We propose to develop a cooperative, open-content research format that will facilitate a detailed theoretical debate on the historical relations between technological and political transformations, culminating in studies of the present crisis of "informationalism" or the "network society." Building on existing concepts of the technological paradigm, we seek to enlarge the current horizons of research by establishing a chronological framework to track developments in the arts and the communications media as well as changing patterns of consumption, circulation, self-organization and political mobilization. The resulting more broadly integrated model of technopolitics will allow individual researchers to develop their own applications of shared concepts and resources, thus contributing to an informational commons and an enriched public sphere.
What is a technological paradigm, and what is it good for? Beginning with Kondratiev in the early twentieth century, numerous writers have identified "long waves" of economic growth focused around an initial cluster of technological innovations which emerge, come to maturity and then decline in importance over a cycle of some forty to sixty years. By correlating the history of technological development with a broader range of scientific, organizational and financial trends, later authors such as Carlota Perez seek to identify "paradigms" in which a large number of factors reinforce each other, giving rise to periods that are identifiable not only to the retrospective view of the historian but also to those who live through them. To better understand the current era, it is necessary to examine the existing concepts of the long wave and the technological paradigm, in order to test their validity and limits. How to avoid the reification of structuralist categories and grand narratives? How to escape the exclusive and normalizing focus on a hegemonic center? How to identify the multiple protagonists of social change and recognize their dialectical contributions to the forms of technological development? By displacing the accent from paradigmatic continuity to processes of rupture and transformation, it should be possible to forge a new concept of "technopolitics" that can help to identify the key inventions, conflicts and forms of cooperation that will determine the outcomes of the present crisis.
The research will be carried out cooperatively, using an existing content-management system (http://thenextlayer.org) as both an archive of raw materials and an interactive space for the confrontation of ideas and the development of hypotheses. Three principle areas of investigation are currently envisaged:
1) a Methodology section, comprising annotated summaries of the major theories of social and technological change as well as inquiries into their validity and applicability to the present;
2) a Chronology section comprising case studies of technical, social, cultural and political developments in specific periods;
3) an Applications section, containing copies of individually or cooperatively authored materials generated on the basis of the research.
Grant funding will be sought for the principle researchers, but access to the materials will be open and ad-hoc contributions to the research will be welcome. It is expected that the research should be applied in a large variety of ways, and that the development of these applications should be the principal motivation for contributing to the common archive. Due acknowledgement of the project and of specific contributions will be required of the users. The site will be protected with a pro-forma password so as to limit careless interventions and facilitate the archiving of copyrighted materials.
In an initial phase, the research will focus primarily on a collaborative review of the existing theories of social and technological change. Researchers will contribute (or add to) summaries of each of the principle books and articles, including page references and links to scanned excerpts or graphic tables and charts; when possible, full copies of the book or article will be archived. At the end of each summary, individual researchers will be able to contribute, billboard-style, to a running debate on validity and applicability. After a sufficient number of works have been consulted, one or several position papers will be authored in the attempt to sum up the conclusions; however, the methodology section will remain continuously open to new contributions. The major groups of authors to be treated include, but are not limited to, the following:
--> Study of technological cycles (Kondratiev, Schumpeter, Perez, Piore & Sabel, Freeman & Soete...)
--> Regulation School (Aglietta, Boyer, Lipietz, Jessop, Harvey...)
--> World Systems Theory (Wallerstein, Arrighi, Minqi Li...)
--> Autonomous Marxism (Negri, Vercellone, Marazzi, Moulier-Boutang...)
Given the range of theories to be treated, difficulties will inevitably arise as to how those methodologies can be reconciled or mapped onto each other and whether the tensions can be made fruitful for the development of new research questions that go to the heart of real aporias and contradictions of contemporary capitalism -- thereby increasing the potential of forms of social and cultural critique to actively participate in the conflicts that are already unfolding.
The Chronology will entail, on the one hand, using the methodological study to establish stylized periods of stability and crisis, and on the other, defining a number of broad fields of technopolitical development, so as to orchestrate a large number of case studies dealing with specific technical artifacts, economic trends, cultural productions or institutional forms. The case studies should in turn allow for a refinement of the understanding of historical periods and of the pertinence of the field-categories being used. Before even presenting the initial ideas on periodization and fields of inquiry, several caveats are in order. First, any periodization can only be approximate, it is always on the order of a hypothesis, and is in no way meant to become a procrustean bed that distorts the real phenomena. Second, because of the hierarchical nature of capitalist social relations, periods do not necessarily have the same extension or significance in different geographical locations; they are crucially affected by center-periphery distinctions and interactions, and one of the major problems for this research is to account for these geographic differentials. Third, scientific, organizational and artistic developments may well have their significance at a later time, when social, economic and political conditions are ripe for their widespread diffusion. Fourth, the delimitation of different fields of research is a dialectical device; it is done, not merely to facilitate the research and to respect existing disciplinary divides, but above all in order to isolate contradictory "aspects" or "moments" of a process which tends to unify and violently suppress its contradictions. For us, the Chronology is conceived not as a machine to repress distinctions, but rather as a space to open up potentials.
Initial hypothesis, subject to revision:
1908-28: Take-off of mass production system
1929-37: Regulation crisis of mass production (Great Depression)
1938-67: Keynesian Fordist hegemony
1968-77: Crisis of Fordism (wildcat strikes and liberation movements)
1978-2000: Take-off of informatic production (Neoliberalism or flexible accumulation)
2001-??: Regulation crisis of informatic production
The fields are conceived both in general terms that capture dominant trends, and also dynamically, as a locus of conflicts between interest groups, political forces, cultural reactionaries or vanguards, etc. An initial hypothesis distinguishes 4 fields of technopolitical development:
1. Production, communication and military technologies, grasped in relation both to the scientific discoveries that underlie them and to the economic and/or power-political imperatives that press for their development.
2. Modes of governance including labor organization, finance and social-welfare policy, to be understood in their effects on class structure and consciousness.
3. Worldwide monetary and military orders, as determined by the territorial policies of sovereign states, the molecular activities of firms, and the spatial circulation of labor and desire.
4. Media developments, artistic inventions, ideological and cultural trends (including consumer seduction, nationalist indoctrination, critical movements in civil society, self-organization and counter-cultural subversion).
These would be up to each of the contributors. They might include: essays, books, Masters' or PhD theses, exhibition proposals, radio shows, conference proceedings, artworks, installations or other cultural artifacts... The point is to develop a cooperative, open-content research format, based on and inspired by free software and oriented toward the creation of an informational commons. The time is particularly ripe for this kind of research: the current economic/ecological crisis is almost certain to inflect technological developments in ways that will be determined, in part, by democratic debate and social movements.
This is the beginning of a Book on techno-political paradigm changes.
There are four meta-categories with sub-categories, which we are slowly going to fill with meanings, explanations, related bibliographies.
Blank section for to be developed book.
This page is to discuss what the meta-category Productive Process and its subcategories mean.
Lead Technologies and Transportion: following the concept of Freeman and Soete and Carlota Perez, there is always a lead technology, or usually a pairing of lead technologies, which occur together with specific innovations in the transport system.
An assembly line can be an organisational form not just a technology. Other examples would be the networked firm or outsourcing or Just-In-Time production.
How a distribution system creates a viable market for a product. The realisation of value in Marxist terms.
How corporations raise money in order to grow and to survive the low points in the business cycle. How to, in business terms, sustain a cash flow that allows to survive and grow.
This pages is to discuss the Mode of Regulation and its subcategories - Legal Framework; Redistribution Mechanisms; Self-Organization of Labour.
The characteristics of the wage relation. A type of that would be a seniority based salary. Also forms of conflict resolution and baragining. The classical form is industrial action and collective bargaining, but in fact capital firms encounter many other forms of resistance and conflict, having as content environmental issues, conditions of work and rights claims.
The motivation that individuals have to realise the value of the product.
This text is a methodological outline linking categories of the Technopolitics research project with the PhD research project on "Moves in Media Art - Paradigm changes in art and technology". While mainly sketching out a work program for the coming months, the notion of "creative norms" is proposed here for the first time in an English text. It therefore would be nice to get some feedback on this.
The development of analytical categories to describe a paradigm brought up the meta-category of the "integrative process". This category describes those processes which help to embed the political economy in the actual lived reality. While the critique of the political economy necessarily focuses on terms and contradictions considered "central" to the way political economies work, such as capital and labour, the social relationships contained in those forms remain abstract. The introduction of the category "integrative process" poses the question, "how are the abstract properties of the categories of the political economy translated into the everyday reality of lived life?" How, for instance, does the "contradiction" between labour and capital actually play out? On the layer of the political economy this leads to the analysis of economic factors such as fixed capital investment, the level of productivity and its development over time, the remuneration of labour and the amount of surplus value appropriated by capital. Posing the same question on the layer of the integrative process we become aware of a set of different questions. How, for instance, is the level of payment negotiated between labour and capital. And, how is "effective demand" actually realised? - only to give two examples of such questions. Effective demand cannot be a function merely of the amount of "freed up" money available for spending beyond the most basic needs for survival. The "needs" of wage earners are shaped by various influences such as traditional cultural values or new orientations inspired by advertising or other emerging social trends. The realisation of effective demand depends on 'consumption norms'.
Aglietta (1979)1 states that the era of Fordism developed specific "structural forms" to negotiate the relationships between capital and labour and describes "collective bargaining" as one such structural form of the highest significance for this period (postwar era from roughly 1945 - 1975 with variations depending on country). Structural forms therefore can be described as the specific expressions of the integrative process in relation to corresponding categories of the productive process within a respective techno-economic paradigm. Building on this notion it is suggested that a) institutions, culture and media are key factors that shape the integrative process and that b) it is methodologically fruitful to look for further "structural forms" which link the political economy with the everyday. [it would be necessary to define the categories used "institutions", "culture" and "media" but this task is skipped for now and left to a further date]. What particularly interests us is if there are "structural forms" in the domains of culture and media which contribute to the integrative process in particular ways?
To give an example, it could be proposed that during the era of Fordism in many European countries, among them England and Austria, state funding of the arts through semi-independent funding bodies was a structural form that was of great influence on artistic production and consumption. In England, this was done through the Arts Council of England, chaired by John Maynard Keynes in the immedeate postwar years. In Austria, a similar role was taken by the Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture and Education, albeit with some delay (only after 1955 with formal independence and end of occupation). Without now going into detail about differences (for instance, the Arts Council was famously based on an "arms-length" principle while the Austrian Ministry is directly part of government administration), we can say that it is productive to look how this structural form changed in the transition from Fordism to Postfordism. We need to add that throughout the same period in the countries in question there existed also an art market whereby it is yet unlcear if the market is yet another structural form or more adequately described as an institution. In this regard we also need to take note of the fact that change can have different meanings. Not only can it mean change of the overall structural form - i.e. a transition from the state funded arts to more markte dominated forms of art production - but also a change from within whereby the structural form on the outside is maintained but it continues within a different organisational logic and with different goals and priorities.
The key new thesis which is proposed here is that in advanced capitalist societies one of the functions of the arts is the creative production of consumption norms - in short 'creative norming'. This has a double meaning. Creative norms can be models or prototypes which are turned into designs for industrial production. They can also be the creative norms which people have internalized as tastes and desirable images. Arts and culture play a key role in shaping the subjectivities of people and make them acquire those tastes and desires which will determine their decisions as consumers. Creative norms are the social norms of consumption according to age, gender, "class" or profession and other social stratifications. This connection is most obvious in product design, an issue pointed out by Michel Aglietta (1979: 160-61):
But in order for this logic of consumption to be compatible with a labour process oriented towards relative surplus value, the total of use values had to be adapted to capitalist mass production. This meant the creation of a functional aesthetic ('design'), which acquired fundamental social importance. This aesthetic had firstly to respect the constraints of engineering, and consequently to conceive use-value as an assembly of standardized components capable of long production runs. It also had to introduce planned obsolescence, and establish a functional link between use-values to create the need for their complementarity. In this way, consumption activity could be rendered uniform and fully subjected to the constraints of its items of equipment. Finally, this functional aesthetic duplicated the real relationship between individuals and objects with an imaginary relationship. Not content to create a space of objects of daily life, as supports of a capitalist commodity universe, it provided an image of this space by advertisment techniques. This image was presented as an objectification of consumption status which individuals could perceive outside themselves. The process of social recognition was externalized and fetishized. Individuals were not initially interpellated as subjects by one another, in accordance with their social position: they were interpellated by an external power, diffusing a robot portrait of the 'consumer'. Consumption habits were thus already calculated and controlled socially.
Whereas in design the relationship between the functional aesthetic produced by designers and the imaginary produced by advertisement is a very close one, it is much less so in the case of fine arts. The viewpoint proposed here is that works of contemporary art produced by avant-gardes have a time-delayed influence on the production of creative norms. This influence is not only played out on the layer of different aesthetics but also on the layer of social values. It would be a grave reduction of art practices in the second half of the 20th century to reduce them to a specific aesthetics, as many artists and artistic movements strove to go beyond "styles" and aimed at, for instance, critical interrogations of social relationships and investigated changing understandings of fundamental categories of human existence such as time and space. While it is much more difficult to objectify the dispersion of new social meanings contained in avantgarde practices, it is still possible. It is clear that such a concept of arts involvement in the production of creative norms will raise a lot of objections. One key objections is that such a concept is much too functionalist. Artists follow many other motives rather than producing 'robot portraits of consumers' which will determine their consumption habits. As an important objection this is, it is beyond the point, as what matters is not what artists subjectively feel what their work is about but what social use is made of it. [This text is only a methodological sketch and in this respect, for instance, Bourdieu's work on 'tastes' needs to be considered more.] Another objection is that some important artistic practices were openly hostile to capitalism and socially antagonistic. While this is certainly the case with Suationism, we can see how the time-delay and capitalisms capacity of 'recuperation' was capable of turning Situationist aesthetics and practices into commodities through Punk and New Wave music in the late 1970s and 1980s. Even more important to support this thesis is the development that interwar avantgarde movements have taken. Buchloh (FIXME: reference) hast pointed out that the Bauhaus aesthetic was turned into blueprints for US American design after WWII. This influence is not just speculative but can be directly followed via the role Bauhaus artists Laszlo Moholy Nagy and György Kepes played in postwar art and design education in the US. We can generalise this to the claim that avantgarde positions developed in the early decades of the 20th century became hegemonic during the era of Fordism, albeit stripped off their social revolutionary character. This did not just happen automatically but was a result of the structural form of state funding for the arts.
A key role in this regard was played by major exhibitions which presented avantgarde positions from before the war to new mass audiences. In the name of the democratisation of the arts nation states funded museums and exhibition halls which presented artistic positions which previously had only been known to tiny minorities to much larger audiences. In some cases this had an ideological function to demonstrate the superiority of democratic market societies, namely the USA, as opposed to the restrictions that totalitarian systems put on the arts. In other cases the idea was both ideological as well as educative. Exhibitions such as documenta in Germany were created to demonstrate to the German population the values of an open society which not just tolerated but actively supported critical art practices that contradicted traditional tastes. The funding practices of public art funding bodies and the modern art 'exhibition' as a format are an important expression of the structural form of state involvement in the arts.
With regard to the development of the thesis "Moves in Media Art" this has several consequences, as it opens a specific analytical perspective on the exhibitions which serve as case studies in this thesis. For instance, in which ways was the development of cybernetic art and early computer art in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s influenced by the existence of the ACE and state funded institutions such as the ICA. It also forces us to ask which structural forms were used in Yugoslavia where the New Tendencies project happened and which role the structural form played in the establishment of the Austrian Ars Electronica festival in 1979 and its subsequent development till today. We can also investigate the tensions between the aspirations of the artists and curators and the creative norms which arose from their work. In which ways did 'media art before the name' contribute to the development of creative norms that would become hegemonic with the rise of the information society? How did during the rise from the age of Fordism to Postfordism the structural form of the organisation of the arts change and how did that influence the shape of exhibitions and the dissemination of creative norms? For instance, we need to look at the possible relationships between the development of the productive forces and the integrative process in Fordism as it peaked and reached a crisis, and the artistic sensibilities relating to changes in perception of time, space and the emergence of the open artwork and participation in the 1950s and 1960s. As a sort of a subthesis we could say that artists strove to overcome the rigidities of Fordism long before the structural crisis of Fordism became apparent on the economic plane and that their practices and manifestos, while marginal at the time, prepared the ground for the resurgence of those practices once social conditions and new technologies were more conducive to them. Another area to be investigated is the function of new media in this context. This concerns on one hand the function of advertisement and related fields such as market research and PR - as a complex of issues surrounding 'feedback' - and on the other hand the rise of media technologies as consumer goods. While in market driven economies a key role of media is the transmission of consumption norms, media technologies themselves become commodities that can be afforded by consumers and which are getting integrated into the everyday in various ways, be it amateur creativity, fan creativity, youth- and sub-cultures.
In Marxist language the sphere of reproduction, but there is a distinction to be made between classic institutions of care for dependend people and the more molecular far less weakly institutionalised set of relations that are ultimately more important, regarding the ways humans care for each other either within families or in other relationships.
These are the institutions that provide the local codes and standards that allow the intregrative process to happen.
Core values such as nationalism, enlightenment values, religion, work ethics or localisms.
This meta-category deals with where the local/nationally integrated process meets with the global. It particularly refers to standards ands protocols developed at the boundaries of the nation and globalisation.
Every period is characterised by a certain currency exchange regime and monetary regime. Examples would be the gold standard, fixed or floating exchange rates. Role of central banks and monetary policy and high-finance.
Sovereign and Subaltern Military Strategies and the impact of military infrastructure on global protocols.
Technological standards such as TCP/IP, bodies such as the ITU, norms of air traffic, radio spectrum regulation, etc.
Expressed by institutions and conventions such as WTO, or MAI, or regional and bilateral mechanisms of securing liberalisation and managing on the level of abstract process, seemless flows.
The regional blocks are an important intermediate layer defining protocols.
Norms, laws and technologies regulating the flows of people across sovereign borders.
This category deals with the myriad agents of change in society, from vanguard groups and parties to factors that contribute to slower and less easily recognizable forms of change.
Social movements, but also subcultural groups and communities involved in class and rights struggles and/or nursing divergent cultural values over the medium and long term which become particularly relevant during explosive moments.
Deliberate, idea driven, aesthetic, political and scientific-scholarly interventions by relatively small and disciplined groups.
The Power Elites, after C.W Mills.
Individuals who at particular times can beat the innovation system.
New comment: As I have noted somewhere in these discussions, I propose that as a a starting point economic 'cycles' should have a strong role in periodisation, because without those, we are moving outside the Kondratieff framework. Periods would then be simply named after perceived leading technologies, they would represent 'paradigms' but what drives the transition from one to the other would be difficult to argue.
To may knowledge, the most comprehensive book on long waves is Long Cycles, Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, by Joshua S. Goldstein, Yale University Press 1988. Luckily, the whole book is available online (link above). There, in Part One, Debates, chapter 4, Goldstein compares all the existing data series and discusses their merits. There, I found this periodisation from p.90 quite convincing:
Industrial Growth Rates after Van Duijn 1983, in Goldstein, p.90 UK U.S. Germany France Japan 1840s-1870s 3.0 6.2 4.3 1.7 ? 1870s-1890s 1.7 4.7 2.9 1.3 ? 1890-1913 2.0 5.3 4.1 2.5 2.4 1920-1929 2.8 4.8 0 8.1 3.4 1929-1948 2.1 3.1 0 -0.9 -0.2 1948-1973 3.2 4.7 9.1 6.1 9.4
I have tried to plot this as a bar chart with the periodisations as a baseline on x axis using gnuplot but failed. It would be good to be able to make our own charts and curves if we have raw data available.
NOTE: This document was updated using the 'create new revision' option in 'publishing options' at the very bottom of the edit mask for this entry. All group members should also be able to edit this and other pages of the emerging 'book'. When changing existing entries the 'create new revision' button creates wiki-style versioning.
NOTE: as Brian has noted, there are some discrepancies between my timeline and for instance the table by Carlota Perez. Yet the main difference is that I follow the Freeman/Soete model, which Carlota Perez also does, with the only difference, that she dates the beginning of a great surge at the point of invention of the technology, whereas Freeman and Soete take the reaching of maturity as its beginning. What I have also done is to link the techno-economic cycles with phases of expansion and contraction. What this exactly signifies needs to be clarified - need to go back to literature, yet mainly based on the notion of the overall tendency of the profit rate and of economic growth. Compared to my initial periodisation, I have added some more fine grained categories towards the end, because this is where discussions will occur, about where we really are and which terms to use for which period.
I think also we need to layer somehow the 50-60 year Kondratieff cycles with the longer world system cycles.
This Timeline could also be arranged as a 'book'
Timeline 1890 - 2010
1890 - 1914
1914/18 - 1938/45
Age of Extremes
1938/45 - ca 1967/73 Fordism/Keynisianism
1971/73 - 1993 Post-Fordism, Toyotism
1993- 2000 Information society, Network Society
2000s -07/ 09 regulatory crisis, pure Financialism
201? maturity phase
A book by the leading English-language regulationist, Bob Jessp, with co-author Ngai-Ling Sum, focusing on the characterization of Fordism, its breakdown and ways to characterize the period "after Fordism" in its qualitative differences, particularly due to the fully global and therefore, multicivilizational dimensions of the new regime of accumulation.
particular narratives or strands of research contributing to the understanding of what makes a paradigm
This article presents a review, summary and notes on Über Marx hinaus Arbeitsgeschichte und Arbeitsbegriff in der Konfrontation mit den globalen Arbeitsverhältnissen des 21. Jahrhunderts. Edited by Marcel van der Linden and Karl Heinz Roth, this book combines many heterodox thinkers of the left, who had a close engagement with Marx, but are convinced now that we need to go beyond Marx for a number of reasons. This carefully edited volume makes a very interesting contribution to the history and present of labour and deserves to receive enough attention so that it gets translated as a whole or some of the pieces in it.
Reference: Über Marx hinaus Arbeitsgeschichte und Arbeitsbegriff in der Konfrontation mit den globalen Arbeitsverhältnissen des 21. Jahrhunderts, Marcel van der Linden und Karl Heinz Roth, (ed.) with Max Henninger, Berlin und Hamburg: Assoziation A, 2009 1
"We urgently need a critical theory which makes it possible to analyse the development of a capitalist world system and to construct, based on this understanding, new perspectives for a comprehensive social re-ordering" (Marcel van der Linden und Karl Heinz Roth, Introduction p. 13)
The introduction by the editors starts with a short and concise analysis of recent world events, the so called financial crisis and the decline of U.S. hegemony. This concludes with a number of points which illustrate that even so the last 20 years can be understood as a phase of economic expansion, this expansion was very uneven. The poorest fifth of the world's nations achieved negative economic growth of -0,5%. In 80% of all countries the rise of life-expectancy has slowed down, while also the decline of child death has decelerated. Only in the richest countries spending on education has risen, while in almost every country the proportion of spending as part of GDP has fallen; and even in the richest countries, measured by the OECD, the wealth gap between the poorest and richest segments of societies has grown. pp. 8-9
The introduction proceeds with a short re-assessment of Marx' work. Both authors/editors belong to a thread in Marxism which has drawn on Marx' classics during their youth in the 1960s and 1970s, yet were also close to the student movement and currents in Marxism now known as autonomous Marxism coming out of the operaio movement. The authors point out that the new materials published in the new complete German edition - Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe MEGA 2 - show that Engels' interventions as editors of the second and third volume of Capital did not only occasionally smooth over Marx' gaps and inconsistencies but had a more profound impact on the meaning of the work than had previously been thought. They also point out that Marx, towards the end of his life, had resisted the publication of II and III not only because the work was unfinished but because he had started to nurture severe doubts about the analytic framework he had developed. Marx had originally planned a six part work with the themes capital, land ownership, wage labour, the state, foreign trade and the world market of which he had within his life time only finished the first volume of the first part. It is therefore impossible, the authors conclude to analyse the complex processes and cycles of the world economy driven by competition between nation states on a genuine Marxist basis p. 12.
Roth and van der Linden identify five main weaknesses, inconsistencies and/or contradictions in Marx' work. First, they focus on the issue that Marx analysed capital but did little on living labour, which was reserved for a further book which he never came to write. The focus on developing theoretic instruments through which to understand the working of capital necessarily leads to many gaps, notably how capitalism actually works in the real work, how for instance the working class reproduces itself and what constitute its 'needs'. This, in our terms, would be the integrative process. van d. Linden and Roth are asking, what is the working class? The first part of the book provides a variety of angles, from a historic perspective, to aspects such as migration and the difficulty of applying a concept of class on subaltern groups in an emerging economy such as India.
This leads to a second point, a tendency to objectivism which is partly explained out of the context of Marx' own life: while the basic plan for a critique of the national economy was developed in the revolutionary 1840s, the emerging working class movement suffered heavy political defeat in the late 1840s and Marx thereafter became a precarious intellectual who had withdrawn into private life to make his theory more 'scientific'. This resulted in an objectivist tendency with Marx hoping to discover the "natural laws of the development of the capitalist economy" which would either lead to avantgardism or passivity (this line of critique is developed by quoting Karl Korsch (p.17)2 and Castoriadis' Crossroads in the Labyrinth (p. 16 and p. 204)3, both quoted on pages 18-19).
The third weakness is a tendency to privilege only one segment of the world working class, the male industrial proletariat which Marx and Engels treat as the only really revolutionary class while having, for instance, scant regard for the urban lumpenproletariat. This is closely linked with a fourth problem which is identified as methodological nationalism (p. 20). Marx explicitely based his theoretic model in Capital I on one nation state. While Marx made this theoretic reduction explicit, it has led to a widespread methodological nationalism among Marxists who, according to Roth and van der Linden, naturalise the nation state and exclude subnational, supranational and transnational aspects of the world system, while also identifying society with the state and a specific territorry (p. 21). This leads to the fifth accusation of Eurocentrism, which finds three main expressions, one, by ignoring events outside the axis Europe-North-America, second, by developing a prejudice about a European led development model, and third, by using empirical assumptions which treat certain things as facts, when they actually occured only under specific historic conditions (p.23).
The central thesis of the editors of Beyond Marx is that those 5 issues have to be overcome if radical theory should be able to provide orientation in the way it is expressed in the initial quote. The following essays of this finely edited book focus mainly on the aspect of labour and a more inclusive approach to the question of who or what is the working class. Thereby they help to sort out the mess with regard to class issues. The demographic decline of a specific type of working class in rich Northern countries, the rise in numbers and significance of new types of "flexi-workers" both in developed and emerging economies, the swelling numbers of the new industrial proletariat in emerging economies, all those tendencies coalesce into a problematic which has so far seen little solution both theoretically and empirically.
The first section, on labour, starts with a short version of Linebaugh and Rediker's book on the Many Headed Hydra4 which I assume to be well known by an English reading public. The second article by Niklas Fryman, is a fascinating account of seafarers as workers on the European war ships of the late 18th century. One thing that stands out is how, firstly, hard it was for the various navies to fill warships with the necessary amount of workers, and the mostly coercive ways of achieving this; secondly, there have been, accroding to Fryman, different phases when working class resistance took on different forms: during phases when hopes for an overall political change are slim, seaferers deserted in great numbers; when things got really hopeless they switched to open mutiny.
This almost melts together in my memory with Peter Way's attempt to understand the British soldier of that same period as a 'worker'. Noteworthy, across those three texts, is the tendency for transnational revolutionary solitarity, and the much bigger attention that probably should be paid to forms of forced labour, as both seafarers and soldiers can only partially be understood as "free individuals" who had nothing else to sell but their labour time. Can workers who are forced to work and who do not engage in a free contractual relationship also be analyzed according to a Marxist framework of labour vs. capital? And, as specifically Peter Ways suggests, does the great role that forced labour played in primitive accumulation lead us to a new understanding of that process, which Marx maybe assessed to schematically within a before and after of capitalism's history? Furthermore, are there continuities with regard to coercive methods on the capital-labour relationship with legacies lasting till today?
This last question gains increased urgency in the fourth piece by Ferruccio Gambino and Devi Sacchetto, which is the first piece in this volume to create a bridge from those deep histories to present times. Die Formen des Mahlstroms. Von den Plantagen zu den Fließbändern which could be translated as The forms of the maelstrom: from the plantations to the assembly lines draws together those histories of labour in chains with histories of migration and industrial development, the combination of free trade with slavery and indentured labour as well as the hard fought for freedom of the wage labourer to leave her employer. This 40 page essay does not waste much time with lengthy declarations about methodologies and theories and is packed with interesting research which is impossible to retell without translation of the whole piece.
As an important aside, a short search for possible English versions of this text did yield no result. It shows how important translations is especially in this living field of theory which connects itself to real struggles, something that becomes even more visible with the next piece by Sergio Bologna (more below). My motivation for writing this review is partly to make people aware of this book to motivate them so that they either wholly or partially translate it into other languages than German.
Gambino and Sacchetto address the "re-disciplining of migration flows" in Asia, Europe and North-America as a double process of selection, between exclusion of people deemed dangerous and the combination of formal and informal recruitment channels for an industrial system based on just-in-time production which wants to access human resources as flexibly as natural ones (p. 116). The buerocratisation of 'processing' migration flows takes on various forms and so leads to segmentations between workers whose often paperless status gets exploited while fostering new practices that turn detention centres for 'illegal migrants' into informal recruitment camps for cheap and dangerous labour. The text, however, does not only focus on the ways power tries to regulate migrant labour, it also highlights the agency of workers and the influence this had and has on the business cycle.
The chief term here is that of 'fluctuation', the turnover of workers and the measures taken to address it, or taken more generally, the mobility of capital. While the movement of workers has forced capital to globalise its recruitment capabilities, migrant workers have also triggered the opposite movement, when they try to stay in places where employers want to get rid of them again. Bringing in David Harvey's retemporalisation of the crisis, the authors ask how does this complex and cruel dialectics play itself out concretely. As Marx discusses the turnover of fixed capital and its relation to circulating capital, they criticise him for taking a too contemplative view on a process which went ahead in a much stormier way thereby exposing the limits of a system relying on 'using up' or 'exhausting' labour power. The relationship between jumpy peaks and troughs of fixed capital investment rates - the business cycle - and the availability of human labour as an uncertain factor is a key theoretical problematic to which this text makes an important contribution. There is an ambiguity between the historic forms that the maelstrom took on, using coercive and free forms of labour together for their own workers, in England, for example, while showing outright violence and brutality to slaves and indigenous people on plantations p. 121.
The relationship between the business cycle and migration has already been observed as early as 1926, note Gambino and Sacchetto 5. Yet while there are observable similarities in the shape of the respective curves, the exact connection between them is not quite clear. This is an intriguing bit which I suggest should be factored into the Technopolitics research scheme and given further consideration. Over the following pages the authors show how this particular connection was conditioned by certain social superstructural aspects in the U.S. namely the intention of keeping migrating African Americans in menial jobs and out of industrial assembly line jobs. But WWI and the U.S. fear of radicalised socialist workers together depleted the reservoir of available white workers, so that employers started to scrape at "the bottom of the barrel" of European labour - means recruiting Southern and South-Eastern European workers. there is a relationship between the tendency of the working class to "vote with their feet" when confronted with the three d's - dirty, dangerous, difficult - of labour and the role that regulation of migration plays with regard of coercing workers into accepting such working conditions that negatively afflict health (p. 138).
G&S present a particularly unforgiving view of the early phase of Fordism underpinned by spectacular turnover rates which stood as high as 370% at Ford's Highland Park before the doubling of the daily wage to 5$ (p. 134). The African Americans who had migrated to the North and West saw work at Ford as a chance despite the fact that many of them were first employed in the most unhealthy workshops such as the foundries. The retention rate of married African Americans at Ford who were not working in the foundries were one among the highest of all Fordist workers at the time, which was part of the motivation of Ford to take them on while other employers in Detroit continued discriminating against black workers (pp. 134 - 136)6
The continuation of those histories after WWII, the migration of African Americans to the centres of the industrial North, their increased inclusion in the Fordist labour market had a direct connection with the anti-segregation and civil rights movement in the U.S. within a global context of anti-colonial insurrections, according to G&S. The overall result of this was an international tendency towards less discrimination brought down many rassistic taboos in Europe as well (pp. 139-40). Northern Europe had to accept that many of those 'guestworkers' who had been invited to come for a few years and leave would have to be allowed to stay. The opposite tendency sets in, of exporting labour to low wage countries or so called export processing zones. The authors highlight the continuity from plantation to export processing zones, in the case of some countries such as the Fidschis. While a number of countries, especially larger ones, start a process of import substitution through building up domestic resources, others lack the necessary pre-conditions completely to do so (p. 141). The rise of free trade zones and export processing zones is making permanent the violation of many basic rights of the workers, there are nevertheless strong migration currents in poor countries towards these zones. China, in particluar, had already mobilised 100 million workers by 2005, with a further potential of 130 mio rural inhabitants to become migrant workers in export processing zones (pp. 148-49).
G&S conclusions emphasise more strongly the continuity of forms of forced labour in the assembly line work rather than the more Marxist orthodox view of factory work marking a more substantial change. Therefore they do not end without a swipe at those "prophets who predict the end of serialised labour or a postindustrial world" (p. 153). Without entering this very interesting discussion further I take note of a potential point of contestation with prevalent narratives about Fordism and Postfordism. If narratives about Golden Ages of Fordism are too sanguine, what about the sequel to that?
Which is, in a way, exactly what Sergio Bologna tackles with Der Operaismus, eine Innenansicht: von der Massenarbeit zur selbständigen Arbeit (pp. 155 - 181, Operaism, a view from within: from mass labour to self-employed labour). This is first of all, an intellectual history of Operaismo and autonomous Marxism and as such very useful, because in its relative brevity it is able to show connections between events and turning points in theory development that evaded me previously. What appears to me as most important is this drive by the first generation of operaistic researchers to understand factory labour, not in the terms that were already used by the Communist Party and the main Trade Unions, but what their own collective research yielded which directly engaged with the productive process on different layers:
"sequential organisation of the production cycle; hierarchical mechanisms, which this process spontaneously creates, disciplining and integrating techniques, the development of technologies and production processes, the reaction to the spontaneous behaviour of the labor force, and the intersubjective dynamics between workers, the communicative processes which workers have adopted among themselves, the passing on of knowledge from older to younger workers, the emergence of a culture of conflict, the fragmentations within the labor force, the use of breaks and cantine times, the differentiated account of the working of the payment system, the presence of trade unions and the forms of political propaganda, awareness of risk and means to protect one's physical safety, ... etc." (Sergio Bologna in Van der Linden and Roth 2009, p. 156)
It merits to quote this at length as it represents a possible research matrix to conduct conricerca ourselves in this day and age. In this view of theory or research as being in constant and direct connection with reality lies one of the lasting achievements of operaismo. The currently very fertile strand of conricerca appearantly owes something to the influence of Danilo Montaldi on Romano Alquati (p. 161) something further to be explored. The well known but hard to get by German edition of Opereio e Capitale, Tronti 1966 (dtsch.7), was a cornerstone of theory development. From there on, a theoretic shift phased in which should last a few years, which led to the reading of Grundrisse8 and the culmination of viewpoints based on that, lasting into the 1970s. While the first volume of Capital gives you the instruments to understand concrete labour, Grundrisse allows you to understand the principles of abstract labour, writes Bologna. With Vol I you 'get' Fordism, with Grundrisse you 'get' Postfordism (p. 166). Never before heard that so neatly juxtaposed. The next interaction between strike wave and theory creation brought together Primo maggio with the movement of 1977. Sergio Bologna published La tribu delle talpe, Mailand 19789 (German version10). While many of Bologna's colleagues had adopted ideas by Foucault, together with a reception of Deleuze via Negri, his analysis was different, based on the research of Primo maggio which had had shown the new drift of the economy towards fragmentation, specialisation, house work, just-in-time, in all these disintegrating forms, so that Bologna thought to observe first signs of a transition from Fordism to Postfordism (p. 173). The participation of new social groups in workerist struggles, where sometimes the focus was to leave the factory altogether was new and remains something to come to terms with. Bologna then turns to a narration that becomes more explicitely autobiographical.
Bologna identifies himself as a freelancer from the moment on he loses his job in the course of Italian state-action against radical intellectuals, starting in 1979, affecting him in 1982. What Bologna calls "die neue selbständige Arbeit" - Il lavoro autonomo di seconda generazione11 the phenomenon of new self-employed and self-directed gives rise to the dieci tesi, the 10 theses first presented to the public in altre ragioni in 1991, printed in 199712
Bologna comes out with the strong claim that in writing the 10 theses Marxism provided him with no historic or theoretic point of reference. There is no chapter in Capital, the Theory of Surplus Value or Grundrisse which provided any orientation for him. p. 177-78 Bologna sees great scope for fields of action opened by the crisis produced by neoliberalism and finance, because of the paradigm change brought by networked computing, "the greatest industrial revolution since the combustion engine". Bologna urges us to use those spaces of action, but also warns about the myths of the knowledge worker in light of exploitation of university staff and the general decline of the middle classes. Bologna insists we do not only have to go beyond Marx but also beyond the notion of The Left if we are to tackle issues such as the defence of postfordist labour and its autonomy, which he sees the remaining socialist or even radical leftist movements uncapable of. Now politically homeless, he is happy with that, and still draws on some of the operaismo research methodologies pp. 180-181
Those strong words come a bit as a surprise and my translation may make them even more undercomplex or clumsy. But once more lets make a holding mark, about this question if Postfordism really made any form of Marxist theory formulation obsolete. That could be read in a wider context where the development of media unhinges the leverage of Marx based thought. Which is what some Postmodern media theorists think. Turning this upside down, it could be valuable to study more concretely the relationship between the rise of new media and postmodernist theory strands within the postfordist economic paradigm.