by Jasper Bernes (2018), from Materialism and the Critique of Energy
In the days when man’s members did not all agree amongst themselves, as is now the case, but had each its own ideas and a voice of its own, the other parts thought it unfair that they should have the worry and the trouble and the labour of providing everything for the belly, while the belly remained quietly in their midst with nothing to do but to enjoy the good things which they bestowed upon it; they therefore conspired together that the hands should carry no food to the mouth, nor the mouth accept anything that was given it, nor the teeth grind up what they received. While they sought in this angry spirit to starve the belly into submission, the members themselves and the whole body were reduced to the utmost weakness. Hence it had become clear that even the belly had no idle task to perform, and was no more nourished than it nourished the rest, by giving out to all parts of the body that by which we live and thrive, when it has been divided equally amongst the veins and is enriched with digested food — that is, the blood.
Many on the left still subscribe to a view of technology that G.A. Cohen, in his reconstruction of Marx’s thought, called “the fettering thesis.” From this perspective, the technological forces that capitalism employs in its quest for productivity-driven profit are the foundation upon which an emancipated humanity will erect its new dwelling. Humane cultivation of these forces is, however, “fettered” by capitalist social relations. Capitalism is pregnant with what could be, a deployment in the conditional tense of given productive forces. In a resonant moment of triumphal phrasing at the end of the first volume of Capital, Marx describes capitalism as tending toward a moment of crisis, its property relations an “integument… burst asunder” by the maturation of increasingly centralized and concentrated productive forces. The consequences, for Marx, are clear: “The knell of capitalist property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” At a critical point in the development of capitalism, the fragmented, unplanned allocation of wealth that characterizes production for profit in competitive markets no longer conforms with the complex, industrialized labor process of modern workplaces: only socialist planning and the supervision of the direct producers themselves can make effective use of the technology whose adolescence the bourgeoisie oversaw. Today, many will advance these arguments only with significant caveats, avoiding some of its more embarrassing iterations. Few would argue, for instance, that the deskilled, socialized labor of the factory system contains the germ of a new world in the making. They will not hesitate, however, to pour new wine into old bottles and say much the same thing about 3-D printers and self-driving cars… [READ PDF]