father, the school, the "Future" all must combine to create the correct mix of death and life. Once labor power in its multifold forms is created, it must be fused --but kept divided in its embodiments- at each workpoint throughout the system in proportions that end up as profit.
Everywhere, the system is resisted. The children rebel, the Mothers rebel, the teachers and foremen tire, while the end products of decades of discipline revolt themselves, strike, demand more money, become unproductive and dangerous to the dead labor around them. This has happened again and again, but thus far the system metamorphosizes and goes on. How?
It is obvious that our work is capital's motor and as we recreate ourselves as workers through our work we recreate our divisions and weakness. What should be obvious -but is not- is that our struggles against capital are its only motors for development. This is not a picture of some pure defeat in which the harder we struggle the more we perfect capital's dominion; rather, the struggles that develop in one mix of living and dead labor, in one social arrangement of exploitation, force that specific arrangement to collapse. A crisis ensues. In the labyrinth of the crisis, capital can only find its way by following the working class and trying to devour it at the exit. For the capitalist relationship to continue, a new social arrangement, a new mix of variable and constant capital must be organized. But this newness can only come from the revolt itself.
This is the irony of struggle: at the very nodal point it creates, an Apocalypse appears that seems to make exit impossible, chills the blood, hesitates action and demand, making further struggle seem futile, and suicidal.
II. "Apocalypse Decoded" Decoded
And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
And no man in heaven, nor earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse (MIDNIGHT NOTES, vol. 2, n.1) explored in detail the collapse of "Keynesianism" brought on by the struggles of various sectors of the working class living at the core of the arrangement: the mass factory worker and the housewife. This struggle came in many colors, e.g., Detroit's League of Revolutionary Black Workers as well as the West Virginia wildcat miners, the black welfare women's movement as well as the W.I.T.C.H.s. This collapse of Keynseanism was immediately interpreted by capital as a dramatic decline in the rate of profit.
In 1973, capital transformed its "crisis of profitability" into a problem of Nature and Arabs: "There is too little energy and what there is, the Arabs have," they cried. But the real mechanism of the "energy crisis" was that the oil, coal and uranium price increases were designed on the one side to fragment anew the too-homogenous working class (in the U.S.) and to reassert a pronounced hierarchy of wages and labor power.
The very existence of the Reagan Administration is one proof that this part of the strategy has had some success. On the other side, it was a strategy to ensure a re-structuring of accumulation: concentration of constant capital at a higher level (e.g., nukes and computers), elimination of the "middle" (e.g., robotization of the auto plants) and a vast expansion of the low-waged service and clerical sector. Such a strategy can ironically answer women's demands for income apart from the husband's while simultaneously increasing the overall social quantity of work so as to pay (create the value and surplus value) for the leap in "high tech" development.
The two poles -high tech and low-waged service sectors- apparently so distant capitalistically require each other. What unites them is capital's need to create work in one part of society and transform it to another in order to ensure accumulation.
In the "Apocalypse" we began an exploration of the developing shape of the working class. Capital seeks to transform energy into "useful work" on a system-wide basis while stablizing a given cycle of exploitation. We examined four sectors and transformations within them during the last decade: the factory; housework and the service sector; information and knowledge control; policing, repression and waste removal. These sectors cut across sex and race/nationality lines to some extent, but largely reproduce a hierarchy of those divisions in the new wage structure which once again widen and becomes increasingly dispersed. Each sector poses different riddles:
The new factory will be robotized with fewer workers; the old line worker is dying but the labor power that remains works amidst ever higher accumulations of constant capital. Should these workers get out of control, they pose an ever higher degree of danger for a capital in hostage. What is the price capital must pay to keep these workers "in line"? What social relations on and off the job can keep them working?
How will labor power be produced and reproduced --capital's most dangerous problem-- and who will do it? Will the population become increasingly black, Hispanic and immigrant? How can "good" labor power be assured in the new model? Will the women in the service sector settle for shit wages? Can a purely monetarized reproduction system for high tech workers work? And how can capital turn it all into a profit to pay for the hightech accumulation of dead labor?
Who will sort out the information sorters? Can dysinformation interfere with capital's need for faster information processing? Can workers be trusted with all the newly concentrated constant capital? How vulnerable is this constant capital physically? What price will capital have to pay to keep it safe, and at that price can it be profitable?
The problems of eliminating capital's variable and constant shit: the "troublemakers" (criminals, marginals, hustlers, delinquents, terrorists, etc.) and the highly lethal wastes of the high organic composition technology. The dumps --prisons and waste-sites-- are "necessary" for capitalist reproduction but no one wants to live next to one. Can the waste be controlled and eliminated or will it find a way to seep out and hold the system hostage? At what price (and in what form) can it be stabilized and isolated, if at all? Will those who must absorb the shit continue to do so, or will they explode as in Love Canal and the New Mexico State Prison? The Reagan Administration's policies attempt to answer the Sphinx's riddles: who will leap off the cliff?
III. Reagan's Number: 666
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Budget cuts/tax cuts are the blades of a scissor: what are they trying to cut, divide, sever?
The edge of the budget cuts is to most directly cut the whole sector of the working class that has attempted to live outside of the traditional schema of reproduction --the full time Man-- without the traditional form of work-income relation --the "full time job". The black-lesbian-welfare-mother and the post-hippy-CETA-brother are to be killed as historical types.
The tax cuts are sharpened for the "good" full time, responsible workers in two-income units with highly monetarized reproduction systems. Their real income will increase while the income of the others will fall thus increasing the gap between them: the costs of "dropping out" are increased while the "dropped out" are squeezed back to a career, to a husband, to prison or the army.
These gaps are crucial, for capital has learned that though massive wagecollapse can elicit insurrectional responses so also can too high an average wage. The capitalist growth path is always poised on an instability and catastrophe. On the one side is the abyss of "price-wage" riots that have pervaded capitalist history from the days of the "Price Revolution" in the 1500's to Levittown in 1979; and on the other side are the rebel-lions of idleness, of violent disgust with discipline, of the ecstatic revulsion with work. For the class struggle always has two components: one looking back to "past standards" and the other to a post-capitalist universe. That is why these struggles put forth a peculiar combination of appeals to the most archaic, almost Neanderthal needs and to almost ineffable utopian desires.
It is absolutely crucial for these two extremes of the working class never to meet in order for this capitalist strategy to work. For what is crucial is not only that more and more disciplined white children are produced but also that the high-tech workers will not be able to escape their work and find in the struggles of the wage bottom a common possibility, a meeting of need and desire.
To see the attack the Reagan Administration directs against the highly articulated strands of demand and struggle of the last fifteen years, consider the matrix below. [NB actually above - Libcom note] It summarizes the elements of the Profit Restoration State: the reduction of the costs of reproducing the working class, the reduction of the entropy of the production cycle by the intensification of information and detection instrumentalities, the expulsion of entropically dense bio-social wastes; the creating of more efficient mechanisms for the transformation of the surplus produced in the low organic composition sector into the "high tech" industries.
With this matrix the Reagan Administration will attempt to transform the state of class relation from precarious to controllable.
It is important to refuse, however, the comfortable view of some that the Administration has two separable sides: the hard-core right-wingers (Moral Majority, KKK, Jesse Helms) and the "modernizing right" (corporation execs, CIA, Koch), because they are absolutely essential to each other--and they know it. One is the "tough cop" who with police and para-military powers of violence attempts to control the low organic composition workers while the "modernizing right" is the "nice guy" (the "reasonable" capitalist) who simply states that "everything is permitted...if you have the cash". One is the "irrational" fundamentalist preacher tapping his bible with a shotgun the other is the "cool" corporate climber who will listen to "reason" and wink when you go snort coke in the toilet. But are they so different, are they divisible?
Consider the way these forces attempt to manipulate the gay movement. On the one side the Moral Majority types are calling for capital punishment for faggots while the Reagan Administration is simply saying: "Go fuck in the closet, or if you have the money you can go to Morocco, we don't really care. But don't fool with the children and don't, we warn you, don't be so flagrant!"
So in fear of the bible pounding red necks the gay movement is supposed to be forced into a compromise with the more "reasonable" types. This predicament is not unique to gays. This, is the model for the political mechanics of the period, for it is important to remember that the carrot would be entirely unappealing to the horse if it were not yoked and continuously whipped on the ass: if it were free, the meadow grass would be more succulent than their dried up tuber.
Capital is neither more nor less "rational", it simply knows that it must simultaneously develop and repress, use violence and compromise, kill and fructify; indeed, it cannot develop without repressing, it cannot compromise without a violent threat, and it cannot kill unless it creates. Thus the two parts of the Administration cannot fundamentally divide,. So our political response cannot be dictated by any attempt to "divide" the "reasonable" from the "crazy" capitalists, for as an examination of this Reagan matrix shows, the long-term transformation of society it reveals demonstrates the apocalyptic tendencies of capital's equilibrium path: "partial" nuclear war, "reasonable" atomic power, sterilization for "the poor who can't afford babies anyway", intensified racial repression, queer bashing on a grand scale, etc. Are we to debate with this?
IV. From Social Democracy to the Detection State
And Abraham drew near and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are within?
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
It is popular now to describe the Reagan Administration as the "end of social democracy", however this is inaccurate. At best it can be seen as an important moment in a process that had its beginning in the struggles of blacks, women and youth in the last part of the 60's to simultaneously extend the social contract beyond the fully waged worker and subvert it. They were going beyond the "democracy" on which social democracy was based.
For "democracy" in bourgeois society has always been defined in relation to property, i.e., capital. Roughly, the first period of capitalist democracy which ran from the rise of the system to the early part of the 19th century recognized the political person as one who "embodied" constant capital. The history of this period can be seen in terms of the slow widening of the notion of property from land to, eventually, money-capital. But a second form of capitalist democracy began to form when there was an expansion of "political rights" from constant to variable capital in the 19th century. The wage contract became the basic criterion for whether you were or were not a part of the state, whether you had "rights as well as duties" (to put it in the proper bourgeois cant phrase). The crucial question was whether your labor power was indeed a commodity, not only in a formal sense, but whether it was actually reproducible and reliable. As the complex history of blacks in the U.S. shows, this development is by no means one-directional. Thus black suffrage is directly determined by their wage relation and that part of black history is extremely volatile. Social democracy can be defined formally, then, as the state that incorporates the representation of variable capital--the reliable and responsible workers, the "loyal opposition" of the industrious working class.
The late 60's saw "marginal elements" (though the absolute majority of the population) attempting to force capital beyond the exchange' of "rights" for "duties"--work. Those who had no traditional, fixed relationship to the wage either because of age, sex or race demanded "rights" or "entitlements" independent of immediate productivity. This was most clearly seen not in the various efforts to extend the vote (the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 18 year old suffrage, etc.) but in the gradual transformation of counter-cyclical Keynesian mechanisms like food stamps, unemployment insurance, and welfare into a package of entitlements that seemed to point to a guarantee of survival independent of paid work. This struggle to be guaranteed without guaranteeing could be seen as a generalization of as well as a subversion of the "full employment" social contract.
The budget cuts simply state that the "working class solution" to the transcendence of social democracy is completely unacceptable. As Stockman said, "There are no entitlements." But what is "capital's solution"? Is it the end of state action in the economy, a return to "free market society", a devaluation of Keynes and a revaluation of Smith? Not exactly. For though Reagan promises to take the state out of our lives he certainly is not planning to take our lives out of the state.
Let us consider the tendency of the state in this period briefly in relation to immigration. The surge of legal and illegal immigration has been an important element in capital's response to the collapse of the birth rate in the U.S. and the increasing refusal of native-born people to do "shit" work, but on the other side it has been a way for many in the Hispanic and Asian working class to increase their relative wages. But for all its functionality, immigration is now looked upon with apprehension and a debate rages on it. But what is the problem? It is the problem of knowledge. The problem is not numbers per se but knowing who and where the numbers are.
The state is increasingly refusing to assist in mediating the relation between the new immigrants and the economic system. Thus, for example, the program set up for the refugees from Cuba, Vietnam and Haiti in 1980 is explicitly organized to discourage the development of any system of state social services for them. It is to be done through private or charitable organization. But this does not mean that the state disappears. It merely takes on a new role: the detector. For the job of the bureaucrats assigned to this program is not to intervene on behalf of these refugees but merely to chart their moves in their journey into the economy.
Indeed, the formal debate on immigration in general is on epistemological questions and not on social service ones. What worries capital is not whether these people are exploitable or not, for they clearly are. The problem is their "underground" status. Thus the solutions to the immigration crisis is not the increase or decrease of the immigrants' flow but rather center on "identity cards" and "amnesty" for illegal aliens. Both these methods are designed to bring the aliens to the surface, even though they would be costly both politically and financially. Why can't they continue the noumenal status of the illegal aliens? Because of the very imperatives coming from the new relation of the state to the economy. State intervention now is to be one of perturbations, i.e., marginal accelerations or decelerations. It plans to use market forces to come to desired state aims instead of literally attempting to carry out its policy in its own name. But this perturbational approach requires a lot more information about the market elements and players. This is the state's maxim for this period: the less you do, the more you need to know. This is especially true of-the labor market... and so the existence of perhaps ten million unregistered workers could completely thwart-the type of strategy that the Reagan state requires. Thus in going out of social democracy capital must go to a detection state.
The state need not decrease in size at all in the long run, but its functional composition will be different. So the police functions must be intensified not only in the sense of creating new means of violence production but also in the instrumentalities of detection. The social democratic state required too much presence, the state in the future will attempt to disappear behind a one-way mirror. For it now has an absolute need to register all movement: be it movements of people or money, constant or variable capital.
V. Back to Vomit?
And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel.
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.
As capital attempts to go beyond the social democratic state we are confronted with some crucial political choices. On the one side there is an inevitable urge to attempt to conserve the "gains" of the past century of struggle--the social wage; the elementary "rights" on the job; the minimal protection, on a legal level, of the autonomy of women, black and Hispanic people and gays -- but on the other side there is an equally compelling drive to use this period of transition and re-organization of the class relation to make a qualitative leap in the power of the working class against capital.
These two elements of defense and aggression are not contradictory however. They potentiate each other because the very attempt of capital to renege on the "social contract" hammered out over a century will have profoundly destablizing effects on all aspects of production and reproduction. For the mere defense of "outworn" or "established" demands re-proposes the crisis on a higher level of social tension since it meets a capitalist strategy that is attempting to take the initiative to overcome the limits of accumulation imposed by the struggle since the middle 60's. There is no mystery in the forms of defense against the planned and profound devaluation of the working class. As to their success? Who can tell now?
All we can say is that if this defense is not successful then much more discussion would be academic since the apocalyptic consequences of a new capitalist "stablization" are obvious. Although workers undoubtedly struggled in the death camps it did not make much sense to talk about a working class strategy in such a situation: "metaphysics", "suicide", "cynicism", and "courage" are more appropriate categories at such a level of working class division and defeat. (Although there were probably many Marxist theoreticians who could analyze the capitalist functionality and rationality of Auschwitz among the vapors.)
Given the progressive deterioration of the capitalist initiative, it is evident that to settle for the demands that have their roots in social democracy (however vigorously fought for) would merely be going "back to the vomit".
Such demands can only be effective in starting the process of a counter-attack simply because the very sectors of the class that were most central in destablizing and going beyond social democracy would still be there if the new Reagan initiative fails. There with a vengeance and an agenda. What will it be?
At this point, the editors of Midnight Notes address you, the reader, to a set of themes we hope will be crucial at the juncture we envision. These themes have their roots in the beginning of capitalism, in the initial confrontations of proletariat and capital. We print the following long excerpt from an unpublished work of a Midnight friend to stimulate our collective memories and anticipations.
"The formation of the proletariat is strictly related to the capitalist attempt to lengthen and radically transform the working day. In fact the transition to the new mode of production could not obtain without the introduction of a continuity and regularity in the expenditure of labor whose absence appears as one of the most typical features of the medieval organization of work.
Suffice to think of the great number of holidays that cancelled one third of the work year as well as the prevailingly seasonal character of work whose immediate consequence was that moments of great intensity of work were alternated with long periods of idleness and that the work day was not uniform but more or less long depending on the type of work to be performed. To the irregularity of work habits contributed also in a determining fashion the low development of the division of labor and the lack of any separation between production and reproduction. This meant that not only one performed many different types of work and easily switched from one work to another (from agriculture to artisanal to hunting etc.) but equally easily one alternated work and leisure in a spatial and temporal continuum.
Against these practices, the first task required of the nascent capitalist class was the regularization of the work process. To force the proletariat to work throughout the day and every day: this is the first enterprise that capital must face, an enterprise which will require a battle of at least two centuries before having some guarantee of success. For only a complete inversion of social relations and first of all a radical change in the personality-identity of the individual could lead in this direction. The first social 'given' capital had to revolutionize was the very attitude towards work that throughout the Middle Ages had been assumed as pure negativity, mortification of the flesh."
There were a variety of attacks on the proletariat designed to change this attitude towards work. Protestantism arises as the most characteristic religious expression of capital's need:
"With Protestantism, particularly in its radical wing, work is posited as the new religion. It is not just the most important thing, the very essence of life, the road towards salvation, but it is by itself religious practice, service of God.... this exaltation and sanctification of work does not remain an ideological fact, a question of principle but has an immediate practical translation into a number of processes whose common aim is the lengthening of the working day.
In pursuing this aim capital moves in two directions: on the one side it represses all those activities and attitudes that appear unproductive, on the other it develops new capacities beginning with the capacity to work. Repression and development go hand in hand, one is the condition of the other. This must be emphasized because too often one only sees the destructive tendencies of capital or, in an apologetic mode, capital is seen as "liberating" an already existing potential at the level of the productive forces. In both cases, one does not see that the destruction of pre-capitalist elements in the proletariat is functional to the development of new capacities, and, vice versa, that development is the other face of repression.
The development of the productive forces, beginning with labor power, which is the first and most essential productive force capital develops, is not a bringing to the surface of something that already exists, but it is a form of development that can obtain only when something else has already been destroyed. We can accept Marx's formulation--capital develops the productive forces by breaking the 'fetters' of the feudal mode of production--only if we recognize that to break these 'fetters' meant to break the resistance of the proletariat to a more intensive exploitation and to erase first of all those attitudes and faculties that supported this resistance.
The wave of legislation that from the middle of the sixteenth century began to regulate the work process and more generally the social relations of work was crucial to the 'liberation' of labor power. The initiative starts with the Protestant countries where the religious calendar is reorganized and numerous festivities are abolished. Also, the same day of rest equal for everybody is imposed and those activities that undermined work discipline are forbidden. The regimentation of the time of rest-and the relation between work and rest is a central aspect of the new organization of work.
The first phase of this process is characterized by the separation between production and reproduction and the systematic underdevelopment of the reproductive moment for the purpose of developing production. What follows from this separation is that only the time filled with work has value and that the time of work and the time of rest are increasingly regimented into opposite spaces. The very notion of rest and leisure is changed so that rest is viewed more as idleness than as individual consumption and reproduction. Consequently, rest is re-dimensioned and reduced. Finally, to the extent that work is now the leading concept, rest is subordinated to it in the sense that it must be rest for work, i.e., it must be expended productively to facilitate the reintegration and restoration of productive capacities."
"In play, capital privileges usefulness against pleasure: playing must serve to rest the spirit or exercise the body. Play must be congenial to the productive activities and contribute to restore and develop them or else. On the contrary, drunkenness and idleness become true crimes. The Puritan would lament that the proletarian considers Sunday a day of revelry and spent it shamelessly drinking and carousing at the alehouse, playing dice or making love.
A particularly strong attack is waged against the dances around the maypole and against the maypole itself, both because of its phallic implications and because increasingly it becomes the symbol of proletarian autonomy and resistance to the new work discipline. In fact, it was around the maypole that since the Middle Ages the games of May were celebrated which were true sexual festivals welcoming the coming of the spring.
The maypole was also the center of the famous 'morris dances' where one danced in circles, das a das (back to back) holding each other through ribbons descending from its top. Repeatedly in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries local authorities, particularly among the Puritans, forbid both the maypole and the May games which were accused of always producing a crop of 'bastards'.
But the deepest reason is that in the maypole and these spring celebrations some of the most visible manifestations of pre-capitalist sexuality are attacked and in their abolition crushed. (Not accidently, in England at least the campaign against the maypole is closely tied to the persecution of the witches)."
"The separation of production and reproduction imposes also the temporal and spatial separation of work and rest and the elimination of every element of sexuality from production work. Or better, sexuality is channelled into two forms of work: in the former it disappears as sexuality qua pleasure-power and is sublimated into labor power; in the latter it is conserved as sexuality but it is itself transformed into a productive process, in so far as it is functionalized to the reproduction of labor power. The leap operated by these two processes can be concretely measured if we think, e.g., to what becomes of the kitchen in capitalism which in the Middle Ages was proverbial for its sexual licence."
"The resistance of the proletariat to the imposition of wage discipline was very vigorous on many fronts. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the bosses continuously complain that the workers arrive late to work, take long breaks and leave as soon as possible. It is important to remember that wage work was considered a true form of slavery, so much so that the Levellers excluded wage workers from suffrage because they considered them "unfree". The proletarian hatred of wage labor is such that Winstanley, the leader of the Diggers, will declare that it doesn't make any difference whether you live under a foreign enemy or under your own brother if you work for a wage. His words are echoed by a character in a work by Spenser (Mother Hubbard's Tale) who asks: 'Why should a free person make oneself a slave?'
The refusal of work and the struggle for its reduction accompanies incessantly the history of the proletariat from its inception. Thus, in the utopian visions which flourish during the Civil War in England returns the promise that 'there will be no need to work.' 'Food grows everywhere,' writes Bishop Godwin in The Man in the Moon, 'clothes, houses, everything we wish can be obtained without work or so little that it is as if one played.' In his Utopia Thomas More already had proposed six hours of work a day, Campanella four, and Winstanley had proposed that people should work only until forty.
If the proletarian utopia of the time was the absence of work, the proletarian practice must not have been very different. In a satire written in 1639 we read: 'Monday is the brother of Sunday, Tuesday another one, Wednesday you must go to church to pay, Thursday is half holiday, Friday is too late to start spinning, Saturday is again half holiday.' A typical small entrepreneur of the time, John Houghton, complains in 1681 that the proletarians alternate moments and days of intense work with periods of idleness; moreover they want to decide their own work days and all of them worship Saint Monday."
"The capitalist response to this refusal of work was continuous wage cuts intended to incentivize the required work discipline. But still in the nineteenth century the proletarian 'disgust' towards daily work will represent an endemic, permanent crisis for capital. So much that for a long time it will be debated whether it is preferable to have a work force regularly employed and regularly waged or whether it is not more convenient to hire workers just for specific tasks. Only in the nineteenth century will it be definitely decided in favor of weekly waged labor. It is true however that still at this time in many areas of England Saint Monday was observed and also for French workers, 'Sunday is the day of the family and Monday that of friends.' Only women and children, it seems, went to work on Monday; but there was an atmosphere of holiday and they went home earlier."
This sketch of four hundred years of working class struggle clearly shows a continuity in the elements of a type of society that the proletariat has autonomously fought for and what capital fought against. It has a simple spatio-temporal character: the reduction of work-time, the increase of anti-work space and the re-appropriation of social wealth.
However, the utopian visions of the earliest proletarian revolts put our present reality to shame. Here, at the end of the twentieth century we have not even tested the four-hour day and "retirement" at forty, much less gone further. Even Mr. Lenin himself proposed a halving of the work day and a doubling of wages as the only sensible program for the U.S. working class in 1906. Such a program would be called utopian in sneers by most Leninists of today!
Indeed, capital is putting more work on the agenda, for if the Reagan matrix succeeds our work-day and work-life will quantitatively increase. Both the Left and the Right agree in principle but not in detail: the demand is for work. But it was exactly the anti-systemic demands for the dramatic reduction of work and the opening up of space for pleasure and autonomous desire that was the most volatile and destablizing force of the late 60's and early 70's whether expressed by blacks, women or youth movements. These demands have quite systematically been repressed in the crisis, but they will form the basis of the second stage of the working class response to Reagan state matrix.
Our problem at this point is not so much the mechanics of agitation and revolution. They have become common mass knowledge and revolutionary examples abound in this century. Thus even in the last three years there have been three successful revolutions in Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Iran which were widely covered in the media. Their results might have been questionable but the tactics of revolt are no mystery to any T.V. viewer. The tactics of agitation are even more widespread. I believe you can hire community organizers at the wage of dishwashers. If anything we are awash in expertise. What we lack is an agenda that would give new sense to the basic drive of class struggle, a vision of social life without work.
Our crucial need is the development of a project that would concretely answer the following questions:
--What is the elimination of work-time and work-space?
--What kind of society could be created on the basis of a dramatic reduction of work-time and work-space?
--What are the empirical possibilities, both technological and political, for the realization of such a society now?
To answer our need we are planning to hold a conference in the Spring of 1982 in the Boston area to discuss these questions and take some practical steps in making more public the debate, not about the importance of work which both the Right and Left seem obsessed with, but rather on the importance of the elimination of work. Anyone who would like to contribute to the shape and content of this get-together should contact us at our mailing address. We will announce further details about this conference in our next issue.
Finally, in preparation of the conference we invite any of our readers to enter a prize essay competition. Anyone who can answer the following question: Why do we continue to put up with work and exploitation? in an essay of 3000 words or less should enter the contest. The winner will receive $100 and the essay will be printed in the Fall issue of Midnight Notes.
To Our Vomit
CANARY IN A COOLING TOWER
being nailed to your perch
isn't what i call
Fire and Ice: Space Wars in Zurich
Midnight Notes interview with a member of the Zurich anti-work movement.
The following interview was made in April 1981. The interviewee is a man from Zurich who has been involved in the Swiss anti-work movement for some time before it became "a focus of international attention." He might not be typical since this movement has been known for its suspicion of language --its demonstrations are usually banner-less-- while he is quite articulate . But he's been there. This interview is largely self-contained and discusses the Zurich events from the Spring of 1980 to April 1981. However, for a little background we quote an excerpt from an article on the Zurich movement in a French journal Gueute Hebdomadaire (address: 27 rue J.P. Timbaud, 75011 Paris, France) printed in November 1980:
"Swiss social life rests on a very strict labor code where all the possibilities of conflict are absorbed before they can develop. Strikes are very rare and in many sectors they are judged unconstitutional. Absenteeism is severely attacked. Switzerland is the country in Europe which has the longest work week. Only one category of workers (the typesetters) have gained the 40 hour work week, and that after a struggle lasting three or four years. Also professional restrictions are extremely severe. In the last few years leftist lawyers and teachers have been attacked, whose crime was that they had participated in seminars organized by the extreme left or even the C.P. Such a system requires a very strict social control. Switzerland, though a neutral country, is an active member of the European police community. Half the public telephone booths in Geneva, for example, are tapped."
MIDNIGHT NOTES: Did you have a feeling in the spring of 1980 as to what was about to come down or was it a big surprise to you?
HERR MULLER: It was not a surprise, there were already a lot of struggles going on around housing and against traffic.
The traffic demos, what were they about?
There is a highway crossing a neighborhood where old leftists and new autonomous people live; it is a commuter highway and it has an underpass; there was a lot of pollution coming from it. The street was barricaded and a whole "game" was invented by the future, to-be movement and by the police. There was the old slogan: "For Life Against Concrete, Pollution, Cars." People were saying, "We have a right to live in this area and we are going to do whatever it takes to get it."
So it was a demand for space.
Yes, space is one of the most expensive commodities in Switzerland.
Give some examples of rents.
In the place where I used to live, an old type place, we paid $200 for a four room apartment. Now for a two and a half room apartment we pay $600. Half the space and twice the rent.
Is this very common?
Yes. There has been an explosion of rents in Zurich this last year.
Why did you leave your old place?
The owner changed and we got thrown out. They're now rebuilding these houses. They chop up the large apartments, make smaller ones and charge double.
Sounds like Boston. What relation does this have with the struggle around the community center?
It's not a community center. It's called "Autonomous Youth Center". The relationship? I'd say it's an organizational one: the same people who pulled the struggle around traffic and housing were among the organizers of the first struggle around the center, the cultural struggle. Because the whole thing was about culture, having a space for our culture, which was mainly rock, punk rock. People wanted a place where they could play that kind of music and just hang out together.
You see, they have closed down all the bars and other places where we used to hang out, one after the other. First you don't have a place to live and then you have the same problem with public space. It's getting expensive as well, concert tickets are now $10 and more.
So everybody was saying we need a place where we can do things and do them cheaply.
Yes, and we can do it ourselves. We can play our own music and listen to our music without having to pay.
Was the Autonomous Youth Center already there?
No, the whole thing began in the spring of 1980 after this prologue had been played in traffic. There had been a referendum in the city about credit to rebuild the opera house. They got $40,000,000. Then there was a little demonstration to protest this in front of the opera house one Friday evening. 200 people, those who were into other kinds of music, showed up.
At this point, the authorities made a mistake, they sent the police in riot gear; the demonstrators felt provoked and started throwing rocks. The police responded. There were a lot of people around in the neighborhood, like Greenwich Village, so when something started developing a crowd gathered and it just escalated.
Suddenly you had two thousand people that same night and the "game" started: if you could not attack the police, you fled and while fleeing you smashed shop windows. You acted your response against the windows. The next people who came by saw that the windows were smashed and they could take things out and so the looting followed.
The next day it made the news, "RIOT AND LOOTING IN ZURICH". That had not happened in Zurich for five hundred years; clearly something new was going on in the city. People kept gathering in the same place and there were more and more people on Saturday and Sunday nights.
Who are these people?
What do you want to know? Their sociological description, how they get their money?
It is a proletariat in the broad sense that they work for a wage; you don't have to worry about that. Old time Leninists should be satisfied. But what kind of proletariat is this? It's a mixed, socially diffused proletariat; they are not tied down to any job but they move from job to job. Sometimes they get into unemployment (which is hard to do in Switzerland), but most of these people have gone through this experience.
These are the kind of people who know all the possible ways of getting money, including money from the state. They are community people. It is easier to define them by how they reproduced themselves than by how they get their money. Some of them have their own business. Others work in printing shops and newspapers, but they are not stable jobs. A lot are apprentices, young workers who will never become foremen (small "bosses" over immigrant workers) as Swiss usually do. Then you have the second generation of Italian and Spanish workers. You have ages ranging from 14 to 45; you find everybody including a lot of people from the ideological industries. like TV, radio people, social workers, teachers... nurses.
We heard the movement had a good Red Cross team during the demos.
Yes, that made the right wingers freak out, they could not deal with doctors running around in T-shirts like "hippies". It's an over-qualified, unstable, diffused proletariat. At the same time you have people who in the 70's refused qualification, like the "punkies". They are all into drugs so you have the self-destructive crowd and the self-valuating crowd. Some of them have made themselves cheap, sabotaged their own career. And then you have all kinds of "minorities" like gays and lesbians.
Are there many women in the movement?
As many as men. But you had a new feeling towards women, much more like "buddies". You can do heavy construction work with women like building barricades. This "buddy" aspect was evident during the demonstrations, in the confrontations with the police. The excitement was not sexual in an erotic sense. Nobody spoke of love. That is out, love is definitely not a theme of the movement. Of course, this "buddy" relation does not resolve the "personal" problems between men and women.
What about the nude demos?
They were "sterile", not like a "love in". Nakedness did not have an erotic sense. Even the press does not see them as a kind of "fuck in", for they had nothing to do with sex. Rather they expressed the refusal of "militant", "violent" work. The first large nude demo came after a large day-time demo broke up and people went into a park for music and food until about ten or eleven at night. Then out of frustration they did it, they stripped naked. The police were completely surprised, for this subverted all the former models of militant behavior. It was a kind of damage against yourself, for nakedness in this kind of situation means, "We are not going to fight for what we want."
How about the gays?
They showed up once qua gay. There was one gay demo, Gay Pride Day, commemorating the Stonewall riot.
Tell us something about how the demos go.
Basically you have a rally (announced or not), march through the street and at a certain point you start...somebody (I never did) starts making a barricade, throwing things onto the street. You can always rely on somebody doing it and they could always rely on somebody joining them. The police has a theory about this. They say there are 300 guys who do it, 300 who cover them and 300 behind those who just stand around and watch what's going on. The police want to get all these three categories of people in jail. These are the three essential elements of their so-called "by-stander theory". In fact, those who make the barricades could do nothing if they were not covered by the movement. Everybody is a by-stander, but that's why the by-standers are there... to allow the barricades to be built. They're not real by-standers.
Is this going one everywhere in the city?
There are certain areas, especially the main street, Limmatquai, along the river, Limmat. It's a very popular neighborhood, because it's always full of people from the outskirts. As if you had a river going through the Village, you would have a lot of things going on around that river. You stop traffic, which was what the prologue was about. You take whatever you find because it's not a barricade you defend. It's not like the Commune, nothing serious, it's just to prevent the cars from moving.
Occasionally, the barricade was burnt to keep the fire between you and the police. Then the police intervenes. When they come, they disperse you, but then the whole routine of window smashing and looting starts again.
The geography of the city must have helped out, with the alleys and small streets.
Yes, at first it was very important, but later the police changed tactics. At first they came with 200 or 300 cops and made just one mass. They made something like a counter demonstration, they had one front line while you were much more into guerrilla movement. You could split up whereas they stuck together. But later on they split up too into little groups of 5-10 together and they were chasing you.
They were not afraid that they would get knocked back?
No, they were never seriously attacked. Occasionally there were some rocks thrown at them. Once they threw one into the river. But there was not direct physical assault on the cops. The ones that were attacked were the shops.
On that level it was a very disciplined and controlled crowd. It sounds like Poland where it seems they made a mass decision not to directly confront the police as in 1970.
You see in Switzerland you could always be more or less sure that the police would not kill you. That's not the case in Poland where they got massacred in 1970. So you cannot compare the two situations. You can play games with the Swiss cops. It was like a ballet and it would not have been possible without the police. They had to play their part.
But if they catch you they'd beat you up?
Yes, they are rough and they've become more and more rough. It's not that funny. A couple of people lost their eyes: rubber bullets. It's the only police in Europe that uses them. In West Germany they're still discussing it and for sure the German police is not renowned for its kindness. I think it has something to do with the lack of personnel in the Swiss police. They don't really have a riot police to do the dirty work. They have to stand at a distance and be mechanized. They would not have enough policemen for beating up demonstrators in a mass.
The demos at the street level are a weekly or bi-weekly affair. Then you have a more "actionist" level, like those little groups, who independently of a demo taking place, move around doing something on their own. Sometimes you'd read about it in the paper: "Several dozen windows smashed in the downtown area". This of course without any immediate connection with a demonstration. Maybe it's a reaction to the frustration after they closed down the youth center.
You also have attacks on construction firms that are connected with the housing problem. There have been fire-bombings of depots where machines and materials are kept. Fire is always being used. That's why the slogan of a film that just came out is "Zurich is Burning". This, the most secret level of the movement, causes millions of dollars of damage. They have no mandate, they do it on their own, you don't know who's doing it. But they leave leaflets on the place saying, "This is because you raised the rents."
So is there a connection between these types of struggles and the movement?
There is with the hardcore, hardliner type. Lots of people in the movement reject it, others like it. But it has not officially been disavowed by the movement. There has never been a decision that this is wrong. On the other side you have the Social Democrats who pose as our friends. But they move on the institutional level and just use the movement as their strength in the party power game. They tell the other parties, "We want our share because we represent the movement." That's like the Walesa game: trying to represent a dangerous force within the institutions. The Social Democrats have not been given a mandate by the movement, but unlike the hardliners, they have been disavowed.
Is this movement all about the Youth Center?
No. People didn't even know that there was such a building in the first place. There are two buildings in question actually. One is a former ITT factory, the "Red Factory", that has been recycled. It was empty and movement people wanted to struggle for that building but it was a little outside of town. The city was not ready to give it. Meanwhile, they found out by accident that there was a building very close to the main railroad station which is in the center of the city. They said we want that and the other one. Then the whole struggle concentrated on the building in the city center. It had been a Maintenance Department depot where they kept snow plows and the like. The city did not even expect that anybody would like it. If you look at it it's really nothing. A 19th century building, useless. They found out they wanted that building and there was a lot of struggle around it. The city gave them the building and they actually started using it very well.
When did they get it?
This was in June 1980. Right after the first riots. It was really quick because the city council thought that the whole thing would be over with this, that there would be just some alcoholics and drug addicts hanging out in that place suffocating any kind of activity. It almost happened but not quite. Their problem was that the center really started functioning, centralizing all kinds of other struggles around housing. It became a meeting point and that was very important. People got a taste of it. It's not just the problem of space, but empty space you can use in your way, unoccupied territory.
Was the center used to organize squatting?
Yes. Near the center there was one house squatted by alcoholics and drug addicts, as well as three or four others in other parts of the city. But new squattings were planned for the Fall. A lot of organization was going on around getting cheap housing. One of the major initiatives had to do with an old city housing project (called Rebhugel) built in 1919. It was two blocks long. One-fourth was still inhabited but the rest were empty apartments just waiting to be renovated.
You were involved in this squatting... how did it work?
We did not have any theory about whether we would get it or not, we just decided to move in. One morning; at 10 o'clock exactly, we were about 100 people and we moved in after using crowbars to open the doors. We had some furniture and other living stuffs. Just the basics, a bed and mattress. We moved in and it was really nice.
How about lights and water?
We had people who knew about it, within two or three hours everything was done. Usually it would take days to do it legally. Within four hours we felt at home and sae felt that nobody could ever throw us out. But after five hours, lots of police arrived, equipped with tear gas and everything.
When did they find out you moved in?
They knew from the start. There was a whole legal process of accusation and warrant that was done. It took five hours to mobilize the police. We fled, we did not defend it. We even had to leave the furniture. The problem was that we did not have any tactics no plan about what we would do if the police came. We were just telling the police that we were ready to move in, that we were going to do it, but we were not going to fight with them. The fight was the next day, on the territory we could choose in the city.
There was a demonstration on housing in the center of the city and it was one of the most violent. The point is not to accept the terrain where you cannot do it. It's like: we want those houses but we didn't have to defend those houses because we couldn't. But we could defend those houses in a place where the authorities were much more vulnerable.
How did you get along with the people who already lived in the project?
At first the people were really hostile, but in two hours they liked us. A guy who was in the same house where we were was furious, he started throwing our furniture out of the window. "Get out! Get out!" But by the afternoon we were already discussing how we could fix this and that. His wife had already found a lot of girl friends among the women. They had been very lonely but they only found out because we were there. They found out what they had missed, within three hours that problem was solved.
After the demo the next day, were you able to go back?
No, we could not. They put a stinking substance into all the apartments, you could not use them. They sabotaged the use of them.
What about the people that were living there?
They were pissed off. It stinks like fish. It was chemical warfare. You could not use those apartments, there was no point. It would have been just symbolical. Now, just recently, some of the squatters did get some other apartments. The city is starting to give some housing, some apartments which they refused in the beginning.
How does the movement get together, how does it make decisions? Are there parties, unions, any other type of organization?
Some are in parties and unions, but the whole organizational mechanics lies in the general assemblies. They meet on Wednesday or Thursday at the "People's House", an old social democratic conventional hall. There are between 500 and 2000 people, usually there is no schedule, just a lot of people talking, microphones, everybody saying what they're feeling, a lot of people attacking each other. Women attacking men, hardliners attacking "softies", some saying, "We've had enough of this window smashing, it doesn't pay" and the hard-liners saying, "You would not be here you softies if we hadn't started this way, for the soft line had been around for decades."
Decisions are always made by vote like "Next Saturday we're going to make that demonstration, to accept this kind of proposal." There are two or three rules which are always respected: there is never a delegation, never a committee in charge of the whole thing, there is never any kind of negotiation on the demands. The demands are: the unconditional re-opening of the Youth Center and the unconditional release and amnesty for all who are accused; then there is the release of certain kinds of prisoners, especially one prisoner named Walter Stum, who's very popular.
Who is he?
He was a kind of burglar, he declared himself an organizer for prison struggles... during the riots there was a prison strike. He's a symbolic figure for all kinds of common prisoners, not just political. His release is one of the demands. There is no negotiation on them. No compromise possible.
Is this because of the nature of the demands of because there is nobody to negotiate with?
No, there have been a lot of people negotiating in the name of the movement but they have always been fucked up later by the movement. They would negotiate something but later nobody would respect it. Some of the most clever said, "Yes, let them do it, and if they get the center back we just will not respect the conditions under which they got it back." We take whatever we can get. It's the same as how they treat the social democrats. If they are able to give us something we accept, we are not sectarians.
So there are no traditional parties in the movement?
No, there are individuals...you see in the first two or three general assemblies the Trotskyites and other political groups showed up explaining to the movement that they should unite with the factory workers and fight capital...there was only one big whistle and they never showed up again.
Because first of all there were factory workers in the movement and the last thing they would identify with would be guys like this. Political groups did not get any hold on the movement. They were doing a lot of things for the movement but the movement was never grateful. The movement just used them.
Political groups were used as hostages between the movement and the state, but that was because the movement had its own strength at different levels: the street level, the fire-bomb level and the cultural level. In between the individual and the movement however, there are informal crowds, the "areas", the "tribes" and what are sometimes called the "pies". They are designated by the street or neighborhood in which they live. A demo would start with these "pies", so there would be a "community" base to the movement.
What about the music, sex and drugs of the movement?
The whole thing can be done under the chapter, "How does this diffused (sometimes qualified, sometimes refusing qualification) proletariat reproduce itself? How do they live? How do they get a positive balance every evening?" This is culture. This is music how you get into time by rhythm. The whole cultural problem starts with the breakdown of the family. It's a feeling of loneliness; if you are really alone you have to invent your own life, your own reproduction, what you're doing. There is nobody to take care of you and if they take care of you, you can not use them. This was due to the "breakdown of the family".
In the 1960's lots of German and Swiss families split up and in the 70's even the families of the immigrants have begun to break up. And then you have whole spaces where you cannot get your reproduction because they are "occupied". You need new spaces to reproduce yourself, invent your own life. This was mainly music: punk rock and new wave; and clothing. People started refusing "regular" clothing, they got into "punk" clothes and not just punk but also "new elegance", the californized dandies. So you have two ways in which you deal with your reproduction, oscillating between creativity and self-destruction.
What kinds of self-destruction?
Punk is outspokenly into self-destruction and so are the junkies. Heroin was very important. There were a lot of deaths in Zurich, double or triple the old rate. It's horrible, suicidal. Heroin is not mobilizing in itself. But all these deaths scared a lot of people and it became a spur to action. Suicide was always at the limits of the situation. It was played out by a woman who burned herself up in the street. She was a junkie but when she came into the movement she got off junk. But during a demonstration she was beaten and jailed by the cops. When she got out she was really fucked up... and then a while later this self-immolation. It was not directly related to the movement but everyone took it "personally". As far as drugs are concerned, the movement itself is into hash and marijuana and the punkies, of course, are into alcohol.
You mentioned some people scarring themselves.
That's the whole punk culture. A culture of pain, a new culture of pain. Self-destructive but also aggressive. Like the smashing of windows becomes part of your reproduction. It was not a political action in the sense that you do it to get something. You live by doing this. It's a lifestyle. That's why it could last a year. If it had been a means people would have done it three or four times and if there was no result, or you got the center, that's it. Instead it did not stop with the winning of the center, there were still riots. That was one of the arguments of the city, "You see, it doesn't pay to be weak. They only understand force."
MN: How did the punks relate to the rest of the movement?
HM: You have different cultures coming together. Punk culture, the new elegance culture (the "chiceria" as they call it). But then there's the old '68 intellectual ugly guys who are still around. They're neglected but not because they want to be in pain but because they are body-unconscious. Then you have the hippie-country-side-"new peasant" type, long hair and soft clothes, woollen pullovers, earth shoes.
It's like a marriage between Bambi and De Sade.
Yes, you have a culture that goes from the Marquis De Sade to Bambi. You have some recycled types from the anti-nuclear movement and others too tricky to classify. An important element in the movement was the presence of many mentally or physically handicapped people. In fact, the whole movement started with a "Festival for the Handicapped". As everybody felt handicapped, everybody went there. The handicapped were just marginalized in that festival and they said, "For once we got something of our own and we are on the side!" It was a huge success because everybody felt they were handicapped.
In the demos the presence of many handicapped was crucial. People began to lose their fear and not just the fear of the police. Seeing cripples coming to the demos on wheelchairs made them realise that life keeps going on even if you lose an arm or an eye. That it was not true that you were finished if you were hurt and that gave us much more courage.
The theme is alienation pure and simple.
Yes, it's a movement that comes from alienation directly. Abstract, coming from heaven somehow. Everybody felt handicapped, and that's true, everybody is handicapped. The Left had never done that, saying, "You are all cripples, we are all cripples, you are the crazies." The idea of the noble proletariat had been destroyed. People felt that for the first time you could show what you were lacking, how ugly you were. It is a movement of ugliness. A movement of the ugly people...of vulnerability and suicide.
So this is a movement that makes cheese and does heroin...it's amazing that people coming from such different places can stick together.
All these people who during the 70's had been separated and kept quarrelling with each other have been unified by the police. They were attacked together and both in the same way. So they found out that there is another front, completely different. “The Concrete" as they say or "The Iceberg"— that's the city, money, capital. It's just another name for capital, "The Ice": solidified, coagulated work, dead work. It's a quite adequate Marxist terminology. They found out that both the death culture and the life culture are opposed to the "Ice Age" of capital. They found out that all the conflicts they had among themselves were much less important than what they opposed. Capital had never been forced to show itself, to show that it existed. Never had it become visible. The only way it could become visible was through the police. You could feel it.
So the police are the "Polar Bears"?
Yes. You could not be in Zurich finally and not feel that there was oppression, the state, capital. You were lost before; every-body was lonely and depressed, everybody felt handicapped. Then suddenly you felt that they were really there, that they existed, you could feel the attack, the ice, the coldness. That was the point of no return. Certainly the police would not kill you. But they would not let you live either. They would not give you the space where you could live. Yet they would not kill you, they would keep you alive, but frozen.
Not everyone in Switzerland is in the movement obviously, how do the "non-movement" types, the "ordinary people" relate to it?
Not so few people have been involved. On the whole there have been on the streets about 150,000 this year in different demos. There has been a lot of overlapping, so I would say there have been about 50,000 people involved out of a population of about 1,000,000 in the Zurich metropolitan area. So you always have a neighbor who has been there. In the average high school class there would be at least one student who was there. Everywhere, in all businesses, you would find somebody who was there. Nobody has been left untouched.
For example, during a demo on the Bahnhofstrasse (like Fifth Ave. in NY City) you would see the police coming, flee to the side streets and find a guy in a grey suit and tie with an attaché case. He would open the attaché case, take out a rock, throw it, close it and go on. You would find such people. Another time you would be hiding in the hallway of a house and could not see whether the police were coming, a black guy would pass (there are black businessmen in Zurich) and without looking at you would say, "They're behind the next corner." So there are many accomplices.
Now, you have little unemployment and high wages, granted there's not enough housing to go around but basically Switzerland is a social democratic paradise in the capitalist world. Why is everybody so unhappy?
The wage, how much you get doesn't change the situation. Marx was right when he said that the point is that you're alienated. Work remains a problem even if you are well paid. This is no relative problem...the problem of being alienated and having enough pay is as serious as dying from hunger in India. You have people who die, kill themselves, from this kind of situation, the heroin deaths. You cannot say these problems are not serious. If you have death, that's the most serious thing you can imagine anywhere.
So winning the right to a full plate is not enough?
Most people say, "It's a nice concentration camp." There's no unemployment in a concentration camp. That's how Switzerland is like. It's a problem to get on unemployment because they immediately find you a job. They force you to take a job. That's the other side. I had lots of friends who wanted to go on unemployment for a change, but they could not. They would get them a job.
Are you saying that in a case like Switzerland the real demand is not for more wages, but space, resources, time...
This space demand is, of course, an indirect wage demand; if you take the wage as what you get for your work. That could as well be in the form of space. If you want to, from a purely Marxist point of view, you can subsume these kinds of struggles under the wage struggle. This is true as we know, there's no such thing as a struggle outside of the wage struggle. The problem is that if you put it in that abstract way you don't understand anything that is going on. That doesn't tell you anything because it's always true. You can say the wage struggle goes from South Africa to Alaska...what does it mean? It means that all the rules of the game are still valid.
For example, there have been wage struggles in the sense that many parts of the more traditional working class like the rail road workers and the printing workers took advantage of the situation and demanded higher wages and they got them more or less.
How has the movement affected these other sectors?
For the first time in a while there is a frontline going through the whole society, and you can relate to that front. More and more, all social movements relate to this front, like the railroad workers making jokes about "Icebergs". Everywhere you find that this new language is taking over. The language is a threat, because people in any sector can say: "We use the language but we mean the facts. You can still deal with us in the old ways if you want, but if you don't, we now have found out there's a front we can go to."
Capital's problem is that it's not only Zurich, it's going on throughout Northern Europe. Like the German metalworkers being on strike, it's different. It becomes a threat. They say, "There has been a proof, a general proof that everything can get out of hand." That you can say of Poland also. Even in a communist country things can get out of hand.
Even in Switzerland.
Yes. If there was one country in which you thought nothing could get out of hand it was Switzerland. In Poland you might expect it because they had a long history of this kind of struggle, but Switzerland was completely unexpected. That's why it's worth talking about. It was a complete surprise.
Now it has expanded to Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia...
It has not expanded from Zurich, but Zurich gave a lot of courage to all those guys: "If they can do it in Zurich we can do much more here!" That's really the mood. "They are not going to teach us a lesson!" It is the same struggle in Berlin around housing and in Amsterdam where you had the police moving with tanks against the demonstrators. It was much rougher in Amsterdam. It is a wage struggle but it isn't immediately about money. It's based on the commodities. But what has been used is the language, it's European now: "Iceberg", "Anti-concrete", "For Life Against Concrete", there is no talking all the old political language. By refusing it you can bypass all kinds of anti-communist propaganda.
The bourgeois newspapers were deluded, they would say, "This is not political; it's a cultural movement so it's not dangerous." Only lately have they begun to say that this whole thing is being organized by an international network of terrorists, but they don't really believe it. It's only crazy guys like Strauss in Germany or some right-wing city councillors in Zurich who think that, because obviously it's not true. It's impossible.
Why is the situation so different in Southern Europe?
That's because the whole situation of reproduction is completely different. In Southern Europe you still have a family background. You have old, archaic back-up systems. If capital fucks up you can go back to "feudalism", not feudalism in the classical sense, but you have the family, the Mafia, the cousins in the countryside. You can be poor but you can survive. You can go back to a non-money economy. That's not possible in Northern Europe any more. Either you invent your own reproduction or you're completely lost.
There's no back-up system. You're alone. The feeling of loneliness is very important. Here you have the ice and there is you, the: Eskimo and the Ice with Icebears threatening you. That's why all this "Ice" stuff. You can't use that language in Italy, it's just too warm and not only in a geographical sense but in a human, family sense. Capital has not been very efficient in Southern Europe; the quality of life there is too high, even in poor countries. They have certain standards. In Northern Europe there is complete discipline, they can do whatever they want with you. Like Woody Allen, he can take and take and shit as much. He's completely elastic. He is the ideal of one whose needs can always be redefined. He's never at an end, he can always take more shit. Whereas an Italian or a Greek will take a certain quantity and then he cannot any more. He will explode.
The women have helped bring on the "destruction of the family" themselves?
Yes, there is female employment. Women wanted to get out of the house. My mother worked; I grew up with a key around my neck. These kids are now on the streets, more or less, for the women work more and more. That's what the right-wingers say all the time, of course; it really starts with the family. This housing struggle is also an attack on the family because it is not family housing that young people want but community housing. We want to invent new types of communal life-styles. It was done in the 60's but now there is a new wave going back to it.
Are there many mothers and children in the movement, is that a big issue?
Yes. There are many mothers and there are always children around. They are accepted as being part of the whole thing. Just buddies. Nine-year old punkies.
This is not a union movement nor a political movement as classically defined, how would you describe it?
It's a union founded on culture. You do not identify yourself by your job, you do not even organize yourself on you job. But you organize yourself around your reproduction because the job is just the place where the "fuel" comes from. Anyway, the job is also changing all the time so I am not a "worker", I'm a punk or a reggae guy or a "chicaria" guy or a junkie. There are lots of new identities you can find.
On that level you organize very efficiently because you recognize the members of the same organization by their clothing which you cannot do in a union. A metalworker is hard to identify off the job. At the same time, this kind of organization also allows complete anonymity. You can be anonymous and have an identity at the same time.
Can you talk about what you call "Mullering", the "dysinformation struggle", this conscious attempt to fuck up capital's lines of communication.
That's ideological sabotage by not accepting the language or the expected way of behaviour. The Muller business was very important. A man and a woman from the movement had been invited to be on TV to defend the point of view of the movement in a roundtable discussion. Instead of doing that they defended the point of view of the "silent majority", the right-winger, presumably the average Swiss.
(It is a fiction, though there are some like those old working class guys who went through the crisis of the 30's. Those are the only hardcore, right-wing Swiss state supporters. They are not "right wing" in an official sense, they can also be social democrats. It's not right wing as a particular ideology but just as totally for law-and-order and the state. They are the ones who defend law-and-order against the movement.)
There was a film done of one of these guys watching the Mullers and as they were saying that the state should put the movement in concentration camps, shoot them, put them to work, guys like him were saying "Yes! Yes!" When it turned out that they were movement people the indignation was very big. That happened several times on TV. TV got fucked up. On that show a hardcore social democratic woman usually for law-and-order had to defend the point of view of the movement against the Mullering. This Mullering is a constant element of the whole movement.
Also on the language level. For example, you have demonstrations of 10,000 people shouting "WORK! WORK! WORK!" to the bystanders. But then you have this Czechoslovakian reporter of Rude Pravo (the Party paper) who wrote an article on the Zurich riots saying that there was a demonstration of 10,000 unemployed people demanding work! It was dysinformation beyond the Iron Curtain. They could not tell their people that there were actually 10,000 people shouting against work in the West, because the Czechoslovakians want to get to the West. They want to be able to "really" work and get some money. The whole myth of the West would have been destroyed in their eyes.
Another form of dysinformation is making sprayed messages on the wall; for example, the Marlboro slogan "Freedom and Adventure" was sprayed all over the city, "Marlboro: Freedom and Adventure". Everybody understood what it meant: we want freedom and adventure against the police, against the state, against the work. Whenever you saw a real Marlboro advertisement you'd remember...so you could use official advertising by copying it. It's an old joke, like Andy Warhol's soup cans. You use official slogans to get your message around.
So people took to re-doing street signs, renaming streets, putting small stickers all over the city --stamp size-- now the streets are full of signs. Of course, you have this circled A which stands for "autonomy" or "anarchy". It used to be "anarchy" but now most people understand it as standing for "Autonomous Youth Center".
What about the critique that you people are anarchistic, not really organized to deal with the state, not ready to control production, etc.
Actually we have always been very efficient in terms of organization, but the best thing organization can produce is surprise. That's why you organize, to be in a place before the others are there. Surprise was one of our strengths all the time. So you cannot say that there was no organization: the sense of surprise and getting people at the right moment to surprise the others.
The Leninist conception of the movement is that it is a river that can be turned here and there by the smart organizers and eventually be dammed up to run a power plant and generate work...
Yes...but here the movement is a lifestyle. It is already what is after the movement. Whatever it can invent is the horizon.
What you're saying is that a major motive force behind this movement is that right now unless you do something like this in Switzerland you would go nuts...unless you have people going out opening up some space you'd have a few million people berserk. But can it go on...can the state and capital tolerate it?
I'm quite sure it will go on because there are a lot of untapped resources, there are a lot of people who are ready to get involved but have not yet found their way. There's a lot of sympathy around this movement. People are attracted by this kind of culture: language and literature, theater and music grew this whole year. There's a lot of temptation around this movement. The only thing that capital can do to deal with this is to try to institutionalize it...open all this space, like have a Fool's Day every week or a Carnival every two months.
There already have been things like that. Carnival always existed in Zurich--there was a period of three or four days in the year where you could do whatever you wanted, you had the streets. You could mask yourself, you could act, you were anonymous, you were not responsible for what you were doing. Capital could think about institutionalizing it, saying, "Let's give them something like in Poland." This is the line in Berlin, the German government feels very much this way. "Let's give them 200 or 300 houses. It's only one-tenth of the population that is into this life style, we can probably live with it."
In Zurich they would say we cannot live with 10% of that, because our proletariat, much more than in West Berlin, is fragile. When the Swiss start freaking out they become useless. Where manufacturing is still central you can always use crazy workers doing shit work, it doesn't matter how crazy you are when you dig a hole. But you cannot really use crazy accountants and crazy computer programmers because they are going to fuck up millions of dollars in one "breakdown". So Swiss capital cannot say that craziness can be institutionalized and you can live with it. It would always be a temptation for this kind of person, that's way capital needs some ideological stability, some major way of functioning. That is why all this dysinformation tactics is so important. It is like a thought poison...the whole movement is disintegrating coherent behavior. Irrationalism is used as a weapon against capital.
So "dysinformation" is a way of spreading the movement?
That's one of the most important, most contagious things...the language. Because the work of most people in Zurich is language, mostly figures. If you fuck up language you fuck up all work processes. If it continued like this within a few years capital would collapse. "Dysinformation" is very disintegrating, very dangerous. They could only shut down the whole place. Capital would have to withdraw from Zurich.
In "No Future Notes", Midnight Notes #2, we found that alternativism can be easily integrated into the system.
Yes, I'm familiar with your argument but it only works if you can make a selection within the "alternativist area". Capital in Switzerland was not able to divide between pure alternativists and the "destructive" people. They could not make the distinction between alternativists and pure anti-capitalists. This whole scheme did not work, though they tried to separate between the "cheese people" and the "window smashing people".
There was a long article in a Swiss newspaper about young people in the Alps who made cheese. All the "moral majority" types were saying: "Those guys in the streets should take the example of the good, young people who are making cheese and upholding the Swiss traditions in the Alps. For one-fifth of the Swiss Alps are run by alternativists. It is one of the most traditional parts of Swiss culture.
And the "cheese people" wrote back a letter saying, "You old asshole, there's complete solidarity between us and those who smash windows in Zurich. We would do the same thing in the city. What else can you do but destroy it and what else can you do on the Alps but make cheese?"
The "Moral Majority" was completely destroyed. Actually I met a friend of mine who came down from the Alps for a holiday to go to a demo. There was an even more dramatic incident. Some people who were arrested by the police had to be freed because they had to take care of their cows. They said, "You cannot keep up us be-cause the cows cannot wait for the trial. You cannot keep us in jail, we have to go make Swiss cheese!"
The mixture of alternativism and this kind of "destructive" approach is still explosive. It becomes harmless only if you can put the alternativists exclusively to work and make a clear cut distinction between them and the rest: A lot of people in Zurich now say the situation is like that before the bourgeois revolution. The bourgeoisie already had the means of production in their hands but not the state, the nobility was still in charge. So, the alter-nativists are saying that they are getting their economic basis together at a low level. They say: "We can depend on ourselves, we can live without capital." That's one of their strengths. The alternativists which during the 70's looked like they were integrated turn out to be one of the strengths of the movement because they don't have to be afraid of "capital withdrawing" and being thrown back to a no-man's-land. If capital withdraws, everyone rejoices. A lot of people now say that's exactly what they want.
But alternativism seems to be a return to labor intensive work...
That's not true. This new type of agriculture is not going back, it is very refined. Reproduction is always in the foreground. It's probably more efficient to use a lower technological level but stay in better mental health. It's more expensive to mend people than to mend machines.
But do we have to choose between going crazy and scratching the dirt?
No. The highest quality of life is not dependent anymore upon the level of goods produced by capital. If you have friends around that have studied this and that, having these people is more valuable than getting one more TV. Capitalism has nothing to offer. Labor power is now so expensive, we are so expensive somehow that using ourselves is a higher luxury than using a machine. That's why it is a struggle around space and time.
But time is not as central now because it has been won a little bit with the spreading of part-time work which began to take root some years before this thing started. The cultural movement started a year or two before with music, "Stilleto" and other underground journals. Then you needed the space.
But there is a high technological level in the movement. The police band was continually tapped on the radio. You'd go to a demonstration in the afternoon and then you'd go home and have a good dinner. Whenever the police would say, "OK, now we're going in", we'd join the demonstration. You'd use all forms of media.
Like there would be groups that would jam the sound of the TV announcer and put in a different sound track; you had the regular picture but there was another voice. There are five or six groups in Zurich doing this, as well as "pirate" radio stations: Radio Banana, Radio Wildcat, Radio Iceberg, but they can only broadcast for 15 minutes at a time because the police would find their location, so they go from one transmitter to another.
What about your slogans?
At first they were metaphorical like "Free Greenland" but now it is more and more jokes like "Legalize strawberry ice cream." It's propaganda, it's dysinformation.
It's not clear why this thing should end.
True, people are really relaxed. There are lots of people saying, "Let's end it," but those are the same who show up in the next demonstration. It has become like a drug.
Is there a possibility that the movement can be fragmented?
Fragmentation will not necessarily weaken the movement. In fact, it started fragmented. For example, when the women decided to have meetings of their own it was never a sign of weakness. The movement became stronger out of it.
One day the women said, "We cannot stand this kind of male, macho talk." There's a certain part of the movement that are Red Army Faction supporters, ideologically not really. It's the old Leninist behavior, the small strategists, they are never very efficient, but they create a macho-type of atmosphere. Nobody takes them seriously, but at a certain moment the women said they could not stand them any more. They met once or twice alone. But the women's movement was always there. They put out their own newspaper, it was called WOMEN'S FASHIONS, (as if it was a NY TIMES fashion magazine) but it was completely punkie.
Could the Swiss government follow what seems to be the "new soft line" in Germany?
Well, it's mostly in West Berlin where they are trying to be more flexible and accept that there is a "new type" around. They have become "pluralists". After all there are Bavarians, Blacks, Chinese, so there will be alternativists. They will be sorted out somehow. They figure that this is not against the system, just a new product of the system, a new way of life with advantages and disadvantages. The only city in which they can do it is West Berlin because it is an isolated, "special case". West Berlin is the welfare city anyway. They would say, "They're just crazy people." But the movement is still growing like a cancer and they try to circle it--not to cut it out but to stabilize it. They say, "We are going to live with cancer but make it stable, we may have lung cancer but we don't want heart cancer and brain cancer as well."
I talk about "cancer" because if there is a physiological model for the growth of this movement this is what it looks like. The Leninist metaphor of political methodology is the heart attack, a sudden collapse -- the whole attention is on the heart and you can neglect the other organs. But nowadays that model does not work any more because capital has many hearts and many brains.
In the 60's U.S. capital had hegemony, that's not true any more. Today capital is core decentralized. Europe can get fucked up and the U.S. can go on. (Poland poses the same problem for the communist countries.) So you must have another type of disease like cancer: there is not one organ but a cancer for each organ.
So they don't seem to know what to do.
Yes, that's why they're always saying, "You can get whatever you want, but just talk to us with responsible delegations, And be like us. The you will have it." That’s the point of the whole thing, for that's what the work process is all about, being responsible. It's not our demands that are impossible but the way we've made them.
What about the crisis?
In the last few years Northern Europe has overcome the "crisis" while the Southern part has not. Northern Europe got rid of inflation and had a new boom. In 1979-80 the pressure on lots of people was released.
Unemployment eased up a little bit, or you had learnt to cope with it. It's like they put the patient under a heavy dose of chemotherapy and they thought they cured the problem, but the minute they stopped it came back. Not only that but many people are immune now. "What," they say, "you're threatening us with a crisis? But we've gone through the crisis and we know what that is." It's true, young people were badly hit in 1975, many were ruined. It was a shock. But things have eased up and now it would be difficult for the government to play the same game again.
Note: As of May 1981 the movement won back the Autonomous Youth Center and Walter Stum escaped from prison.
Spatial deconcentration in D.C. - Yulanda Ward
1981 article about a US Government housing policy - conceived in the aftermath of the 1960s ghetto riots - arguing that the policy was aimed at removing concentrations of potentially rebellious blacks and other poor people from the inner city and disperse them in small groups to the suburbs. Serious issues have been raised about some of the facts of this article, which are discussed here, but we reproduce it for reference.
Published in 'Midnight Notes', Vol. II, #2, July 1981, MA, USA
Original article first published by the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund, Washington, 1981(?).
Spatial Deconcentration in D.C.
[Introduction By Midnight Notes]
We begin with a murder - that of Yulanda Ward in Washington, D.C. at 2 A.M., November 2, 1980. She was shot to death in what now appears as an assassination disguised as a street robbery. She was not robbed but her head was pushed over the edge of a car and shot; her three companions were robbed but not otherwise harmed. The weapon of murder appears to have been a .357 Magnum, not exactly a street-crime weapon. According to the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund and other groups, her murder has been followed by either thorough police incompetence or a systematic cover-up and non-investigation. Moreover, the police have attempted to stop the independent investigation of her murder, even though "grapevine" inquiries report that she was murdered by "out of town" hired killers.
Why be concerned with this one murder? Who was Yulanda Ward? She was a 22 year old black community activist involved with the Washington, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, the Black United Front and other community groups, most notably the Citywide Housing Coalition. It is this last activity that could have led to her death, for she was a key activist in uncovering a U.S. government plan labelled "spatial deconcentration."
We reprint the following article on spatial deconcentration for two reasons. First, its information is valuable while its analysis begins to uncover many important political points about the organization of space under capitalism. Second, if Yulanda Ward was assassinated, we wish to alert others about it and urge them to assist the Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund in investigating the reasons for and perpetraters of the murder. In this way we hope that our increased vigilance will help stop any violent state repression of the type suspected in this case.
This article focusses on Washington, D.C. but the spatial deconcentration program is nationwide. The precise patterns and plans may vary from place to place, the essential operation is constant: to remove the treat posed to concentrated capital by concentrated masses of urban poor.
Yulanda Ward was murdered in D.C. In other cities local organizers for the Grassroots Unity Conference, of which Yulanda was a member and which has been combatting spatial deconcentration, have been attacked physically and verbally - burglaries, false arrests, threatening phone calls, verbal attacks by government officials. Nonetheless, and necessarily, the struggle continues.
* * * *
The Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund
Housing activists in Washington have long battled with indifferent city officials, individual and organized, and the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade as we sought to halt the displacement of masses of Blacks and other poor or working class minorities from the inner cities to the suburbs. Since 1972 campaigns have centered around rent control, condominium and hotel conversions, land speculators, and government bureaucracy. We clearly understood the process of gentrification (replacing poor inner city residents with middle and upper class "gentry"), and perceived the underlying economic basis on which the process rested with land speculators vigorously exploiting inner city neighborhoods. The displacement of Blacks and other minorities from the inner city was thought to be a product of the capitalist housing market, which provides housing only for those who can afford it. It was not until 1979 that we discovered and began to research a Federal government program called "spatial deconcentration", the hidden agenda behind the phenomenon of displacement. We discovered that displacement had an economic base to be sure, but more importantly, it was a means of social control--a means to break up large concentrations of Blacks and other inner city minorities from their communities. We have witnessed the forced evacuation of more than 50,000 poor inner city residents from the city each year and their subsequent replacement by an affluent class. We understood the role of thegovernment and its officials as it aided this process by creating laws that benefitted landlords and speculators while impoverishing tenants, but it wasn't until Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) documents began to surface using the words "housing mobility" and "fair housing" that we began to understand the magnitude of the masterplan to rid the city of its inner city poor and working classes. To fully understand this program we had to examine its history, the atmosphere out of which it developed, and its objectives. After this, we had concrete answers for why 50,000 poor people a year are being driven into Prince Georges, Montgomery, Prince William, and other suburban jurisdictions increasingly further away from the inner city, while central city neighborhoods are allowed to decay until speculators and middle class whites move in to take them over.
The riots that rocked American cities in the 1960's provoked lengthy govermental studies to investigate the riots and to make recommendations on what could be done to prevent civil disturbances by oppressed minorities. President Lyndon Johnson appointed a special commission, the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission) in 1968, composed of police and army specialists, FBI and CIA agents, and civilian consultants who worked at "thinktank" institutions like the Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, and the Urban Institute. The commissions, clearly connected with the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, felt that large concentrations of Blacks in the inner cities represented a threat to the security of the United States and had to be removed from the cities immediately. Thus, the Kerner Commission's recommendation was that low income housing projects and the Blacks that lived in them, should be relocated from inner city neighborhoods to sites outside the central city. This would break up the concentrations of Blacks within the central city and thus disrupt their potential to erupt into violence in response to their economic conditions. The commission recommended that Blacks be systematically placed in outlying suburban counties and dispersed, so that the counties themselves remained white dominated, but the Blacks would be isolated and broken up, neutralizing their violent potential. The death this same year of Martin Luther King and the subsequent riots hastened the government's determination to control Black people in the innter city. The Federal government acted on the Commission's recommendations and began, in 1969, a program called "spatial deconcentration" which to date, has received a Federal investment of over 5 billion dollars.
The enactment of the program required the coodination and cooperation of many government officials and capitalists, and due to the large sums of money being offered by the government, received widespread development and support. Metropolitan areas in America have witnessed how banks and insurance companies have redlined central city neighborhoods while real estate speculators have milked what profits they could from these communities, further hastening the deterioration as thousands of housing units were demolished, abandoned, or taken off the market for any number of reasons. As the artificially created energy crisis worsened, the inner city became an attractive option to the middle class that fled to the suburbs in the 50's and 60's. Redevelopers and banks began redevelopment or "urban renewal" projects which have caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of inner city residents of Washington and other urban cities over the past ten years. Due to a housing shortage as artificially created as the energy crisis)the victims of urban renewal are forced to relocate in the suburbs, thereby eliminating their political presence within the central city.
The workings of the spatial deconcentration program are simple. First, the Blacks have to be driven out of a neighborhood and placed in suburban jurisdictions that are forced to take them, or co-opted with bribes of large Federal grants. In Washington D.C., in order to drive people out of a particular inner city neighborhood, the Federal government, along with the D.C. City Council and the Mayor, eliminated the housing in neighborhoods by giving landlords incentives to abandon their buildings, or remove rental units from the market by specially designed rent control and conversion laws. We witness this practice in action by the continuous loopholes found in all of our rent control legislation that allow landlords to abandon their buildings, convert them to condominiums, or generally remove them from the market. Second, the government closes down all of the public housing it has sponsored since the 1930's, thus forcing the displacement of the poor people living in them. For low or fixed income homeowners in the community, property taxes are escalated and housing services are decreased, thus also impoverishing this group of people. Once the housing is eliminated, then other services that support the community are cut back - the public transportation is rerouted or a subway is built that totally bypasses the community. Available schools for the children are closed down in the name of budget cuts; hospitals are relocated to 'improve health delivery systems'; jobs are taken away as businesses are offered inducements to relocate in other areas. The entire community is destabilized to force the people of that community to want to move as their lifestyle deteriorates. Yet, poor people can't just pick up and move just because a neighborhood has gone down. Moving takes money, and this is where the government plays its most visible role.
In 1974 Congress enacted the Housing and Community Development Act, which revamped the Revenue Sharing and Urban Renewal programs. One section of the Act specifies that one of its main purposes is "spatial deconcentration" of impacted neighborhoods in the inner cities. The next year, the Federal subsidy program, Section 8, was enacted by Congress. The creator of the Section 8 program was a civilian member of the Kerner Commission called Anthony Downs who also developed the entire theory of spatial deconcentration for social control in his 1973 book entitled Opening Up the Suburbs. Section 8 was specifically aimed at the poorest of the poor and was a rent subsidy program that allows tenants to pay a maximum of 25% of their monthly income for rent with the government picking up the tab for the rest. Of course, like most subsidies, the real estate interests are guaranteed profits while the tenants have to wait on long waiting lists to register for the privilege of guaranteeing these profits for landlords.
So when poor people are forced into a position of having to move, they are granted Section 8 certificates which appear to ease the burden of not having a place to stay. However, the catch to the Section 8 program is that by using it, you no longer have a choice in where you can live. The new "housing mobility" created through Federal subsidies actually eliminated freedom of housing choice because at the same time HUD is giving Section 8 certificates to the suburbs, they claim there is not enough money available to keep people in D.C. They will give Section 8 certificates to families in D.C. but allow them to use them only in specifically selected suburban counties, not allowing the people to stay in D.C. to be close to the jobs, the Metro, the culture or the human services. This forces them out to the suburbs where there is no way to join together to struggle. Of course, the people become even more impoverished as welfare assistance programs, like AFDC, provide even less income than allotted in D.C. This entire process paves the way for the upper classes to replace poor people in inner city communities, under the guise of increasing the tax base of the city to provide more services to the poor residents of the city. The whole program of physically moving the poor and working class population out of D.C. which is actually spatial deconcentration is disguised as a "Fair Housing Program" called Areawide Housing Opportunities Program (AHOP). Simply put, you disperse the concentrations of Black and poor people in D.C. where they could erupt into a dangerous force to challenge the ruling class of the city and form a political base to threaten indifferent and sold-out officials. The program creates small pockets of poor people, isolated in the suburbs, available to work when the economy needs them, but separated and alienated, like the South African Blacks who are forced to live in Bantustans that surround rich white settler cities.
The spatial deconcentration program has played a major role in the transformation of Washington, D.C. from a riot-torn, abandoned inner city to a fast growing executives' paradise. Since Washington's primary industry has always been the Federal government, now more so than ever, a large executive class is being drawn into Washington by attractive real estate, the energy crisis, and the cooperation of Federal and city officials. Meanwhile, unemployment for the poor and working class escalates; the few of them who receive training and jobs are limited to clerical or blue collar jobs with little or no upward mobility. Fewer and fewer jobs are available to the poor in the inner city, and to counter the effects of the program, the city government must create job programs (designed to fail) in order to pacify the remaining population. In addition, we have a city which is experiencing record-breaking commercial construction (office buildings, the Civic Center, etc.) yet has a critical shortage in that basic human necessity, shelter. This condition was created by the fact that Washington was one of the original cities targeted for implementing the spatial deconcentration program in 1969. The program has been operating here for eleven years and is the concrete basis for the advanced stage of displacement we are experiencing.
The implementation of the spatial deconcentration program for the Washington area (AHOP) required the authority and financing of the Federal government, the participation of private industry, and the cooperation of local governing bodies. The application of the program to Washington was undertaken by the Washington Council of Governments (WashCog) which is the interjurisdictional body for the metropolitan area, composed of elected officials from Washington, Virginia and Maryland and, again, consultants from thinktanks like the Brookings Institute and the Urban Institute. WashCog began administration of the program by enlisting the support of the District officials to create the inner city conditions that would force people to move. These officials ensured that neighborhoods that were already devastated by the riots were left to decay and support services were cut. Next, WashCog had to persuade suburban officials to accept the flow of Blacks who would be forced into their communities. Most of the persuasion was accomplished through Federal bribes in the form of Community Development monies. The impetus for the persuasion come with the Fair Housing Laws passed by Congress. They ensured that under the mask of "integration" white suburban neighborhoods would have to accept poor Blacks from the inner city. Suburban communities were also granted other bonuses as they received more public transportation (the Metro), increased social services (from the Federal payments) and were assured that there would always be white dominance in the suburbs since the Blacks would be dispersed over large areas. Prince Georges' county was the first area country to buy into the program. We now see the county government moving to halt the flood of Blacks into the county, fearing Black dominance.
The next phase of the program requires the persuading of the poor people in the inner city that life is better in the suburbs. The Section 8 certificates now come into play, as housing counselors, usually springing from government-sponsored community groups, urge people to relocate wherever their Section 8 certificate placed them, which is always in the suburbs. Apparent community groups, like Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association, support the objectives of the program by assisting tenants in obtaining Section 8 certificates, and omitting to warn them of their loss off housing choice. In fact, MWPHA sponsored a HUD workshop entitled "Increasing Housing Opportunities in the Suburbs" in May 1980. The hidden punch line to the workshop was that to increase housing opportunities in the suburbs, you must first decrease them in the city, which is the essence of spatial deconcentration. The government has made increasingly larger grants available to train community housing organizers, so that they may learn to properly administer Section 8 programs. Many of the grassroots housing groups in Washington are dependent on Section 8 contracts for their survival, and will refuse to recognize and discontinue the role they play in the program.
The monetary benefittors of the spatial deconcentration program are the real estate interests. Land values in the inner city skyrocketed, while suburban developers made tremendous profits from developing the communities which will house the Blacks being driven out. Owners of buildings who have Section 8 tenants are guaranteed profits that will be paid by the Federal government, and usually can obtain loans for renovation from the government at interest rates 5-8% lower than the regular market. For example, a large, sprawling apartment complex in Silver Spring, Montgomery County, Maryland recently accepted a large number of Section 8 tenants from Washington D.C. In return, the owners of the property were granted large loans to renovate the property. The owners only have to allow Section 8 tenants to stay in the building for five years. After that, they can convert to condominium, luxury apartments, or whatever they want, because they've tripled the value of the property with the renovations paid for by the government However, after the five years are up, the poor tenants who moved into the building will have to move again. They will not ultimately benefit from the renovations, and furthermore, will be forced even further away from the inner city.
An investigation is proceeding into Yulanda Ward's death. Assistance, inquiries and contributions to the investigation should be addressed to:
The Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 21005
Washington, D.C. 20009
The two featured articles, Fire and Ice and Spatial Deconcentration, both deal with the question of space in capitalist society. Like all social categories, it has two sides. In this afterword we wish to briefly discuss some of the implications of the space struggle previously described.
Spatial Deconcentration reveals the method capital increasingly relies on to overcome,' the "crisis of social democracy" in the U.S.: planning through the market. One of the age-old secrets of capitalist magic is the knowledge that in any relatively diffuse market of competing strangers a few billion dollars can direct the market "forces" to attain planned ends without the institution of an overt monopoly.
This trick is the essence of all stock manipulations, the control of large corporations by minority stockholders etc. Equal and randomly opposing forces cancel each other out while a marginal but relatively more organized force can ultimately determine the situation.
The rapidly changing housing patterns in dozens of U.S. cities reveals the effectiveness of this type of state planning. In the last decade the production and reproduction space of this country has been completely transformed with almost no open, concrete governmental action: no highways dividing ghettos from the rest of town, no housing projects, no bulldozers to sit down in front of. This method of planning through the market is not so "precise" as the detailed state plan of the U.S.S.R. but it has the asset of appearing not to be a plan at all. Thus the state, has the advantage of not offering itself as a target of resistance in an area where its police powers are vulnerable: where people live.
Surely capital does not have "it all planned" in some conspiratorial and fool-proof pattern. Those are the dreams of total defeat. On the contrary, capitalist planning has many defects:
1) plans presume control of the future but the class struggle is not pre-determinable;
2) planners may have conflicting interests and may try to impose contradictory plans;
3) temporal pressure may cause the plans to be technically inadequate;
4) "exogenous" natural events may disrupt plans.
But the primary and essential failure of planning is the one remaining "anarchy of production": the unplanned desires of working class struggle.
Class struggle, however, is not only the principal disruption of capitalist planning, it is its ultimate cause as well. Planning is needed as capital attempts to continually reorganize the production/reproduction process in ever more "roundabout" spatial and temporal arrangements to escape and incorporate working class resistance to work. The future will not be like the past --this capital knows-- and so the future must be controlled because the present has an essential element of indeterminacy. Thus, the need to plan inner city housing patterns escalated as urban blacks rejected the existing social and geographical arrangement by literally burning it down and threatening to burn much more --capital's "downtown".
We have, in previous issues of Midnight Notes, discussed capital's creation and use of time. The capitalist arrangement of space is also crucially important. Capital, especially through its ability to monetarize itself, can now move at light speed to a more "hospitable" climate; but it is always interested in the minutiae of work-life patterns in any environment it decides to land on to maximize the productivity of spatial relations.
The working class, on the other side, is continually attempting to subvert the capitalist planning of spatial relations and creating anti-work spaces (sometimes even in the midst of the factory). Such are the conflicting tendencies of the space war continually erupting in capitalist society.
The differing types of state planning of U.S. and European capital have roots in their radically different relations to space. U.S. capital has internal room to move, European capital does not. This simple fact has deep consequences. The ability to expropriate huge areas at relatively little "cost" made it possible to maintain a relatively "anarchic" planning of production. Indeed, it was essential that capital be able to use this space in order to escape class confrontation.
On the other side, the very "emptiness" of North American space, due to the lack of pre-capitalist structures that could easily be turned into fixed capital, required an almost obsessional study and planning of social relations, reproduction and other aspects of the psychological organization of human behavior.
"The Land Question" has always been at the center of the class struggle in the U.S. (as the American Indian and parts of the black movement have reminded us recently). For land is not only the repository of potential wealth but it allows for motion, it makes it possible for capital to elaborate a strategy of advance, flanking and retreat. In England, France, Germany and other, northern European countries the tendency of the working class in the last century has been toward a fixity in space.
With the exception of Hitler's dream of "spacifying" Europe, the class "deal" which helps ensure for capital a more stable workforce demands in return a less mobile capital. As a result, the institution of social democracy has an articulation and weight it never has had in the U.S.
In Washington, D.C. and other U.S. cities, the blacks since the great southern land expropriations of the 30's and 40's, have held the inner city terrain as "its own" (not in the sense of "ownership" but in the sense of "occupation"). The population density was high and the material wealth in the space was low, nonetheless, this space provided terrain for organization of power--bars, corners, churches, stoops, lots, streets, kitchens. A common politics and struggle could emerge out of this commonality of terrain. At first, this massification in a specific space was clearly functional to the place blacks were to occupy in the division of labor in the post-WW II economy, but then this concentration reached critical levels and became dangerous. As the black struggle turned from demonstrations to riots to armed struggle in a space adjacent to high concentrations of capital something had to give, "spatial deconcentration" was clearly called for.
The Zurich struggle is the reverse. Here a new interest, a new cultural/reproductive sector developed but has had no space for itself. For the struggle in Zurich is not a "housing struggle" at all but a struggle for a space empty of capital. The problem is not an absolute lack of housing but the lack (or better, the refusal to allow) a type of housing that could generate an anti-work space. The power of this movement and its threat arises from the location of its desired anti-work space: at the center of the monetary center of world capital, not in the Alps but near the computer nodes and telephone systems that form the intricate circuits so essential to the light speed of capitalist circulation. Though there is no gold in the streets of Zurich, it lies buried in tunnels a few feet beneath the rioters.
U.S. capital was faced in the 1960's with a similar problematic that Swiss capital must confront now. Not only with respect to the black ghetto adjacent to the Federal governmental center, but with respect to the white youth "demonstration culture" whose tactics were quite similar to the contemporary Swiss "icebreakers". Capital, thus, had to destroy both the black struggle and the "counter-cultural" anti-war rebellion.
Washington, D.C. was the perfect city to plan this campaign because it was born as a city to thwart revolution. The wide boulevards of the downtown area were designed to prevent and crush a proletarian revolt in the early nineteenth century Napoleonic city planning style. It was a huge construction of "defensible space" built always with the idea of cavalry maneuvers. As the "home" of the state it demands meticulous planning and police "housework" particularly in any period of intense struggle. The whole place is bugged and crawling with agents from every repressive department of the government. (This was graphically revealed to the movement during the Chicago 8 trial in 1969. Far more evidence came from wiretaps in D.C. than from anywhere else even though D.C. was not the "home base" of any of the defendants and the "scene of the crime" was 1000 miles away!)
After the M.L. King riots in 1968 the state deliberately let the ghetto stay burnt down at some cost to its international "image". This was the first step in its slowly evolving "deconcentration" policy towards the blacks.
During that period mass demonstrations of largely white youth against the Vietnam war continually filled the city. For example, there were mass "trashings" in November of"69 and. huge demonstrations after the massacres at Kent State and Jackson State. But what really disturbed the government were the Mayday demonstrations of 1971. They were organized with the express purpose of paralyzing and "shutting the city down" by blocking commuter traffic on the highways going into the city. These demos hit a nerve and the veil of "civil liberties" tore. The state responded with literal concentration camps where thousands of demonstrators were kept "illegally". This was also the year of Attica and the violent liquidation of many black militants.
This physical repression paved the way for the "oil crisis" and the "politics of scarcity". In D.C. a housing "shortage" developed that appeared to give objective necessity to the increase of rents. The "free market" began to displace the remnants of the youth movement most easily, for after all they were more mobile than blacks. Some "heads" straightened up and became entrepreneurs with shops and condo developments but most simply moved on or altered their life style (from "communal" to "family" to "single"). The blacks and their struggle remained.
Ironically, capital echoed the black struggle to "escape the ghetto" but in its own key: "Go, but go when and where we say." Even the tactic of arson, so potently used in the black urban riots was turned against them by real estate operators who used fire to drive black tenants and squatters from the now "valuable property". In response, but also continuous with the previous struggles for spatial autonomy, many blacks are now defending the "ghetto". For a ghetto can be a source of strength if it is not a place that keeps you in but one that keeps your enemy out.
III. Race space: high & low
The displacement and spatial deconcentration of blacks is being accomplished through the money form. As Mayor Koch of N.Y.C. says, "Everyone should live where they can afford to live." But what determines affordability? Surely there exists a hierarchy of wages, and inasmuch as blacks and other "minorities" (immigrant or native) are unable to assume the full range of positions in this hierarchy but are forced overwhelmingly to occupy the bottom of the wage ladder, then they have a qualitatively different relationship to this hierarchy. This wage hierarchy gets mapped point for point into the layout of a city, while changes in the hierarchy lead immediately to spatial changes.
In the late 60's and early 70's blacks sought to open up the full range of the wage ladder and thus eliminate the particular qualitative relation they had to it. The state responded with "anti-discrimination laws" and "affirmative action programs" and for a brief period real gains were made. Study of wage distribution in that period would show an increasing homogenation of wages as well as their average increase. But the crisis of the 70's largely erased these gains with one important new twist. Wages within the working class as a whole have become increasingly dispersed, but this is true among blacks as well. This has showed up in the significant expansion of a black "middle class" of corporate and governmental bureaucrats and well-waged workers who were to provide "leadership" to an ever larger and increasingly poor black working class.
The Miami riots of 1980 revealed the bankruptcy of this "leadership" since the "community leaders" were largely ignored by the rioters. But these riots also revealed the increasing subtlety and power of this ability to use wage hierarchy to organize space in a way that would limit and repress struggle. Throughout the 70's the black ghetto in Miami was increasingly isolated from the "downtown" and "hotel" strip by buffer zones of Cuban immigrants and poorer whites. Thus this riot was not a "commodity riot" like many of the 60's but was bottled up and became a "people riot". While the Miami riot did not explode into a black versus white versus Hispanic race war, the potential for one has been exacerbated through the capitalist strategy of crisis in general and its mediation in spatial composition.
Space, then, is not only the geographic organization of capital and the working class--communities, ethnic neighborhoods; plant locations; transportation networks, etc.--but also the reflection of the hierarchical relations within the working class as well. Further, it is deployed in a quasi-military manner for the class struggle is a war and the mere physical arrangement of the "armies" is crucial. Thus, an important aspect of the spatial deconcentration policy is that the removal of blacks from the urban center will lead to their disaggregation. They will be spread out in the white suburbs or isolated in micro-ghettos in white worker enclaves at the edges of the city proper. This disaggregation will make them increasingly vulnerable to KKK-style terror and intimidation.
As long as blacks, Hispanics and the "new immigrants" are kept at the bottom of the wage hierarchy there will be little choice. Macro-ghetto, mini-ghetto or "integration"? None of these "choices" is a solution so long as blacks and other people of color do not have the power to define their own desires and needs and have the space to realize them. This lack of choice has its historical base in slavery and Jim Crow for the blacks, but the existence of the wage hierarchy that lies behind it is no historical accident.
Though a racial and sexual identification of specific types of work with given "races" and sexes aids in capitalist control it is not absolutely necessary. Surely one can imagine a capitalist society where blacks are on the top and whites on the bottom. But a capitalist society without a wage hierarchy is impossible for capital must organize the division of labors and skills and must recognize the different quantities of capital invested or, better, incarnated in persons. The hierarchy of wages arises from this simple principle of capitalist “justice”.
Capital finds the qualitative dimension of systematically infusing different amounts of value in different workers based on the workers' permanent bodily characteristics to be an enormously useful tool of control over the working class as a whole by complexifying and intensifying the reproduction of the hierarchy.
The international flows of capital, the control of immigration, the social stereotyping that identifies work with self, all indicate the deep value capital places on an ethnic, racial and sexual hierarchy. The mechanism through which this hierarchy is produced is simplicity itself. If certain "job slots" are reserved only for a specific type of person (incorporating a given type of capital) then less competition exists for those "slots". If black workers are systematically excluded from these better paying jobs then whites do not have to compete with blacks for those jobs, meaning that any particular white has a better chance of "rising" on the wage ladder. The most visible example of this mechanism is in South Africa; the operational principle is no different though many times more subtle and diffuse in the U.S.
The drive of blacks to shatter the racial hierarchy has met a good deal of white resistance (as well as some white support). But aside from the open racists and anti-racists, there are many whites who claim simultaneously to support equality of individuals and reject any demands for reparations in any form. Their line goes something like this: "Slavery and Jim Crow were wrong, but they don't exist any more and neither I nor my ancestors were here when they did." This has been a mass sentiment in the crisis, a "reverse discrimination" equality that is not racism per se but rather a profound capitulation to capitalist double-think.
For if a white man refuses the "guilt" of historical oppression he must not then claim the rewards gained from that oppression as the products of his own, individual qualities. For example, if a white student has attained a piece of knowledge that is saleable as a commodity, that knowledge is not a quality of the student but a product of the accumulated wealth generated by the class struggles of the past. Though the student might not be responsible for exploitation in the past, neither is he "guilty" of creating the knowledge, tools, and experience that arose from the exploitation.
The capitalist system, however, encourages each individual to believe these attributes are due to his or her own efforts, and that one is rewarded (paid) solely for these attributes. In a period when the most powerful form of productive force is the accumulated knowledge of past generations stretching back perhaps a million years, we are seeing a revival of "I made it to the top on my own merits" thinking!
Thus when white workers refuse to support or actively resist the demand of black workers for higher wages they accept the racism that is an essential part of the capitalist hierarchy of labor powers. Clearly, then, many white workers do have concrete reasons to support the perpetuation of blacks as an "underclass". The price they pay for their racism is very high and obvious, for it allows capital to undercut their wage struggle by continually threatening them with the use of black, lower paid labor. So why does racism continue? People are not stupid and it doesn't take a genius to see the "costs" as well as the "benefits" of racism. Do the "benefits" outweigh the "costs" for white workers? No. If computed in a hypothetical, economic calculus, anti-racism is certainly a better maximizing strategy. So why don't whites follow their "reason"?
The answer to this lies in a deeper place: every worker knows that a serious class unity would so undermine the exploitative relations that capital must act violently to preserve itself. Such a unity would have the most serious of life and death consequences and it is fear of these consequences that keeps many from acting. To destroy the hierarchy of labor powers is to literally step out of the system of "costs and benefits" and open up entirely new possibilities. Many refuse to take the risk that can't be measured. Thus, though racism and sexism as well is the basis for keeping all wages lower --for the hierarchy starts at the bottom with the unwaged-- it continues. On the other side, class unity is the primary weapon the working class can wield against capital and so any revolutionary action must address the materiality of the labor hierarchy.
Italian Folk Song
I'm a terrorist
You're a terrorist;
He's a terrorist
She's a terrorist
Everyone's a terrorist
Please, please put me in jail
Won't you please put me in jail
My friends are all in jail
The most interesting people are all in jail
The state says I did it all
It says that I pissed on the wall
It says that I kidnapped a shoe
It even claims that I've killed you
Cause I'm a terrorist
Such a terrorist
I can't afford staying free
Inflation is just killing me
I can't pay my rent, don't you see
And now Fiat's gonna fire me
Carabinieri, put me away
I can't wait another day
You better do just what I say
Else I'll blow up the Duomo today
-Officer, arrest me!
-Why? What have you done?
-I've done everything.
-Have you raped you mother?
-Several times and then I killed Moro!
-Do you have any evidence?
-Who needs evidence? This is Italy!
Please, please put me in jail
It's just not fair to leave me free
The intellectuals are all allowed in jail
The state's discriminating against me
Red Brigadists, you'd better watch
Cause now I'm a terrorist too
I'm a terrorist just like you
Move over Prima Linea, make some room for me
Now the state says I can be a terrorist too
I can be a terrorist just like you
Call me a brigadisti
Call me a fascisti
I'll be anything you want
I'll be a terrorist just for you
Because Police State baby
I love you
How I love you
It's the latest thing, it's really a fad
It all started in Paris with Pierre Cardin
But now it's spreading fast
And looks like it's gonna last
Come on everyone, give us a sexy terrorist look
Yeah, I'm a terrorist
I'm such a terrorist because
I pick my nose
I smoke marijuana
I missed a day of work
I wrote a book
I say dirty words
I like oral sex
I went on strike
I ran a red light
Cause I'm a terrorist
I'm such a terrorist
I'm homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, asexual
I ride the bus without a ticket
I laugh at policemen
I'm ugly, I smell funny
I masturbate, I meditate
I steal candy from babies
I make pipi in my pants
Cause I'm a terrorist
Everything you say, everything you think
Every time you dream, every song you sing
Yeah, everything you do is terrorist
Terrorists of the world unite.
You have nothing to lose but your labels!
Now we're terrorists
Everything that moves is terrorist
The pope's a terrorist
My grandmother is a terrorist
This song is terribly terrorist
as are certain species of plants, oranges,
ashtrays, fountain pens, vacuum cleaners,
tooth brushes, diaphragms, spermacide,
Midnight Notes #05 (1982) – Computer State Notes
5th issue of the autonomist journal Midnight Notes.
Reagan politics was the paradoxical synthesis of "the spokesman for a scientific and technological revolution that a few years ago would have smacked of science fiction with the revivalists of religious tendencies and moral conservatism that one would have thought was buried once and for all with 'our' Puritan Founding Fathers." This paradox is resolved in "Mormons in Space," where it is shown that this synthesis is characteristic when capital is in deep crisis and goes "back to basics." But what was our analysis of the capitalist limits and proletarian possibilities of the new technology? It is in "Prologue to the Use of Machines."
Libcom note - occasional words and phrases in the scanned PDF are illegible because of overprinting and this is also the case with the textual versions here. Missing words are marked with [????] or similar. Anyone with access to a better (colour?) scan or original copy is welcome to contact us to help us with corrections.
Editorial from Midnight Notes issue 5
tools: This issue was put together with 'real' typewriter time literally "begged, borrowed or stolen" and with layout materials and methods that were current in the Reformation. It was laid-out right across the street from M.I.T., about a half a mile from Harvard and next door from the numerous software and bio-engineering firms of Cambridge. I.e., it was produced while the microprocessors, mini-computers and mainframes slept right around us. It is a materialization of our present (and collective) defeat, so treat it with charity.
orthography: According to the theorem of "Prolog to the Use of Machines", capital's reluctance to increase the width of the channel of communicative capacity and its desire to speed-up the rate of transmission have forced it to try to radically reduce the entropy of language (the diversity of script, multiple spellings, variable capitalization, etc.) and make communication less surprising, more predictable and less 'personal'. So we see our 'mistakes" as slips of rebellion, little refusals to standardize and Capitalize the Embodiment of our Language.
Hope you do, too.
credits: Asin (Carl Harp), who drew the 'strange loop" on page 24, died in Walla Walla prison last year. Like many others, he was "found hung" in his cell.
PRIZE ESSAY CONTEST
The prize essay contest announced in Space Notes on the topic: "Why do we continue to eat capital's shit?" continues. We have yet to receive a satisfactory answer; however, the old contest prize, $100, is now $108 to keep up with inflation.
Carnival in Bosstown
In the town where Cotton Mather's bones lay in peace, in the original home of the American Boss, Midnight Notes is having a carnival. Come for a gathering of our bodily powers, the passing of loosened words and whispers. Bring masks, paints, plays and music. The bosses' bones will turn. See you there.
Dates: April 17 and 18 Place: 125 Harvard St. Cambridge, Ma. Write Midnight Notes for maps and directions and help in finding sleeping space.
Do I contradict myself?
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Since the early nineteenth century with the famous Luddite riots, the working class movement has been debating whether mechanization is liberating or exploitative. This debate is very much alive in the movement today, especially in Europe since 1977. On the one side, the Autonomia-refusal-of-work tendency sees in technological development the hope for the final liberation of humanity for work; on the other side are alternativists of all sorts who, while not necessarily seeing the machine as an evil, are much more interested in understanding and reorganizing our social relations, everyday life and forms of creativity.
From the point of view of the former, one of capital's greatest crimes today is in holding back the development of productive forces, of literally destroying a potentially available, high level of productivity because it is not profitable. (As the history of capitalism has shown, again and again, the increase of social wealth can be directly contradictory to the accumulation of value.)
For the latter, instead, capital kills the Soul so to speak, for though, and even because, it may provide a high level of technological development, "scientific wonders" and/or remarkable "material" (or what usually passes as material) wellbeing, it creates a world of "dead Souls": Alienation, Loss of Animal Spirits, Desire to Die, desensitization.
Are these mutually exclusive trends? Are we forced to choose between them?
For capitalist development, of course, there is no contradiction between the paths of increasing mechanization and continuing to profit from archaic forms of production by lengthening the work day (killing the Soul and/or the Body). They are but two complementary paths of appropriating surplus time. Mechanization decreases the necessary work time and so increases the ratio of surplus to necessary work, while lengthening the work day simply increases surplus labor tout court. In fact, in order to accumulate the capital necessary to introduce mechanization the work day must be increased somewhere. But this "somewhere" need not be in the same place.
In the "First Great Industrial Revolution" (or better counter-revolution), during which our Luddite ancestors broke into history, the surplus labor time was taken directly out of those workers whose work was mechanized. Not only did the Manchester operatives work with machines but they worked longer and more intensively than previous generations of non-mechanized textile workers. This need not always be the case. Thus the introduction of Atomic Power Plants and Computerized Factories need not, and will not, be "financed" out of the hides of atomic physicists and programmers (though maybe they should!) They are undoubtedly being capitalized by the increased surplus value transferred to these highly mechanized sectors from the spheres of "shit work" being done in the kitchens, restaurants, basements, sweatshops around the world.
Capital has its technocratic and "romantic" sides but their antithesis is bogus: they merely provide models for complementary forms of accumulation. The trick of the capitalist (the so-called "entrepreneurial spirit") is simply to find the right mixture.
But if capital is not forced to choose between the Machine and the Hand, the Soul and the Body why should we?
Capital is flexible, it has a Standard with which to determine its best model of production on the basis of the surplus work it generates. It is neither technocratic nor anti-technocratic, neither liberal nor fascist, not addicted to whisky nor cocaine. This is its historical power: to remain true to itself while shifting with the tides of class force.
What has grown in the last five years, through all the misery of the crisis, all the state terror, all our despair, has been the increasing sophistication and richness with which our standard is being developed and applied. Our standard is quite simple: the refusal of work and its reduction to a minimum. But the application of this standard is far from simple: the European movement (quite self-consciously) and the American movement (where practice is light years ahead of theory as usual) have taken a few steps beyond Marx's description of the immediate post-Luddite period.
"It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used."
In the century since Marx, we have seen that the simple formula "Execute the capitalists, Operate the machines" is inadequate for two reasons. First, capital has literally "booby trapped" many machines in such a way that their only form of operation is capitalistic: the nuclear industry and the stock-piled nuclear bombs are fine examples. Not only can they not be used now except capitalistically, but there is no obvious way of getting rid of them non-capitalistically.
Second, "previous invisible sectors" of the working class have pointed out that forms of mechanical production that appear to reduce work merely shift work onto less powerful class sectors. Elements of the women's movement have been crucial to this realization, for the typically more "powerful and advanced" technological class sectors are male and thus they rarely take into account the fact that every form of production requires an enormous amount of reproductive work, usually female. What can appear as reduction of work through mechanization may lead to so much trauma, tension and breakdown in the immediate workers and environment that the work of reproducing those workers and environment increases tremendously. Capital's form has so melded with the instruments of production that the preferred tool of Revolutionary Surgery must become the Laser.
The growth of analytic power has gone through the tributary of struggles marked by Italy in 1977, the anti-nuke and energy price revolts of 1978-79 in the U.S. and Europe, the Space Wars in Zurich of 1980, and the anti-police, anti-military riots in England, Holland and Germany in 1981. These nodes of conflict forced the movement into confrontation with itself as well as with capital; they forced us to sharpen up our standard. Each of these moments brought into the struggle against capital new social strata, new mixtures and social possibilities, but always presented us with contradictory impulses with respect to technology.
On the one side, elements of the movement argued for "pushing" the system to intensify its technological development in order to further reduce the necessary labor time in production and thus increase the potential social wealth (free time). On the other side, there has been a demand for new social forms to fulfil our desires now, to experience in all its richness, the social being and relationships appropriate to a working class on the way out of the capitalist era. Is this a looming contradiction between the new "forces" and "relations" of social production? Is the Revolutionary Body- and Soul at odds? No, not with any finality, because they are interwoven expressions of the refusal of work.
However, in the concrete struggle, tensions exist. Take the Zurich movement of the last two years. Though Zurich is a monetary center supreme, where the "dominance of formal over real society" was apparently total, packets of alternativists, punks and high-tech personnel melted and exploded in its center. In a city where "the work of most people is language, mostly figures" the movement used the crudest (physical blockage, appropriation and escape) to the most refined (ironic sabotage of TV, telephonic and computational trans-mission) methods to undermine this language-work.
But a capitalist "pull out" from Zurich in response to the struggle would put the alliance of work refusers to the test. For though the alternativists might welcome the chance to introduce a' new "human-centered" form of production/reproduction, large sections of the working class will, if given a choice, stick with capital and the state with "its" technology unless the technological wealth of the last half millennium can be reintegrated into the new social mode.
These are the contradiction and questions that Midnight Notes receives and transmits to the movement. Thus "Strange Victories" and "No Future Notes" (vol. 1, n.1,2) argued that the class composition of the anti-nuke movement in the U.S. inevitably limited the demands and depth of action against capital's crisis Plan. No "strange loop" was being fashioned by the movement in order to "tangle" the class hierarchies because it remained and remains to this day a movement essentially of the "upper" workers. Thus, the main proposal of the movement, "the solar transition", is invariably offered up with an austerity rhetoric telling us that we are "overconsuming" and, in Tom Hayden's words, discovering that "people have a basic need for real work."
It might be very well for Mr. Hayden and his friends who spend their time talking about work but have managed to get away pretty nicely from doing it. But this simply will not do for the blacks, Hispanics, women, immigrants, assembly line workers, miners and youth of this country. They have worked too much already and have consumed too little of life!
At least Reagan offers wealth and less work for a few "lucky ones", Hayden envisions "socially useful" drudgery for all: his vision is a vision of work without end, not of the end of work. But this is by no means an isolated mistake, rather this pro-work, pro-austerity line is an underlying unity between elements of the anti-nuke movement and proponents of labor intensive capitalist development. This resulted in the inability to shape a "strange loop" between the white riot of Levittown, the black riot of Miami and the anti-nuke demos of 1979-80. The social vacuum thus created added a huge force to the Reagan initiative.
On the eve of the Reagan election in "Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse" (MN, vol.2, n. 1) we tried to decode the crisis plan of capital by deducting out all the apocalyptic rhetoric about "Nature's limits" to see the refusal of work as the driving force of the Crisis. In doing so, we revealed capitalist science as both a tool of planning to overcome the refusal of work and a continuing reflection of capitalist crises.
Then in "Space Notes" (MN vol.2, n.2) we brought the movement of the 'dyssatisfied' in Zurich and Northern Europe into focus. They form one of the first decisive struggles of this period because they operate outside the job and emphasize the question of 'life style': how and where living is to be done, the wages and working conditions of life. Through their informational guerrilla they have shown that capital's attempt to mimic all social relations as relations between money can be defeated and continually exposed.
In this issue we continue the exploration of capital's use of science and technology in its plan to overcome the crisis by the redefinition of work and the consequent attempt to create a new kind of worker and state. In "Prolog to the Use of Machines" we precisely define the transition the crisis embodies, a transition from work defined by repetitive heat engines to work defined by logical machines.
But to work capitalistically with such a new system of machines a completely new form of worker must be created. "Mormons in Space" seeks to show that such a worker must be patterned after the most archaic form of the capitalist individual: the puritan of the period of primitive accumulation.
An interview with a government bureaucrat in "A Demon Speaks" reveals the form of the state necessitated by the transition to the new mode of work and the problems and contradictions it results in.
"Strange Loops: Reagan in Zurich" sketches a scenario of struggle that is based on the recent Northern European confrontations which bring together a composition of workers formed by the transition of the crisis.
In our article on Attica 1981, one decade after the massacre, we are reminded that the price of our failure is not a 'coming apocalypse' but a present and continuing misery, yet even in the jailed depths of this misery is the deepest breath of struggle.
And finally, after all our, at times, abstruse analyses and arguments, we end in "Who Will Save the Savior?" with a reminder:
GO THROUGH THE MOTIONS
The Grand Alignment
Mormons In Space
Midnight Notes on space travel, Christian Evangelists and automation
If one tried to define the Zeitgeist breathing through the New Right today one would be confronted with a seemingly undecipherable puzzle. On the one side these are the spokesmen for a scientific and technological revolution that a few years ago would have smacked of science fiction: gene-splicing, DNA computers, time-compression techniques, space colonies.
At the same time the circles of the New Right have witnessed a revival of religious tendencies and moral conservatism that one would have thought was buried once and for all with "our" Puritan Founding Fathers. Falwell's Moral Majority is the most vocal of this return to the values of Calvin and Cotton Mather, but by far not the only one. Wherever you turn, God-fearing-Satan-minded groups, determined to reshape the country on the model of the Puritan colonies, are sprawling like mushrooms: Christian Voice, Pro-Family Forum, National Prayer Campaign, Eagle Forum, Right to Life Commission, Fund to Restore an Educated Electorate, Institute for Christian Economics.
Seen in its general contours, then, the body of the New Right seems stretching in two opposite directions, attempting at once a bold leap into the past and an equally bold leap into the future. The puzzle increases when we realise that these are not separate sects, but in more than one way they involve the same people and the same money. Despite a few petty squabbles and a few pathetic contortions to keep up the "pluralism" facade, the hand that sends the shuttle into orbit or recombines mice and rabbits is the same that is fretfully pushing for gays to be sent to the stake and is drawing a big cross not just through the 20th, but the 19th and 18th centuries too.
To what extent the Moral Majority and Co. and the science futurologists are one soul, one mission, is best seen, if not in the lives of their individual spokesmen (though the image of the 'electronic minister' and of a President who in the same breath blesses God and calls for stepped up nerve gas production and the neutron bomb are good evidence of this marriage), then in the harmony of intent they display when confronted with the 'key issues' of the time. When it comes to economic and political matters, all shreds of difference drop off and both souls of the New Right pull money and resources towards their common goals. Free-Market, laissez-faire economics (for business, of course), the militarization of the country (what is called "building a strong military defense"), bolstering "internal security", i.e., giving the FBI and CIA free rein to police our daily life, cutting all social spending except that devoted to building prisons and ensuring that thousands will fill them; in a word, asserting U.S. capital's ownership of the world and setting "America" to work at the minimum wage (or below) are goals for which all the New Right would swear on the Bible.
A clue to understanding the double soul of the New Right is to realise that its mixture of reactionary social policies and scientific boldness is not a novelty in the history of capitalism. If we look at the beginning of capital --the 16th and 17th century to which the Moral Majority would so happily return-- we see a similar situation in the countries of the "take off".
At the very time when Galileo was pointing his telescope to the moon, and Francis Bacon was laying the foundations of scientific rationality, women and gays by the thousands were burnt on the stake throughout Europe, with the universal blessing of the modernizing (sic) European intelligentsia. A sudden craze? An inexplicable fall into barbarism? In reality, the witch hunt was part and parcel of that attempt at "human perfectibility" that is commonly acknowledged as the dream of the fathers of modern rationalism.
For the thrust of the emerging capitalist class towards the domination and exploitation of nature would have remained a dead letter without the concomitant creation of a new type of individual whose behavior would be as regular, predictable and controllable as that of the newly discovered natural laws. To achieve this purpose one had to destroy that magical conception of the world that, e.g., made the Indians in the overseas colonies believe that it was a sacrilege to mine the earth, or in the heart of Europe assured the proletariat that people could fly, be in two places at the same time, divine the future and (most important) that on some 'unlucky days' all enterprise had to be carefully avoided.
The witch hunt, moreover, ensured the control over the main source of labor, the woman's body, by criminalizing abortion and all forms of contraception as a crime against the state. Finally, the witch hunt was functional to the reorganization of family life, i.e., the restructuring of reproduction that accompanied the reorganization of work on a capitalistic basis.
On the stake died the adulteress, the woman of 'ill repute', the lesbian, the woman who lived alone, or lacked 'maternal spirit' or had illegitimate children. On the stake ended many beggars, who had impudently launched their curses against the refusal of some "ale and bread". For in the 'transition' to capitalism it was primarily the woman, especially the woman in rebellion, (destined to depend on a man for her survival) who became pauperised. The fathers of modern rationalism approved; some even complained that the state did not go far enough.
Notoriously, Bodin insisted that the witches should not be 'mercifully' strangled before being given to the flames. That today we find a similar situation prevailing in the U.S.A. is an indication of the depth of capital's crisis. Always, in its beginning as, we would hope, in its end, when uncertain of its foundations, capital goes down to basics.
At present this means attempting a bold technological leap which on one side (at the developing pole of production) concentrates capital and automates work to an unprecedented degree and, on the other, consigns millions of workers to either wagelessness (unemployment) or to employment in intensive-labor types of jobs, paid at minimum rates, on the model of the much acclaimed 'free enterprise zones'. This involves, however, a reorganization of the process whereby labor is reproduced --a project in which women are expected to play a most crucial role.
The institutionalization of repression and self-discipline along the line of the Moral Majority and the New Christian Right is today required for both ends of the working class spectrum: For those who are destined to temporary, part-time subsistence level of wages (accompanied by long hours of work or a perennial quest for jobs) as well as for those who are elected to a "meaningful wage" working with the most sophisticated equipment capital's technologists are now able to produce. That the holy trinity of God/Work/Family is always crucial in times of repression is a well tested truth capital has never forgotten.
What could be more productive than a life of isolation, where the only relations we have with each other are relations of reciprocal discipline: Daddy controlling Mommy, Mommy teaching the children that life is hard and survival problematic, neighbors getting together to keep the neighborhood 'clean', sociality shrinking to those occasions that help us find or keep a job??? And if life is pain there is always God, in whose name you can even justify nuclear war against the infidels who, like the rebellious Sodomites, deserve to be wiped out from the face of the earth (even if a few of the righteous get wiped out too). And you can even justify a nuclear war that will wipe out yourself too, for after all what is the big deal about life, if you have already accepted to bargain cancer for a wage, renounce all your desires and postpone your fulfilment to another world?
Let us not be mistaken. Haig needs Jerry Falwell, as does Stockman. From Wall Street to the Army-, all capital's utopias are predicated on an infinitesimal micropolitics at the level of the body, curbing our animal spirits and redefining the meaning of that famous Pursuit of Happiness that (so far at least) has been the biggest of all constitutional lies. And Jerry Falwell is even more needed for the development of the high tech (computer, information, energy, genetic) worker who, unlike those at the lower echelons of the working class, cannot be run by the stick (in case God failed), for the damage he can do (should he slip in his duty) is infinitely greater because the machines he works with are infinitely more costly. What the launching of high tech industry needs mostly today is a technological leap in the human machine --a big evolutionary step creating a new type of worker to match capital's investment needs.
What are the faculties required by the new being our futurologists advocate? A look at the debate on space colonies is revealing in this respect. All agree, first of all, that the main impediment today to the development of human colonies in space is bio-social rather than technological, i.e., you may be able to glue the space shuttle's tiles together but glueing the right space worker-technician is a project that even the present genetic breakthroughs are far from having solved. An individual is needed who can:
--endure social isolation and sensory deprivation for long periods of time without breaking down,
--perform 'perfectly' in an extremely hostile/ alien and artificial environment and under enormous stress,
--achieve a superb control of his bodily functions (consider: it takes an hour to shit in space!) and psychological reactions (anger, hate,inde-cisiveness)=our all-too-human frailties which can be disastrous in the fragile, vulnerable world of life in space,
--demonstrates total obedience, conformity and receptivity to commands for there can be little tolerance for social deviations and disagreements when the most minute act of sabotage can have catastrophic consequences to the very costly, complex and powerful equipment entrusted in their hands.
Indeed, not only will the space technician have a quasi-religious relation to his machine but he himself must become more and more machine-like, achieving a perfect symbiosis with his computer which, in the long nights of space, is often his only and always his most reliable guide, his companion, his buddy, his friend.
The space worker, then, must be a highly ascetic type, pure in body and soul, perfect in his performance, obedient like a well wound clock and extremely fetishistic in his mental modes. Where is this gem most likely bred? In a fundamentalist type religious sect. To put it in the words of biologist Garrett Harding:
What group would be most suitable to this most recent Brave New World (the space colony)? Probably a religious group. There must be unity of thought and the acceptance of discipline. But the colonists couldn't be a bunch of Unitarians or Quakers, for these people regard the individual conscience as the best guide to action. Space colonies' existence would require something more like the Hutterites or the Mormons for its inhabitants... integration could not be risked on this delicate vessel, for fear of sabotage and terrorism. Only 'purification' would do.
Not surprisingly, a few days after landing, the space shuttle astronauts were greeted by Elder Neal Maxwell at the Mormon Tabernacle. "We honor tonight men who have seen God in all his majesty and power," he said and the 6000 member congregation responded, "Amen."
But --we hear the objection-- if these religious dinosaurs are the best allies of science fiction capitalism, why do they feud among each other, as it has recently happened in the creationism versus evolution legal debate? Isn't this a sign that even today there is a war between science and religion?? Not quite. The creationists do not necessarily -object to Darwinism as a theory- after all, a biblical day can be millions or billions of years long; neither do they object to the technology of gene splicing, for the Book saith:
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
The real problem with evolutionary theory is strictly one of social control, particularly in its application to children, the future generation of workers, who notoriously dislike discipline, have "little understanding" and are thus prone to draw the "wrong" conclusions from the realisation that we come from the apes.
As Rev. Curtis Thom says:
I wonder if the fact that in classrooms now kids are being taught that everything evolved from a natural order, if that has some effect on the students' minds, that "Well, I'm not responsible to a creator?" If students understand that there may be a creation with a creator it could possibly make a child think that "If I did come from a creator, then perhaps I am responsible to that creator and before I violate somebody's rights, I'd better remember that I am responsible to somebody."
Similarly, when the head of the Creation Science Legal Fund was questioned in California as to his objections to evolution he replied that it reduces a child's respect for his elders because they were 'closer to the apes"!
"Evolution spawns a disrespect for authority, for moral values and for God himself," claims the author of a fundamentalist physical science text book, affiliated with Bob Jones University. "It destroys man by convincing him he is a mere accident of nature, a clever animal at best."
We may smile at the directness and naivete of these statements. Yet, they reflect an unadulterated acknowledgement of what are the foundations of capital's rule. A worldly scepticism may be tolerable --even advisable-- in a well trained adult. But when it comes to children, nothing can be as effective as the fear of God, Hell and Damnation to give them a proper and life-long mold. The future workers, whether they will deal with computers or a broom, must be formed in the cradles and breaking their will in the good, old time puritan fashion is a sine qua non condition of awakening their moral instincts.
Instilling fear of God's wrath --the main concern of the creationists-- is only the first step. To make the message clear, physical terror is conveniently added. Not all fundamentalists have gone as far as that minister in the Southwest who teaches catechism with the help of an electric chair, convinced that an electric shock administered every time God's' name is pronounced is the best means to imprint its memory in the child. "Doing away with the 'permissivism' in child rearing," it is called, which is but a ferocious determination to breakdown the child. (This is a constant, obsessive theme of the New Christian Right.)
The reintroduction of corporal punishment in the school and its complete legitimisation in the family is openly demanded, e.g., by the Family Protection Act which even proposes to cut all funds from any agency asserting the right of the child to defend him or herself from the violence of their parents and authorities. Thus recently, in Pennsylvania, when a child brutalised by his parents was placed by a center in a foster home, the local Moral Majority chapter went to court claiming that whipping was approved by the Bible, provided the child does not die.
The fight between creationism and evolutionism, then, is just an internal capitalist squabble as to what are the most adequate means of control. Until our social biologists and genetic engineers –the heros of today's scientific breakthrough-have found the means to create a perfect robot, the whip will do, particularly in an age still infected with the anarchic ideologies of the 60s, when a lot of bad germs have already been implanted in children and parents alike.
Moreover, the asceticism, self-control, the flight from the earth and the body which is the substance of puritan teaching, is the best soil in which capital's scientific and economic plans can flourish. Indeed, today, more consciously than ever, in its attempt to relocate itself on safer shores, capital is embracing the dream of all religion: the overcoming of all physical boundaries, the reduction of the individual human being to an angel-like creature, all soul and will.
In the creation of the electronic/ space worker, the priest of scientific exploration-exploitation of the universe, capital is fighting once again its historic battle against matter, attempting to break at once both the boundaries of the earth and the boundaries of "human nature" which, in its present form, present irreducible limits that must be overcome. The thrust to the organization of industries in space and the dematerialization of the body go together. For the former cannot be accomplished without the remolding of a whole nexus of needs, wishes, desires, that are the product of billions of years of material evolution on the planet and which up to now have been the material conditions of bio-social reproduction -- the blues, the greens, the nipple, the balls, the hair of the anus, the texture of oranges, beef, carrots, the wind and sea smell, the day light, the need for physical contact, SEX!!! The dangers of sexuality are emblematic of the obstacles capital encounters in the attempt to create a totally self-controlled being, capable of spending nights and nights alone, talking just to his computer, with his mind focused on nothing but the screen.
Can you afford to be horny or lonely in space? Can you afford to be jealous or have a marital breakdown?? What's the right attitude in this respect is indicated by a report on the South Pole Station in Antarctica that ostensibly was set up to study meteorological, astronomical and geographical conditions at the pole, but in reality is a big center for human experimentation: the study of human beings in conditions approaching that of space (isolation for many months, lack of a sensuous contact, etc.) This report states: As for sexual relations... all candidates were warned of the 'dangers' of sexual liaisons under the supercharged conditions here.
Celibacy was the best course...men think of nothing but sex for the first few weeks, then it is submerged until nearly the end of the winter. One worker reported, 'You just basically put it out of your mind. You are working all the time; there is no privacy.' Celibacy, abstinence: it is the last step in a long process whereby increasingly capital has decreased the sensuous-sexual content of our lives and encounters with people, substituting the mental image to the physical touch.
Centuries of capitalist discipline have gone a long way toward producing individuals who shrink from others for fear of touch. (See the way we live our social spaces: buses, trains, each passenger closed in its own space, its own body, keeping well defined, though invisible, boundaries; each person its own castle.) This physical as well as emotional isolation from each other is the essence of capitalist cooperation. But it as well as the dematerialization of all forms of our life finds their culmination in the inhabitant of the future space colony whose success depends on his ability to become a pure, totally purified, angel --who does not fuck, does not require the sensuous stimulations which are our daily nourishment on earth, but can live by solely feeding on its self-sufficient, self-centered will power.
Food as well goes out the window. Not even hamburgers and french fries any longer, but dehydrated food, recycled urine and (why not?) feces. Given the importance of oxygen and the closed nature of the space pod, the control of biological growth is essential to prevent diseases; thus, waste must be recycled: eat your awn shit and drink your own piss. For what is important is the "analytic diet" which is to provide the standardized chemical ingredients that the standard body needs in sufficient quantities and rates. The form this diet takes is not essential with the proviso that it must be completely antiseptic in order not to infect the surfaces of the space pod.
Here is a description of space food since the Mercury project days:
It's always been freeze-dried food which you add water to reconstitute, or what are called thermal-stablized foods, almost exactly the same thing you would get in canned peaches or pears, the type of food which don't need to add water to, or in the case of Sky Lab we also had about 10-15% of frozen foods, including filet mignon, and lobster and roast pork and vanilla ice cream for that matter.
So describes the happy astronaut: not far different from "earth" food. What is sinister about this menu is that much of our earth food is already approaching this "ideal" and "heavenly" food. It is clear that the vanguard in popularizing and developing this analytic diet on earth are the fundamentalists and Mormons themselves who, in preparation for the day of the Apocalypse, have already organized large mail order houses stocked with dehydrated food, thermal-stabilized food, canned foods as well as reserve gas tanks and arms (to defend your fundamentalist hole against commiee-faggot-lesbian-black-demons overlooked in the day of Judgement by the omniscience of the Lord). Their life-problematic is the same as that of the space worker, as they are preparing to survive for an indefinite period, surrounded by a hostile, likely radioactive, environment as well as remnants of enemy tribes.
For example, each Mormon or Latter-Day Saint, as they like to call themselves, is ordained to have a years’ supply of food on hand in readiness for the Apocalypse. Nuclear war and Apocalypse, flight to space and flight underground, urine drinking in earth as it is in Heaven: here Falwell and Weinberger have a lot to tell each other, much information to share, many clues to exchange...much reciprocal advice and enlightenment.
Not only are food and sex, but even the aggressive instinct, so to speak, is being dematerialized. No more hot hatred of a visible, dangerous enemy taking you by the throat or pointing his rifle at you. You must learn to kill a faceless enemy, a figure, a spot on a video screen plotted by your faithful computer. The training for this type of work comes from the contemporary video games ---U.S./Japan style-- which combine the abstractness of the opponent with the presence of your own self, undergoing attack, in the game. This, in fact, we are told, is the secret of their hypnotic power. Increasing the abstractness of the enemy body, reducing the person you destroy to a blip on a video machine: this is an essential element of death production which is likely to be the central product of space industrialization. Indeed, electronic war can become so abstract that unless your image is put into the video screen you're likely to forget that you can be destroyed yourself. The abstractness of the object of aggression is the essence of the lesson that is being taught to fundamentalist youth, who from an early age are told that all 'deviants' are the same --perfectly interchangeable-- as equal expressions of the abstract powers of evil.
From this point of view, all questions of "who", "what", "where" and "when" become irrelevant: a good practice for a politics of repression, and an excellent one for a policy of massive nuclear destruction, which requires building a type of. being who can accept the destruction of millions of bodies as an unpleasant, perhaps, but nevertheless necessary goal to cleanse the earth from all social deviation and struggle --a pollution much worse in the eyes of the fundamentalist than strontium 90.
To achieve this, a strategy of systematic isolation is necessary: breaking all bonds between ourselves and others and distancing ourselves even from our own body. (See the sexless space suit which creates a virtual bulk against all contact with other bodies and your own as well: you won't even be able to masterbate in space!!) Isolation is the name of the game and the electronic-TV preacher is the true hero of this game. The old bible-belt evangelists put their hands on the sinners. True, it was in an assembly line fashion: here a cancer, there some blindness. But it still had some contact; even in large revival meetings one could see the body of the healer and the bodies of their fellow creatures, feel their heat. (Hence the potential for trouble.)
The electronic church completely dematerializes the healer, who becomes a cool image duplicated on thousands of screens or a 'personal' comment in a letter written by a computer. One's main 'feedback' with the preacher is the monetary one: you send your money and he begins to pray for you. If you fall back on the payments, the prayers begin to lose their fervor until they end with the 'final notice'.
With the electronic preacher, social relations become so abstract that they are virtually substituted by an image. Interestingly enough, the followers of Falwell and Co. are mostly "southern" folks over 50 (there are about 10 million of them) for whom the radio-TV sermon serves the same function as the home computer for the high tech family: reproducing for you, in a purified-disembodied form, the relations/experiences of which you have been deprived in day-to-day life. They substitute dangerous, because unpredictable, human encounters with a gadget-produced sociality that can be turned off and shut down at will. It goes directly to the soul without passing through the body; clean, efficient, infinitely available at all hours of day and night. (In fact it can be recorded and replayed whenever you want--time too, not only space, is won!!!)
The Jerry Falwells of the land are for the poor, white, old folks what the Atari cassette and Apple mini-computer are for the moneyed youngster: the final training in a fetishism that is to lead to a longed-for symbiosis with the machine. Take Frank and Deirdre Patrick, an old couple living in a Bosstown suburb, who spend 30% of their income to support electronic ministers. Why? They cannot get out. Living in such a suburb there is no way you can move without a car, and the churches don't supply transportation much anymore --the state certainly won't.
So, what the hell do you do? At least you get some contact. "What a racket!" we say. Its base, however, shows an essential tendency of capitalist development, that is presently reaching its peak. This is the tendency to break the limits of matter and dematerialize life in all its forms, beginning with social life, increasingly reduced to a machine-produced package of images that substitute, duplicate and cover up the (much more dangerous) real thing. TV games, TV sex, TV preachers, TV shopping, TV thinking, TV living and dying...
Living with the machine, becoming like a machine: a desexualized angel, moving in the interstices of the engine, perfectly integrating work-space and life space as in the astronauts' pod, infinitely weightless because purified of the force of gravity, of all human desires/temptations --the ancient refusal of work finally negated. Capital's old dream of "human perfectibility" that loomed so prominent in the 16th and 17th century utopias, from Bacon to Descartes, seems ready at hand. Not only can we now answer the famous Puritan question, "What do the angels do in heaven?" but we even know how they feel. Here it's Wally Shirra talking:
Feeling weightless...I don't know, it's so many things together. A feeling of pride, of healthy solitude, of dignified freedom from everything that's dirty, sticky. You feel exquisitely comfortable, that's the word for it, exquisitely...You feel comfortable and you feel you have so much energy, such an urge to do things, such an ability to do things. And you work well, yes, you think well, you move well, without sweat, without difficulty, as if the biblical curse In the sweat of thy face and in sorrow no longer exists. As if you've been born again.
How petty life on earth seems from such heights... Said the nurse of some of the first astronauts:
Don't pay any attention to people who tell you they have such a wild look because of tension, of exhaustion, or joy at having made it. It's got nothing to do with these things. It's rage at having to come back to Earth. As if up there they're not only freed from weight, from the force of gravity, but from desires, affections, passions, ambitions, from the body.
No wonder capital is so careless with our earthly home, so eager to destroy it --the big bang of nuclear explosion-- destroying in one second millions of tons of matter --the perfect embodiment of the victory of the spirit over the earth-matter --as creative as the first act of God! Big Bang Big Phallus reduced to its pure, power-hungry essence, fucking this rotting Earth in its god-like aspiration to be free from all constraints. Faust in an angel/astronaut/space-worker face, a superman who does not need anybody, neither his own nor an other's, to have his will, not just on earth but in the universe as well.
So far however, few have reached this degree of perfection. If the human colonies project and industrialization in space must take off (by the mid-90s GM has calculated), the number of 'elects' must be drastically increased alternativist astronaut Russ Schweikart says…
I think that's the kind of gut reason that people react against the space program – the feeling that here is a pristine environment and we can’t take the present fallible character up there. We’ve got to perfect ourselves before we enter this new domain…
Here Calvin’s question becomes pregnant again. Many are called but who are the chosen? An essential ingredient of election is clearly a purified body. This is where, in assistance to the work the will, genetic engineering becomes all-important. For if a mouse can become a rabbit, so to speak, then it is certainly possible to create biological strains in humanity that literally would not shit.
Although the biological aspects of space colonies are usually discussed in terms of agriculture and husbandry, the question of human biology (especially the genetic material) is first on the agenda. One of the “commercial uses” of space colonies is the fast development of genetic strains:
…zero-g environment will assist in producing forms of genetic strains faster for use in the fields of agriculture, fermentation and animal husbandry. Once such agricultural or animal strains have been developed in orbit, the subjects may be transported to Earth for subsequent propagation.
Genetic engineers are not alone in their efforts. For decades now, under the guise of medical experimentation, a wide range of scientists have been working on methods of body control. From the [Themic?] Project, developed under the Eisenhower administration (and revived during the Vietnam war) that studied the body under ‘stressful conditions’ [note?] sensory deprivation, high acceleration, to the more recent research in the 1970s on the center of aggressivity and sexuality in the [????] (which presumably allowed you to bombard the brain with laser beams to produce the appropriate response, while avoiding the massive destruction of the tissue caused by lobotomy which makes one unfit for work) to the CIA experiments with hallucinogenic drugs: body-control, mind-control over the body has been a long ongoing obsession of capital’s planners.
Today, devices that were reserved in the past for the happy few are being popularised, consistent with the increasing need for a larger pool of the derivative new beings. Thus, you can now have home computers who say “hello” to you when you wake up in the morning, work with you from nine to five, entertain you at night with video games--easy playmates who won't quarrel...won't bother you.
"Good morning, this is Breslin," says the computer giving the daily wake-up call over the intercom. Following this message, it gives the time, forecasts the weather, mentions the day's appointments and turns on the radio for the news. Breslin also starts perking the morning coffee, monitors the burglar alarm, keeps track of checking accounts, opens the garage door, controls the heating, cooling and lighting systems, addresses Christmas cards and plays an electronic "Happy Birthday" when appropriate.
This certainly beats the old TV and even the love play between oneself and the car. Home computers are responsive to their owners, you can do things together – it is the ideal tool for an efficient, clean untroublesome emotional reproduction, capable at the same time of computational depths that easily rival the intellectual requirements of our usual social relations – particularly when these social relations have been already so mechanised and alienated by overwork, stress and all the other amenities of our present life. Reproduction, then, becomes extremely simplified and at the same time we gain, presumably, a useful if not indispensable training for our passage to the new world.
Along the same lines is the current vogue for ‘sensory deprivation tanks’ that are being sold already to thousands of people and advertised as the ultimate tool for home relaxation.
Here too, the pauperisation of our social relations and their transformation into work is a necessary condition for appreciating the joys of hearing nothing, seeing nothing and nobody – forgetting the world and yourself with it.
No wonder then, that capital’s planners and scientists today claim they are on the verge of breaking a new frontier, whose effects on peoples’ minds will be of the same magnitude as Marco Polo and Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. The model, in fact, of the colonisation in space and the concomitant new worlds of the mind is the colonisation of the world by European capitalism in the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Interest in this new frontier will be largely American, we are assured. It will fulfil “our” need to escape an overpopulated world, Earth, with its sad spectacle of warring tribes, dwindling resources and insufficient realisation that American interests reign supreme, for clearly nothing but God’s will is manifested in it.
The Catholic Church [presented?] and followed the armies of the conquistadors, joining the cross to the sword in their [co????] genocide of the Indian populations of [????] America. This time, as no infidels waiting to be converted seem to be living in space (so far), the work of our fundamentalist Christians is much simplified.
All they have to do, is to be seen and prepare the technocratic angels who will enter the new sacred realm and [assist?] [?????] making sure that no disturbing element can climb in the space craft.
Following a well established NASA tradition, one can be sure that blond, white and male will be the winning recipe. Most important, no conflicting values will be allowed on board. As Garrett Hardin points out:
A space colony is a precision instrument, far more delicate in its construction and far more vulnerable to sabotage than is our massive earth. How can such a fragile craft withstand the buffeting of warring tribes? ...People of great originality and independence of spirit would be intolerable in the spaceship community, particularly if they belonged to different tribes...to survive it would have to have only one tribe in it.
This means Totalitarianism. In fact, all discussion about the social structure of space work ends with the agreement that the political form of the future space station will be a "rationalistic dictatorship". In the words of Gerald O'Neill, the enthusiastic promoter of the space colony concept:
If you look at the situation of sailing ships when they were out for months or years at a time...it's been found that a dictatorship is what works ....It's a survival mechanism essentially because it reduces conflict. There's nothing that produces conflict more than an ill-defined situation of authority.
A society of angels, ruled by God, and motivated by purely spiritual-religious-patriotic concerns. The adventure of space colonization will not be a "New America" in the sense of being the dumping ground of castaways, misfits and slaves. The need for total identification with the work-project, total obedience, total self-discipline and self-control, is so high that, according to NASA, even the old forms of reward should be immediately ruled out:
High monetary incentive should not be used for space colonization recruiting because it attracts the wrong people. Furthermore, it would be unhealthy for the community as well as for the individuals concerned to make efforts to retain 'misfits' in the extra-terrestrial community. It would be healthier to return them to Earth, even though this might seem more expensive.
Work without a wage. It is the essential capitalist utopia where the work and repression becomes its own reward and all the refusers are cast out into the cold stellar night. We have finally reached their limit.
Rev. Falwell came to L.A. in Nov. 1981. The Convention Center was hired and 3000 people were expected. With their usual care, using a computerized mailing, the Moral Majority succeeded in keeping Falwell's arrival an open secret, though thousands knew he was coming they were the 'right ones'! Electronic preachers never want to meet the devils in the flesh. But here the Leak occurred. An employee of the Center leaked the news to the gay community only three days before the dinner.
How could an effective action be raised against him quickly? Luckily there was a Charlie Murphy concert on the night of the leak, Falwell's visit was announced at the concert and at midnight a group got together with only two principles: anyone making a suggestion should be prepared to carry it out; though each task group ran according to consensus, the action decisions of the task groups were binding on the larger group. They agreed the demo should look good to the media AND be fun for the demonstrators: The people coming to the demo were asked to bring large pink triangles and just a few banners like "BEWARE OF PROPHETS".
So there was a carefully prepared backdrop behind the two spokespeople, a man and a woman in gold headbands. The demonstrators were there for the fun, to sing a lot of new songs, dance and play with a beauty of bodies and faces to show the passing Falwell diners there was an attractive alternative not out to eat them. By the way, though the dinners were free and Falwell invested $40,000, he got back $200,000. The profits are going to his latest project: a huge "Tomb for the Unborn". Some of the demonstrators also went to dinner and now are on his mailing list: Falwell Beware, the Channel Widens.
Ironically, in their struggle to subvert the absolutism of the scientific educators, the creationists took up a kind of "methodological anarchism" and claimed for "creation science" a relativistic status, i.e., as a theory among others with pluses and minuses (as every theory has!).
As the professional scientists huffed and puffed about Arkansas Act 590 of- 1981, the 'equal treatment' act, they failed to take up a possibility the Act offered, viz., an opportunity to question the absolute value of science itself. When S.J. Gould so self-righteously inveighed: "scientific creationism was a 'ruse' to purvey religion (and a narrow sectarian concept of religion at that) in science classrooms," he might have wondered whether the method of teaching science "in the classroom" now is as absolutist as the "sectarian" form he so openly despises!
A curriculum including a number of theories (why stop with the creation story) might very well have brought to the fore the question: what makes the present theory so right? What about alternatives? Judge Overton, who ruled against the creationists, was more worried about the consequences of the loss of authority of both science and religion if mixed, for then the kids could see the authoritarianism of both. That would be letting too much of the stage machinery show at too tender an age.
Prologue to the Use of Machines
Midnight Notes on automation and the refusal of work
This is a voyage in the manifold of work, in search for an escape from it. This manifold is now irresistibly expanding. Is it bound to absorb everything having to do with human life? Or is it going to find a limit to its expansion and become a closed, controlled universe in the larger manifold of all human activities?
This article represents also the clash between the authors’ minds irreparably crippled by a modern scientific education and their direct experience of antagonistic social movements, which seem to move beyond any logic shared by scientific theories. Here we refer especially to the 1977 movement in Italy, one of the first modern organised expressions of the "refusal of work". At that time thousands of people started thinking of how a society can be built outside the rule of work. Many responses were clearly naive. The movement was repressed. But the reasons behind it are more alive than ever. Many, like us, schizoid products of a prodigious outburst of creativity and of its failure, compelled into the narrow patterns of the society of work, still keep thinking of the 'dream'; aware that it is a dream only as far as the present reality is a nightmare.
We decided that our schizoid attitude, a source of uneasiness for us, has to be taken as a challenge: we must explore the limits of science and discover its relation to a world without work... This is a beginning.
Work: The Thermal Machine
First of all, what is work? We need a precise definition. Here is not the place to examine critically the various definitions of work used today, from the common sense one to the most sophisticated concepts. The new one we introduce has a rigorous basis and far reaching consequences, as we will see. To illustrate our point, let us go back to that important historical period in which human work started being replaced by machines on a new and seemingly unlimited basis: the passage from manufacture to industry allowed by the invention of the thermal machines. The introduction of machines into the working process brought for the first time an objective definition of what is work. After the introduction of machines work was not related anymore to the workers' physical effort, but only to the results produced by it. Physical effort has been irrelevant since them.
Indeed, the worker, as soon as the result of his/her work can be compared with the obtainable by means of a machine, is paid according to the result of his/her work, not according to the amount of physical effort implied in it.
WORK IS WORK AS FAR AS IT CAN BE COMPARED WITH THE WORK OF A MACHINE. Work is measured by the work of machines. This definition or representation of human work by means of machines is the first abstraction of human work. It is significant that the historical emergence of this abstraction was contemporary to the emergence of the definition of work in physics:
Work = Force X Displacement,
which is exactly the definition of a thermal machine's work. Let us consider a few consequences of this definition of work which from now on we also will call "the formal representation of human work by means of machines."
1. This definition of work defines consequently the social area of work as the area of those human activities that are comparable with or representable by machines -- therefore somehow these activities are the mechanized or mechanizable ones.
2. All other activities were excluded, they were not work. Housework for the most part, play, thinking, calculating, etc., were excluded from the manifold of work.
3. Thermal machines and machine-tools, on which the first abstraction of human work was based, are characterized by their cyclic activity: the same movements repeated cyclically. This established the main feature of work: repetitive-ness.
4. This definition of work gave a sanction in the work process itself to the law according to which the amount of produced value is proportional to the average time socially necessary to produce it. The relevant point is that now --i.e., after the formal representation became operative-- this law does not appear as a result of a complicated social interaction (the average time), but becomes embodied in the machines themselves: the produced value is proportional to the time a machine takes to produce it.
As we said before, the formal representation of working activity (by means of machines) excluded for a long time many activities which are now considered work. In particular it excluded any computing activity, data analyzing and processing and so on.
The fact that such activities are not considered work is due to a generalization of the formal representation, which has to be considered effective starting from the Great Depression or World War II.
To understand this new step in the abstraction of human work, let us observe that, once working activity is defined as that measurable by the machines' activity, it is implied that it will undergo the same generalizations as the activity of machines will. Nowadays machines are able to replace not only the part of human activity that consists of mechanically repeated movements, but also the part called computation and data processing. It is a superior activity, not reducible to mere repetitiveness. As this is the main topic of this article, we will treat it in detail.
Work The Logical Machine
We can give a description of the logical machine as simple as it is fruitful. The idea is Turing's and it was presented in this form by Davis in 1958. The machine is made of:
1) a tape divided into squares of the same size, which can run from left to right;
2) a device which can perform four elementary operations on this tape, one for each unit time:
a) it can write '1' on a square if it is blank, i.e., if it is =0.
b) it can erase '1' from a square, write '0',
c) it can shift the tape by one place to the right,
d) it can shift the tape by one place to the left.
Each operation is controlled by an instruction. Therefore a logical (Turing) machine can be identified with the set of instructions which define it.
To make it work we only need to insert a tape with as many 1's as the input integer or integers and then read how many 1's there are when the machine stops. This is the output. As one sees, it is not a very complicated mechanism, but we can show that this very simple machine can do whatever an electronic computer can, and vice versa. Therefore this supplies us with a good description of what numerically controlled systems and electronic computers are. This is not all. We can build a Turing machine that generates all possible Turing machines (or at least the set of instructions that define them), one after another. That is, for any given integer it gives us as an output a set of instructions constituting a Turing machine. And the machines obtained in this way exhaust all possible Turing machines in a list which, unfortunately, is infinite.
Anyhow, we have a representation of all possible Turing machines that today's science and technology can supply.
So much for mathematics.
With the logical machine we reach a new level in the generalization of the concept of work. Therefore we can give the following definition of computational work or, simply, work. We call 'computational work' the work that can be done either by a system which includes a thermal machine plus a machine tool, or by one or more such systems controlled by a logical machine, or by a logical machine itself.
Now remember that we are interested in two different kinds of questions. The first is about how far machines can replace human work; in other words, about the machines' limits. The second is: why is not computational human work completely replaced by machines?
Let us call a 'function" any sequence of operations, either abstract or concrete. The relevant problem here is to decide whether a given function can be worked out by a machine or not. In other words, whether such a function is computable or not.
We can find immediately an example of a non-computable function: the problem of deciding whether any function is computable or not is not computable. In other words, there exists no machine capable of deciding whether there exists a machine which can replace any given human activity in general! (For a proof of this result see the footnotes.)
This is an example of the limits inherent to the present machines. About the limits of machines much has been written since Godel's Theorem, both in connection with logic and with effective computability.
Very roughly speaking, the common background of these discussions is that any mechanical system (including the Turing machine in its mathematical form or the logical rules of deduction of any axiomatic system) cannot control completely any language powerful enough as to "speak about itself", any language in which you can construct "strange loops". Indeed the structure of indecidability proofs goes back, even if in a very sophisticated way, to an old logical problem, the so-called semantic or 'Liar' paradox. For example, if I say, "I am lying" am I saying the truth or a falsehood? Deciding which is not easy. Indeed, if I lie then I tell the truth, and therefore I do not lie. If I tell the truth then I do not lie, and so I do lie. This looks like a word game and it appears to be unimportant for everyday life...but it is extremely important for logical machines (as well as all forms of struggles).
The point is that using a language capable of 'speaking about itself' means being able to reflect upon one's own state which is the pre-requisite to modifying it. Therefore, what is called innovation, for example, seems to be so far a characteristic pertaining not to machines but exclusively to humans.
This has not to be construed as a self-celebrating assertion. It means that we are not reducible to machines qua workers, but it also means that work is not exhausted by computational work. Not only that. We had better add that in the division of work, hierarchy represents also a classification of work according to its non-computational computational content: the more one goes down in the hierarchical scale, the closer s/he gets to pure computational work, while decision, innovation and certain forms of reproduction has rather to be looked for in the upper levels of Hierarchy. The organization of work is characterized by the division between computation and non-computational content.
In 'our' economic system, the rule determining the process of substitution of computational work by machines is simple and rigorous: a worker is replaced by a machine when the cost per unit product for the work is greater than for the machine. The variables coming into play as far as the cost per unit product is concerned are:
1) cost of the machine (engineering and manufacturing cost);
2) energy cost for operating the machine;
3) cost of labor.
It is easy to see that the present trend consists in increasing (1) and (2) and decreasing (3). To this, the high cost of money should be added. The present economic trend does not suggest that capital is going to utilize the substitution process unless it is forced to do so.
Now we have a clear framework of the relation between human work and machines. Before we proceed in our analysis, which is far more ambitious, let us consider a few consequences of what we have been saying. The connections here are far less rigorous than the exact theorems quoted before. Nonetheless, we think they are suggestive. The term "formal representation of human work by means of machines" does not mean simply the abstraction ensuing from the fact that human work is measured by comparing it to machines.
It also has another important implication: society is not formalized on the basis of the overall activity of each individual, but according to the formal representation of his/her activity, or, in other words, to the computational work part of his/her activity.
For the latter determines salary, working hours, social status, it formally separates classes, it cuts off dropouts. In other words, it determines the 'official' or formal society. It does not matter what one does outside his/her working place, outside his/ her working time. What matters is his/her being at the right time in the work place to perform the operation required from him/her. And the more this operation is performed in a machine style, the better. This is what he/she is paid for.
From these examples we see that the formal society is, roughly speaking, the area where money circulates. No wonder. Indeed, the characteristic of all machines (not only the thermal ones), viz., the rigorous Law of Value= the Value of the Product is proportional to the working time of the machine, extends now to all activities encompassed by the formal representation. Maybe it is worth reminding that this law is the basis of money.
So--we say it again--the only activity one is paid for is that measurable by machine's work: what one is paid for is the result of one's working activity in the standard form determined by the work of machines, that is the result of the repetitive and/or computational activity. What is not comparable in any way, with this kind of activity, is incommensurable with respect to machines' activity, is not measurable in terms of money (reproduction in part, innovation, play, etc.)
One might object at this point that, after all, also decision-making officials, managers, scientists, etc., have a salary not completely unlike any other salary; that there are 'welfare' and 'unemployment' salaries; that also for some aspects of reproductive work a wage is provided. But these activities are treated according to the formal representation of work anyway, to get some evaluation however incomplete, e.g., the conditions the state applies to AFDC income to measure 'mother-work'. This pervasive feeling of incompleteness corresponds to the common sense realization that the formal representation is an incomplete grid in order to assess the activity of a person. Being compared to some machine allows sometimes a very rough assessment, though at times it appears as a distorting mirror for reality. Nonetheless it forms the basis of the formal society.
All these seem to be quite conspicuous exceptions to the previous scheme. But they are not. We reverse the argument. The fact that jobs like decision-making, inventing, 'doing nothing', re-producing, etc., are treated according to the formal representation of work, is a striking example of its ubiquitous pervasiveness.
The point is that in our society there is no other rule than the formal representation (or Law of Value, if we prefer), and money represents, warrants and enforces it simultaneously. Despite its apparent incompleteness, the formal society (that is, the social embodiment of the formal representation) pretends to exhaust the whole society, its variety, in particular wealth, through money. So, as for the above mentioned exceptions, the formal society has no choice but to treat them according to the general rule lest the entire construction crumble, but also because there is no other available criterion.
We may wonder how this pretence can work. To understand this point, we resort to a figure of speech taken from applied mathematics: approximation. Approximation is an operative device used when a rigorous approach is either too hard or impossible. It is interesting to notice that nobody has ever deemed it worthwhile to study the nature of approximation. Approximation is almost miraculous, it reaches everywhere. With the help of computers we can approximate, or simulate, any function from the simplest estimates in scientific research to the very complex evolution of economic parameters.
Now let us take approximation, or simulation, as a category and apply it to our scheme: the formal society (the machine-based society) manages to approximate, or simulate, the real society up to the point of being confused with it. The fact that the formal representation of work can approximate the real society creates the illusion that it is complete, that it is the essence of society, that it is the just and true representation of society; and, even deeper, it creates the idea that a representation of society is possible and necessary.
Looking at the scenario just drawn, we could also argue in the opposite way with a strange result. There exists a skeleton-society formed by all existing machines, which we call the system of machines: and we could say, correctly, that it simulates the real society only as far as society agrees to stick to the formal representation of the working activity, or as far as society agrees to stick to machines' behavior, or in short, agrees to simulate it. Our work, inasmuch as it is repetitive or computational activity, is a simulation of machines' work. It is a simulation in the sense that it is unnecessary, it is already out of date, and thus we simulate a society where this work is necessary. The circus of history, if any, is here.
So far we have given little consideration to that crazy variable: the human being. As a matter of fact, the whole story could be regarded as an attempt to define the human by means of machines, or to find a "rationality" in humans. But human activity is far more complex than simply mimicking machines, even when they are computers. As we have anticipated, the formal representation excludes many activities which are essential for human life such as play, love, fancy; and for the reproduction of the machines' system, such as the reproduction of the labor farce.
This results in a myriad of small deviations from the norms of formal society: a social fermentation fluctuating around the point of minimal desires represented by the official society. These phenomena have hardly been studied, the most usual attitude being to call them abnormal or irrational. This is not the place to analyze the enormous complexity of these phenomena. We want to point out that maybe the most important of them concerns the attitude toward work. It is more than a simple fluctuation, it is by now a hardly ignorable concretion which has reached the status of a social law: the refusal of work. The system of machines is incomplete both in the sense that the machinery is kept anachronistically underdeveloped and in the sense that the formal representation of society by means of today's machines is far from being a complete representation of human activity. The refusal of work pushes toward the completion of the machines' system and, necessarily, the elimination of the formal representation.
All the social noise produced by the refusal of work and similar and related fluctuations affects the orderly deployment of the formal representation. In particular, the Law of Value, which is a rigorous law when applied immediately to the working process, has to come to compromises and is apparently only an average law when applied to the entire society. The fact that it holds as a rigorous law in the working process and as an average law in general, is a direct consequence of the incompleteness of the machines' system. This in turn dictates the necessity of a ruling apparatus (state, corporations, police, ad nauseam) whose function is to enforce the validity of the law. Here we find a strong, fascinating suggestion that the ruling apparatus is an image of the incompleteness of the machines' system.
The Wealth of Nations
After this long parenthesis, let us go back to our main subject. We saw that the present economic trend is not to utilize spontaneously the process of substitution of human work by machines. In order to see the possibilities of the substitution process beyond the 'objective' compatibilities imposed by profit, we have to proceed further with our analysis of the machines' system.
We have seen that no machine exists that can govern the innovation process, and that the non-computational human activity has the function of governing the language of innovation; that is, a language powerful enough to think of itself and which the machines cannot control.
We can say that, as far as goods production is concerned, the main activity, as the computational work is replaced by machines, is to build an information channel --the language-- governing and codifying computational work. Indeed, we saw that logical machines, even though very powerful, are reducible to a few fundamental operations. The substitution process is therefore the effort to reduce work (when it is computational work, of course) to combination as complicated as one likes of those elementary operations --i.e., the four basic operations of the Turing machine.
Let us analyze this point in greater detail. To this end we resort to information theory. In such a theory, the typical scheme is the following: An example is the telegraph: the source is the message we want to transmit, the codification consists in translating it into dots and dashes and then into electronic pulses, the channel is a wire, the decodification transforms the electronic pulses into dots and dashes and finally into alphabetic letters for the reciever.
If we consider a source emitting signals chosen from a finite alphabet, a1, a2,...,aK, with the probability that each letter will be emitted, p(a1), p(a2),...,p(aK), we can define the amount of information contained in a letter, a1, of the alphabet by -log,p(a1). The meaning of this definition is the following: -log2p(a1) is a function that increases as p(a1) decreases, so that a very frequently used letter (with a large probability) contains little information, while the occurrence of letter with a small probability (and so infrequently used) implies more information. Thus in any English message the letters 'e', 'a', or 't' which occur frequently would have a small informational quantity while the letters 'z', 'q' or 'x' would have a large information content.
The measure that is used to give the average amount of information that a source emits is called its entropy and is defined as: -
There is an important connection between entropy and the homogeneity of a system. Let us consider the simplest example. Suppose the source is someone who tosses a coin and wants to let another know the result. How much information does he need? That depends on the coin. If the coin is perfectly balanced (probability of heads=probability of tails=k), the amount of information, or entropy, is maximal, while if the coin is 'weighted' (for example, the probability of heads=.9 and the probability of heads=.1) then the source needs less information to communicate the result.
The basic idea is that the more the system is inhomogenous the more it is predictable (and so has less entropy) and therefore it needs less information to be codified or decodified into a language.
We need another important concept from information theory: channel capacity. Channel capacity is the amount of information that can be transmitted per unit time. One of the fundamental theorems in information tells us that, for us to be able to decodify a message, the rate of transmission (amount of information transmitted per unit time), must not be greater than the ratio of the channel capacity to the entropy of the source.
Let us consider this condition. If the entropy of the source is large and the channel capacity is small then the rate of transmission possible is going to be very small. If, on the other hand, the channel capacity is large and the entropy of the source is small the possible rate of transmission can be quite large.
Now let us notice that the substitution process is a process of codification/decodification by the non-computational work. We have seen that the substitution process means the decomposition (codification) of work into simple operations (the four operations of the Turing machine) and the recombination (codification) of these operations into complex machines. The channel that allows this transformation is a complex social mechanism. At its core is non-computational work.
It seems inevitable that the channel capacity increases as a consequence of human work being replaced by machines. Indeed, the more the substitution process goes on, the more 'complex' are the areas of human activities that are candidates for being replaced by machines. That has two consequences. The first is that the 'number of messages per unit time' to be sent through the channel increases, so that the channel capacity must increase proportionally. The second is that these more complex areas are more homogenous, or less inhomogenous. Inhomogeneity is here synonymous with structure: an activity is more inhomogeneous the more it is organized in the sense of the machines' system, or the more it has mechanical structure. In reverse the point can be made in this way: an activity is homogeneous if it lacks a rigid mechanical structure, is fluid and complex. Putting it in terms of an equation:
Complexity = Lack of Structure = Homogeneity = unpredictability.
As a consequence of the increasing homogeneity of the more complex activities being mechanized the entropy of the source increases. This is a second factor that requires a higher channel capacity.
We have shown that the operation of the substitution process requires the widening of the social channel capacity. There is macroscopic evidence of this. Let us define 'primary information sector' as the part of the economy that concerns computers, telephones, media, telecommunications, and 'secondary information sector' as instruction and management. Then in the U.S., the wage bill for the workers of the information sector is larger than the corresponding bills for agriculture, industry and services together. Almost half of the GNP concerns the production and distribution of information goods and services.
If we agree that the channel capacity must be proportional to the information sector, we have rough but clear evidence that the continuous introduction of machinery in the past years has been accompanied by an increasing channel capacity of the system.
Now let us try a few extrapolations based on the scheme we have just presented. Our ultimate aim is to state that channel capacity is a more abstract form of wealth than money, which is the present officially recognized and undisputed representative of wealth.
First of all we must clarify that there exists no parallelism between money and channel capacity. They pertain to two different conceptual stages. Money should rather be compared with information. Is there any equivalence between information and money?
We can reduce information to money in the sense that information can be bought and sold. But this is an improper equivalence. Indeed, transferring money to someone else implies losing its value, but this is not true anymore for information. We can say that the circulation of money does not increase wealth, whereas the circulation of information does.
There exists the possibility for information to represent money. Most money exchanges among banks are via computers without moving real currency. Therefore an informational channel can represent a channel for the circulation of money. But it is much more difficult for a money flow to represent an information channel.
One way in which money represents information is given by the oscillations in the exchange rates of the various national currencies with respect to one another, which has become lately the so-called 'monetary chaos'. From this the economic operator can decodify information and make decisions. However, this is an information channel only in a very particular way, because only the big owners of money (in the form of fixed or financial capital) can have access to it. Money does not undergo any transubstantiation, it does not lose its very material characteristic of being owned, of representing 'property', of being a tool for controlling labor.
To maintain these characteristics of money today, the ruling apparatus is ready to diminish the circulation of money (mostly by means of high interest rates) to stifle the rates of growth of the world's economies and to impose forcibly the monetary order up to the use of war.
Why is this so? We think we have already answered this question when we remarked that the ruling apparatus is a mirror image of the incompleteness of the machines' system. Society pushes toward its completion, rendering the ruling apparatus a more and more obsolete structure. We do not mean to underestimate the complexity of the power system of our society, but it is clear that its consolidated material interests are reason enough to explain its reluctance to get out of history. Its present reaction is a typical attempt to go back in the history of social evolution. The crucial move is to narrow the channel capacity of the social system to the point that the only information channel is the circulation of money. Capital displays a good deal of clear-sightedness in this move, which corresponds to the (correct!) perception that a widening information channel is the worst enemy for the ruling apparatus.
But we have seen that the channel capacity is already enormously developed, so this move is only an expedient to perpetuate the system of power, eventually bound to be defeated. But this does not mean that it lacks effectiveness in sabotaging the social wealth. On the contrary, the damage the ruling apparatus is doing is incalculable.From the opposite point of view, labor has a reason to exist only as long as, on the one hand, its computational work cannot be replaced by machines, and, on the other hand, there does not exist a channel powerful enough to render effective the transformation of non-computational work into wealth. For channel capacity represents wealth and the circulation of wealth in its most abstract form.
Since channel capacity is not reducible to a commodity, the process of wealth reappropriation must assume new forms. It cannot be conceived of any more as the possession of the means of production. Channel capacity can be used not owned. Owning it means stopping the circulation of information, thereby destroying wealth. The ruling apparatus is strangling the channel capacity with its present policy. Winning means freeing the channel. Widening the channel capacity is a complicated social task and we do not mean to dispose of it in a simplistic way. But it is clear with the naked eye that socializing the channel, namely increasing the number and variety of users, implies by itself increasing the channel capacity. Therefore, freeing the channel means not only getting rid of all the obstacles that obstruct the social access to it, but also inventing socializable techniques of atomized condification/decodification (direct and in real time) of the social system.
Work: The Thermal Machine
the themal machines:
In a strict sense, by a thermal machine we mean any device transforming heat into work. The steam engine was the first industrialized way of transforming naturally stored energy into work. However here we are not interested in the process of transforming energy into work, but in the fact that a thermal machine is characterized by a cyclic activity. For historical reasons we call "thermal machine" any device with the same characteristics, for example an electric engine, a machine-tool to which a thermal or electrical machine is applied, etc. So thermal machine is a term to express a general idea in the same sense as, later on. we will call 'Turing machine' any computing device. We emphasize again that in this article the particular way of transforming energy into work is irrelevant.
the law...the average time socially necessary to produce it:
There is indeed a contradiction between the "machine measure of work" and the "value measure of work".
The first measure is the ultimate 'shop floor' measure that can be used to evaluate present worker performance. It is the precisely defined ideal that can be used by all sorts of bosses to discipline workers with the inevitable threat (an extremely ambiguous one at that) of replacing the worker with a machine. What is called Taylorism is exactly this specification of the machine ideal turned into a "science". The worker is to be mechanized as much as possible (both in a thermal and logical sense) under the threat of being replaced by the machine he is to mimic: John Henry squeezed between the steam hammer and the foreman until his heart bursts.
But the machine measure of work is by no means identical to the value measure of work. One of the main differences is temporal. The machine measure can be applied to past and present work, but a value evaluation of present work is necessarily post factum (indeed, many times taking years).The value measure of work requires that the present product (the crystalization of abstract labor) go through a whole social cycle involving innumerable factors extraneous to the immediate conditions of production. Thus quite literally the capitalist "Does not know what he hath done"! Similarly the worker does not really know what quantity of his activity has been turned into work at the moment of exhuding it. This is ultimately a consequence of the social nature of capital which can have cruel consequences on both the working class as a whole (sometimes 'struggle' can produce values) and individual capitalists (after so much "effort" they go bankrupt and it was all "for nothing".)
But though capital can exist post factum, capitalists cannot. They must have a measure that is immediately applicable, "objective" and "effective". Thus the eternal attraction of the machine: a worker sans the refusal of work. But there's the rub: the lack of refusal of work is barbed with the machine's inability to produce value. Thus the ideal system of machines can only be partially realized, necessarily, for if the ideal were realized totally capital would disappear, no value nor surplus value would be produced.
Inversely, the working class is beguiled by the same ambiguity of the machine. On the one side, the machine is the measurer and counter of the drudgery of work (either potentially or actually) and in effect the intensifier and lengthener of the working day; but on the other side, it has within it the Utopia of Zerowork. Hence with and alongside the Luddites we have Bill Sykes' observation:
"Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife, must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is knowing in anatomy? And in addition a willing help at the festive board? If you abolish the knife--you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism."
The tension within working class movements toward machines (thermal and/or logical) has its roots in the very logic of the struggle against capital, in the end it cannot be resolved until capital itself is destroyed, and an evaluation of pre-capitalistic and hence pre-mechanistic knowledge can begin.
Work: The Logical Machine
there exists no machine...which can replace a given human activity:
A function relates any given number with a number. For example, the square function associates 2 with 4, 3 with 9, 4 with 16, 5 with 25, 6 with 36 and so on. A Turing machine computes functions by simply applying a 'clerical procedure' on an input number and systematically processing it until an output result is computed. It computes a function if for any given input number it computes an output number that is identical to the number the function associates with the input number. The 'clerical procedure' a Turing machine uses is literally the program of the machine and it is built out of the four elementary operations listed.
Now we can ask the question: can any function be computed by some Turing machine? In other words, are all possible functions computable?
In order to answer this question think of the set of all Turing machines. Though there are an infinite number of them, they can be put in a fixed, linear order because the programs (i.e., the rules that fix the clerical procedures they go through) define these machines, and these program can be put in a lexicographic order the way a librarian orders books by their titles. So we can literally list all possible Turing machines: Z1 , Z2, Z3, ……… Z132…..; this list is clearly infinite and for each whole number there is a distinct Turing machine. For example, Z254 is the Turing machine that is in the 254th place in the list.
[Figure 2 - a chart illustrating the above -p20 in the original PDF]
Now we are in a position to draw up a table where on the left side going top down is the list of all Turing machines in order while across the top of the table is simply the list of whole numbers from 1 to infinity. The entries in the table are the output numbers that the Turing machine of that row computes when the whole number on top of the column is the input number. Thus in the table in front of us which we are using for illustration the entry on the second row second column is 21 because the second Turing machine on the master list computes as an output number 21 when the input number is 2. Now a little care is necessary! Let us define the following function on the basis of this table, for any number n the function T will give the following result:
T(n) = n
if and only if the nth Turing machine when given as its input number n does not have as its output result the number n;
otherwise let T(n) = 0
Just to get the feel for this function we see that it has only to do with the diagonal of the table (and that's why it is sometimes called a 'diagonal proof') and that its first five values are T(1)=1, T(2)=2, T(3)=0, T(4)=4, T(5)=0 and so on.
This is a perfectly correct function, it associates numbers with numbers in a perfectly determinate way. But is it computable? If it is then there is a Turing machine that generates it. If that is the case, this Turing machine must be found in the list of all Turing machines, so let us call it Zr. If Zr exists it can be found on the left hand side of the table and the results of its computations can be found there also.
But now let us consider the r-th entry on the r-th row of the table. What is it to be? By our definition of the function T, the function that Zr is to compute, we have the following two choices: either T(r)=r or T(r)=0. If, however, T(r)=r then the entry found in the r-th place of the r-th row of the table cannot be r 11 definition (now is the time to look back at the definition of T!) but this leads to a contradiction!
For if Zr computes T then the r-th place of the r-th must be r. So let us consider the other alternative: T(r)=0, but if that is the case then the r-th place in the r-th row will have r in it! But that would make it impossible for Zr to compute T!
So we can conclude that there is no Turing Machine that computes T, and so we have a function that is not computable. Now the reader might think that the above proof is just a trick. But infect this proof is exactly analogous to a famous mathematical proof of the late-19th century (the original 'diagonal proof') that demonstrated that the infinity of points on a line or in space is or an order higher (indeed infinitely higher) than the whole numbers (1,2,3,...). I.e., the continuum is a radically different thing than the discrete arithmetic of whole numbers can capture (a rigorous expression of Bergson's intuition). But the remarkable thing is the ability to approximate the infinite richness of the continuum with the relative and infinite paucity of the whole numbers. For those who will see a significance here in terms of the relation of capital to the wealth produced by living activity, we wish them well and hope the effort has been worth it!
This theorem was proven at the beginning of the Great Depression of the 30s and it, along with Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle", forms one of the crucial limits of capitalist science. It can be stated quite simply: there is no formal system that can prove every truth of arithmetic. The reasons for this result are much more subtle, but roughly one could say that any system that could even begin to attempt to prove every arithmetic truth would be powerful enough to "reflect" its own mechanism of proof within itself and so would generate paradoxes like the Liar, i.e., it would create the space for a "strange loop".
it creates the idea that...is possible and necessary:
In a similar vein see Marx on fetishism, especially Capital, vol. I, chap. 1, sec. 4.
only and average law...entire society:
The average we refer to is not the same as the sort of arithmetic average that can be inferred from the marxian statement of the law of value: an average referring to different conditions of production in different factories and industrial branches. This kind of average of course exists, but we ask the reader to abstract from it. What we want to stress here is the inevitable compromise which is a consequence of the formal representation trying to exhaust the whole society. So the average refers to the formal representation trying to cover all the non-computational activity which is being developed in our society and which is in fact not representable by machines' work. In a sense we are dealing here with a political average, even though this is too poor a word to express the complexity of what is understood.
The Wealth of Nations
The source's entropy...the average source's information:
Take two sources, the first transmitting alphabetical letters in a completely random way and the second using the same symbols to transmit English sentences. In the second case the letter 'e' is more frequent than any other letter. So the information contained in a transmitted letter 'e' is less than the amount of information transmitted through another letter, say 'q'. Further, the entropy is higher for the first source than for the second. In fact one can show that the entropy is maximum when the frequency of the different symbols is the same. This explains once again the fact that high homogeneity is related to high entropy, while the existence of structure (the presence of some kind of coherence) implies low entropy.
The basic idea...decodified into a language:
Any behavior that is full of surprises is highly entropic. "Intelligent" and "emotional" behavior have this in common and so they are, in this terminology, "homogeneous" because they are very unpredictable and continually escaping any attempt to formalize and structure them.
the circulation of money... information does:
Circulation of money conserves ownership in the transfer process, whereas circulation of information multiplies it. It goes without saying that in so doing it negates ownership.
Strange Loops: Reagan in Zurich
Strange Loops was written by friends in Europe during the summer of 1981. It represents a different perspectiv