Technological despotism - Ian Tillium

An attempt to analyse technological innovations from a working class perspective in the early 1990s.

Submitted by Steven. on June 28, 2016


In 1991 two American business professors, including one from the Harvard Business School, published a book called 2020 Vision: Transform Your Business Today to Succeed in Tomorrow's Economy. (Davis and Davidson 1991). Although riven through with a kind of Parsonian functionalism, it's nonetheless a very readable bourgeois account of the info revolution, and in addition it's a good source on where exactly this society thinks it's going and wants to go. In this article I want to use it as a peg on which to hang various thoughts on the question of present and future technological change.

Davis and Davidson allow themselves a few annoyingly 'schematist' passages, but their basic model seems pretty much on the ball. Having described how the "industrial economy" based around rail, electricity, and the car was ended by means of an information revolution which gave prime place to the generation, storage, processing and transmission of information, they show fairly convincingly how the "information economy" is now having to watch the inevitable rise of its eventual successor: a "bioeconomy" based around genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and neurocomputers.

Drawing an analogy between the information revolution and the industrial revolution, they compare the "infostructure" (they don't actually say 'information superhighway') with the original rail network. This leads them to the following model of change:

Big businesses and entire industries build each infrastructure, yet their economic value is dwarfed by the even greater productivity of new businesses and new industries that come into being as consequences of the newly laid foundation....Each economy in history has relied heavily upon a particular kind of infrastructure, one that is peculiar to the technology of its era. (pp.30-32).

Given who they are, Davis and Davidson obviously have no concept of the proletariat, but it's necessary to recognise that those of us who do have yet to develop a serious and useful concept of technological revolution. There are, of course, discussions on post?Fordism, dispersed Fordism, etc., but it has to be said that most of them are academic and unreadable. Moreover, not only do they seem to concentrate above all on work in industry and transport, or just work, they're also usually written by people unlikely to have known any life-long workers anyway.

The situation's little better in what passes for the revolutionary movement, and even a recent debate published by Echanges et Mouvement (1993) has done little more than to set the idea of 'destabilising fragmentation' against the idea that uniformised consumption patterns are evidence for the reconstitution of a 'homogeneous social formation.' These (Continental) generalisations may be well?meaning, but they say more about their authors' artistic tastes (and level of hope) than they do about reality, the two opposing views of which are ultimately both reducible to a pretty mundane and basically patronising ouvrierism. Meanwhile the (North Atlantic) Wildcat people are still wondering (1994) whether the global expansion of the proletariat creates possibilities for permanent communism which weren't available to the poor in Mayan times, to say nothing about their implicit comparison of the massacre at Waco to the Albigensian Crusade. I wouldn't want to be obscurantist, but what about an empirically-based consideration of present trends?

We are a long way from having a developed proletarian view of technological change, free from both back-to-nature crap as well as progressivism. In fact, the poverty of theory can be described in even simpler fashion: the would-be revolutionary movement just hasn't got to grips with the question of what techno-change actually means. For Chrissakes, there's not even a decent critique of TV! Since the most obvious cultural change to come is likely to be the spread of interactive TV - which will change 'life' as much as the spread of ordinary TV did in the previous period - the absence of a critique in this area alone is lamentable.

Unquestionably, our learned business professors are trying to trumpet the glories of the ruling society's development, and they lack the slightest hint of the oppositional sense even of, say, a Packard, let alone the attitude of today's various anti-capitalist factions. In fact, they're total bastards, putting corporate performance above everything, and salivating at the organisation-to-business conversion represented by deregulation, privatisation, and employee share-ownership. (pp135-36). But even so, their book is useful in terms of an overview of what we're up against.

In what follows I shall look first at a few aspects of the changes currently underway; then, in abstract and general terms, at the inadequacies of existing views of technological change; and finally at the overall class significance of the information revolution, touching especially upon its biological aspects.


It's a commonplace that the direction of technological change is closely bound up with the interests of the weapons and intelligence sectors. It always has been. Marconi worked with MI6, Turing with the forerunner of GCHQ. Less well known, though, are the implications this has for changes in the infrastructure.

To start with a non-technological analogy, take MI5. Obviously an organisation which keeps four million keys in a basement in London doesn't get all flustered whenever it sees a locked door. Unsurprisingly, as several sources have noted, it enjoys a very cosy relationship with the major locksmithing outfits. Locks are the way they are partly because of MI5.


Nor should MI5 be expected to activate special procedures when faced with someone using a phone or a computer. It's old hat that MI5 much prefer to have bugs already in place which last indefinitely. Fitzgerald and Leopold revealed as long ago as 1987 that one of MI5's faves was the 'carrier current device': imposing a VLF current on someone's electrical ring, this enables sounds to be picked up from a special device plugged into any socket serviced by the same sub-station. (pp. 188, 198). People with reason to think their homes are bugged have often reported engineers coming to fiddle with their leccy with very weak excuses. Another kind of bug doesn't even have a current: it's just a tiny plate sensitive to sound. When buggers point a microwave beam at it, the vibrations alter the electromagnetic echo and it's a cinch to reproduce the sound. This kind's been around for 40 years. (pp.200?03).

In 1971 the Pentagon proposed to Nixon that a special gadget be fitted to everyone's telly, whereby the President could turn on every set in the country in a time of emergency. (Mander 1977, pp.27-28). A couple of years ago in the UK, when it was thought that the fifth TV channel would transmit on the wavelength reserved for video, the suggestion was made that engineers would be sent round to adjust every video player accordingly. Now in 1994 the word is that owing to Maastricht all electrical sockets in the country will have to be made compatible with the two-pin European standard. A special device will have to be installed in everyone's house. Any idea that design may be other than market?led hardly needs spelling out.

Already, using intelligence satellite software, Murdoch's Sky TV can remove reception of their own channels from anyone using a card number which is known to be illicitly duplicated. Judging by the fact that mobile phone handsets will soon be able to be vetted individually (Guardian 24/11/93), a similar capability will no doubt also become available in relation to specific tellies. Stopping the reception of TV channels may not sound like much - it may even sound like a good idea - but what's more important is the general rule that surveillance leads to control.

As the phone, small computer and telly increasingly merge into a unified commodity (Davis and Davidson, pp.33-36), the design details of the coming phoneputervision will undoubtedly be partly determined by the needs of the State. (One can predict that within a few years it may well be hard to buy a TV without a built-in modem). But it won't even matter if you haven't got one, since the same will also be true of what you plug everything else into.

Road Transport

Parallel changes are underway in this means of communication too. Haussmann's redesign of Parisian thoroughfares to help the State prevent insurrections now seems archaic. Already in Oslo virtually all cars have been fitted with electronic gadgets which bleep roadside computers at all entry points into the city. Each entry costs £1, with people being sent notices when it's time to add more credits to their gadgets. (Both the docking and the adding of new units is done directly on computer: the gadgets are just for location and identification). Meanwhile, cameras snap randomly at transgressors, and if you're unlucky you get fined.

Last year, UK Transport Secretary John McGregor went to meet opposite numbers in Scandinavia to take advice on introducing a similar system here. (Guardian 11/5/93). Norway and Sweden, of course, used to be front-line countries in NATO plans for land warfare. But they're not now, and the UK never was. All the same, a similar system began 'pilot operation' in Cambridge last year. (Guardian 3/4/93).

Meanwhile, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has used an intelligence satellite to track a car from one side of the US to the other, using software known as geographical information systems or GIS. Along with stuff about an 'integration' with 'remote sensing,' the scientific literature in the GIS field now routinely includes articles on 'socioeconomic applications.' In the UK, BT have announced their intention of using US satellites to track their drivers. It looks as though the pilot area this time will be Manchester. (Daily Record 27/12/1993). Wise investors won't be buying shares in tachometer manufacturers.

The Social Olfactory

The last example I shall give is smell. The capabilities here don't seem to have reached the draconian levels reached in other areas, but they're instructive nonetheless. Smell too has both 'surveillance' and 'direct influence' aspects. As far as is known, its surveillance aspects are currently limited to spying on a sub-group of the electronically tagged in the US: namely, some of the people ordered to abstain from alcohol and drugs, who are fitted with gadgets which sniff these substances out and report transgression accordingly. (Sunday Times 5/9/93).

In the UK this method of surveillance has yet to find favour, but it's an altogether different story with the use of smells which exert a direct influence. These have been used in shops since 1993. (Sunday Times 11/4/93 and 24/10/93). They work in four main ways: first, to cause relaxation (i.e. of critical faculties - you're not supposed to doze off); second, to evoke memories associated with particular types of product (the smell of coconut oil in travel agents, cut grass in greengrocers, leather in car showrooms, flowers in shoe?shops, etc.); third, to encourage 'theme shopping' (brandy and Xmas pud in department stores in December - and look out for chocolate smells this Easter); and fourth, to encourage subconscious association of a particular smell, or 'perfume logo,' with a particular store.

Some shops are also using the chemical which bonds newborn babies to their mothers, and indeed it's this 'product' which is the most instructive. Since most of us wouldn't recognise it consciously, it's more accurate to call it a behaviour?modifying chemical agent than a smell. It would surely be a mistake to think the State's very far away. As George Dodd, the bastard in charge of the Institute of Olfactory Research at Warwick University, puts it: "This is a very exciting time. Smells have enormous potential to influence behaviour."

An Overview

Faced with these aggressive moves on so many fronts, what's the bottom line? Well first, just because they really are out to get you doesn't mean you should be paranoid... Or at least not yet. The NSA base at Menwith Hill near Harrogate, as is well known in some circles, may have the capability of tapping into all UK phone lines - but people who are worried just don't use the phone. For the time being, much the same applies as regards electrical circuits: if you want to keep something quiet, say it outside, get your own generator, or go leccy-free. (For all I know, it may be enough just to turn off your mains. Anyhow, my focus here isn't on the problems of either bank?robbers or 'revolutionary combatants.')

Along with surveillance - first of some people, then, by computer, of everyone - the other side of the pincer movement is direct influence. The more hi-tech and widespread the surveillance, the more hi-tech and widespread the control and influence. Massification's over: what's happening now is control's informatisation, digitalisation. Domination isn't dependent on marketing, but it does follow similar lines of development. It's just more 'universal.' Just as magazines can be printed nowadays in different editions for each target market - or even, like one issue of Time in 1990, for each individual subscriber - the trend is towards technological control being computer-customised according to the rulers' precise needs in relation to each population, neighbourhood, household, and ultimately, each individual. The necessary infrastructure is being built up now.

The main point is that a pervasive infrastructure of surveillance and control is being built in a way that cannot be resisted. (Its construction, that is). It's not about a few men in black suits, or the Post Office Investigation Department, or Gerry Gable. Nor's it about, say, someone looking at your file, or the now primitive idea of ID cards, or cameras in Marks and Spencer's zooming in when cheques get written for between £42 and £50. They're out to get everyone. The rulers' main enemy is always within - but the issue's not 'preventive civil war.' A wholly new terrain is in formation, as a preliminary.


So - how does this fit in with the class struggle? Well, in negative terms, it's pretty obvious that in a world of satellites and genetic engineering, no sound theoretical basis for understanding struggles in the future can be derived simply from cheerleading the struggles taking place at the moment - whether that means the occasional wiping of VDU screens and floppy discs by magnet-wielding office workers, or the irritation of selected Royals by modem-wielding hackers. In itself, though, rejecting the anarcho teenybopper view doesn't get us very far, and so I want now to point to the inadequacy of two more 'global' approaches.

'Orthodox Marxism'

The view here is that technological change represents the development of 'objective conditions' which are increasingly more 'revolutionary.' But since, as others have argued, capitalism can't, in the usual sense, be 'late' - it won't 'collapse' - this type of thinking just doesn't cut the mustard. (Pannekoek 1934, Aufheben 1993). Even a first glance indicates that this is the case. First, looking at microwave towers or nuclear power stations, no sane person would think how much more in place they'd be in a free society. Second, once it's understood that the proletariat has always fought subjectively against its reduction to mere labour?power, it makes little sense to see even unemployment brought about by new technology as inceasing any 'objective' tendency towards social revolution. How could one show that such an 'objective tendency' actually existed? And third, there's no evidence yet that really chronic problems for the system are caused by anything but active resistance from outside it. Technology isn't necessarily associated with the appearance of major cracks in the system.

On further examination, the idea of capitalist 'decline' (or 'decadence') appears variously to be academic, stupid, philosophical, tautological, or just plain wrong. This becomes clear when we consider that the future holds but three possibilities: first, capitalism could continue to accumulate and invest surplus value, and thereby change the world (if it doesn't, then it's not capitalism); second, it might be destroyed by revolution; and finally, it might be superseded by some new kind of despotic and exploitative society with a non-value basis yet to be defined.

Since something only declines if it approaches its doomsday, in the present context we need only look at the second and third cases. In the second, then, to say that the strengthening of revolutionary forces would correspond to a weakening of the forces of capital is simply a banality. It's pretty obvious too that revolution would be preceded by troubles which had brewed up for some time, corresponding to major weaknesses in the system. But given the subjective, assertive nature of revolution, it hardly makes sense for those who seek revolution to define the underlying tendency in terms of any objective decline. In fact, it doesn't even make sense for those who wish to stand above the struggle as observers, listening out for the jangle of our 'radical chains,' since the possibility of the third option shows that even severe problems for capital don't necessarily make revolution more likely. In practice, maybe they will, but that can't be shown theoretically from the nature of capitalism.

In the third case, exploitation would persist but in non-capitalist forms. To be fair to the idea of decline, we should admit that this could happen if, for reasons other than proletarian revolution, capitalism reaches a point where it just can't go on. This may result, for example, from an ecological or biological crisis brought about by capital?determined technological change; it may also come about if working class power grows to a point where the amount of surplus-value produced just won't permit the requisite level of capitalist organisation or rationality. Never say never: the emergence of a new system of exploitation is a definite theoretical possibility. It may even be intrinsically stronger relative to the dispossessed than capitalism is. If that's the case, though, capitalism will have paved the way for a 'higher form' of exploitation: in other words, it won't have 'declined,' it will have succeeded. It may even appear to have been a transition.

If, on the other hand, the new system were intrinsically weaker relative to the dispossessed than capitalism, it would admittedly make perfect sense to speak of objective capitalist decline. Capitalism would have failed itself. But who can say now how easy it would be to overthrow a new system which presently isn't even in gestation? And how easy is it to overthrow capitalism, anyway?

The idea that capitalism is in decline now is doubly nonsensical. The plight of a few Lloyd's names and American building societies just isn't enough to permit such a conclusion. Even in an advanced country like France, substantial portions of agriculture were being capitalised right up to the 1970s. (See Goldner 1991). This clearly represented extensive rather than intensive growth, the spread of capitalism, not its decline. Intensively too, capitalism is hardly experiencing major problems in developing the productive forces, and rapid technological change is in fact the best evidence that capitalism progresses. What does make sense is to think of the decline or decadence of particular capitalist forms (the gold standard, colonialism, Soviet?style bureaucracy, etc.) which capitalism then replaces with other forms: it's this sort of approach towards capitalist progress in general which will enable us to reach a better understanding of capitalism's technological revolutions.

This is not to deny, of course, that development does mean occasional crises. Why else go off the gold standard, or convertibilise the rouble? But economic crisis doesn't, empirically speaking, have to weaken capitalist rule at all. Most revolutionary uprisings do indeed start as bread riots brought on by specific crises, but not all crises lead to riots, not all riots become uprisings, and not all uprisings turn revolutionary. Nor have specific crises ever seemed to posit the introduction of a new despotism which wasn't capitalism. On the contrary: in themselves, sectoral or local crises seem to be good for the system, not bad. To think that the crises and struggles of the past necessarily point to even bigger ones in the future is simply a matter of belief.


Nor can the autonomist view be made to stand up. To be sure, there is an undoubted elegance in the 'methodological' idea that "capital is a social relation of struggle" (Cleaver 1979, p.71), that the structure of capitalist society is defined by two competing "subjectivities" (Negri 1979, p.44). But the crass analogies with classical warfare that one associates with autonomism fail dismally to throw any light on global technological change.

In the class war, as in conventional military encounters, one must begin with the closest study of one's own forces....When the enemy regroups or restructures, as capital is doing in the present crisis, its actions must be grasped in terms of the defeat of prior tactics or strategies by our forces - not simply as another clever move."(Cleaver, p.42).

If capitalism must continuously revolutionise the forces of production, as it must, this kind of thinking appears quite hollow. The class struggle is not a battlefield, and even if it were, it wouldn't be like the film about one in North Africa in WW2 which Cleaver refers to.

If the possibility - however large or small - of a non-capitalist exploitative future is enough to destroy the idea of necessary capitalist decline, the heralding by technological change of capitalist society's entry into a new period or 'stage' of domination is enough to bring down the autonomist understanding of crisis at the first hurdle. Negri and others may well have been right that it was working class struggle which undermined Keynesianism and eventually brought it into crisis, but they were methodologically completely unable to understand what came after and what's yet to come. There is no reason to assume that the crisis of Keynesianism was a crisis of capitalism - or, indeed, that capitalism itself has ever been in crisis. The laughable idea of 'permanent crisis' would seem to be little more than a product of narrow?minded academics desperately seeking to draw conclusions of 'universal' importance from their own cloistered work.

Just consider knowledge, intelligence, science and technology. Don't the rulers find them useful? And if they do, where's the class struggle determining developments in chemistry, or fibre optics, or artificial intelligence, or genetics? It's pushing credibility too far to say that no fancy microwaves or satellites are a match for horny-handed sons and daughters of toil with their backs up - or that microwave technology wouldn't take its present form if it hadn't been for struggle. The invention of Cray supercomputers, cloning techniques, binary nerve gas, the satellite and the field?effect transmitter (a wireless bug) simply didn't involve Johnny Capitalist grabbing some power from the workers. Nor did their deployment. Johnny already had the power to make sure that all the world's research scientists were working in his labs. With that power he made some more power. This idea is one which autonomism finds it impossible to get to grips with.

It's all too easy for Cleaver and others to suggest that the only alternative to a superficially dynamic but really two-dimensional autonomist view is to see everything as a result of 'clever' conspiracies. It's not. Debord, for example, writes of 'invasion' and 'lines of advance' (1988, p.4) without either pushing autonomism or putting everything down to conspiracies. In terms of the military analogy, technology alters the terrain: it raises the high ground to levels where its opponents would find it useless even if we could seize it. Recognising this is fundamental to any proletarian view of what's going on, of 'this world we're entering.'

A second criticism concerns the chronic over-concentration, despite appearances to the contrary, on industrial 'restructuring' and the worker: and in particular, on the 'rapid response' customised manufacturing, just?in?time delivery, and 'total quality' management first introduced by Japanese transnationals. In very simple terms, it would appear self-evident that in fact these are only instances of a differentiated social control which operates on a much wider level. Those who, like Negri (1990), ultimately support Western capitalist 'freedom', are unlikely to understand this.

In the second part of the article, I try to provide a few elements of an alternative view, based upon a somewhat broader critique of technological developments.



Davis and Davidson show convincingly that the new terrain will be fleshed out not only by developments in the information economy, but also by the coming biological revolution, involving both biotechnology and neurocomputing. If biotech represents the application of technology to life, the latter represents the application of models of the brain to computers.

Biotechnology, based on genetic engineering, has two obvious fields of application: agribusiness, and the basically murderous business of capitalist 'medicine,' both with effects on the human gene pool which are unknown but likely to be disastrous. Anyone who thinks otherwise would be best advised to ask themselves why Thalidomide is still being given to pregnant women in Brazil. (Daily Mail 2/6/93). While the full effects of the biorevolution can't really be foreseen at the moment, what one can predict is that forms of surveillance and control will appear directly at the biological level. DNA testing will be nothing compared to capitalism's potential uses of knowledge produced by the multibillion?dollar Human Genome Project.

If, as Davis and Davidson suggest (p.194), the distant future is where computers, genetics, and micromachinery (or even nanomachinery - gadgets built up atom by atom) are "one and the same thing", it's easiest today to concentrate on the aspects of the bio sector which directly involve information. Put another way, this means looking at the extraction of information from, and the insertion of information into, the individual human being. As will be seen, these fields are not at all ephemeral: they already exist. They provide, in fact, modernised definitions of two of our old adversaries: surveillance and control.

From this viewpoint, then, the model of industrialisation, leading to informationalisation (now midway through), and then bio-isation, can be simplified. Rather than representing two separable things, informationalisation and bio?isation mark the onset and development of a single new despotism which will replace liberal capitalism globally. In terms of the class relation, the 'information revolution' appears even as a transition.


If biological revolution obviously involves the exploitation and control of the human body, when considered together with the information economy and the State it also immediately raises the issue of mind control. In fact, this is a field with a long history, already tackled by a number of authors: issues covered include CIA and US Army Intelligence experiments with LSD and psilocybin; CIA and US Naval Intelligence experiments with radio activation of electrodes in the brain; the controlled use of narcotics and hypnosis; the sending of auditory messages via microwaves; telepathic transmission and direct psychokinetic influence; and the use of electromagnetic 'zapping' weapons.

Historically, one case with a tartan flavour was the work done by Ewen Cameron, sometimes known as the 'Scottish Mengele.' Stirlingshire-born and Glasgow?educated, this 'experimental' and 'applied' psychiatrist was a leading behaviourist who began to work for the American military cause shortly before Pearl Harbour. Although both lobotomy and electro-shock were already known in the 1930s, during and after the war there was a massive growth in America of 'coercive psychiatry' (i.e. torture) and it was there that Cameron was to play a major role. (Thomas, Part 2). This was the era, of course, when 'brainwashing' scares made at least one of the US government's scientific aims crystal clear.

Eventually coming to work for CIA chief Allen Dulles, Cameron ran numerous CIA mind control projects from his base at McGill University in Montreal. These included the experimental use on 'non-volunteer subjects' of LSD and other drugs, massive doses of electricity, and a torture technique known as 'psychic driving' in which revelations extracted from patients under psychoanalysis were played back to them over and over again via a helmet they couldn't take off. Cameron's main technical sidekick, the Englishman Leonard Rubenstein, formerly of the Royal Signals Corps, ran a related project called 'Radio Telemetry'.

President of the powerful American Psychiatric Association and first president of the World Association of Psychiatrists, Cameron was no minor figure. Called in to examine Rudolf Hess, and then by Dulles to give advice on the Gary Powers affair, he took on a role which in Britain was played by right-wing scumbag psychiatrist William Sargant, who used to get called in to 'examine' apparent Soviet defectors. (West, p.209). Make no mistake, psychiatry and psychology are not areas the secret state turns a blind eye to. Anyone who's ever come up against a Home Office medical doctor will be aware of the depths to which it is possible for a human being to sink.

For anyone who's interested in mind control but not that read-up, good places to begin are the books by Marks, Scheflin and Opton, and Thomas, the pamphlet by McKinney, and the recent articles by Cannon and Chamberlain in Lobster and Open Eye respectively. From those and other sources, there's enough evidence to show that States have been putting resources into this kind of stuff ever since WW2, when both sides got in on the act. The origins of some techniques undoubtedly go back further still, well before Dachau, to the beginning of the electrical era and beyond. It has to be said that opponents of capitalism who willingly ignore this field just aren't serious.

Unfortunately, though, whilst critics of this stuff are almost all aware (and afraid) of its truly horrific implications for the future, most of those I've read seem to have focused only on specific projects in the past or present, and on the harassment and torture involved. Whether out of pessimism, or fear of ridicule or worse, their remarks about the 'technofascist' future have usually been off?centre or parenthetical. (One exception to this has been Packard).

Here I shall mention only a few areas, and cannot claim to deal with the field in any great depth. My intention is solely to suggest some sort of a context, so as to provoke some kind of a discussion in radical circles on overall trends (rather than the masculine complicity/rivalry of tale?swapping, which is more usual).

Electronic Control

For years, more behaviour-altering electro-weapons have been known than just electro?shock. Not surprisingly, though, one of the main founding fathers (in the West, at least) was a psychiatrist: the Spanish 'doctor' Jose Delgado.

The work of Delgado, who developed techniques for manipulating behaviour through electrical brain implants, marks an important stage in the development of the modern scientific ethos. (Scheflin & Opton, chaps. 7-8). In an early experiment, rumoured to have been carried out in the 1930s (Lawrence 1967), but made public only in the 1960s, he fitted electrodes into the brain of a bull. Deliberately goading the bull to charge at him by pressing a button on a small black box, Delgado then pressed another button to stop it from running him through.

CIA psychiatrists later carried out similar experiments on Vietcong prisoners in Vietnam, implanting electrodes, seeing how well they could induce defecation or vomiting or murderous aggression, and then burning the bodies afterwards. According to Thomas, some of the American methods were later taken over, at the same hospital, by the Vietcong. (pp.287, 354). More recently, there have been various reports of individuals having implants in their heads in peacetime.

Once again, we find surveillance as well as control. In 1971 a sociologist (Smith) and a criminologist (Ingraham) wrote of how gadgets could be implanted in 'deviants' which also transmitted physiological data concerning adrenalin flow, respiration, muscular tension, etc. As Scheflin and Opton point out (p350), costs would permit the electronic 'incarceration' of around twice as many people as are currently in jail. Since tags already can and do sniff out the presence of drugs, this isn't at all a scenario for the distant future.

By now, the zanily-named 'electronic tagging' is a method of individual electronic surveillance which is already in fairly widespread use: in the US some 45 000 people are currently wearing these hi-tech balls?and?chains, including persistently truanting schoolkids in Tennessee. Even this tagged population, however, is less than the figure dreamt of in 1971 by NSA scientist Meyer, who wanted computer-monitored devices to be attached to roughly half of all those arrested. (Scheflin and Opton, pp.351-53). In this plan, 'transponders' would communicate individuals' location to 'transceivers' in city streets and important buildings. Meyer describes how banks would be forewarned of the presence of any bad boys in the vicinity.

Meyer's thinking was echoed in late 1993 in the Sunday Times(5/9/1993), when Norman Macrae called for widespread tagging of "far fewer than 1%" of the UK population (i.e. less than 500 000 people). Obviously thrashing around for some sort of liberal-democratic justification for what he was floating, he painted it as, among other things, a rape prevention policy (just like a 'good war', presumably). Women hitch-hikers in 2010, according to Macrae, would be able to check electronically if any tagged man offering them a lift had a conviction for rape. Norm, you're so caring!

It's anyone's guess as to what types of direct influence are currently available or being researched in connection with such penal devices. But not surprisingly the issue hasn't been ignored. I doubt if the people who fed the idea to Macrae are unaware that Ingraham and Smith also called for the direct electronic control of the tagged people's physiology.

If, at one time, controlled behavioural manipulation only worked in conjunction with implantation - sometimes with prior hypnotic suggestion (see Lawrence) - nowadays implantation isn't necessary (see Becker, and sources in Cannon). One 'wireless' technique involves the coding on to a microwave transmission of a message which the brain then interprets as sound. (See sources in McKinney). These messages are known as 'pulsed audiograms,' and McKinney has recently shown how they're currently being used in an American secret State project (on non?volunteers) which began in 1989. Other projects with non-verbal audio effects have been reported in India, Russia, Sweden, and the UK. (On the Verneys in the UK, see Chamberlain 1993).

All this may well be a mere glimmer of what's to come, and we under-estimate the vileness of our enemies at our peril. Since the logical move in terms of both surveillance and direct influence is for the 'information content' to increase, serious consideration shows that the 'technofascist' nightmare of the control of large populations via electromagnetic waves, if capitalism lasts, is only of a matter of time.

If accurate differential control of large populations may not yet be possible without tagging (or prior hypnosis?), mass control certainly is. As a US Army report has shown, microwave radiation can be used to alter behaviour in much the same fashion as Delgado's electrical stimulation, inducing insomnia, fatigue, memory loss, hallucinations, etc. (Cannon, McKinney; see also Brodeur). The effects of low-level microwave radiation, just like those of the ELF fields of electrical goods and power-lines, have correspondingly been subject to a pretty consistent cover-up (Becker, Brodeur).

Robert Becker, the pioneering bio-electricist once nominated for a Nobel prize, also describes (pp.224-26) how by the 1970s and 1980s our old enemy Delgado was running extremely low frequency (ELF) experiments on animals, without the need for implants. The more one delves into this stuff, the more the different sub-fields seem connected. But at the same time, the more the general tendency seems apparent.

Becker describes too how in the 1990s, the entire US population is being exposed to a 'ground wave emergency network' (GWEN) designed to help the State maintain communications after a nuclear attack. This involves the use of a third part of the electromagnetic spectrum, namely very low frequency (VLF), and is indeed quite remarkable, given that the chances of a future nuclear attack on the US are virtually zero. Becker is a top scientist, no John Allegro-type nutter - sadly, not even averse to animal experiments - which makes his epilogue, with its ringing cry against electromagnetic mind control by the military, all the more transfixing.


If the physical/physiological explanations of psychic functioning remain hypothetical, or vague, or hidden, or incomplete, it's nonetheless a fact that telepathy and micro?psychokinesis (the controlled 'mental influence' of probabilities in random systems) have long been demonstrable in laboratories around the world.

At least one aim of research is easy to see: namely, the accurate transmission of binary data, even if only of a few bits. I would suggest that all the research into 'psi?hitting' personality types, psi-inducive environments, psi training, etc., being carried out at Edinburgh and elsewhere (see Morris), should be understood primarily in this context. All this kind of stuff has obvious uses in the world of human-intelligence espionage. So does all the stuff about the mind-to-computer interface.

But other research aims are harder to make out. Whilst the importance of this field as a whole is obviously very great, the precise lines of development are curiously hard to define. More specifically, the growing 'open' interest in the relevance of electromagnetic fields, particularly the Earth's, will probably remain obscure for some time. (See Radin et al. 1994).

We do know, however, that psi is an area into which companies like AT&T and Sony are currently ploughing substantial resources. According to various 'straight' researchers, technological breakthroughs may happen suddenly and quite soon. (Broughton 1991, pp.345?64, Radin 1993a). As with electricity and the microchip, there's no reason to think that any developments here will find themselves undeployed in the enhancement of social control.

The Nightmare of Psi-Tech

In a recent article in the psi field the Edinburgh-based former AT&T parapsychologist Dean Radin has described results showing 'individual footprints' in the influence of random systems. (Radin et al. 1994). In other words, it looks possible to distinguish the presence of a specific individual through the effects of his or her psychic functioning. It might be said that this foreshadows the development of a capacity towards which science has long been tending: the identification electronically of individual brain?patterns. Genetic fingerprinting is only a beginning.

The bio side of the infotech nightmare will be here when this possibility becomes turned into technology, when the implementation of that technology becomes massified, and when the information gathered thereby gets used. The nightmare of 24-hour surveillance of everyone's mind, and the corresponding control by electronic means, would be quite in keeping with developments which began around the time of WW2 and which are still going on. And when this kind of capability goes into orbit, whether in 10 years or 50, the methods used by those people fighting for revolutionary liberation will of necessity have to change completely.

Developments parallel to this are almost as hard to foresee exactly as those of 'accidental' genetic mutation. But this is the direction in which capitalist domination is heading. This is what the present 'transition' is towards. It makes worldwide social revolution ever more urgent, and it's what revolution would prevent. It is something all rebels with a taste for analysis have got to get to grips with.


The easiest conclusion to draw would be that proletarian revolutionaries should get back to Luddism PDQ. Since, however, it is not at all clear that any of the developments referred to will actually cost jobs, and since few of us in the advanced countries or elsewhere have any 'reserves' to fall back on, the parallel with the industrial revolution is somewhat useless.

Getting into pessimism's another option. Those who don't sell out or drop out, drink. But we shouldn't forget that the theorists of totalitarian 'bureaucratic collectivism' in the 1930s were all proved wrong. Capitalism didn't solve its problems; it didn't establish or give way to 'total' domination, and workers and other proletarians continued to struggle. For the time being, it doesn't look as though the next 30 years will see capitalism replaced by an altogether new type of exploitation.

But capitalism certainly will, if not destroyed, enter a new 'stage': one of a technological despotism which then develops on various fronts according to its own rules. (The term 'technofascism' is good but possibly too backward?looking). Just as formal domination of the labour process simply isn't the same as real domination based upon a continual raising of productivity, nor is the latter really the same once electromagnetic and biotechnological surveillance and influence are exerted over every body and mind.

Some things, of course, won't change. The need for a world human community, communism, will remain in our being, and, if there's no revolution, short of a massive genetic mutation there'll still be bosses and controllers on one side, and the dispossessed on the other, where they need us but we don't need them. (There'll probably continue to be an underground of one kind or another too).

One thing in particular is worth remembering: if the bosses were unable to get better access than the rest of us to healthcare and food, then they'd no longer put any effort into being bosses, and the entire capitalist system would break down. David Rockefeller just couldn't keep going if faced with a lifetime's prospect of having the same state of health and the same access to medical treatment as a proletarian. (It's very likely already that the level of preventive medicine among the super?rich is very high indeed. How many members of the Royal Family get cancer?) Capitalism's not only about the accumulation of the productive forces; it also has necessarily to be about the rich and the poor. In terms of enforced differentials in consumption, exploitation will remain visible.

There'll be some kind of resistance everywhere. It may be easy to point to capital's limits, as the French group La Banquise (Ice-Cap) did, by noting that whilst bacteria and robots don't do real work the "technicians, workers and researchers" around them do; and that "the day when the proletarian necessary to its functioning folds his arms, the bacterium comes to a standstill." (1986, p.70). But the word "worker" (ouvrier) here remains strangely undefined, the reference to the "day" is too vague, and one wonders what form 'arm-folding' might actually take. Whilst recognising that resistance by (former) scientists and engineers is definitely something important, rebels will also want to work out what the rest of us will be doing, where our power will lie on an everyday 'structural' level, and where the radical flashpoints are likely to occur involving parts of the working class.

Talk of 'hyperreality' and 'cyberspace,' whether 'beyond Bladerunner' (Davis 1992) or not yet, will no doubt increase in popularity in the literary and chattering classes. Really all one can do is laugh, since these ideas are obviously more useful to people a bit higher up the ladder: the scum who run Apple or AT&T or Sega or Sky, say, or Hollywood, or even perhaps the academic research councils. They're probably of as little actual use to chatterers as they are to proletarians. Since the world isn't made of stories, or even of language, concepts like these only obscure things and are the opposite of revolutionary critique. Linguistically and conceptually, capitalist dictatorship's real 'abolitionists' definitely won't be treading the sci-fi path. They'll try to understand the reality.


1 The extent to which State intelligence services provide economic intelligence to 'home industries' obviously helps determine the extent to which 'nation-States' still exist as economic entities. For the moment this extent still seems very large. See, for example, the role of the French foreign intelligence service (DGSE) in commercial espionage in Europe and the US, which began to receive publicity in late 1992. Leaked CIA reports of around the same time portray Japan as the main American rival, showing that all the "world-system" stuff about a geopolitical fusion of these two powers is probably just the academic hail?the?new-world-order guff one might expect from people in the 'geopolitical' field. If information (or intelligence) is power, then the 'ultra-imperialist' or 'one world government' view would imply that the various intelligence services - i.e. those belonging to multinationals as well as to States - would come up against each other less and less. This does not appear to be the case (yet) even if technological revolution does seem to induce greater organisational bonding between companies, and between companies and specific States. In short, it seems much more likely that Japan's economic strength will eventually bring her to a position of military hegemony - or actual victory - over the US. As American nationalists, Davis and Davidson only say that who gets pole position will be decided by the end of the 1990s.

2 A contact once said that the best available lock in Britain was inferior to the worst one in France. Someone should do a study of lock quality in different countries...

3 The naive might think this an accidental by-product of developments in baby alarms, but it's more likely to be the other way around. Likewise nowadays you can pay BT - the UK's largest company - to bug your house through your phone while you're out. Good old market demand, eh?

4 A whole book on the subject is Martin 1991. Re GIS, there's a real need for a few people with technical knowledge to start explaining what's going on in a fundamentally critical fashion. One of the very few people to talk about GIS, albeit with no 'expert' knowledge-as far as I know-has been Mike Davis. (1992).

5 The covert use of smells has been objected to by the Liberty group (formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties). But just as Murdoch is smashing down the 'Chinese walls' of national broadcasting legislation, the use of smells clearly makes a nonsense even of the law of assault. One wonders just how much longer civil libertarianism can go on.

6 Some sources say it does so continuously, others say it only taps long?distance calls, the rest having to wait until the lines are all optical fibre before they're tapped as a matter of course.

7 I take it as read here, first, that capitalism is a world society based on the extraction of surplus value from the dispossessed, and, second, that a future society without alienation or exploitation can't be won any other way than through proletarian revolution. Smug Here and Now-type intellectualism notwithstanding, this recognition doesn't imply adherence to any ultra-leftist, 'left communist,' or traditionalist ideology. What it should mean is a commitment to fighting the ruling class, and to reaching some kind of understanding of the historical movement of class struggles in the past, present, and future. Some people, of course, will know better: especially those whose flimsy reformism places them firmly on the post-left; or whose chattering?class values situate them somewhat hopelessly where the fringe intelligentsias of left, right, and centre meet and mingle; or whose uneasy affairs with various means of distraction up Post-Modern Creek have pushed them to reject reality as...well, a reality. But that's their problem.

8 Just because the idea of capitalist decline usually implies an idea of 'barbarism' as an alternative to 'socialism,' we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If the idea of 'socialism' (when opposed to communism) should be rejected as social?democratic, and the idea of necessary decline doesn't stand up, it would be unfair to reject the idea of 'barbarism.' Since no?one is satisfactorily theorising either 'barbarism' or the secular continuation of capitalism, advances here might well give us a much better understanding of communism.

9 A note on terminology. The establishment of capitalism is understood as socially revolutionary, as is its possible destruction by means of the seizure of resources by the dispossessed. Its own development is seen as only economically revolutionary. Capitalist economy, unlike previous economies, continuously and necessarily changes society, but it does so without changing society's basis in capitalist economy. Capitalism's 'technological revolutions' are understood as being fundamentally economic.

10 Cleaver tries to moderate the analogy in a footnote, but only to say that the working class isn't an army.

11 Like the common Trot view that anarchists are 'against organisation,' the head?in?the?sand rejection of the idea that 'everything's a conspiracy' is a rejection of a view that no-one actually holds (with the possible exception of severe psychotics). A full critique of anti-conspiracism is long overdue, but preliminary consideration would suggest that its prevalence is greatest among the middle classes. More specifically, its roots would seem to lie in the intermediate public-sector 'policy-making' strata, which can only function properly if most of their members have a substantially warped view of why it is that they get paid. Enjoying status, these people just can't accept that while they're busy 'providing a service' to punters in positions which are apparently lowly and demeaning (patients, tenants, 'clients' being social worked, droppers?in, bus passengers, etc.), their own position vis?à-vis the ruling elite is arguably even less dignified. (How many AIDS?sector social workers get together, for example, to doubt the Wellcome-backed hypothesis that HIV is the main cause of AIDS, when this hypothesis has largely detremined much of what they do? How many would agree that a scandal may be about to break which is far bigger than Thalidomide?). Those at the top and bottom of the ladder, meanwhile - including the vast majority of the working class - usually have no great illusions about the real process of decision-making, whose domination by a tiny, ruthless, cynical, self-serving elite they understand very well.

12 The mafia logic of the big corporations is perhaps best illustrated by a single example, that of AZT, which was developed as an anti-cancer drug, but was then licenced and sold as being anti?AIDS and then anti-HIV. Governments were obviously unwilling to welsh on a deal by tearing up contracts to buy it after research showed it was ineffective against cancer. How many hundreds has it killed already? (See Sunday Times 12/12/93, 27/2/94, and 6/3/94, Open Eye 2 (1993).)

13 They don't mark its 'birth' and 'maturation,' since neither capitalism, nor exploitation, nor human society full stop, constitutes a living organism.

14 It's definitely worth noting that the scum who pioneered electroshock (Castelli), lobotomy (Moniz), and radio-controlled electrical implants (Delgado) were all trained in fascist countries: Italy, Portugal, and Spain respectively. See Thomas 1988 and Cannon 1992.

15 According to gossip, the first commercial patents are expected to be filed in Japan. Military applications, meanwhile, are reportedly already available.

16 The word 'technocrat,' which now means little more than a smartly-dressed politician, is probably unrescuable. But the question of terminology remains quite important. It's perhaps worth noting that no totally convincing term has been found to describe even the period we've left. (Any fool can see that the term 'modern,' just like 'postmodern,' is just a joke, and 'Keynesian' is hardly explanatory). 'Liberal capitalism' is suggested above only 'heuristically,' and is doubtless inadequate.

17 It is just conceivable that in such circumstances people like Rockefeller, Murdoch, etc. could be replaced by psychos (scientific/techno psychos, for example) who'd be willing to have a low standard of living just for the pleasure of making proletarians eat shit. But I don't see any tendency towards that happening. How many of the ruling elite in Japan, for example, would give up their paper-free, hi-tech, bum-washing, scent-spraying toilets (5 million Japanese homes had them by 1991) to live like the poorest 40% who don't even have public plumbing? (Or: how many would consider giving such stupid gadgets to the poor?)

18 This view of the bioeconomy appears to be a reapplication of what Castoriadis said about automated industry. (1960-61, p.283). But things aren't that simple. Nevertheless, the points raised in this excellent but still untranslated article by La Banquise deserve much greater consideration than it's possible to give them in this present blurb, which is pitched at a less abstract level. The authors argue that capital can never become what it seeks to become: alive. It can no more introduce 'robiotisation' [sic] than it can absolute slavery; it needs living labour, which necessarily implies, albeit negatively, human activity. The most fundamental contradiction of capitalist society is that which operates between life (or living activity) and death (dead labour, or capital). As capitalism robotises production and brings about biological revolution, it demonstrates vitality and solves some of its contradictions, but it can't break down the human being altogether.

19 Scientists as a group shouldn't be let off the hook. It's all too easy to think that at least they're not as bad as they were under the Nazis, when - don't be fooled - most of them probably are. That said, any who do get out and fight back, of course, definitely deserve respect...not to mention safe housing.


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March 1994