Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 4



Chapter 4: November 20, 1923—Postulates of Linguistics


In this chapter, somewhat less imposing than the previous one, but nevertheless very dense, D&G tackle four “postulates of linguistics,” which are more accurately strawman arguments representing postulates of linguistics-as-a-major-science which D&G will argue against. The date refers to an announcement of the German government re-valuing the Deutschmark to end hyperinflation, and thus stands for the power of the order-word. Because of all the detail in this chapter I went with a paragraph-by-paragraph outline instead of a regular summary.


First postulate: “Language is Informational and Communicational.”

1. Language is not communicational; rather it commands. The teacher orders the students, she does not inform them. The fundamental unit of language is the order-word, a pun on mot d’ordre, meaning slogan or password, and here treated also as “word of order.” “Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed” (76). “Language is not life; it gives orders.” There is an opposition made between language and life, and language, the order word, becomes a sequence of death sentences, or “Judgments.”

2. They then turn to the “status and scope of the order-word,” arguing that it “is only a language-function, a function coextensive with language.” Language, in other words, is not informational; it is not about transmitting information, for instance about something seen or experienced; instead it is a repetition of the already heard, hearsay. The authors here draw heavily on the language theory of Volosinov: all language is indirect discourse. They draw on a distinction made by Benveniste in arguing that bees do not have true language: bees, according to Benveniste, can describe a food source they have seen, but cannot repeat such a description that they have witnessed.

3. They underline this with a turn to Austin’s theory of speech acts, arguing that his concepts of performative utterances, and illocutionary acts, are internal to language and thus distinct from any idea of reference or information external to [that is, excludable from an analysis of] language. The theory of performance and illocution has, they argue, three effects: 1) language can no longer be thought of as a code (like dna is a code: the mere transmission of information) [recall also their discussion in the previous chapter of coding, defined by B&P as “the process of ordering matter as it is drawn into a body;” language, as in that chapter, is something much more]; 2) pragmatics becomes the most important aspect of language, and no other aspect (“semantics, syntactics, or even phonematics”) can be thought independently of pragmatics (77); and 3) the distinction between speech and language, so important to diverse thinkers as Saussure and Chomsky, becomes unworkable (they here reference Labov, but their position owes much to Volosinov’s theory of the utterance).

4. They next clarify another theory of language which they are arguing about under the name “communicational,” namely Benveniste’s appeal to intersubjectivity. Performance is “that which one does by saying it,” and illocution is “that which one does by speaking” (78); there is a temptation to start with performance and derive illocution from it, but this is not correct, as the performative is too easily dismissed, by Benveniste, as a “self-referentiality” in language, which is ultimately founded on communication between pre-existing subjects. Naturally, supposing pre-existing subjects begs the question of where these subjects come from; both Volosinov and Foucault, key interlocutors here, have had much to say about this; in any event “subjectifications are not primary but result from a complex assemblage” (79), and it is this complex assemblage which has to be examined. D&G will approach this by instead deriving performance (corresponding to subjectification) from illocution, which itself is “explained by collective assemblages of enunciation” (78) and by juridical acts or their equivalents (cf. Volosinov on language permeating into, or rather composing, the entire consciousness of the speaker), and they will further explore this through the discussion of indirect discourse in the Bakhtinian/Volosovinovan tradition.

5. To set up order-words as having a function co-extensive with language, they define them as “the relation of every word or statement to implicit presuppositions” and to the speech acts that can be accomplished in these statements; Language, in turn, is defined as “the set of all order-words, implicit presuppositions, or speech acts current in a language at a given moment” (79).

6. Instead of being informational and/or communicational, language is “the transmission of order-words, either from one statement to another or within each statement, insofar as each statement accomplishes an act and the act is accomplished in the statement” (79). Thus performativity, not to mention power in the Foucauldian sense, is what characterizes language. Their meaning can be taken as a somewhat more subtle and felicitous version of what Foucault actually meant when he said there was nothing outside of the text: the subjects who speak or use language, and the world of information and references they speak about, and even the criteria of truth or falsehood by which the relation between the statements of the subjects and what they are talking about is evaluated, cannot be presumed or treated as some pre-existing entities within and among which language takes place, as some kind of add-on. The relationship between statement and act is not one of identity, but rather of redundancy, which has two forms: frequency, corresponding to signifiance/information, and resonance, corresponding to subjectification/communication.

7. This next paragraph largely translates Volosinov into Deleuzian terms: “There is no individual enunciation. There is not even a subject of enunciation.” Rather, the assignation and distribution of individuality takes place according to the requirements of the collective assemblage of enunciation. They provisionally define this collective assemblage as “the redundant complex of the act and the statement that necessarily accomplishes it” (80); but they immediately admit (and correctly so), that this is unsatisfying. “If we wish to move to a real definition of the collective assemblage, we must ask of what consist these acts immanent to language that are in redundancy with statements or constitute order-words.”

8. They now go into more detail clarifying just what will be meant by an act, which is something much less than “action” or “acts” in general (this presumably is less forced with the French acte than with English act; their examples are pretty much all literal speech acts, “media acts,” etc.). Acts are incorporeal transformations which are attributed to bodies; “body” is here meant “in its broadest sense” to include pretty much anything, including souls and other “mental bodies.” Bodies interact with each other through actions and passions; “acts” are distinct from these in being incorporeal. Acts are also simultaneous with their effects (and thus datable): “I declare war,” makes war happen that instant; “I now pronounce you husband and bride,” etc. They refer to this as “the illocutionary.” As all of their examples involve speech or writing, it is not quite clear where they would put an action such as kneeling before a king (and thus submitting); presumably the illocutionary effect of this would be considered an act, in their sense (since kneeling in different contexts has different meanings: we are back to the relevance of the assemblage).

9. They discuss history, or the telling of history, as recounting the actions and passions of bodies, but more especially as being about order-words. The simultaneity/instantaneity of order words is reflected in their datability; they give their example of November 20, 1923, the day the German Reichsmark was replaced with a new currency, to bring about an end to inflation.

10. They explore further the (social, etc.) assemblage or range thereof within which language has meaning, including the circumstances in which “I love you,” “I declare a general mobilization,” etc., are meaningful or nonsensical. They echo Volosinov’s arguments against a linguistics that excludes consideration of all this as “exterior,” in order to focus only on internal “constants” of language; the pragmatics they are for, in contrast, is about both the exterior and what is internal, immanent, to language (this “incorporeal”); the order-word is the “something else” beyond language itself which establishes this relation between the interiority of language and the bodies, passions etc. upon which it acts.

11. They discuss Lenin’s text “On Slogans,” focusing on examples in which order-words create their subjects: “Workers of the world, unite!” “invents” the working class; Lenin’s announcement transferring power from the soviets to the Party predates the existence of the Party to which it is attributed. Against the objection that this is “politics” (and thus merely external to language) they respond that “it must be observed how thoroughly politics works language from within” (83), and give a summary of their pragmatics:

A type of statement can be evaluated only as a function of its pragmatic implications, in other words, in relation to the implicit presuppositions, immanent acts, or incorporeal transformations it expresses and which introduce new configurations of bodies. (83)

12. They propose two new names for the collective assemblage of enunciation: “regime of signs,” and “semiotic machine;” they add the very Bakhtinian observation that “society is plied by several semiotics, ... its regimes are in fact mixed” (83-4). They then discuss the primacy of indirect speech over direct speech and tie this to schizophrenia and the hearing of voices. There is a very interesting footnote on Elias Canetti’s concept of the command as a “sting on the soul, which forms a cyst” (525n17); [in contrast to the “shocks” experienced by the Baudelarian hero] this sting is enabling, the one who follows orders feels like a victim of the orders, and thus feels innocent of their consequences, which further situates them to follow future orders. According to D&G, Canetti tries to limit the consequences of this insight by attributing it to a particular psychological disposition in the minds of those who succumb to it, rather than to the regular functioning of the order-word itself; “rational,” “common-sensical” individuals [aka abstract subjects] are thus immune. D&G observe:

The whole classical rationalist theory—of “common sense,” of universally shared good sense based on information and communication—is a way to cover up or hide, and to justify in advance, a much more disturbing faculty, that of order-words. This singularly irrational faculty is best safeguarded by gracing it with the name of pure reason, by saying that it is nothing but pure reason... (525n17)

[To which could be added that, once again, the “universal” qualities of the rational abstract subject are invoked precisely when some population (in this case those who are prone to fascism) is being excluded.]

13. They note that “order-words, collective assemblages, and regimes of signs cannot be equated with language. But they effectuate its condition of possibility” (85, emphasis added), and this is the key point they are making. Without these, “language would remain a pure virtuality,” which is why all the attempts to define it as informational or communicational miss the point. They also tie in the concept of “superlinearity” from the previous chapter.


Second Postulate: “There is an abstract machine of language that does not appeal to any extrinsic factor.”

Their repudiation of this is naturally tied to their previous discussion of pragmatics and performativity. This is one of the points where their method of arguing against straw-man propositions is at its most ridiculous, because obviously anyone actually making the above claim would not use the distinctly Deleuzo-Guattarian term, “abstract machine.”

1. They discuss the relationship between content and expression, which, in the previous chapter, had correlated with the first and second articulation, respectively; here they refer to these as formalizations, emphasizing the independence of these two strata (content is not dependent on expression, nor vice versa). They trace their argument back to the ancient Stoic distinction between the actions and passions of bodies, body here defined as “any formed content” (86).

2. Following the usage of the Stoics, anything that can interact through actions and passions (i.e., in the [material]/corporeal world) is a body. What counts as a body for D&G thus immediately begins to proliferate in a manner reminiscent of what happened with “strata” in the previous chapter:

The purpose [of language, and of this chapter] is not to describe or represent bodies: bodies already have their proper qualities, actions and passions, souls, in short forms [emphasis added], which are themselves bodies. Representations are bodies too! (86)

The speech act being, as was previously stated, an incorporeal transformation, this is here distinguished again from representations, which are bodies with actions and passions. This is all related back to the independence of content and expression (as each having their own forms) from the previous chapter. Language-as-speech-act thus intervenes, rather than representing, and it does so in a non-corporeal way. The image of a loom or fabric is used to clarify these two forms: “The warp of the instantaneous transformations is always inserted into the woof of the continuous modifications.” But the relation between these two registers is at the same level: “An assemblage of enunciation does not speak ‘of’ things; it speaks on the same level as states of things and states of content” (87). Here, they appear to move beyond their examples of words to explicitly discuss signs in general (thus answering my earlier questioning about kneeling): “...the same x, the same particle, may function either as a body that acts and undergoes actions or as a sign constituting an act or order-word, depending on which form [content or expression] it is taken up by....” [They make a reference to the “causality of contents” which makes me wonder if their distinction between the incorporeal and the corporeal, while insisting also on their flatness and interdependence, is related to the ancient Stoic attempt at resolving the causality/free will relationship.]

3. They qualify their assertion that incorporeal speech acts “intervene” in the continuous modification of the corporeal world, by noting that this might imply a new idealism; instead, both modification and intervention are characterized by deterritorializations which make possible subsequent reterritorializations. The external circumstances, and the internal factors, of bodies, languages, etc. are variables of content and variables of expression. Again, this is all about denying a traditional understanding of language as representation: instead, “...forms of expression and forms of content communicate [with each other, not the communication between subjects which was dismissed earlier] through a conjunction of their quanta of relative deterritorialization, each intervening, operating in the other” (88).

4. From this, they draw “some general conclusions on the nature of Assemblages” (88). First, a horizontal axis including two segments, one of content (a machinic assemblage of bodies, actions, and passions) and one of expression (“a collective assemblage of enunciation”); as we have already seen, these two “segments” exist together on this axis interwoven, as warp and woof. The vertical axis gives the assemblage two sides, one resting on a process of re/territorialization, the second a “carrying away,” “cutting edge” of deterritorialization. Kafka’s writings are discussed as providing insight.

5. This is then re-expressed as the four qualities (or “tetravalence”) of assemblages: 1) “interminglings of bodies,” 2) incorporeal transformations, 3) “territorialities and reterritorializations,” and 4) deterritorialization (89). This is illustrated with the example of the feudal order.

6. They then revisit their argument against a base/superstructure model in which content (as economic base) is seen as determining expression (as ideology). Their key argument against this is again that there is a form of content and a form of expression, and these two forms are thus independent rather than one being dependent on the other. Furthermore, they argue that ideological models of language ignore these two forms, or separate them out as somehow abstract and eternal, rather than seeing them also as affected by historical struggle. They suggest that “expressions and statements intervene directly in productivity, in the form of a production of meaning or sign-value.” Production, then, as a way of understanding language, avoids the problems already pointed out, with seeing language as representation, information, or communication; however, it has its own problems, in that it “appeals to an ongoing dialectical miracle of the transformation of matter into meaning, content into expression, the social process into a signifying system” (90).

7. Thus, they move beyond the concept of production to a general intermingling of bodies, “including all the attractions and repulsions, sympathies and antipathies, alterations, amalgamations, penetrations, and expansions that affect bodies of all kinds in their relations to one another.” This is governed by alimentary and sexual regimes. They reiterate their understanding of tools as necessarily part of assemblages, a la Leroi-Gourhan, and show how their understanding of language is parallel to this, again showing the flatness of the machinic assemblage of bodies (which has a “primacy” over individual tools and goods) with the collective assemblage of enunciation (which has a primacy over language and words). Having moved beyond the production process as the engine of meaning, they supercede dialectics as well, stating that “the social field is defined less by its conflicts and contradictions than by the lines of flight running through it.”

8. Finally, they directly address the postulate they are refuting, namely that “there is an abstract machine of language that does not appeal to any extrinsic factor;” they explicitly link this to Chomsky’s theory of language. The problem is that this is really not abstract enough, because, excluding “extrinsic factors,” language is only a part of the assemblage. “For a true abstract machine pertains to an assemblage in its entirety; it is defined by the diagram of that assemblage” (91). [Thus, the related question of just where an assemblage ends, in all this intermingling and so on, is related to the concept of the diagrammatic, which will be discussed at more length in the next chapter.] They reiterate one of the key points they have derived from Volosinov: “the interpenetration of language and the social field and political problems lies at the deepest level of the abstract machine, not at the surface.” They end with a reference to two “states of the diagram:” 1) relative deterritorialization, in which variables of content and expression are discernable and heterogeneous; and 2) “an absolute threshold of deterritorialization” in which they can no longer be distinguished.


Third Postulate: “There are constants or universals of language which allow us to define it as a homogeneous system.”

1. This is obviously related to the previous postulate regarding an “abstract machine,” though here they are intent on dismissing the idea of “constants or universals of language” which are part of the way that linguistics is posited as a science, a la Chomsky, etc.

2. They argue against a way of incorporating pragmatics into the scientific view of language, which nevertheless tries to recreate universal or constant aspects of these pragmatics. The Langue/parole distinction, or the competence/performance distinction in Chomsky, is criticized in this way, and also as being too arborescent.

3. They go deeper into this by contrasting the approaches of Chomsky and Labov. Chomsky argues, according to D&G, that a science of language must “carve out” a “homogeneous or standard system” from the “essentially heterogeneous reality” of language (93). Variations, from this perspective, just become deviations from this established norm. However, such an approach is arbitrary. Labov, in contrast, tries to grasp how such variation works at the core of language, rather than reducing it to some secondary phenomenon.

4. They expand on this critique, using the phenomenon of [codeswitching] to argue that language is best seen in terms of “continuous variation” (94).

5. They further explore the concept of continuous variation in relation to their theory of music, chromaticism, etc.

6. They dismiss the objection that music and language are separate phenomena, invoking Rousseau to indicate how the study of language and music together could have taken a different course; Labov’s variable language rules are discussed, along with Dahomeyan chants, and “chromatic” and secret languages.

7. They call for a “generalized chromaticism,” pointing to how music has advanced from the simplistic major/minor organization into more complex and varying chromaticism. They argue that linguistics is stuck in “a kind of major mode,” and has yet to make the chromaticist leap, to understand the “immanent continuous variation” that actually characterizes language (97).

8. In a move reminiscent of Bakhtin, they discuss style as a way that such chromaticism takes shape in the works of particular authors. They summarize the method they are advocating for:

when one submits linguistic elements to a treatment producing continuous variation, when one introduces an internal pragmatics into language, one is necessarily led to treat non-linguistic elements such as gestures and instruments in the same fashion, as if the two aspects of pragmatics joined on the same line of variation, in the same continuum. (98)

Drawing on the French pun, est and et, they contrast the logic of “is” and “and:”

the first acts in language as a constant and forms the diatonic scale of language, while the second places everything in variation constituting the lines of a general chromaticism.

In other words, the “and... and... and...” logic (which is elsewhere used to describe the workings of assemblages) is like chromaticism, adding in additional notes to a chord.

9. Per Hjelmslev, the unexploited possibilities of language (aka the virtuality of language) are part of the language; change and variation are part of the machine, not something that happens to it, or that it somehow produces externally. They use the examples of “atypical expression” from e. e. cummings’ poetry, e.g., “he danced his did” (99). Such an a typical expression is a tensor, which “constitutes a cutting edge or deterritorialization of language...”

10. They summarize their argument against the third postulate: the “abstract machine of language” is “not actual, but virtual-real” (100). Through the concept of virtuality applied to language they are arguing against, e.g., the langue/parole and competence/performance distinctions; the reality of the virtual means that all of this is on the same plane, part of the same process of de/re/te in which language is formed, operates, and is eventually dissolved or transformed. Instead of being organized around constants and invariable rules, language has “optional rules that ceaselessly vary with the variation itself, as in a game in which each move changes the rules.” [This description evokes calvinball; but if so, then this is calvinball as the very essence of game itself, such that baseball, or football, and so on, could be seen as particular instances of calvinball.] To an extent, they replace the old langue/parole (etc.) distinction with abstract machine of language and collective assemblage of enunciation, but the relationship between these two is quite different. There is no primacy or hierarchy of one over the other, they are part of the same process or phenomenon of de/re/te.


Fourth Postulate: “Language Can Be Scientifically Studied Only under the Conditions of a Standard or Major Language.”

1. The four postulates, particularly the last three, are in a way restatements of each other; this last links most directly to the politics of language, and provides D&G an opportunity to drive this aspect of their argument home. They point out the problematic link between the assumptions of the linguistics they are criticizing, and nationalist homogenization and centralization of languages, e.g., French as opposed to its regional dialects. (They add the Boasian insight that these processes of homogenization are distinct and need to be understood historically before they could be studied comparatively). Chomsky’s linguistics is singled out as giving the scientific cover for what is essentially an operation of the state (somewhat ironic, given Chomsky’s politics). “Forming grammatically correct sentences is for the normal individual the prerequisite for any submission to social laws” (101). Here, they re-emphasize the deep imbrication of politics and language, calling to mind not only Althusser’s interpellation, but Augustine on the evil character of babies, due in part to their inability to speak. They end with a quote from Michèle Lalonde’s poem, “Speak White,” which is well worth reading in full, not least because D&G’s selection is far from the most powerful part of the poem.

2. Drawing on Lalonde’s poem, they discuss the concepts of major and minor languages. They note that the concept of “dialect” is complicated and problematic, and note the complicated situations of Quebeçois, which is subordinated both to “proper” French and Canadian English, and Bantu dialects in South Africa, which stand in relation to Afrikaans and English as competing dominant major languages.

3. Having established a distinction between dominant major languages, and subordinated minor ones, they then introduce (of course) two reasons for calling this distinction into question. First, Even minor languages will tend to have the same process of centralization and local dominance that characterize major languages. Second, the very position of being a major language in relation to minor languages means that those minor languages start to deterritorialize and transform the major language; thus, “Chomsky’s and Labov’s positions are constantly passing and converting into each other” (103). In a way these are not even contrary processes, but can be described as “a regulated, continuous, immanent process of variation” (emphasis original).

4. Thus, there are not really two kinds of languages, but two “possible treatments of the same language.” You can either extract constants from the variables of language, or place those variables into continuous variation. The further implication is that “constants” are not opposed to variables (they apologize if they have given this impression “only for convenience of presentation”). Instead, “constants” are just one way of treating variables, the other being continuous variation.

5. “Major” and “minor,” thus, refers not to two different languages or kinds of languages, but “two usages or functions of language” (104). Two “conjoined tendencies” or aspects of minor languages are discussed: impoverishment (or rather, restriction or ellipsis), and proliferation or overload.

6. These aspects of “poverty” and “overload” should be better seen as ways of becoming, or reterritorialization. They discuss “minor authors” and their role in transforming major languages.

7. They begin this lengthy and dense paragraph by providing new definitions for minority and majority which are not necessarily, nor even primarily, about number. “Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate it” (105) [“it” being the opposition or relationship between majority and minority]. Their argument runs along the same lines as markedness theory, in which “the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language” serves as the constant or standard of “majority” against which any other identity, no matter how numerous, is judged:

It is obvious that “man” holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. This is because he appears twice, once in the constant and again in the variable from which the constant is extracted. Majority assumes a state of domination and power, not the other way around.

This is a powerful and clear iteration of the unmarked/marked distinction, and they bring in also some of the classic feminist criticisms of traditional marxism’s blindness to gender. [They also tie into a common reading of Ulysses as a representation of colonialism (because he wanders the world, tells the cyclops his name is “Nobody” (and thus stands here for the abstract, unmarked subject), which I have always felt is a bit unfair (particularly to such an incarnation as Poldy Bloom, which they reference); surely Odysseus, the iconic embodiment of metis, could as easily be anti-colonial? Isn’t it Penelope’s suitors who better resemble, for example, the European powers gathering to carve up Africa, or a meeting this year in Davos? But I digress.] In any event, majority is founded on an abstract standard that limits, categorizes, evaluates, and hierarchizes, and minority is a subsystem that places this in variation, such that becoming-minoritarian is about becoming and potentiality.

8. Having defined the major and minor modes, we must now return to discussion of the order-word, which is “the variable of enunciation that effectuates the condition of possibility of language and defines the usage of its elements according to one of the two [modes]” (106). The question thus becomes just what it is about the order word that makes possible its treatment through these two modes. D&G turn again to Canetti, from whom they had earlier derived the concept of the order-word as a “sting” that creates a “cyst;” they now refer to this aspect as a “little death sentence” (which it seems must be an even more charged term in French). But the order word is not only a death sentence or command, it is also “a warning cry or a message to flee” (107). It thus has “two tones,” or two potentials. [There are those who live out their lives in Omelas; others walk away.]

9. They explore the first aspect of the order-word, “death as the expressed of a statement,” as an incorporeal transformation that affects or is attributed to bodies. They link to Canetti’s concept of enantiomorphosis (the editors note that this is translated into English as “prohibitions of transformation” (528n44), which seems to be a very poor translation as the original evokes a doubling of crystalline structures which ties to a philosophical debate about identity going back to Kant]. A sentence later they state that “death is the Figure,” stepping into another deep-rooted concept and debate in art history, which Deleuze has also discussed elsewhere, e.g. in “Plato and the Simulacrum.” [I also find it particularly interesting as a link to how the figure in Latour identifies/circumscribes an agentive subject in an assemblage, the form of a person in a painting, etc.] Thus, the order-word, as death and as the Figure, links again to the abstraction of constants to form a measure by which variation is evaluated and hierarchized, subordinated; there is an uncanny aspect in death/order-word/figure confronting you as your double, limiting and ending you, sending you through an incorporeal transformation. [The uncanny aspect gives an interesting hauntological link between enantiomorphosis and the doppelgänger, Diderot’s phantom, etc.]

10. They reiterate the importance of seeing this as involving both content and expression: “the incorporeal transformation is the expressed of order-words [in the plane of expression], but also the attribute of bodies” [in the plane of content] (108). They emphasize again that these two planes are always presupposing each other, but also independent, to the extent that there is “no analytic resemblance, correspondence, or conformity between the two planes.”

11. Finally, they turn to the other aspect of the order-word, “flight rather than death.” This is not a simple opposition to death/order-word/constants and so on, but a placing into continuous variation: “that is the only way, not to eliminate death, but to reduce it or make a variation itself.” They bring up the distinction between major and minor sciences, which will be returned to in a future chapter. In light of the second aspect of the order-word as flight, the content/expression opposition is dissolved [as binaries always are when used by D&G]:

the synthesizer has replaced judgment, and matter has replaced the figure or formed substance. It is no longer even appropriate to group biological, physiochemical, and energetic intensities on the one hand [i.e., the regime of bodies], and mathematical, aesthetic, linguistic, informational, semiotic intensities, etc., on the other [i.e., the regime of signs]. (109)

The second aspect draws out the “revolutionary potentiality of the order-word,” (110) which they call a pass-word, which allows us to “answer the answer of death, not by fleeing, but by making flight act and create,” and thus “transform the compositions of order into compositions of passage.”




Thursday, July 28, 2022

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 9

 



Summary of Chapter 9: Machinery


In this lengthy chapter Braverman makes several key but simply points about the development of machinery under capitalism: namely that it is shaped by the social relations of the capitalist system, and thus fails to actually achieve its potential, because technological is developed first and foremost to cut costs of production, and to take more and more control of the process of production away from workers.

Braverman asserts that machines can be studied according to numerous criteria, but these will fall into “two essentially different modes of thought”: 

The first is the engineering approach, which views technology primarily in its internal connections and tends to define the machine in relation to itself, as a technical fact. The other is the social approach, which views technology in its connections with humanity and defines the machine in relation to human labor, and as a social artifact. (127)

Braverman discusses two examples of the first approach, Usher and Reuleaux, who define machines as connected bodies with constraint of motion; the more perfect machines are those which are not as loose but better control the motion of their parts; [Reuleaux’s 19th Century “history” of machine development sounds perfectly appropriate to the development of taximeters, etc. in the 19th century, during which a major part of the struggle was to get them to not fall apart due to the motion of the vehicle.]

Braverman notes of Usher/Reuleaux’s definition that “From a technical standpoint, the value of such a definition is apparent” and immediately begins poaching at it for ignoring the labor process, not to mention that it is the control of workers’ movements which is also at stake. As a contrast, Braverman cites Marx’s definition, that “The machine proper is therefore a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations that were formerly done by the workman with similar tools.” The issue thus becomes automation, or the substitution of human labor or skill by a machine. From the Marxist perspective, “The technical is never considered purely in its internal relations, but in relation to the worker.” A related point is that

the key element in the evolution of machinery is not its size, complexity, or speed of operation, but the manner in which its operations are controlled. (129)

He gives the example of a typewriter, which remains essentially the same for the user, even as it has progressed mechanically:

Between the first typewriter and the electrically driven ball-type machine of the present there lies a whole epoch of mechanical development, but nothing that has been changed affects the manner in which the typewriter is guided through its activities and hence there is little essential difference in the relation between typist and machine. The labor process remains more or less as it was, despite all refinements.

[An interesting observation, because wouldn’t it make even the computer keyboard essentially a continuation of the typewriter? It gets better, easier to use, etc., but I still use it in pretty much the same way, at least so far as typing is concerned. Part of Braverman’s point is that the increased ease of use, or effectiveness of the tool, is only an incremental change: what is key is the change in the relationship between the user and the tool. The computer is of course also different because it is a multi-purpose device; but its most important difference, from Braverman’s criterion, would be that, unlike a typewriter, it is exposed (and exposes the human user) to the possibility of remote control/influence through the internet connection.]

Braverman outlines his own scheme of three successive stages of machinery, which seem to be: 1) fixed motion path control (such as a paper cutter, stapler,etc.; 2) motion by gears, cams, that allows for a sequence of movements or actions, not just one repeated (such as a washing machine)  3) those that interact with information “from outside” (as in a remote controller, or programming), or in the sense of a feedback mechanism. [It is interesting that a washing machine is stage 2, while a thermostat would be stage 3, but a washing machine contains a thermostat. This does not make a washing machine stage 3 though, because the thermostat is incidental -- it keeps the washing machine functioning correctly, but does not change the end product, which is what determines the relationship of the machine to the user. [though this is also a bit confusing; Braverman has just said that a second stage machine on a timer or automatic cycle makes no difference, and yet that does change the labor input of the user; nevertheless the user still controls the machine, as opposed to it being controlled by someone else]. In contrast, a rice cooker is stage 3 because sensing the temperature is essential (not incidental) to its product, and tells it when to turn off]. The development of stage 3 is essential:

This capacity to draw upon information from external sources, or from the progress of its own operation, brings about a certain reversal in the trend of machine development. Prior to this, the evolution of machinery had been from the universal to the special purpose machine.

Braverman details how the development of stage 2 leads to specialized machines, e.g. in assembly lines, which useless outside of that context, and only worth the expense if operated continuously. 

But the ability to guide the machine from an external source of control in many cases restores the universality of the machine. It can now regain its adaptability to many purposes without loss of control, since that control is no longer dependent upon its specialized internal construction. A lathe can be controlled even more efficiently by a punched-paper or magnetic tape, and be immediately adaptable to work of every kind suitable to its size and power.

[Two observations: 1) Programming (or “taping”) is seen by Braverman as a kind of “external control” or outside information, similar to feedback. 2) The entire discussion is very reminiscent of Bookchin's, as if Bookchin had been reading Braverman, but Braverman is writing this almost a decade later. I presume Bookchin would have read Braverman, but I don’t see any reference in Braverman to Bookchin, and perhaps the squabbles of the Left at that time would have made them fail to recognize their similarity. There is a key difference which will come up at the end of the chapter.] 

Part of his point has to do with how this external control of stage 3 is used to link machines together, so an entire production line becomes automated. He spells out the legitimating ideology: tools are seen as “extensions” of human work, and greater control is achieved by increased “scientific command of physical principles” (133). This is portrayed as leading to the growth of civilization, the betterment of humanity, etc., which are all abstractions. The reality is that the abstract potential of technological development is concretized in the capitalist production process, within, and reproducing, capitalist social relations.

The mass of humanity is subjected to the labor process for the purposes of those who control it rather than for any general purposes of “humanity” as such. In thus acquiring concrete form, the control of humans over the labor process turns into its opposite and becomes the control of the labor process over the mass of humans. 

The capacity of humans to control the labor process through machinery is seized upon by management from the beginning of capitalism as the prime means whereby production may be controlled not by the direct producer but by the owners and representatives of capital. Thus, in addition to its technical function of increasing the productivity of labor – which would be a mark of machinery under any social system – machinery also has in the capitalist system the function of divesting the mass of workers of their control over their own labor. 

As he often does, Braverman then restates his point again, again eloquently (and so I am moved to again copy it):

The evolution of machinery represents an expansion of human capacities, an increase of human control over environment through the ability to elicit from instruments of production an increasing range and exactitude of response. But it is in the nature of machinery, and a corollary of technical development, that the control over the machine need no longer be vested in its immediate operator. This possibility is seized upon by the capitalist mode of production and utilized to the fullest extent. What was mere technical possibility has become, since the Industrial Revolution, an inevitability that devastates with the force of a natural calamity, although there is nothing more “natural” about it than any other form of the organization of labor.

[This is again the same point made by Bookchin, that the human control of machinery is transformed into “its opposite,” the control of humans by machinery.]

Braverman states that this is made possible by “a series of special conditions” which “have nothing to do with the physical character of the machine” (133-4):

1. “The machine must be the property not of the producer, nor of the associated producers, but of an alien power.” (134)

2. “The interests of the two must be antagonistic.”

3. “The manner in which labor is deployed around the machin­ery – from the labor required to design, build, repair, and control it to the labor required to feed and operate it – must be dictated not by the human needs of the producers but by the special needs of those who own both the machine and the labor power, and whose interest it is to bring these two together in a special way”

4. “Along with these conditions, a social evolution must take place which parallels the physical evolution of machinery: a step-by-step creation of a ‘labor force’ in place of self-directed human labor; that is to say, a working population conforming to the needs of this social organization of labor, in which knowledge of the machine becomes a specialized and segregated trait, while among the mass of the working population there grows only ignorance, incapacity, and thus a fitness for machine servitude.” [this separation of the workers from full understanding of the production process turns out to be key, and a reason for Braverman’s more pessimistic view in contrast to Bookchin].

In this way the remarkable development of machinery becomes, for most of the working population, the source not of freedom but of enslavement, not of mastery but of helplessness, and not of the broadening ofthe horizon of labor but of the confinement of the worker within a blind round of servile duties in which the machine appears as the embodiment of science and the worker as little or nothing.

[a touch of hauntology or fetishism of knowledge/science there, which he will return to]

Machinery offers to management the opportunity to do by wholly me­chanical means that which it had previously attempted to do by organizational and disciplinary means. (134)

[“Wholly” is a bit overstated; “organizational and disciplinary means” are still required to achieve this, to govern the use of the machinery by workers. So it is really a shift in delegation within an assemblage – in Foucauldian terms, a shift of emphasis from discipline to control, though the former does not disappear (as is sometimes misunderstood).]

The fact that many machines may be paced and controlled according to centralized decisions, and that these controls may thus be in the hands of management, removed from the site of production to the office – these technical possibilities are of just as great interest to management as the fact that the machine multiplies the productivity of labor.

Braverman notes this may be more important in a given instance than the actual good design or efficiency of the machine. He turns to a discussion of “numerical control” (135); this apparently refers primarily to taped or programmed machinery, controlled by a computer, telling the programmable machine where to move, what to do in what sequence, etc.

With numerical control, the machine process is subjected to the control of a separate unit, which receives instructions from two sources: in numerical form from an external source, and in the form of signals from monitoring devices which check the ongoing process at the point of contact between tool and work. Using this information, the control unit originates signals which activate power drives controlling the work, tool, coolant, etc. (136)

The coding of any job is quickly completed when separated from machine execution, and once coded a job need never be analyzed again: the tape may be kept on file and used whenever a remake is called for. The processes of metal cutting are virtually automatic, relieving the worker of the need for close control of the machine while cutting is in progress. The separation of conceptualization and calculation from the machine means that the tool itself is in more constant use for metal cutting; at the same time, it goes through its continuous cutting path without interruption, which also makes for more efficient use of these expensive pieces of equipment. (137)

Thus the key points are externalized control (most notably in the form of a program which can be designed and modified by someone who is not the worker); the ensuing separation of knowledge from labor that this facilitates; and the modular replacement which allows the machine to be kept working continually. Much of this is quite similar to the technological aspects of automation which Bookchin had been crowing about as creating the potential for a post-scarcity society; Braverman himself notes that nothing inherently is bad about this technology, and a skilled machinist could easily use such devices to extend or magnify their own labor, thus keeping the production process in the hands of the worker.

That this almost never happens is due, of course, to the opportunities the process offers for the destruction of craft and the cheapening of the resulting pieces of labor into which it is broken [as detailed in earlier chapters]. Thus, as the process takes shape in the minds of engineers, the labor configuration to operate it takes shape simultaneously in the minds of its designers, and in part shapes the design itself. The equipment is made to be operated; operating costs involve, apart from the cost of the machine itself, the hourly cost of labor, and this is part of the calculation involved in machine design. (137)

In a footnote:

That engineers think: in this fashion, or are guided in this direction by all the circumstances of their work, will not appear strange to anyone with the slightest familiarity with engineering as it has developed from its nineteenth-century beginnings.

He quotes a chemist, “I’m no longer really interested in problems that don't involve economic considerations. I’ve come to see economics as another variable to be dealt with in studying a reaction – there's pressure, there's temperature, and there's the dollar...”

The process has become more complex, but this is lost to the workers, who do not rise with the process but sink beneath it. Each of these workers is required to know and understand not more than did the single worker of before, but much less. (138)

Braverman lists the new, less-skilled and lower-paid jobs with which the machinist is replaced; then discusses the same process in several other fields of manufacture, and the accompanying ideological pronouncements about easing labor, etc., which ignore the true effects. This whole process of technological development is rendered more irrational by the need to increase profits, which means once again that costs are the most important deciding factor.

But the increasing productivity of labor is neither sought nor utilized by capitalism from the point of view of the satisfaction of human needs. Rather, powered by the needs of the capital accumulation process, it becomes a frenzied drive which approaches the level of a generalized social insanity. Never is any level of productivity regarded as sufficient. (141)

In this setting, the development of technology takes the form of a headlong rush in which social effects are largely disregarded, priorities are set only by the criteria of profitability, and the equitable spread, reasonable assimilation, and selective appropriation of the fruits of science, considered from the social point of view, remain the visions of helpless idealists. (142)

Braverman distinguishes between “truly productive” and “wasteful” labor:

Each advance in productivity shrinks the number of truly productive workers, enlarges the number of workers who are available to be utilized in the struggles between corporations over the distribution of the surplus, expands the use of labor in wasteful employment or no employment at all, and gives to all society the form of an inverted pyramid resting upon an ever narrower base of useful labor.

This does not solve the crisis of the need for always growing productivity:

where they cannot accomplish a large saving of labor by a revolution in production they achieve the same effect by a degradation of the product. (143) [in other words, the result of automation will often be an inferior product; this is okay since the goal is saving money.] 

He gives examples from other industries such as the construction industry, which moves toward prefabs, deskilling, etc.; furniture production, meatpacking, apparel, typesetting. He turns to the discussion of James R Bright's study, which is unlike all other bourgeois studies in that it gets at how automation actually affects the worker. This is not Bright’s actual intention, just an insight arising out of his approach. Bright identifies 17 "mechanization levels" (listed on page 149), the first several of which may involve increasing amounts of skill (because mechanization is used to extend effect of a tool controlled by worker), but as the levels get higher, control becomes more and more externalized, resulting in less skill and knowledge of worker. Bright talks about the distinction  between “machinists” and “machine operators,” who operate at the higher levels of mechanization; according to Bright, the worker becomes less of a machine “operator” and more of a “watchman, a monitor, a helper” (quoted on 150). Bright expresses surprises that his study found that the “upgrading effect” [expected by the ideology of automation] is rarely substantiated: instead workers are almost always deskilled. This includes “maintenance organization,” i.e., the workers who maintain the equipment; the pro-automation argument is that these workers will need to be more skilled, but Bright found this happens less often than their deskilling. Skilled maintenance workers turn out to be a small subset.

Braverman discusses this phenomenon as it applies to consumers, through home appliances and automobiles: 

While the consumer finds it expensive to buy an entire new assembly in order to replace a part worth a few cents, and also finds the consequent deterioration of repair skills among servicemen exasperating, in industry, where the length of time the production system is shut down for repairs is the most important and expensive factor, replacing entire assemblies is by far the cheapest way. (151,154)

The process results in the deskilling of repair mechanics, even in factories, where they just replace modules which have indicated their own failure through sensors (because having the system shut down for repairs any amount of time is more expensive than fixing the part) [This is given as an example of inefficiency, of the drive to keep production moving, but presumably these modules could be swapped out and fixed (by more skilled mechanics), then held in reserve for when they are next needed?]

He states the Marxist theory of machines as products of (not replacements for) labor power:

Considered only in their physical aspect, machines are nothing but developed instruments of production whereby humankind increases the effectiveness of its labor. Just as in producing a simple tool the worker fashions, preparatory to the direct production process itself, an aid for that process, in the same way the production of modern means of production, no matter how complex or developed, represents the expenditure of labor time not for the direct making of the product but for the making of instruments to help in the making of the product or service. This past labor, incorporated into instruments of production, imparts its value to the product piecemeal, as it is used up in productions – a fact which the capitalist recognizes in the depreciation allowance. (157)

The labor embodied in machines is dead labor, contrasted with the living labor input from workers in the production of the actual product. Dead labor becomes part of capital: “The ideal toward which capitalism strives is the domination of dead labor over living labor” (157). This begins as allegory (in Marx’s time) but has become a “physical fact” over the course of the 20th Century. 

It is not the machine but the capitalist system that creates this problem:

It is of course this “master,” standing behind the machine, who dominates, pumps dry, the living labor power; it is not the productive strength of machinery that weakens the human race, but the manner in which it is employed in capitalist social relations. (158)

To see the machine itself as the enemy is an error, a form of fetishism (and all very hauntological): 

The machine, the mere product of human labor and ingenuity, designed and constructed by humans and alterable by them at will, is viewed as an independent participant in human social arrangements. It is given life, enters into “relations” with the workers, relations fixed by its own nature, is endowed with the power to shape the life of mankind, and is sometimes even invested with designs upon the human race.

In a footnote, Braverman asserts that “bourgeois ideologists” either love or hate machines, but in both cases fetishize them; he gives example of Ellul, and defines fetishism as “the reification of a social relation.”

This fetishism achieves its greatest force when it attaches to those products of men’s hands which, in the form of machinery, become capital. Acting for the master in a way which he plans with inexhaustible care and precision, they seem in human eyes to act for themselves and out of their own inner necessities. (159) 

In reality, machinery embraces a host of possibilities, many of which are systematically thwarted, rather than developed, by capital.

Braverman lays out his own statement of [Bookchin’s thesis]:

An automatic system of machinery opens up the possibility of the true control over a highly productive factory by a relatively small corps of workers, providing these workers attain the level of mastery over the machinery offered by engineering knowledge, and providing they then share out among themselves the routines of the operation, from the most technically advanced to the most routine. This tendency to socialize labor, and to make of it an engineering enterprise on a high level of technical accomplishment, is, considered abstractly, a far more striking characteristic of machinery in its fully developed state than any other. Yet this promise, which has been repeatedly held out with every technical advance since the Industrial Revolution, is frustrated by the capitalist effort to reconstitute and even deepen the division of labor in all of its worst aspects, despite the fact that this division of labor becomes more archaic with every passing day. [Emphasis added]

Yet here is Braverman’s rejoinder to Bookchin’s optimism, that the historical trend is rendering worker control more and more difficult to achieve: 

This observation may easily be verified by the fact that workers in each industry today are far less capable of operating that industry than were the workers of a half-century ago, and even less than those of a hundred years ago. The “progress” of capitalism seems only to deepen the gulf between worker and machine and to subordinate the worker ever more decisively to the yoke of the machine. 

In a lengthy footnote he discusses a quote from Marx which according to Braverman is often mistaken for a claim that capitalist automation would eventually create more knowledgeable/skilled workers, but per Braverman’s reading the opposite is the case: capitalism has stood in the way of this. He describes the current division of labor as “the subject of a veritable religion” and compares apologists of this “barbarous relic” to the apologists for slavery (160).

And it is truly in this way that workers, so long as they remain servants of capital instead of freely associated producers who control their own labor and their own destinies, work every day to build for themselves more “modern,” more “scientific,” more dehumanized prisons of labor. (161)




Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Post-Scarcity Anarchism, Chapter 3


 

Summary of Chapter 3: Towards a Liberatory Technology


In this third chapter he lays out the third part of his overall platform, detailing the way that technology will be embraced, but used differently, in a revolutionary post-scarcity society. Despite various criticisms that could be made of Bookchin’s romanticism, naturalization, etc., it seems likely that any actually successful, sustainable, egalitarian society of the future will bear a good deal of resemblance to his vision.

According to Bookchin, people used to fetishize technological progress, but now there is a "schizoid" mentality: people fear it on the one hand (apocalyptically) but at the same time desire its benefits with a “a yearning for material abundance, leisure and security” (107). There is also a schizoid aspect to technology, producing both helpful and disastrous technologies and inventions: “The bomb is pitted against the power reactor.” Bookchin says the fear side is winning out: “technology is viewed as a demon, imbued with a sinister life of its own, that is likely to mechanize man if it fails to exterminate him” (108). This is dangerous:

There is a very real danger that we will lose our perspective toward technology, that we will neglect its liberatory tendencies, and, worse, submit fatalistically to its use for destructive ends.

A balance must be struck:

The purpose of this article is to explore three questions. What is the liberatory potential of modern technology, both materially and spiritually? What tendencies, if any, are reshaping the machine for use in an organic, human-oriented society? And finally, how can the new technology and resources be used in an ecological manner—that is, to promote the balance of nature, the full development of natural regions, and the creation of organic, humanistic communities?

He argues against deterministic views, which cast technology as inherently liberatory, or as inherently dehumanizing (citing Juenger and Ellul on the second point). 

An organic mode of life deprived of its technological component would be as nonfunctional as a man deprived of his skeleton. Technology must be viewed as the basic structural support of a society; it is literally the framework of an economy and of many social institutions. (109)

He notes 1848 as a key year with the Communist Manifesto as a statement of revolutionary theory, the workers' uprising, and being at about the “culmination” of steam technology that had started a century and a half earlier; both the potential, and the limitations of 19th century technology had an influence on 19th century revolutionary thought, as evidenced by M&E's manifesto. One inherent shortcoming of this is that said technology had not yet reached the potential for post-scarcity, that, according to Bookchin, is the real precondition for revolution:

However glowing and lofty were the revolutionary ideals of the past, the vast majority of the people, burdened by material want, had to leave the stage of history after the revolution, return to work, and deliver the management of society to a new leisured class of exploiters. Indeed, any attempt to equalize the wealth of society at a low level of technological development would not have eliminated want, but would have merely made it into a general feature of society as a whole, thereby recreating all the conditions for a new struggle over the material things of life, for new forms of property, and eventually for a new system of class domination.  (111)

[He cites M&E to the same effect just below this. I'm not sure the argument (regarding the conditions of want becoming “a general feature of society” after a revolution with industrial-era technology) has merit. But he is basically talking about why and how M&E differ from his own analysis, because of the different technological development of their day: enough to deliver some promise, but not enough to deliver the truly revolutionary promise of the post-scarcity society].

The fact that men would have to devote a substantial portion of their time to toil, for which they would get scant returns, formed a major premise of all socialist ideology—authoritarian and libertarian, Utopian and scientific, Marxist and anarchist.

The problem of dealing with want and work—an age-old problem perpetuated by the early Industrial Revolution- produced the great divergence in revolutionary ideas between socialism and anarchism. (112)

Marx pursued the compromise of a worker-run state; Bakunin and Kropotkin argued for tradition, social pressure, or moral instinct to mutual aid as their hope for a state free society. According to Bookchin, the former compromise made Marxism by the 20th century no better than mainstream capitalist doctrines, while the anarchists back in the time of scarcity had been admirable idealists, but ultimately mere impractical idealists, all the same [he will argue that post-scarcity changes the equation: anarchism is now practical rather than merely idealistic.]

Bookchin discusses how the USSR promoted the ideal of workers and full employment, everyone working hard. Bookchin, in contrast, sees the importance of distinguishing between “pleasurable work” and “onerous toil” (114) and wants to get rid of the toil aspect. By Bookchin’s time of writing (1965), the possibility of a world without toil has become obvious. He notes, and dismisses, contemporary calls for an annual guaranteed income, as being stuck in the quantitative thinking of a scarcity society, instead of being open to the qualitative thinking of a post-scarcity society. In an important footnote, he delineates a distinction between “justice” (quantitative, scarcity-era thinking) and “freedom” (qualitative, post-scarcity thinking):

An exclusively quantitative approach to the new technology, I may add, is not only economically archaic, but morally regressive. This approach partakes of the old principle of justice, as distinguished from the new principle of freedom. Historically, justice is derived from the world of material necessity and toil; it implies relatively scarce resources which are apportioned by a moral principle which is either “just” or “unjust.” Justice, even “equal” justice, is a concept of limitation, involving the denial of goods and the sacrifice of time and energy to production. Once we transcend the concept of justice—indeed, once we pass from the quantitative to the qualitative potentialities of modern technology—we enter the unexplored domain of freedom, based on spontaneous organization and full access to the means of life. (116)

[The links between justice and scarcity, and freedom and post-scarcity, are worthy of being further explored. On the one hand this is a poignant critique of the current fervor for “social justice” which often relies on appeals to a redistributive state. On the other hand, we currently do still live in a situation of scarcity, not just of material wealth but in which political power is unevenly distributed (and thus scarce for the many). To argue in this context for a politics of freedom rather than justice may be equivalent to taking the position of the abstract (privileged, white, male, etc.) subject, not recognizing that the conditions for this freedom and equality have yet to be achieved for most people.]

Bookchin lists the new questions he wants to pose about technology:

Is this technology staking out a new dimension in human freedom, in the liberation of man? Can it not only liberate man from want and work, but also lead him to a free, harmonious, balanced human community—an ecocommunity that would promote the unrestricted development of his potentialities? Finally, can it carry man beyond the realm of freedom into the realm of life and desire? (116-7)

For the first time in history, technology has reached an open end. The potential for technological development, for providing machines as substitutes for labor is virtually unlimited. Technology has finally passed from the realm of invention to that of design—in other words, from fortuitous discoveries to systematic innovations.

Because the problem is no longer dealing with scarcity, technology has “reached an open end” with new unlimited potential; the realm of “invention” has been replaced by the realm of “design,” by which he means that we have gone “from fortuitous discoveries to systematic innovation” building off an existing system. He quotes Vannevar Bush on this [which is funny because I was just reading Wiener talking about how he gave Bush ideas for computers, etc. Interestingly Bush’s illustration of such “systematic design” is about how to design a car that would follow a white line down a road, and the answer is basically a "breadboard model" with sensors and actuators, basically an arduino!] Bush's point is that there is a host of reliable gadgets to be called upon, and of "men who understand fully all their queer ways" (118). Nothing would really have to be invented, just assembled, because we have achieved a platform or system for easy and quick innovation in the future [also presumably better directed than under the capitalist system, which subordinates technological progress to the demands of profit.]

Bookchin pulls two points out of Bush's story: "the two most important features of the new, so-called "second," industrial revolution," [again echoing Wiener]:

[1] the enormous potentialities of modern technology and

[2] the cost-oriented, nonhuman limitations that are imposed upon it.

The second is the profit motive under capitalism, and is a constraint upon innovation.

Perhaps the most obvious development leading to the new technology has been the increasing interpenetration of scientific abstraction, mathematics and analytic methods with the concrete, pragmatic and rather mundane tasks of industry. This order of relationships is relatively new. Traditionally, speculation, generalization and rational activity were sharply divorced from technology. This chasm reflected the sharp split between the leisured and working classes in ancient and medieval society. (118)

[This is interesting as both Wiener and Braverman have been making this point, but here Bookchin is much closer to Wiener’s analysis than to Braverman's, or at least so far]

In our own day this synthesis, once embodied by the work of a single, inspired genius, is the work of anonymous teams. Although these teams have obvious advantages, they often have all the traits of bureaucratic agencies—which leads to a mediocre, unimaginative treatment of problems. (119) 

Bookchin notes that a lot of industrial growth is not due to mechanization but to the "continual reorganization of the labor process," here sounding increasingly like Braverman:

Historically, it would be difficult to understand how mechanized mass manufacture emerged, how the machine increasingly displaced labor, without tracing the development of the work process from craftsmanship, where an independent, highly skilled worker engages in many diverse operations, through the purgatory of the factory, where these diverse tasks are parceled out among a multitude of unskilled or semiskilled employees, to the highly mechanized mill, where the tasks of many are largely taken over by machines manipulated by a few operatives, and finally to the automated and cybernated plant, where operatives are replaced by supervisory technicians and highly skilled maintenance men.

And then like Marx:

the machine has evolved from an extension of human muscles into an extension of the human nervous system. (119-20)

The mechanical devices and engines developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries did not replace human muscles but rather enlarged their effectiveness. Although the machines increased output enormously, the worker's muscles and brain were still required to operate them, even for fairly routine tasks. (120)

The development of fully automatic machines for complex mass-manufacturing operations requires the successful application of at least three technological principles: such machines must have a built-in ability to correct their own errors; they must have sensory devices for replacing the visual, auditory and tactile senses of the worker; and, finally, they must have devices that substitute for the worker's judgment, skill and memory.

In other words, [feedback], sensors, and knowledge; this could be contrasted with Wieners account. Bookchin gives examples of feedback  mechanisms, distinguishing between “closed” (controlled by feedback) vs. “open” (manually controlled) systems; sensors can be used to turn open systems into closed ones, thus reducing the need for human labor (122). He brings up digital computers, and looks at the impact of automation in an automobile factory: there is a great increase in speed, along with a reduction in the number of needed workers; but even the current system is quickly out of date as new speeds are reached.

[So far a difference between Bookchin and Braverman is that Braverman has asked what the development of technology would be like in a worker-centric or controlled system – how this would lead to technological development that was not an attempt to control or limit workers’ power and knowledge, skill, etc. and thus would presumably not have led to the split between  managerial/technical knowhow and brute, repetitive labor. Bookchin, in contrast, takes this separation for granted, because he is not talking about what a system would look like that had been shaped all along by anti-authoritarianism, but rather how an anti-authoritarian or anarchist society could result now, only just now having been made possible, after the fact of having gone through this capitalist development (Bookchin is thus closer to Marx here).]

Among the many parallels in this chapter with the recent chapter of Wiener, labor in mines is given as a standard of the most grueling kind of work:

If it is true that the moral level of a society can be gauged by the way it treats women, its sensitivity to human suffering can be gauged by the working conditions it provides for people in raw materials industries, particularly in mines and quarries. (125)

He quotes Mumford on the mine as the first artificial environment, where work is divorced from the day and night cycle:

The abolition of mining as a sphere of human activity would symbolize, in its own way, the triumph of a liberatory technology. That we can point to this achievement already, even in a single case at this writing, presages the freedom from toil implicit in the technology of our time. (126)

[Bookchin here echoes Wiener's discussion or rather example of mining as a good kind of work to get rid of; however he seems not to be taking Mumford’s point about mining as the birthplace of a certain organization or way of thinking about and imposing work discipline.] 

His vision of small, local, distributed factories, produced with that plug-in breadboard-like “design not invention” principle of shared knowledge and tech: 

It is easy to foresee a time, by no means remote, when a rationally organized economy could automatically manufacture small "packaged" factories without human labor; parts could be produced with so little effort that most maintenance tasks would be reduced to the simple act of removing a defective unit from a machine and replacing it by another—a job no more difficult than pulling out and putting in a tray. Machines would make and repair most of the machines required to maintain such a highly industrialized economy. Such a technology, oriented entirely toward human needs and freed from all consideration of profit and loss, would eliminate the pain of want and toil—the penalty, inflicted in the form of denial, suffering and inhumanity, exacted by a society based on scarcity and labor.

He begins to discuss how technology might be reorganized after the revolution:

The current type of industrial organization—an extension, in effect, of the industrial forms created by the Industrial Revolution—fosters industrial centralization (although a system of workers’ management based on the individual factory and local community would go far toward eliminating this feature). (128)

He talks about the history of computers and the trend towards miniaturization, as developments that presage the desired local ecologically conscious system; in contrast, he gives the existing example of a top-of-the-line steel mill which needs vast amounts of material constantly to be at maximum effectiveness:

Even if it is totally automated, its operating and management needs far transcend the capabilities of a small, decentralized community. The type of administration it requires tends to foster centralized social forms. (130)

[The two examples set up an opposition between tech advances which enable “human scale” distributed organization, vs. those which favor centralized, top-down organization].

 He discusses several alternatives to centralized steel mills, which would allow for local-based steel production; smaller localized factories would also need fewer resources overall, and so could bring locally available sources, which had fallen out of production due to economies of scale on a global market, to be brought back into production, decreasing costs of transportation and resulting in a more ecologically responsible use of resources.

Since the smaller complex requires ore, fuel and reducing agents in relatively small quantities, many communities could rely on local resources for their raw materials, thereby conserving the more concentrated resources of centrally located sources of supply, strengthening the independence of the community itself vis-a-vis the traditional centralized economy, and reducing the expense of transportation. What would at first glance seem to be a costly, inefficient duplication of effort that could be avoided by building a few centralized steel complexes would prove, in the long run, to be more efficient as well as socially more desirable.32)

This goes along with the economics of a shift from single purpose (part of the expensive centralized system) to multipurpose machines (reusable when products change). He turns to “the ecological use of technology” (134ff); that is, the question of how to design a technological system which encouraged people to be more conscious of their environment and their impact on it, as opposed to the current system which divorces consumers from such awareness.

I have tried, thus far, to deal with the possibility of eliminating toil, material insecurity, and centralized economic control-issues which, if “utopian,” are at least tangible. In the present section I would like to deal with a problem that may seem highly subjective but which is nonetheless of compelling importance—the need to make man’s dependence upon the natural world a visible and living part of his culture. (134)

“Actually, this problem is peculiar only to a highly urbanized and industrialized society;” in all earlier cultures, the relationship to nature was much more obvious. The question is how to restore this sort of knowledge without giving up on the benefits of modern technology. [A good question, because the previous awareness was, after all, based in large part on the existential peril of scarcity].

He discusses Fourier and the early Utopians, and their advocacy of reintegrating town and country. But Bookchin does not want this to mean that people labor like peasants, somehow “for their own good.”

If we grant that the land and the community must be reintegrated physically, that the community must exist in an agricultural matrix which renders man's dependence upon nature explicit, the problem we face is how to achieve this transformation without imposing “painful toil” on the community. How, in short, can husbandry, ecological forms of food cultivation and farming on a human scale be practiced without sacrificing mechanization? (137)

He discusses various current (in 1965) technologies for automating and simplifying agricultural production. He sees a potential for mechanized agricultural which nevertheless keeps people in touch with the ecosystem and landscape:

Let us pause at this point to envision how our free community might be integrated with its natural environment. We suppose the community to have been established after a careful study has been made of its natural ecology—its air and water resources, its climate, its geological formations, its raw materials, its soils, and its natural flora and fauna. Land management by the community is guided entirely by ecological principles, so that an equilibrium is maintained between the environment and its human inhabitants. Industrially rounded, the community forms a distinct unit within a natural matrix; it is socially and aesthetically in balance with the area it occupies. (139)

There is much discussion of the way “town” and “country” are to “blend” in a way that preserves the positive features of both. Agriculture will become an enjoyable activity, engaged in not only for food but for the pleasure of the work:

I believe that a free community will regard agriculture as husbandry, an activity as expressive and enjoyable as crafts. Relieved of toil by agricultural machines, communitarians will approach food cultivation with the same playful and creative attitude that men so often bring to gardening. Agriculture will become a living part of human society, a source of pleasant physical activity and, by virtue of its ecological demands, an intellectual, scientific and artistic challenge. (140)

And thus, even though there is plenty of machinery and automation, people will regain that sense of connection to the land which had been lost with the industrial revolution:

They will regain the sense of one-ness with nature that existed in humans from primordial times. Nature and the organic modes of thought it always fosters will become an integral part of human culture; it will reappear with a fresh spirit in man's paintings, literature, philosophy, dances, architecture, domestic furnishings, and in his very gestures and day-to-day activities. (141)

There will be a locally-based mixture and diversity of technology and energy sources (including nuclear). Discussing ways that locally-based production could be achieved without dependence on some large centralized production process, he talks about how there are trace elements of useful minerals in even a handful of soil, and claims that tech is being developed, or will be, to extract this efficiently. [What happened to the idea of not seeing nature as a resource to be mined/extracted?]

As the chemist Jacob Rosin argues, if an element can be detected in the laboratory, there is reason to hope that it can be extracted on a sufficiently large scale to be used by industry. (143)

[Laboratory-centric reasoning? It seems to contradict the farming-experiencey thing].

The question of reliable local [and less polluting] energy sources arises; he talks about the promise of solar power, and lists examples of solar tech of the time, for several pages, along with tides, wind power, etc. According to Bookchin, these sources will only ever be good enough for small communities, they will not be able to support large cites like Paris, London, or New York. (151)

Limitation of scope, however, could represent a profound advantage from an ecological point of view. The sun, the wind and the earth are experiential realities to which men have responded sensuously and reverently from time immemorial. Out of these primal elements man developed his sense of dependence on—and respect for—the natural environment, a dependence that kept his destructive activities in check. The Industrial Revolution and the urbanized world that followed obscured nature's role in human experience—hiding the sun with a pall of smoke, blocking the winds with massive buildings, desecrating the earth with sprawling cities. Man's dependence on the natural world became invisible; it became theoretical and intellectual in character, the subject matter of textbooks, monographs and lectures. True, this theoretical dependence supplied us with insights (partial ones at best) into the natural world, but its onesidedness robbed us of all sensuous dependence on and all visible contact and unity with nature. In losing these, we lost a part of ourselves as feeling beings. We became alienated from nature. Our technology and environment became totally inanimate, totally synthetic—a purely inorganic physical milieu that promoted the deanimization of man and his thought.

[There is an interesting insight here into how the means of obtaining energy affects society and thinking. Coal/Fossil fuels support an extractive/resource view of the world, while electric transmission supports a dissociation from the power source, which is only relevant to the extent that we have power flowing to our homes, etc.]

To bring the sun, the wind, the earth, indeed the world of life, back into technology, into the means of human survival, would be a revolutionary renewal of man's ties to nature.

Human systems would in effect be part of their local ecological system, not an [alien force] operating against it.

Crafts would regain their honored position as supplements to mass manufacture; they would become a form of domestic, day-to-day artistry.

Higher quality would replace [planned obsolescence] and overall shoddiness/cheapness of mass production; the ecological sustainability of an item would be part of its appeal.

In the final part of the essay, called “Technology for Life,” Bookchin turns more explicitly to how he expects technology to work in a revolutionary society. His critique of previous revolutions could be said to be that they were a sort of holiday or world-turned-upside down ritual, in which business as usual was briefly suspended, but after which everyone had to “go back to work,” and this fact – that working people remained tied to their labor – allowed for elites to re-install themselves and eventually bar the working class from effective political participation.

In a future revolution, the most pressing task of technology will be to produce a surfeit of goods with a minimum of toil. The immediate purpose of this task will be to open the social arena permanently to the revolutionary people, to keep the revolution in permanence. (152)

Thus far very social revolution has foundered because the peal of the tocsin could not be heard over the din of the workshop. Dreams of freedom and plenty were polluted by the mundane, workaday responsibility of producing the means of survival. (153)

This means the people were too busy, and so “the reins of power fell into the hands of the political ‘professionals,’ the mediocrities of Thermidor.” He gives the example of the bourgeois Girondin party during the French Revolution, who wanted the doors of the popular assemblies closed at ten in the evening, to keep the workers from arriving after work:

Essentially, the tragedy of past revolutions has been that, sooner or later, their doors closed, "at ten in the evening." The most critical function of modern technology must be to keep the doors of the revolution open forever!

Bookchin celebrates “those magnificent madmen,” the Dadaists, for their refusal of work. Turning to the question of technology, he criticizes the idea of technology as an “extension” of the human [in a way that could be said to presage Stiegler’s discussion of technology as pharmakon]. Only in the case of traditional technology, argues Bookchin, can technology be seen as an “extension of man,” because back then craft workers controlled their tools, instead of being controlled by them: 

The tool amplifies the powers of the craftsman as a human; it amplifies his power to exercise his artistry and impart his identity as a creative being to raw materials.  (154)

With the industrial revolution, this relationship is reversed:

The machine now appears as an alien force—apart from and yet wedded to the production of the means of survival.

Technology becomes part of a “social machine” which is also distinguished from the human or individual (aka “men”):

Although initially an “extension of man,” technology is transformed into a force above man, orchestrating his life according to a score contrived by an industrial bureaucracy; not men, I repeat, but a bureaucracy, a social machine.

With the arrival of mass production as the predominant mode of production, man became an extension of the machine, and not only of mechanical devices in the productive process but also of social devices in the social process.

This distinction between “mechanical devices in the productive process” and “social devices in the social process” echoes his discussion back in Chapter 2, where part of his critique of the Marxist position on class had to do with the creation of consumer consciousness through mass media, marketing, education, etc. – this is presumably what “social devices,” refers to, though the term seems even more relevant to a smartphone-dominated society. In line with this, he denounces the consumer as an unwittingly manufactured dupe:

The decline from craftsman to worker, from an active to an increasingly passive personality, is completed by man qua consumer—an economic entity whose tastes, values, thoughts and sensibilities are engineered by bureaucratic "teams" in "think tanks." 

Man, standardized by machines, is reduced to a machine.

In a footnote, Bookchin lists the ways in which “man-the-machine” is an ideal tool of power:

The “ideal man” of the police bureaucracy is a being whose innermost thoughts can be invaded by lie detectors, electronic listening devices, and “truth” drugs. The “ideal man” of the political bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be shaped by mutagenic chemicals and socially assimilated by the mass media. The “ideal man” of the industrial bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be invaded by subliminal and predictively reliable advertising. The “ideal man” of the military bureaucracy is a being whose innermost life can be invaded by regimentation for genocide. (155)

Here is another one of Bookchin’s dense paragraphs where he contrasts the idea of the eternally renewing revolutionary potential of the youth, versus the sloth of the bureaucracy: the “man as machine” ideal

is continually defied by the rebirth of life, by the reappearance of the young, and by the contradictions that unsettle the bureaucracy. Every generation has to be assimilated again, and each time with explosive resistance. The bureaucracy, in turn, never lives up to its own technical ideal. Congested with mediocrities, it errs continually. Its judgment lags behind new situations; insensate, it suffers from social inertia and is always buffeted by chance. Any crack that opens in the social machine is widened by the forces of life.

[Of course, how would the newer generations of so-called “digital natives” fit into this vision? Bookchin would perhaps argue that the “social device” training of the young gets earlier and earlier and more and more intrusive, because it has to; this is not a sign of the ultimate triumph of the machinification of the human, but of its fragility and desperation.]

How can we heal the fracture that separates living men from dead machines without sacrificing either men or machines? How can we transform a technology for survival into a technology for life?

Bookchin foresees two possibilities, the first of which is burying/hiding the technology [an interesting link to the soft city, not to mention the Teletubbies-Eloi and their subterraneann caretakers-Morlocks-“machines of loving grace”]:

Or these humans of the future may simply choose to step over the body of technology. They may submerge the cybernated machine in a technological underworld, divorcing it entirely from social life, the community and creativity. All but hidden from society, the machines would work for man. Free communities would stand at the end of a cybernated assembly line with baskets to cart the goods home. (155)

The fracture separating man from machine would not be healed. It would simply be ignored. (156)

Bookchin, naturally, is against such a move:

Ignoring technology, of course, is no solution. Man would be closing off a vital human experience—the stimulus of productive activity, the stimulus of the machine. Technology can play a vital role in forming the personality of man.

He cites Mumford on art and personal growth [basically Marx’s, or indeed Kant’s, insight regarding production and self-consciousness, the need to act on the world and see results]. In a liberated society, machines will make the hard work easier, while leaving the artistry and craftsmanship to humans:

A liberated society, I believe, will not want to negate technology precisely because it is liberated and can strike a balance. It may well want to assimilate the machine to artistic craftsmanship. By this I mean the machine will remove the toil from the productive process, leaving its artistic completion to man. The machine, in effect, will participate in human creativity.

The machine can absorb the toil involved in mining, smelting, transporting and shaping raw materials, leaving the final stages of artistry and craftsmanship to the individual.

In this wiser, no longer profit-driven economy, degrowth would become a reality, as the concept of what is “necessary” would change (with reference to Marx’s discussion of the “realm of necessity”):

Having acquired a vitalizing respect for the natural environment and its resources, the free decentralized community would give a new interpretation to the word “need.” Marx's “realm of necessity,” instead of expanding indefinitely, would tend to contract; needs would be humanized and scaled by a higher valuation of life and creativity. Quality and artistry would supplant the current emphasis on quantity and standardization; durability would replace the current emphasis on expendability... (157)

The shallowness of market exchange would be replaced with the creativity of a gift economy:

The repulsive ritual of bargaining and hoarding would be replaced by the sensitive acts of making and giving.Things would cease to be the crutches for an impoverished ego and the mediators between aborted personalities; they would become the products of rounded, creative individuals and the gifts of integrated, developing selves.

In contrast to the hierarchy and separation which are the effects of a centralized economic system, local production could lead to communities finding ways to cooperate over resources, which would thus act as “sinews of confederation” crossing ecological boundaries (157). He rejects the idea that society is too “complex” to operate as decentralized, autarchic communities: much of this apparent complexity is really just the fluff and wastefulness of state and corporate bureaucracy; filing cabinets, paperwork, etc.:

As in Kafka's novels, these things are real but strangely dreamlike, indefinable shadows on the social landscape. (159)

[Here is an interesting connection to Braverman, who discusses the “shadow world” of bureaucratic paperwork, stealing agency from human workers and turning them into “automata” per Taylor].

Degrowth is not just ecologically sensible, but would also lead to a simpler, and thus more anarchist, society, by getting rid of a lot of hierarchical bloat:

if we grant that buttons must be styled in a thousand different forms, textiles varied endlessly in kind and pattern to create the illusion of innovation and novelty, bathrooms filled to overflowing with a dazzling variety of pharmaceuticals and lotions, and kitchens cluttered with an endless number of imbecile appliances. If we single out of this odious garbage one or two goods of high quality in the more useful categories and if we eliminate the money economy, the state power, the credit system, the paperwork and the policework required to hold society in an enforced state of want, insecurity and domination, society would not only become reasonably human but also fairly simple. (159)

No community would specialize wholly in one product, but would instead have “rounded” economies producing “rounded” people:

Every community would approximate local or regional autarky. It would seek to achieve wholeness, because wholeness produces complete, rounded men who live in symbiotic relationship with their environment. (160)

Even today there are acts of mutual aid, even though these go against society; how much more there shall be in the future, when it is let loose! Bookchin admits we could end in disaster, but he expects rather than we will create a better society: 

Would it not be the height of absurdity, indeed of impudence, to gauge the behavior of future generations by the very criteria we despise in our own time? Free men will not be greedy, one liberated community will not try to dominate another because it has a potential monopoly of copper, computer “experts” will not try to enslave grease monkeys, and sentimental novels about pining, tubercular virgins will not be written. (161)

Echoing Brecht, he asks people of the future to forgive us for taking so long with the revolution, and to try to understand us.