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Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: 30 June 2013 A Ghost in a Machine walks the Globe by Annieli

If one can claim that a virtual economy offers increased possibility for revolutionary political change, that change should be measured against more material forms of analysis rather than treating information commodities as epiphenomenal. The tenuous connection between correlation and causation much like the meme of “Voodoo Economics” was treated more lightly and less seriously in a 2010 Bruce Watson piece on zombies and vampires as seasonally or cyclically symptomatic of a national economy:

there appears to be a loose connection between recession cycles and monster movies: zombie films tend to be more popular during boom times, while vampire flicks are ascendant when the economy is bad. As I wrote at the time, this makes a certain sort of symbolic sense: after all, as unthinking consumers, zombies reflect the tone of high-consumption boom times. The more melancholic vampires, on the other hand, suggest buyer’s remorse. While the zombie/vampire recession cycle didn’t always hold true, I found that it had a few interesting connections to the economy. For example, for most of the Reagan spend-till-you-drop 1980’s, zombie films dominated movie theaters. In fact, vampire movies’ only brief moment of ascendence in the decade was in 1987-1988, when a stock market tumble sent the economy into recession. Similarly, in 1991 and 2001, vampire films spiked and zombie films fell behind as recessions struck.

Aside from the doomsday preppers and faux survivalists in Dollywood and Hollywood invoking the fear of a zombie apocalypse as signs of an impending breakdown of urban society double-coded as racism, vampires and zombies can be differentiated by information while serving as cultural commodities in mass media. Vampires are asymmetric information commodities since in media narratives their representations appear conventional at first, whereas zombies are symmetric in that we know them instantly by their appearance. In either case they represent a pathological tipping point where fear trumps rationality and wooden stakes, garlic, holy water and shotguns make their appearance in contemporary film.

In a material context, such contemporary monsters represent the same class fears represented by European revolution in the Nineteenth Century not unlike the colonizers’ fears of the colonized or the contemporary anti-immigrant discourse where Americans ignore the labor history of the bracero and the coolie as invisible, informal Gastarbeiter.

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre

Marx’s invocation becomes more or less ironic in the post-Soviet period

Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale is a 1993 book by French philosopher Jacques Derrida The title Spectres of Marx is an allusion to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ statement at the beginning of The Communist Manifesto that a “spectre [is] haunting Europe.” For Derrida, the spirit of Marx is even more relevant now since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of communism. With its death the spectre of communism begins to make visits on the earth. Derrida seeks to do the work of inheriting from Marx, that is, not communism, but of the philosophy of responsibility, and of Marx’s spirit of radical critique.

The philosophy of responsibility may be best represented in the problematic role of information and national security in a virtual surveillance state where Ed Snowden may be a vampire presently in the undead transit lounge of a Russian airport, avoiding the cleansing hot light of sunshine law. The disclosure of information asymmetrically held by a democratic state committed to a public sphere operates in contradiction to its multinational, geopolitical obligations.

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him. [4] If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist Link

Virtuality has conditioned all forms of labour to some degree, creating different classes of worker, set against each other, not conscious of the web of virtuality that links them all into a single multitude. That unity is virtual in one sense – a potential that could be activated by virtuality in another sense, the resources of the net.

Come below the squiggle for more “mysterious forces or powers that govern the world and the lives of those who reside within it, but also a range of artistic forms that function in conjunction with these vodun (sic) energies.”

We begin with claims from within contemporary capitalism that there has indeed been a virtual revolution. Is this hyperbole to be taken seriously? How should we situate such claims in a Marxist framework?

a 2005 piece by Bob Hodge and Gabriela Coronado titled FCJ-027 Speculations on a Marxist theory of the Virtual Revolution in the The Fibreculture Journal (ISSN 1449-1443) describes the possibility of solving the problem of concrete versus abstract labor and the co-mingled issues of exchange and use values.

Capitalism has developed a new array of devices to fulfill its old aim, to extract surplus value wherever it can. All these devices to some degree draw on resources of virtuality: “virtual surplus value” makes it easier to appropriate other kinds of surplus value…Yet these are only the dreams of one class, shadows projected onto the screen of virtuality, which has space for many other projections. Outside the camera obscura of capitalist ideology the struggle continues, precarious or strong labour against strong or precarious capital, in a field of struggle unpredictably affected by new technologies of production and information. Virtuality has conditioned all forms of labour to some degree, creating different classes of worker, set against each other, not conscious of the web of virtuality that links them all into a single multitude. That unity is virtual in one sense – a potential that could be activated by virtuality in another sense, the resources of the net. The connections are not being made at the moment, by the real users who are the only ones who could make this grand alliance virtual, and thence real. But will they?

In looking at the original marxological texts, it is useful to compare that contemporary discourse with the mid-Nineteenth Century conception of the same information commodity forms across time and space

Tne cause which acts permanently in differentiating the times of selling, and thus the periods of turnover in general, is the distance of the market in which a commodity is sold from its place of production. During the entire trip to the market, capital finds itself fettered in the state of commodity-capital. If goods are made to order, up to the time of delivery; if they are not made to order, there must be added to the time of the trip to the market the time during which the goods are in the market waiting to be sold. The improvement of the means of communication and transportation cuts down absolutely the wandering period of the commodities but does not eliminate the relative difference in the time of circulation of different commodity-capitals arising from their peregrinations, nor that of different portions of the same commodity-capital which migrate to different markets. For instance the improved sailing vessels and steamships, which shorten travelling, do so equally for near and distant ports. The relative difference remains, although often diminished. But the relative difference may be shifted about by the development of the means of transportation and communication in a way that does not correspond to the geographical distances. Link

Ways where meaning does not correspond to geographic distance can be seen in the motion of the touch screen or the actions of surveillance drones, where the scalability and substitutability of technology can affect the productive forces where superstructure becomes infrastructure.

If we look at the machines which replace the earlier tools, whether those of handicrafts or of manufacture, we find (with the exception of machines whose work itself consists in movement, in changing from one place to another, i.e. transport machines, railways, steamships, etc.) that the part of the machine which actually modifies the material consists for the most part of earlier tools, such as spindles, needles, hammers, saws, planes, shears, scrapers, combs, etc., even if they have received a modified form so that they can function as parts of a mechanism. What mainly distinguishes them is either that what previously appeared as an independent tool now acts merely as one element in a collection of such tools, or that it has taken on much more gigantic dimensions in proportion to the power of the motive force. But the actual task with any mechanism never consists in any more than the conversion of the original movement which is brought about by the motive force into another form, corresponding to the purpose of the labour and imparted to the working machine. Link

The chief means of reducing the time of circulation is improved communications. The last fifty years have brought about a revolution in this field, comparable only with the industrial revolution of the latter half of the 18th century. On land the macadamised road has been displaced by the railway, on sea the slow and irregular sailing vessel has been pushed into the background by the rapid and dependable steamboat line, and the entire globe is being girdled by telegraph wires. The Suez Canal has fully opened East Asia and Australia to steamer traffic. The time of circulation of a shipment of commodities to East Asia, at least twelve months in 1847 (cf. Buch II, S. 235 [English edition: Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. II, pp. 251-52. — Ed.]), has now been reduced to almost as many weeks. The two large centres of the crises of 1825-57, America and India, have been brought from 70 to 90 per cent nearer to the European industrial countries by this revolution in transport, and have thereby lost a good deal of their explosive nature. The period of turnover of the total world commerce has been reduced to the same extent, and the efficacy of the capital involved in it has been more than doubled or trebled. It goes without saying that this has not been without effect on the rate of profit. Link

The effects on profit and subsequent accumulation of surplus value are historically obvious, with the subsequent effect on the globalization and deskilling of labor classes with information commodities adding value in the production of command and control as commodities and subordinating conventional material production in finance capitalism.

Besides the purely technical impediments that are removable by technical means, the irregular habits of the workpeople themselves obstruct the regulation of the hours of labour. This is especially the case where piece-wage predominates, and where loss of time in one part of the day or week can be made good by subsequent over-time, or by night-work, a process which brutalises the adult workman, and ruins his wife and children. [204] Although this absence of regularity in the expenditure of labour-power is a natural and rude reaction against the tedium of monotonous drudgery, it originates, also, to a much greater degree from anarchy in production, anarchy that in its turn pre-supposes unbridled exploitation of labour-power by the capitalist. Besides the general periodic changes of the industrial cycle, and the special fluctuations in the markets to which each industry is subject, we may also reckon what is called “the season,” dependent either on the periodicity of favourable seasons of the year for navigation; or on fashion, and the sudden placing of large orders that have to be executed in the shortest possible time. The habit of giving such orders becomes more frequent with the extension of railways and telegraphs.
“The extension of the railway system throughout the country has tended very much to encourage giving short notice. Purchasers now come up from Glasgow, Manchester, and Edinburgh once every fortnight or so to the wholesale city warehouses which we supply, and give small orders requiring immediate execution, instead of buying from stock as they used to do. Years ago we were always able to work in the slack times, so as to meet demand of the next season, but now no one can say beforehand what will be the demand then.” [205] Link

Michael Perelman, Information, Social Relations, and the Economics of High Technology (1991) and Allen J. Scott New industrial spaces: Flexible production organization and regional development in North America and Western Europe (1988) are texts discussing the recent role of advanced technology on the backward cost-shifting and globalized disintegration of the flexible “just-in-time” production process.

This apparitional exercise closes with Derrida’s list of contagions that today’s version of a pandemic which is evoked by critically real but mass-mediated, undead monsters, whether Reagan zombies or Bush vampires, makes more than an uncertain sort of “symbolic sense”, where “the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living”.

Derrida’s ten plagues are:

1. Employment has undergone a change of kind, e.g., underemployment and requires ‘another concept’.

2. Deportation of immigrants. Reinforcement of territories in a world of supposed freedom of movement. As in, Fortress Europe and in the number of new walls and barriers being erected around the world, in effect multiplying the “fallen” Berlin Wall manifold.

3. Economic war. Both between countries and between international trade blocs: USA – Japan – Europe.

4. Contradictions of the free market. The undecidable conflicts between protectionism and free trade. The unstoppable flow of illegal drugs, arms, etc..

5. Foreign debt. In effect the basis for mass starvation and demoralisation for developing countries. Often the loans benefiting only a small elite, for luxury items, e.g., cars, air conditioning etc. but being paid back by poorer workers.

6. The arms trade. The inability to control to any meaningful extent trade within the biggest ‘black market’

7. Spread of nuclear weapons. The restriction of nuclear capacity can no longer be maintained by leading states since it is only knowledge and cannot be contained.

8. Inter-ethnic wars. The phantom of mythic national identities fueling tension in semi-developed countries.

9. Phantom-states within organised crime. In particular the non-democratic power gained by drug cartels.

10. International law and its institutions. The hypocrisy of such statutes in the face of unilateral aggression on the part of the economically dominant states. International law is mainly exercised against the weaker nations.

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