The Voice of His Master – The Spatial Restructuring of Capitalist Society and Its Consequences – Miguel Amorós
We live immersed in a process of the globalization of space, that is, of complete submission of space to the laws of the global economy, which is why it is often the case that, in the cities and towns marginalized by contemporary economic flows, there is no lack of voices shouting that we should begin swimming in it as soon as possible.
The panacea of the economic curse is almost always a macro-infrastructure: a highway, a mega-port, a high-speed train station, a tourism complex…. The voices of the local oligarchy are sometimes joined by the voices of the mass of wage workers, convinced of the blessings of development. They say that “progress” is necessary, that this is the way that we can emerge from “backwardness”, that there will be “jobs” and therefore “money”. The ruling interests, those of the ruling class, are always presented as general interests, and the more firmly it rules over the population, the greater will be their identification with those interests. At the present time, when the penetration of capital reaches all the domains of human activity, individuals think the way capital wants them to think: they do not really exist, except as an abstraction, because they are not really thinking; their thought has been programmed. When they speak, we hear the commodity promoting its world. In order to use concepts like progress, backwardness, work or money, without succumbing to the platitudes of the language of our leaders, we have to understand their real meaning, and in order to do so we have to situate ourselves outside the usual way of thinking of domination. To think, or to exist, is to question.
First of all, we have to ask ourselves about the real meaning of the construction of a large-scale infrastructure project, since, after all, it will generate a large demand for labor, although it will be a temporary demand and the jobs will not be high-paid positions, and will under optimal circumstances result in a higher level of consumption among the wage workers, a more extensive commodification of their lives, or, which amounts to the same thing, a growth of “the middle class”. The population as well as circulation will increase, and there will be more urban development, shopping malls and hotels will be built, more cars will be sold and new bank branch offices will be opened. A new lifestyle will be imposed, more motorized and more consumerist, with more and more indispensable technological prostheses, etc., whose consequences in the form of traffic accidents, heart attacks and suicides will be reflected in the statistics. And we will also have to reckon with the fact that this infrastructure will have a negative impact on the environment and will lead to a greater level of artificialization of the natural world.
Social inequality and anomie will also increase, that is, there will be a higher degree of social decomposition, with all its necessary consequences: corruption, standardization, atomization, exclusion, violence, neurosis, fear, surveillance, racism….
The production of wastes and pollution will also increase, along with noise, detentions of undocumented immigrants, thieves and drug dealers, real estate speculation and other ways to get rich quickly, and political corruption, and it will exacerbate the decline of health standards, education and public assistance, etc. These are evils that are inherent to capitalist development, which are bound to happen, anyway; infrastructure development will only accelerate their emergence and contribute to their intensification. Large-scale infrastructure projects are demanded by capitalist globalization, by the new international division of labor, in which circulation and “flows” predominate over production and places. They help to put the old metropolitan areas “on the map” by converting them into nodes of the international commodity network. Capital, master of space, restructures it by adapting it to the needs of the moment. Under global capitalism, both independent institutions and autonomous administrative bodies, as well as local markets, become obsolete. The old cities are transformed into impersonal urban agglomerations in permanent expansion, places for entertainment and consumption on a grand scale, veritable black holes that absorb energy, commodities and lives, settlements without public space, without time, without history or any culture of their own, transparent, thematized, simplified. This is the result of a victory; that of capital.
The end of a stage based on the industrial economy linked to national markets under state protection and supported by the trade unions has disorganized space, reducing it to disconnected fragments, without any function. While the old metropolitan areas fight for a place in the globalized economy, attracting corporate headquarters and trying to monopolize managerial and executive functions, the shattered pieces of the urban and territorial system that surrounds them must once again gravitate around their vicinity seeking to make contact with the international “flows”, that is, to become integrated in the metropolitan conurbation by offering space and other facilities for the globalization of their economies. The smaller cities and the countryside, in decline and “backwards” because they suffer from the consequences of the cessation or relocation of productive activities, have to survive—they have to accumulate capital—in the vicinity of the nodes of the global network. This is why they have no other recourse other than to demand their share, their infrastructure, in order to be incorporated into some suburban highway network.
In the periphery of the conurbations an all-out war is being waged by the globalized economy, one that demands an increase in the rate and a higher degree of territorial destruction.
It would appear that salvation comes from the pitchfork. To dismantle the “progressive” discourse and unmask the interests that hide behind it is now an unavoidable task. Human happiness and freedom will be the work of those who have known how to avoid what our leaders call “development”, “progress” and “work”.
When it is the fruit of conscious resistance, “backwardness” is revolutionary.
August 2009. First published in Al Margen, no. 71, Fall 2009.