communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: amazon

The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos

1_MXlznTFU7CcPwE0ZqQP-tA.png

by Malcolm Harris

It was explicitly and deliberately a ratchet, designed to effect a one-way passage from scarcity to plenty by way of stepping up output each year, every year, year after year. Nothing else mattered: not profit, not the rate of industrial accidents, not the effect of the factories on the land or the air. The planned economy measured its success in terms of the amount of physical things it produced.

— Francis Spufford, Red Plenty

But isn’t a business’s goal to turn a profit? Not at Amazon, at least in the traditional sense. Jeff Bezos knows that operating cash flow gives the company the money it needs to invest in all the things that keep it ahead of its competitors, and recover from flops like the Fire Phone. Up and to the right.

— Recode, “Amazon’s Epic 20-Year Run as a Public Company, Explained in Five Charts

From a financial point of view, Amazon doesn’t behave much like a successful 21st-century company. Amazon has not bought back its own stock since 2012. Amazon has never offered its shareholders a dividend. Unlike its peers Google, Apple, and Facebook, Amazon does not hoard cash. It has only recently started to record small, predictable profits. Instead, whenever it has resources, Amazon invests in capacity, which results in growth at a ridiculous clip. When the company found itself with $13.8 billion lying around, it bought a grocery chain for $13.7 billion. As the Recode story referenced above summarizes in one of the graphs: “It took Amazon 18 years as a public company to catch Walmart in market cap, but only two more years to double it.” More than a profit-seeking corporation, Amazon is behaving like a planned economy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Platform capitalism and value form

maxresdefault

By Matthew Cole

According to the speculations of techno-futurologists, left and right, the machines are here to liberate us. Most of the discourse is dominated by the neoliberal right such as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee and Andrew Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England. Their arguments, avoiding questions of exploitation, are naturally popular with the establishment. McAfee’s best-selling book The Second Machine Age has been lauded by leaders at the World Economic Forum.

On the left, however, Paul Mason welcomes our new robotic overlords, in an intellectual synthesis that spans Marx’s 1858 ‘Fragment on Machines’ (treated by Mason as a prophecy), Bogdanov’s 1909 novel Red Star and Martin Ford’s 2015 Rise of the Robots, not to mention Andre Gorz. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams offer a more qualified welcome to the possibility of full automation and a workless future. But even the best of these analyses, and even the most alluring visions of networked insurrection and high-tech communist utopia, have to face up to how these technologies have been used, historically, to deepen exploitation rather than overcome it. It is far more likely, in short, that new technologies will intensify drudgery and further limit human freedom. And it on this basis that we have to evaluate the impacts of platform technologies on the capitalist mode of production.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Shut-In Economy

by Lauren Smiley

1-NIBU-lDEgzkViNBt9c7t2Q

Angel the concierge stands behind a lobby desk at a luxe apartment building in downtown San Francisco, and describes the residents of this imperial, 37-story tower. “Ubers, Squares, a few Twitters,” she says. “A lot of work-from-homers.”

And by late afternoon on a Tuesday, they’re striding into the lobby at a just-get-me-home-goddammit clip, some with laptop bags slung over their shoulders, others carrying swank leather satchels. At the same time a second, temporary population streams into the building: the app-based meal delivery people hoisting thermal carrier bags and sacks. Green means Sprig. A huge M means Munchery. Down in the basement, Amazon Prime delivery people check in packages with the porter. The Instacart groceries are plunked straight into a walk-in fridge.

This is a familiar scene. Five months ago I moved into a spartan apartment a few blocks away, where dozens of startups and thousands of tech workers live. Outside my building there’s always a phalanx of befuddled delivery guys who seem relieved when you walk out, so they can get in. Inside, the place is stuffed with the goodies they bring: Amazon Prime boxes sitting outside doors, evidence of the tangible, quotidian needs that are being serviced by the web. The humans who live there, though, I mostly never see. And even when I do, there seems to be a tacit agreement among residents to not talk to one another. I floated a few “hi’s” in the elevator when I first moved in, but in return I got the monosyllabic, no-eye-contact mumble. It was clear: Lady, this is not that kind of building.

Back in the elevator in the 37-story tower, the messengers do talk, one tells me. They end up asking each other which apps they work for: Postmates. Seamless. EAT24. GrubHub. Safeway.com. A woman hauling two Whole Foods sacks reads the concierge an apartment number off her smartphone, along with the resident’s directions: “Please deliver to my door.”

“They have a nice kitchen up there,” Angel says. The apartments rent for as much as $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom. “But so much, so much food comes in. Between 4 and 8 o’clock, they’re on fire.”

I start to walk toward home. En route, I pass an EAT24 ad on a bus stop shelter, and a little further down the street, a Dungeons & Dragons–type dude opens the locked lobby door of yet another glass-box residential building for a Sprig deliveryman:

“You’re…”

“Jonathan?”

“Sweet,” Dungeons & Dragons says, grabbing the bag of food. The door clanks behind him.

And that’s when I realized: the on-demand world isn’t about sharing at all. It’s about being served. This is an economy of shut-ins.

Cheap Words

140217_r24640-1200

by George Packer

Amazon is a global superstore, like Walmart. It’s also a hardware manufacturer, like Apple, and a utility, like Con Edison, and a video distributor, like Netflix, and a book publisher, like Random House, and a production studio, like Paramount, and a literary magazine, like The Paris Review, and a grocery deliverer, like FreshDirect, and someday it might be a package service, like U.P.S. Its founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, also owns a major newspaper, the Washington Post. All these streams and tributaries make Amazon something radically new in the history of American business. Sam Walton wanted merely to be the world’s biggest retailer. After Apple launched the iPod, Steve Jobs didn’t sign up pop stars for recording contracts. A.T. & T. doesn’t build transmission towers and rent them to smaller phone companies, the way Amazon Web Services provides server infrastructure for startups (not to mention the C.I.A.). Amazon’s identity and goals are never clear and always fluid, which makes the company destabilizing and intimidating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Autofac

by Philip K Dick, 1955

Tension hung over the three waiting men. They smoked, paced back and forth, kicked aimlessly at weeds growing by the side of the road. A hot noonday sun glared down on brown fields, rows of neat plastic houses, the distant line of mountains to the west.

“Almost time,” Earl Ferine said, knotting his skinny hands together. “It varies according to the load, a half second for every additional pound.”

Bitterly, Morrison answered, “You’ve got it plotted? You’re as bad as it is. Let’s pretend it just happens to be late.”

The third man said nothing. O’Neill was visiting from another settlement; he didn’t know Ferine and Morrison well enough to argue with them. Instead, he crouched down and arranged the papers clipped to his aluminum check-board. In the blazing sun, O’Neill’s arms were tanned, furry, glistening with sweat. Wiry, with tangled gray hair, horn-rimmed glasses, he was older than the other two. He wore slacks, a sports shirt and crepe-soled shoes. Between his fingers, his fountain pen glittered, metallic and efficient.

“What’re you writing?” Ferine grumbled.

“I’m laying out the procedure we’re going to employ,” O’Neill said mildly. “Better to systemize it now, instead of trying at random. We want to know what we tried and what didn’t work. Otherwise we’ll go around in a circle. The problem we have here is one of communication; that’s how I see it.”

“Communication,” Morrison agreed in his deep, chesty voice. “Yes, we can’t get in touch with the damn thing. It comes, leaves off its load and goes on — there’s no contact between us and it.”

“It’s a machine,” Ferine said excitedly. “It’s dead — blind and deaf.”

“But it’s in contact with the outside world,” O’Neill pointed out. “There has to be some way to get to it. Specific semantic signals are meaningful to it; all we have to do is find those signals. Rediscover, actually. Maybe half a dozen out of a billion possibilities.”

A low rumble interrupted the three men. They glanced up, wary and alert. The time had come.

“Here it is,” Ferine said. “Okay, wise guy, let’s see you make one single change in its routine.”

The truck was massive, rumbling under its tightly packed load. In many ways, it resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception — there was no driver’s cabin. The horizontal surface was a loading stage, and the part that would normally be the headlights and radiator grill was a fibrous spongelike mass of receptors, the limited sensory apparatus of this mobile utility extension.

Aware of the three men, the truck slowed to a halt, shifted gears and pulled on its emergency brake. A moment passed as relays moved into action; then a portion of the loading surface tilted and a cascade of heavy cartons spilled down onto the roadway. With the objects fluttered a detailed inventory sheet.

“You know what to do,” O’Neill said rapidly. “Hurry up, before it gets out of here.”

Expertly, grimly, the three men grabbed up the deposited cartons and ripped the protective wrappers from them. Objects gleamed: a binocular microscope, a portable radio, heaps of plastic dishes, medical supplies, razor blades, clothing, food. Most of the shipment, as usual, was food. The three men systematically began smashing objects. In a few minutes, there was nothing but a chaos of debris littered around them.

“That’s that,” O’Neill panted, stepping back. He fumbled for his check-sheet. “Now let’s see what it does.”

The truck had begun to move away; abruptly it stopped and backed toward them. Its receptors had taken in the fact that the three men had demolished the dropped-off portion of the load. It spun in a grinding half circle and came around to face its receptor bank in their direction. Up went its antenna; it had begun communicating with the factory. Instructions were on the way.

A second, identical load was tilted and shoved off the truck.

“We failed,” Ferine groaned as a duplicate inventory sheet fluttered after the new load. “We destroyed all that stuff for nothing.”

“What now?” Morrison asked O’Neill. “What’s the next strategem on our board?”

“Give me a hand.” O’Neill grabbed up a carton and lugged it back to the truck. Sliding the carton onto the platform, he turned for another. The other two men followed clumsily after him. They put the load back onto the truck. As the truck started forward, the last square box was again in place.

The truck hesitated. Its receptors registered the return of its load. From within its works came a low sustained buzzing.

“This may drive it crazy,” O’Neill commented, sweating. “It went through its operation and accomplished nothing.”

The truck made a short, abortive move toward going on. Then it swung purposefully around and, in a blur of speed, again dumped the load onto the road.

“Get them!” O’Neill yelled. The three men grabbed up the cartons and feverishly reloaded them. But as fast as the cartons were shoved back on the horizontal stage, the truck’s grapples tilted them down its far-side ramps and onto the road.

“No use,” Morrison said, breathing hard. “Water through a sieve.”

“We’re licked,” Ferine gasped in wretched agreement, “like always. We humans lose every time.”

The truck regarded them calmly, its receptors blank and impassive. It was doing its job. The planetwide network of automatic factories was smoothly performing the task imposed on it five years before, in the early days of the Total Global Conflict.

Read the rest of this entry »

Sind wir es wert?

germany-airport-strike

Strikes at Lufthansa, strikes in  bus services, trash collectors, bus drivers, teachers and nurses, and strikes at Amazon. Deutschland, was ist los?

Ver.di, the mass service workers union, is organizing these strikes, taking advantage of Germany’s position right now in Europe, its low unemployment rate, its labor laws. Their slogan is “Wir sind es wert.” It means “We are worth it.” But are we? At the same time, german ministers are discussing making a law that would deport eu-citizens who are unemployed after 3 months back to their country of origin. Unlike most countries in europe and north america, germany has had no popular squares movement of youth and disaffected proles, no wild riots of the poor, no nothing. Instead, some good old strikes for higher wages with moderate success. Whereas in other countries, mass protests and occupations occur while the country’s economy stays mostly unaffected, in germany the economy is directly targeted, shutting down airlines, bus services, logistics centers, yet there are no mass movements to amplify it. When klassenkampf extends these strikes to society at large, then we’d be really es wert.

Tempworkers inquiry

Permanently Temporary, or The Logistics of Proletarian Defeat. 

“Temp labor is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. Increasingly, temp workers are part of a business strategy to keep costs down and profits high. From mega-retailers to mom-and-pop shops, temps are hired to do some of the hardest and most dangerous jobs. While more and more of the American workforce is comprised of temporary workers, they’re largely hidden from public view. Many of these workers stay silent, often having their livelihoods threatened if they speak out. Wanting to get a glimpse of this invisible workforce, VICE News traveled across the country, scouring warehouses, temp agencies, and temp towns in search of the people, who make our world of same day delivery possible.”

For more from VICE News on the plight of temp labor in the US, read “A Modern Day Harvest of Shame