Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism

Lettuce Versus Techno-Feudalist Baron Elon Musk.

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What Left Intellectual Critics of Technofeudalism are Reading this Morning.

The Star has a dodgy past but it’s future looks bright.

Elon Musk, ‘Paedo guy’, gets on my nerves.

Seriously.

There is the Tendance, plunged into reading the debate about Technofeudalism.

It begins with Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. She  suggests that a “machine confluence” has come into existence in which the human cortex is ‘read’ just like an electronic field;. In the latest mode of capitalist accumulation, the “new reality business,” technology has worked through language right up to human nature. In this brave new world, “all aspects of human experience are claimed as raw-material supplies and targeted for rendering into behaviour data.” (2019) Developing the political implications of her book Zuboff wrote, “An information civilisation shaped by surveillance capitalism and its new instrumentarian power will thrive at the expense of human nature, especially the hard-won capacities associated with self-determination and moral autonomy that are essential to the very possibility of a democratic society.” (Surveillance Capitalism and the Challenge of Collective Action).

Göran Therborn, in the latest New Left Review (which still has some serious debates) develops this theme within a wider context , ” the new forms of financial and digital capitalism do not develop and strengthen their adversaries. They may generate well-deserved anger among their employees and even successful attempts at unionisation; but the social trend of working-class employment is rather a tightening of the noose of surveillance.” He continues, “Outsourced industrialisation will gradually invigorate an industrial working class in the Third World, but not as big a one as in Europe, nor even as in the us and Japan. National shares of manufacturing and industrial employment are already going down in Asia and Latin America and stalling at a low level in Africa. Industrial societies shaped and driven by the class dialectic of industrial capitalism are gone forever, with the past century. The dialectic of colonialism has also run its course.” (The World and the Left).

Technofeudalism is a term with some use in explaining these “new forms of capitalism”. “Theorists of techno-feudalism share the cognitive-capitalism assumption that something in the nature of information and data networks pushes the digital economy in the direction of the feudal logic of rent and dispossession, rather than the capitalist logic of profit and exploitation.” For the critic of the expression, Evgney Morozov, the words not only over-egg the analogy between feudal ‘rent’ and the world today. they add nothing to understanding capitalism, “the best evidence that ‘accumulation via innovation’ is—like capitalism itself—still very much alive, can be found in the same technology sector that Durand writes off as feudalist and rentierist. ” ” Capitalism is moving in the same direction it always has been, leveraging whatever resources it can mobilise—the cheaper, the better. In this sense, Braudel’s one-time description of capitalism as ‘infinitely adaptable’ is not the worst perspective to adopt.”

Responding Cédric Durand  counter-argued that what are seeing is something that, “modifies the laws of motion of the socio-economic system with features reminiscent of feudalism”. He optimistically says that, “this new conceptual apparatus will allow us to grasp and fight the emerging forms of social domination.” The forms of capitalism, digitally based, are marked by, “by a logic of access, whose correlate is the degree of one’s embeddedness within a privately owned algorithmic loop. Digital platforms are ecosystems; their function is to manipulate social interactions on the basis of the patterns of behaviour they detect among non-related people.” (Tendance’s emphases.)

Durand’s book Technoféodalisme Critique de l’économie numérique (2021, yet to be translated) is highly recommended. Whether or not you agree with his views on Technofeudalism the book begins with an excellent overview of the kind of ‘libertarian’ techno barons Elon Musk has come to stand for in the public eye. If French academic books had an index I could check and see if he is referenced…

You can agree that, from their standpoint the new nobility, warring amongst themselves at present as Musk faces failure, exist If “For those of us who now spend our waking hours constantly interacting, whether actively or passively, with electronic devices that record and transmit information directly to the world’s most valuable companies, there’s a resonance to the technofeudalist critique: We do technically spend less time working for our bosses than we do informing on ourselves to tech companies. And no matter whom we work for — or whether we’re employed at all — we’re generating value for Bezos and Zuck. Not only does the tech oligopoly seamlessly record our preferences, habits, and choices, it also uses that data to guide our future choices, rendering us increasingly useful to the tech companies and useless to ourselves. Durand invokes the world of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 dystopian sci-fi film Alphaville, in which a dictatorial sentient computer rules society down to the most personal decisions.”

But, as Malcom Harris continues, “Technofeudalists have a bad habit of repeating the industry’s self-promotional puffery.” (Are We Living Under ‘Technofeudalism’? )You can still tell them to piss off.

They are also engaged in some serious in-fighting.

Elon Musk has threatened to out advertisers who are boycotting the firm since his Twitter takeover in a sensational rant on the platform itself.

The tech giant claims that Twitter has had a “massive drop in revenue” since he took over the social media platform last week.

He added that he had to cut staff due to the business losing more than “£3.5 million a day”.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 5, 2022 at 1:05 pm

Truss Versus Sunak: Back to “the Long 1990s”?

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Back to the Long 1990s?

“If, on some level, however abstract, you are never strategising against Empire, capital or the state, then you can be sure that they are strategising against you. You may comfort yourself that ‘there is no hegemony’, but Washington knows that there is hegemony, and News International knows that there is hegemony. What’s more: they don’t care that you don’t believe in their hegemony. They don’t need to hegemonise you to get you cornered: they’ve got enough on their side already. They don’t need you to believe in them to capture you. All they need to do is to organise the space you move in. If you don’t coordinate your singular points of resistance/escape/becoming with those of others, then you won’t have a chance. All of your key coordinates will be determined for you. No line of flight will take you far enough to escape: the world is round, in case you hadn’t heard. “

Jeremy Gilbert. Anticapitalism and Culture: Radical Theory and Popular Politics. 2008.

This Blog can’t say it agrees with Jeremy Gilbert (Website) on every issue, including efforts to turn nouns like strategy and hegemony into verbs. But the cultural theorist and Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London, has got some bottle. He talked of the “long 1990s” “a culture in which technological change is accompanied by cultural stasis” a “direct expression and effect of the hegemony of the technofinancial historic bloc”. The Blair years carried on seamlessly with the liberalised economy created by Margaret Thatcher, opening up further the process of globalised production, “flexible labour markets and deregulation ‘to untie the hands of business'” as the Third Way Labour Prime Minister put it.

Like Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, it reflected “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it a good one”. “Strategising” against Empire, capital and the state, sounds like saying, in simpler terms, ‘even if we don’t have a global answer to this, we won’t lie down and let the bastards trample all over us’. There were others who took an active stand up line. Anti-globalising movements, older readers may recall, launched large protests, from Genoa to São Paulo,  in the first decade of the new millenium, with demonstrations tapering out around 2011.

These did not seem to have much effect on domestic elections in the UK. Conservative David Cameron won against Labour’s more tempered globaliser, Gordon Brown in 2010 and governed as PM with Liberal Democrat support. Yet a few years on the late, and much missed, comrade Fisher saw some cracks in that realism appear with the rise of the anti-austerity movements against the Coalition (Exiting the Vampire Castle 2013).

“One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Gilbert saw the long-1990s ending around 2016, “Something ended around 2016, as Trump, Brexit and Corbyn became central topics of everyday political discourse. Ever since the early 1990s, mainstream politics in the English-speaking world had been dominated by the success of the neoliberal politico-economic programme, and a cultural agenda that promoted socially-liberal, cosmopolitan, individualistic values. Theorists had claimed that we were now in an epoch of ‘postmodernity’; even that we stood at ’the end of history’. But the truth is that this was always  just another phase in the long history of capitalism. That phase has ended now for various reasons – such as the rise of social media and ‘platform capitalism’ – leaving us in a turbulent situation characterised by the rise of new forms of politics on the right and on the left: from the alt-right to Corbynism. ” The Long 90s Is Over.

The hopes for wider transformation placed in Jeremy Corbyn as the harbinger of “new forms of politics” ended only a few years later, with the electoral defeat of 2019. The US left national revival had never really got beyond the Bernie Sanders Presidential nomination campaign, suspended in 2020, though some local movements remain. Only in Spain and France have new left groups made an electoral impact, but both in coalitions or alliances with older forces, Unidas Podemos in government with the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE, and the French ‘left populist’ La France insoumise/l’Union populaire, as the largest part of the Parliamentary bloc, NUPES (Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale).

Gilbert argued that that the left’s task is to expand the collaborative, non-capitalist space little by little. In the wake of the 2019 election he talked of domains in which the left should advocate change in, “Each of these is a front on which we must now fight: organising communities and demanding local reforms, while building a local sense of solidarity and possibility; supporting our own left media while openly attacking the right-wing bias of the existing outlets; above all, working to rebuild our unions by any means necessary must be seen as an urgent task for all of us. Each of these is also a major area of reform to which any future Labour or Labour-led government must commit.” This requires a “new hegemonic strategy”, “…a bloc of democratic forces that will include activists, community groups, unions, and other organisations all round the country. There is no getting away from the fact that it will have to include other parties: all of those parties, including the Liberal Democrats, who do not benefit from the right-wing bias of the British press and the British state. This anti-Tory coalition will have to be understood, at a certain level, as an alliance of different social groups and different class fractions all of whom share a common interest in preventing the destruction of life on Earth. But yes, it will also have to take the form of political co-operation between groups and parties that are used to competing with each other.” History is clear: Labour must lead an alliance for democratic reform. 2020.) Judging from his recent writing Gilbert seems to retain his commitment to this strategy.

Such an anti-Tory coalition would be something very different to the kind of left alliance the French NUPES represents, which goes from the radical left, the Greens, La France insoumise, the old Communist Party, to the ‘governing’ left of the majority of what remains of the (not long ago, 2012 – 2917) in power, Parti Socialiste. Being in favour of broadening the left’s appeal, and opening up the electoral system to reform, is not the same as being behind formal, pre-election, agreements with non-left parties. Those of us who have experience of Liberal Democrats in coalition locally (and not just under David Cameron) might recall that the meeting Mark Fisher (above) attended brought together the left, trade unions and local Labour, in large part because of the experience of that Coalition, nationally, and in running the Borough Council of Ipswich. It is also hard to see how the left could form an alliance with the more borders centre-right/centre left Scottish nationalists, to give just another difficulty.

But what of the alt-right, the national populists, the Trumps and the Johnsons? Perhaps while Italy faces a renewed challenge from the far-right  Fratelli d’Italia, egged on by Berlusconi himself, their days have also passed.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak look far more like the creatures of cultural stasis, a return to the long 1990s, and an attempt to renew the stable pursuit of the era’s globalising, depoliticising, right-wing policies. Truss” The central battleground will be about whether we go for growth and cut taxes, or carry on with business as usual and tax rises,” “I am the tax-cutting candidate who will help squeezed families by reversing April’s national insurance rise and suspending the green levy on energy bills.” She also pledged to bring in an emergency budget to get the changes through quickly and to announce a spending review to “find more efficiencies in government spending”. “In the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak wrote that he believed in “hard work, family and integrity”, adding: “I am running as a Thatcherite, and I will govern as a Thatcherite.” “The best way to achieve economic growth is cutting taxes and bureaucracy, and boosting private sector investment and innovation,” he said. (BBC)

Let’s not even begin on the Labour Party….

We look forward to reading this in the autumn (as flagged up by Michael Chessum in his own new book):

Hegemony Now

How Big Tech and Wall Street Won the World (And How We Win it Back)

by Jeremy Gilbert and Alex Williams

Mark Fisher (1968 – 2017) a Tribute from Ipswich.

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Image result for mark fisher capitalist realism

 

Mark Fisher (1968 – 2017)

On Saturday, on the anniversary of her friend’s death, Nina Power circulated a beautiful tribute, In Memoriam. She wrote, “Since you have gone I find it hard to go back to your writing. I think it is because there is still so much life in your words, but so much ghostliness too. And it was just so good, it just is so good. You captured exhilaration in writing like nobody else.”

This is also a contribution to Mark’s memory, written since our paths crossed at an Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting in Ipswich (Exiting the Vampire Castle), and because this recent reader of Capitalist Realism. Is there no Alternative? (2008) is deeply impressed by the work he left behind. (1)

Mark Fisher was a radical cultural critic. This expression barely covers the career of talented man whose research in the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit writings on the K-Punk Blog were marked by keen radical political feeling.

Capitalist Realism.

Capitalist Realism was, and is, a landmark study. It hits you from the first page with its quality. The book hooks the reader by an account of the film The Children of Men (2006), less a “cinematic dystopia” than a permanent state of emergency. Fisher reflects that it reminds him of a phrase attributed to Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, “that is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” This captured the meaning of “capitalist realism”, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (Page 2)

The scenario of The Children of Men, which revolves around mass sterility, the end of public space and where nihilist religious eschatology is all that is left for the masses wandering in camps to cling to, is striking in itself. While the state had yet to be reduced to the military and police, Fisher extended the plot to capitalism, a world now where, “all that is left is the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and relics.” (Page 4).

Jean Baudrillard wrote of the French Socialist governments of the 1980s, well before the collapse of Communism, of the “end of the dialectic” “the end of history” and above all the “power of simulation”. (La Gauche Divine. 1985). Fisher evokes other French theorists, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose Capitalisme et schizophrénie. L’anti-Œdipe (1972) to him saw capitalism as a “dark potentiality” and “unnameable thing” which has only begun to be deterritorialised through finance. One might suggest that something of this complex work, which is, amongst many things, a critique of psychoanalysis remains in Fisher’s concern with the link between the new forms of capitalism and mental illness, though the relation with Guattari’s own therapeutic practices remains to be discussed. (2)

Fisher captures these themes in the sense of “sense of exhaustion, of cultural and political sterility”, preferring capitalist realism to the term “post-modernism”, an expression, he justly noted, loaded with ambiguities, ranging from politics, economics  and cultural trends. Perhaps more significantly the idea that that there is “no alternative” focuses on the propositional nature of the expression. That is it can be contested, without succumbing to the belief of theorists of the Baudrillard school, that the world has been absorbed in the “hyper-real” in which nothing beyond trivia  happens any more.

Capitalist Realism indeed describes the effects of free market liberalism; an iron cage of its own imposed in the area he knew best, education. Managerialism, targets, a bureaucracy that “invades all areas of work” (P 51). The Big Other, the “bewildered frustration of the individual in the call centre labyrinth” is an “expression of the ultimate cause-that-is-not a subject capital. (Pages 65 and 70) If the latter seems a reflection of an Althusserian subjectless process commentators have been more struck by the expression of ‘hauntology” – the individual’s nostalgia for “lost futures”.

New Political Terrain.

This reader was more impressed by Fisher’s effort to think beyond these limits. The final chapter of Capitalist Realism ends with a defence public services, what is slightly tongue in cheek called a ‘Marxist supernanny”. Not that he was anything but critical of defensive politics. “It’s well past time for the left to case limiting its ambitions to the establishing of a big state. But being ‘at a distance from the state’ does not mean either abandoning the state or retreating into the private space of affects and diversity”. (page 77)

If capitalist realism survived the credit crisis of 2008, and the end of capitalism was not in sight, a “new political terrain” remains to be conquered. With its own authentic universality, a term he understands in Alain Badiou’s ‘ontological’ that is foundational, sense), This implies, “resurrecting the very concept of a general will, revising – and modernising – the idea of a public space that is not reducible to an aggregation of individuals and their interests.”(Page 77) He defended ‘worker autonomy’. How the General Will can subordinate the state, at a time when the People has emerged in some left circles as a substitute for the working class, remains to be seen. (3)

Mark Fisher’s Exiting the Vampire Castle begins with a description of his dispirited state, looking at the left, and squabbles on the Internet, which was  rendered acute by attacks on Owen Jones. It continues,

One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

I was one of the organisers of that meeting and can say that this passage cheered me up immensely. There are people on the left who have “exited” the Vampire Castle of ‘identities’ (perhaps code for an academic cultural left) that Fisher described, although our own fortresses are no doubt just as daunting. It is of interest that many of the people at the Fore Street Co-op Education Centre were active in the Labour Party at the time, and many more are today, from the present Ipswich MP, councillors, to trade unionists.

We are trying to make real if not the General Will, at least Left politics, and have a good stab at the ‘capitalist realism’ comrade Mark Fisher so brilliantly described, and for which we will remember him.

See also:  Journey back into the vampires’ castle: Mark Fisher remembered, 1968-2017

Thanks to Roger for sending me a copy of Capitalist Realism.

(1) We may well have directly met. I recall a conversation in Ipswich with somebody about post-modernism and Derrida – not one may imagine a frequent topic in the town.

(2) See Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari. Biographie croisée. François Dosse. La Découverte. 2009. This book contains a wealth of details about their lives and theories. Guattari was a supporter of a version of ‘anti-psychiatry. Some consider that Mille plateaux (1980)  is more useful for its description  of how states “capture” people and territories. 

(3) Ed Rooksby’s review of Capitalist Realism in Historical Materialism, Vol 20 No 1. 2012, asked how literally we could take these suggestive ideas.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 15, 2018 at 2:02 pm