4. The Despotism of Capital

Submitted by libcom on July 28, 2005

Against Domestication 4.

The Despotism of Capital

Schools and universities are structures that are too rigid for the global process of capital, and the same thing holds true for the army. [12] The rapid decline of knowledge and the development of mass media have destroyed the old school system. Teachers and professors are, from the point of view of capital, useless beings who will tend to be eliminated in favour of programmed lessons and teaching machines. (In just the same way, capital tends to eliminate the bureaucracy because it inhibits the transmission of information which is the very basis of capital's mobility.) It is ironic then that many people who argue for the necessity of life turn out to be readily convinced by solutions which entrust teaching to machines and thus eliminate human life. As a general rule, it may be said that all who embrace "modernization" are in fact provoking their own condemnation as individuals with a certain function in this society; they are demanding their own dispossession. But even those others who preach about the need to return to the rigid and authoritarian climate which prevailed before 1968 will not fare any better, because in order for their plans to succeed, they still have to depend on capital, and either way, left or right, capital profits equally.

Capital imposes its despotism on human beings by means of objects and things which are invested with new modes of being appropriate to capital's new requirements. It implies a world of things which are in rapid motion, constantly changing and differentiating themselves (a process which is clearly not unrelated to a feeling of meaninglessness). These qualities inevitably conflict with traditional social relations and previous ways of life, including previous ways of thinking. It is things which are the real subjects. They impose their own rhythm of life and ensure that people are confined to the level of their own single existences. But because objects and things are themselves governed and controlled by the movement of capital, there is always the possibility that this rising new oppression could actually set in motion an insurrectional movement against the society of capital itself. And yet capital in its turn is able to profit from subversion in order to consolidate itself, as it did during the early years of this century. The revolt of the proletariat, confined as it was to the terrain of the factory and emphasizing the ordering of production, was a factor which actually aided capital in its movement towards real domination. The end result was the elimination of strata that were unnecessary for the progress of capital, the triumph of full employment, the abandonment of laissez-faire liberalism, and so on.

We are not suggesting that revolution should rise directly out of the conflict we were speaking of just now, nor are we saying that the instigators of it will be men and women who are ordinarily very conservative. The point we want to emphasize is this : capital must come to dominate all human beings, and in order to do this it can no longer depend entirely for its support on the old social strata which are in turn coming under threat themselves. This is a tendency which Franz Borkenau understood very precisely :

in this tremendous contrast with previous revolutions, one fact is reflected. Before these latter years, counter-revolution usually depended on the support of reactionary powers which were technically and intellectually inferior to the forces of revolution. This has changed with the advent of fascism. Now, every revolution is likely to meet the attack of the most modern, most efficient, most ruthless machinery yet in existence. It means that the age of revolutions free to evolve according to their own laws is over. [13]

We have got to remember that capital, as it constantly overthrows traditional patterns of life, is itself revolution. This should lead us to think again about the nature of revolution, and to realize that capital is able to take control of social forces in order to overthrow the established order in insurrections directed against the very society which it already dominates. [14] Never before have vision and understanding been more vitally necessary; every separate revolt now becomes a further stimulus for the movement of capital. But people have been robbed of their ability to think in a theoretical way and to perceive reality as part of the outcome of an historical process -- this has happened as a result of the process of domestication. And in a similar way, this capacity for theoretical thought has been prevented from ever taking root in the material development of our planet and in us as a species due to the existence of a split between the mind and the body, and the old division between physical and intellectual work (which automated systems are now in the process of surmounting to capital's benefit).

Revolution can no longer be taken to mean just the destruction of all that is old and conservative, because capital has accomplished this itself. Rather, it will appear as a return to something (a revolution in the mathematical sense of the term), a return to community, though not in any form which has existed previously. Revolution will make itself felt in the destruction of all that which is most "modern" and "progressive" (because science is capital). Another of its manifestations will involve the reappropriation of all those aspects and qualities of life which have still managed to affirm that which is human. In attempting to grasp what this tendency means, we cannot be aided by any of the old dualistic, manichean categories. (It is the same tendency which in the past had held back the valorization process in its movement towards a situation of complete autonomy.) If the triumph of communism is to bring about the creation of humanity, then it requires that this creation be possible, it must be a desire which has been there all the time, for centuries. Yet here again nothing is easy, obvious, free from doubts, and indeed one could have legitimate doubts about what it means to be human after the experience of colonialism and Nazism, and then a second colonialism which strives to maintain itself in spite of revolts in the oppressed countries (notorious massacres and tortures having been committed by the British in Kenya, the French in Algeria and the Americans in Vietnam), and in the face of the brutal and deeprooted violence that everywhere continues to rage unchecked. Indeed, could it be that humanity is too lost and sunk in its infernal wandering to save itself ?


[12] On the subject of the army, we would insist that those arguments which attempt to distinguish between the volunteer, professional army and the conscript or national army are a fraud, an absurd blackmail. If you end military service, you are still left with a professional army, a praetorian guard and the possibility of a fascist revival. (Certain leftist groups "intervened" during the agitation in 1973 demanding democratic and popular control of the national army [translators note]). In practice, the present system in France is a mixture : a professional army which educates and trains the intake who then go to make up the national army. And where did this national army, much vaunted by Jaurés come from ? -- the union sacrée of 1914, the sacred slaughter which is venerated to this day. There is a book called l'Armée Nouvelle (publisher 10/18) which demonstrates the extent to which "fascism" had no need to invent a fresh theory in this area, since one had already been provided by the social democratic International. Jaurés wanted to reconcile army and nation (which is exactly what Hitler wanted and managed to achieve.) The reconciliation was accomplished in 1914 when the brave Frenchmen gaily set out for the slaughter. How different it all was from Jaurés' cult of la patrie. "It was rooted in the very foundations of human life, and even, if we can put it this way, in people's physiology" (l'Armée Nouvelle, p.268). And in Germany, at about the same time, Bebel was thinking along similar lines.

[13] Cited in Noam Chomsky : American Power and the New Mandarins (Pelican, 1969) p. 247.

[14] The Asiatic mode of production experienced quite a number of very extensive insurrectional movements which effectively regenerated it. According to a number of historians, some revolts were even raised up by the state itself Mao's great cultural revolution is only a replay of such revolts. These facts confirm the thesis we have advanced many times before about the, convergence between the Asiatic mode of production where classes could never become autonomous, and the capitalist mode where they are absorbed.