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The previous chapter traced the history that led class war onto the terrain of the information revolution. This one makes a map of the contemporary battleground. To do so, it uses one of one of Marx's central concepts, that of the circuit of capital.1 Put simply, this shows how capital depends for its operations not just on exploitation in the immediate workplace, but on the continuous integration of a whole series of social sites and activities--sites and activities which, however, may also become scenes of subversion and insurgency. Today, this circuit of accumulation and resistance passes through robotised factories, interactive media, virtual classrooms, biotechnological laboratories, in vitro fertilisation clinics, hazardous waste sites and out into the global networks of cyberspace.
Marx's original account describes only two moments in the circuit of capital. In production, labour power and means of production (machinery and raw materials) are combined to create commodities. In circulation, commodities are bought and sold; capital must both sell the goods it has produced, realising the surplus value extracted in production, and purchase the labour power and means of production necessary to restart Since Marx proposed this model, however, capital has prodigiously expanded the scope of its social organisation. This expansion, and the resistances it has provoked, has made visible aspects of its circuit that he largely overlooked, but which are identified in the autonomist analysis of the social factory.2 In the 1970s Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James made a crucial revision when they insisted that a vital moment in capital's circuit was the reproduction of labour power---that is, the activities in which workers are prepared and repaired for work.3 These are processes conducted not in the factory, but in the community at large, in schools, hospitals, and, above all, in households, where they have traditionally been the task of unwaged female labour.
More recently, another round of struggles has called attention to further aspects of capital's circuits, previously largely overlooked by Marxists--the reproduction of nature.
Capital must not only constantly find the labour power to throw into production, but also the raw materials this labour power converts into commodities. As mounting ecological catastrophe catalyzes intensifying protests by green movements and aboriginal peoples, it has become apparent that faith in the limitlessness of such resources is profoundly mistaken. Whether raw materials are in fact available for accumulation depends on the extent of capital's territorial and technological reach, on the degree to which ecosystems have been depleted and defiled, and on the level of resistance this devastation arouses. The reproduction (or non-reproduction) of nature increasingly becomes a problem for capital and a terrain of conflict for those who oppose it.4 Taking account of the insights won not just by workers' struggles but also by feminist and environmental movements this chapter posits a modified version of Marx’s circuit of capital, constituted by four moments--production, the reproduction of labour power (which is in turn examined under three sub-headings dealing with welfare, schooling and medical services respectively), the reproduction of nature and, finally, circulation. At each point we will see how capital uses high-technologies to enforce command, by imposing increased levels of workplace exploitation, expanding its subsumption of various social domains, deepening its penetration of the environment, intensifying market relations, and establishing an overarching, panoptic system of measurement, surveillance and control through digital networks.
However--and this is crucial--the cartography of capital’s circuit maps not just its strengths but also its weaknesses. In plotting the nodes and links necessary to capital's flow, it also charts the points where those continuities can be ruptured. At every moment we will see how people oppose capital's technological discipline by refusal or reappropriation; how these struggles multiply throughout capital's orbit; how conflicts at one point precipitate crises in another; and how activists are using the very machines with which capital integrates its operations to connect their diverse rebellions. In particular, I argue that the development of new means of communication vital for the smooth flow of capital’s circuit--fax, video, cable television, new broadcast technologies and especially computer networks--also create the opportunity for otherwise isolated and dispersed points of insurgency to connect and combine with one another. The circuit of high technology capital thus also provides the pathways for the circulation of struggles. I draw examples primarily from a North American context, perhaps one of the most inauspicious of current contexts for class struggle and, consequently, an acid test for the contention that such conflict has not vanished from the horizons of the information era.
Let us start (though not stay) at the traditional heart of Marxist theory, the immediate point of production, the site of work. Here, the information revolution has meant, first and foremost, a leap towards a new, digitised level of automation--an extraordinary intensification of capitals' perennial drive to eliminate its dependence on labour by transferring workers' knowledge into machines. Over the last twenty five years management has invested massively in computerised production technologies-- numerically-controlled machine tools, robots, automatic delivery devices, and just-in time These cybernetic devices first appeared in the workplace shortly after the end of the Second World War, primarily in manufacturing and petro-chemical industries.5 At first, their components were introduced in a piecemeal fashion, and only gradually connected in increasingly self-regulating complexes. This process was, however, accelerated by the industrial revolts of the 1960s and 1970s. Advanced versions of the new systems, aimed at a maximum reduction of the workforce and seamless, centralised control from managerially-controlled command centers were brought into the car factories, chemical plants, and steel mills where mass worker militancy had been strongest. Even where these experimental systems were so expensive as to be, in strictly economic terms, inefficient, their labour-eliminating capacity was frequently critical in crushing the most advanced elements of working class organisation.6 Today, however, such systems are being experimented with throughout all sectors of work, from nursing to pizza-making to lighthouse-keeping; while the fully implemented versions are still futuristic islands in a sea of more traditional work methods, their discrete elements are widely disseminated, and the tendency toward integration evident.
The labour-reducing capacities of these `new production systems,’ in their advanced forms, are truly remarkable. The most sophisticated Japanese automated factories claim to have nearly halved their workforce, while simultaneously tripling production: in California, a plant capable of manufacturing a billion dollars worth of computers a year requires only five manual-assembly workers and fewer than one-hundred other workers, mostly engineers.7 Although such levels of automation are only the latest step in capital’s long-protracted substitution of technology for people, it nonetheless seems that computerisation does mark a watershed in the relation between worker and machine--a quantum leap in the predominance of fixed over variable capital, dead labour over living.
Indeed, with the advent of new production systems we surely reach that horizon long-ago foreseen by Marx where capital attains its "full development" with the creation of, . . . an automatic system of machinery . . . a moving power that moves itself . . . consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.8 When he wrote these lines Marx undoubtedly had in mind the smoky clangor of a nineteenth century industrial site. Yet they apply with redoubled accuracy to the sterile, silent informational systems with which twenty-first century capital is now attempting to solve its In North America, this solution for many years seemed to be succeeding remarkably well. Throughout the 1980s, capital’s massive investments in advanced technology played a vital role in crushing strikes. From airports, where the availability of new levels of automation was a critical to the success of the Reagan administration in firing air-traffic controllers, to the meatpacking industry, where extensive technological restructuring reached a climax with the defeat of the two-year long strike at Hormel, new production systems repeatedly helped capital prevail in workplace conflict.9 In other sectors, such as the auto industry, fear of losing jobs to new technology quelled militancy and contributed to a climate of demoralisation and defeat in which once-defiant industrial unions acquiesced to concession bargaining and co-operation with management. Capital’s technological superiority appeared to be absolute.
Yet although robotised systems have significantly depleted the ranks of the industrial working class, it is clearly false to suggest that cybernetic systems entirely eliminate capital’s need for labour. Despite the dreams of wide-eyed digital futurists, the total liquidation of human intelligence from the production process has proven a singularly intractable project. In many manufacturing sectors computerised automation has made production dramatically `leaner.’ Yet the full `lights out’ scenario--in which the final worker replaced by a robot exits the building and turns out the lights, leaving behind a smoothly running automated darkness--remains an unattained goal. And even in the rare plants which approach such scenarios, the operations of such so-called` workerless factories’ in fact rest on a surrounding infrastructure of activities--from maintenance to marketing--still dependent on myriad human agents.
Indeed, if one examines the last quarter century of high-technology innovation, a paradox appears. While in the factory wage-labour has been relatively reduced, in the larger social arena it has, if anything, expanded. Ever-wider areas of human activity--from education to meal-making--being more widely and intensively subsumed within the capitalist organisation of work. This is what is usually described as the rise of the `service sector.’ As we saw in Chapter 2, this phenomenon has long been central to the analysis of information society theorists like Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler. In their hands, however, the process has been so mythologised--as a sublimation of sweaty blue-collared proletarians into suave white-collared professionals--to amount to a near-total mystification the actual recomposition of the post-industrial workforce. 10 For a more penetrating analysis, it is useful to look back for a moment to Marx. In the Grundrisse, while emphasising capital’s relentless drive to replace humans with machines--a trajectory that is of course central to his whole vision of crisis and revolution- -Marx nonetheless does not speak of the total elimination of labour by automation. Rather, he refers to its transformation into the “conscious linkage” within a technological system.
“Direct production”—the `hands-on’ transformation of raw materials into finished products--would be increasingly automated. Living labour would be not so much "included within the production process" but relate to it "more as watchman and regulator"--a description which neatly covers the sort of invigilating and trouble-shooting functions for which human beings are still found indispensable, even in the most sophisticated of new production systems.11 Moreover, Marx implies, there would remains a field of activities indirectly necessary for production, in which human involvement would remain--or indeed become increasingly-- crucial. This indirect labour would entail two main types of activity: on the one hand “scientific labour” and on the other “social combination.”12 Later, in Chapters 8 and 9, I will discuss the problems that Marx saw these developments creating for capital. But at the moment I simply want only to suggest that in these cryptic phrases, “scientific labour” and “social combination,” he offers some orientation towards analyzing the notoriously amorphous service sector. Applying his lens, we can discern within the category two distinct groups, both of whom are now being systematically assimilated into the capitalist organisation of work. On the one hand, there is “scientific labour”--the scientists, programmers, engineers and designers celebrated in information society theorists portrayals of the `knowledge workers’ of the future. But on the other, there are the multifarious workers concerned with the tasks of “social combination,” involved in facilitating and sustaining the matrix of everyday human intercourse and interaction within which even the most automated production remains obdurately embedded. These tasks of “social combination” comprise some relatively well paid, creative and prestigious jobs, especially in the media and communications sectors. But they also include the legions of retail clerks, cleaners, janitors, security guards, and fast-food servers who, in fact, make up the bulk of employment in the information economy.13 Numerically much more significant than the “scientific labour” they support, but enjoying only a fraction of the rewards, these latter workers constitute the new high-technology Relative to the old industrial working class, concentrated in its factory bastions, these new forms of “social” and “scientific” labour-power might appear unlikely contenders in class struggle. They are disorganised, insofar as they come into being outside the orbit of the traditional workers’ movement, towards whose symbols and institutions they are often indifferent or hostile. They are dispersed, across an enormous variety of spatially separated and qualitatively diverse sites. And they are divided, in a multitude of ways, but particularly by the lines separating the relatively privileged cadres of “scientific labour” from the super-exploited “social” labour that sustains it--a division frequently reinforced by ethnicity and gender. Nevertheless, the presence of these post-industrial labouring subjects, even in the midst of a world of artificial intelligences and information highways, constitutes an ominous spot on management’s’ dream of an immaculate techno- system freed from the insubordinate possibilities of human presence.
Indeed, in the last few years there have been signs that the post-industrialists’ requiem mass for class struggle was premature. Since the early 1990s a series of strikes and organising drives in both the US and Canada have seemed to signal an unexpected revival of labour militancy. In 1996, the number of hours lost to strike action in the US, after dropping precipitously for decades, began to rise again, although only very slightly.14 More significant than such quantitative measure, however, were certain qualitative aspects of the new insurgencies. For they were no longer predominantly "mass worker" actions, situated in the classic industrial centres of working class power, but frequently arose outside the factory, in the diffuse, social labour of the service sector. The continuing militancy of many traditional industrial communities--one thinks of the three-way strike by rubber, sugar and vehicle-manufacturing workers in Illinois `class war-zone’-- cautions against any quick farewell to traditional terrains of class war. 15 But the wave of labour restiveness also passes through new territories. Often it involves workers at the bottom of the hierarchy of labour power, whose networks of support are founded as much in gender and ethnicity as in the traditions of the labour movement. While established trades unions may provide the organisational form, and sometimes real support and leadership, for these insurgencies, such rebellions constantly bubbled up at a local level below and sometimes in opposition to the upper levels of union bureaucracies, challenging established structures and strategies, and reshaping them from below. 16 For an example, one need look no farther than Silicon Valley, historic centre of the US computer industry.17 The most well known aspect of the Valley’s labour-history is the emergence of the new strata of highly skilled technical workers--engineers, software designers and programmers--central to the making of digital technology. Mostly male, mostly white, very highly educated (the Valley has largest concentration of Ph.D.'s and engineers in the world) these are the quintessential `knowledge workers’ needed by an industry whose profit depends on a constant stream of innovation. Highly-paid, frenetically creative, technologically compulsive, often enjoying substantial entrepreneurial opportunities, this elite workforce has been the subject of innumerable adulatory media reports, making their exploits an important part of the information revolution’s romantic There is, however, another, far less glamorous, face to work in Silicon Valley-- that of the janitors, landscapers, cafeteria staff, and microchip assemblers who provide the indispensable support for this technological creativity. Drawn largely from often immigrant or ethnic minority communities, these workers--many of them women--are employed at low or minimum pay, outside union organisation, without health insurance, maternity benefits or recourse against sexual harassment. The Valley’s prestigious high-tech companies, such as Apple, Intel, Hewlitt Packard, Oracle and IBM, could not function without this labour force. But the major corporations try to distance themselves from unsightly super- exploitation by a system of contracting-out that allows disavowal of responsibility for working conditions and wages. The workplace segregation between the high-end knowledge workers and low-end service labour is reinforced by residential patterns that divide the Valley into ethnically sorted zones. Although Silicon Valley is situated in the most prosperous county in the US, aggregate wealth on closer examination decomposes into a scene of postindustrial segmentation where "the First World meets the Third in a weird melange of high technology and misery."18 For many years, the dispersed nature of the Silicon Valley service workforce, its high turnover, and divided ethnic composition, led the US labour movement to deem it unorganisable. In the early 1990s, however, following a wave of worker complaints, Justice for Janitors, an organisation of Services Employees International Union, began a series of campaigns fighting for union recognition, pay raises, and settlement of sexual harassment grievances.19 These campaigns used a wide variety of tactics--strikes, picket lines, demonstrations, advertisements, leafleting campaigns, hunger strikes---which, although all part of the historic repertoire of the American labour movement, were conducted with an energy and determination that contrasted sharply with the submissive defeatism prevailing in many major trades unions.
Moreover, in some respects the Justice for Janitors campaigns went beyond familiar models of shopfloor activism. They made connections between workplace conditions and issues of race and gender discrimination, and forged alliances with feminist and ethnic community organisations. Because Silicon Valley workers are often directly or indirectly exposed to the highly toxic chemicals used in microchip manufacture, they were also on occasion able to link labour struggles with those of environmental and housing activists challenging the computer industry’s poisoning of the local environment through The scope of the Justice for Janitors campaign took employers aback. The turning point in the mobilising drive at Apple, for example, came when workers threatened to take their campaign into the classrooms of California schools and universities--a major market for Macintosh computers. The result was small but significant victories at a number of high-tech companies--union certifications, pay raises, settlements of harassment cases.
Labour councils in Silicon Valley are now speaking in terms of more extensive campaigns that will address not only the terrible conditions of `service’ workers, but also some of the grievances of the `scientific’ workforce, such as maniacal schedules and lack of job security. These new campaigns will, one organiser says, involve “everybody from janitors to technical writers to software gypsies and testers to quality assurance engineers”: The janitors were just the first among the contingent workforce . . .When we talk about doing windows in this valley, we're not just talking about the janitors who clean them, but the software engineers who write them.21 The revolt in Silicon Valley--Mecca of an industry whose products are specifically intended to free capital from dependence on troublesome humanity--presents an extreme irony. But it is by no means exceptional. During the 1990s, North America’s restructured, post-Fordist, informational capitalism has been riddled with unanticipated conflicts. The battle in the computer industry has spread to other areas in the US, and now involves organisations such as the Southwest Network for Environmental Economic Justice, a coalition of over fifty grassroots organisations from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California fighting toxic pollution and poor working conditions.22 In Los Angeles, the same communities that rose up in the 1992 riots generated a surge of labour militancy sweeping the hotels, fast foods, restaurants and dry-walling sectors.23 In Las Vegas janitors and cleaners took on the giant high-technology gambling and entertainment complexes of MGM.24 Along the US/Mexico line, women workers fought a mobile garment industry that migrated sweatshop operations across borders.25 Delivery workers of a partially-reformed Teamsters’ union won a historic victory against United Parcels, at the heart of the increasingly important high-tech communication/transportation industry. In Canada, protests against labor legislation and austerity programs from the Ontario provincial government produced an unprecedented series of rolling one-day general strikes in urban centres, while Quebec unions opened a major drive to organise the youth labour in the McDonald’s fast-food chain. Elsewhere, the decade saw major workplace battles waged by airline attendants from Alaska to Miami; newspaper workers in San Francisco and Detroit; teaching assistants at Yale and other universities, and nurses and education workers resisting public spending cutbacks from New York to Vancouver.26 These movements are, in terms of the types of workers involved, extraordinarily diverse--so much so that they at first seem to defy generalisation. But this diversity is, in itself, an important defining feature. For these are the revolts of a collective labouring subject which is no longer an homogenous and concentrated industrial proletariat, but rather heterogeneous and connective, performing the innumerable social activities necessary to maintain the flow of production within capital’s increasingly complex and extended techno-systems. And this new positioning of labour gives new organisational form to its uprisings. Situated as the interstitial “conscious linkages” within capital’s automated and elaborated chains of production, rebellious workers have been compelled to increasingly seek “conscious linkages” with one another. Recognising the extreme vulnerability of isolated fights, the new labour movements are frequently to be found expanding the scope of struggle beyond the immediate site of conflict, following the increasingly comprehensive and social scope of capital’s own circuits. This tendency takes a variety of forms: increased efforts to organise sectorially, rather than in single plants; cross-sectorial connections, such as linkages between striking workers in the telecommunications and garment industries, or the mutual support between airline attendants, construction workers and bus drivers; and increased resort to consumer boycotts and `corporate campaigns' hitting at every aspect of an employer's investments.27 Even more importantly, workers' organisations have entered into experimental coalitions with other social movements also in collision with corporate order, such as welfare, anti-poverty, students, consumer and environmental groups. The result has been new oppositional combinations. Thus, striking telephone workers join seniors, minorities and consumer groups to beat back rate hike, or unionising drives in the ghettos of the fast food and clothing industries intertwine with campaigns against racism and the persecution of immigrants.28 Such alliances are fraught with difficulties, and can easily disintegrate. But they expand the boundaries of official `labour' politics, so that the agency of countermobilisation against capital begins to become, not so much the trades union, defined as a purely workplace organisation, but rather the "labour/community alliance," with a broader, social sphere of demands and interests.29 Discussing these developments, Kim Moody (who is connected to the Detroit journal Labor Notes, an important node in the US circuits of labour dissidence) suggests that the North American labour movement in the this century has gone through three phases of organisation--from “craft” unions, to “industrial” unions, to an emergent “social movement unionism.”30 For Moody, “social movement unionism, ” the vital current of today’s struggles, is an activism whose scope expands beyond the factory gate into a wider arena, overflowing the limits of strictly workplace struggle to include demands for broad social and economic change and alliance with other movements. It is a form of struggle in which “unions provide much of the economic leverage and organisational resources, while social-movement organisations . . . provide greater numbers and a connection to the less well organised or positioned sections of the working class.”31 This revival of worker militancy in North America coincides with similar, but stronger, tendencies in Europe during the 1990s--the French general strikes of 1995-1996, the Italian` Coba’ movement and wave of labour unrest in Britain and Germany.32 As we have seen, Negri and other autonomist Marxists, writing predominantly in this European context, have also theorised three cycles of class struggle and recomposition; from the “professional” worker of the late 19th century, to the “mass “ worker of capital’s Fordist era, to the emergent “socialised” worker of the current, post-Fordist, informational period.
What Negri and Moody are both suggesting, in different idioms and from different national settings, is that capital’s high-technology decimation of the industrial working class does not amount to the end of class struggle. The new production systems have partially chased waged-labour out of the factory. In doing so, however, capital has diffused its organisation of labour-power through society at large. These conditions of dispersal initially appear as the depletion and fragmentation of traditional class solidarities. But they can be reconstituted as conditions of new scope and interconnection. Contrary to postindustrial fantasy, workplace conflicts are not dissolved in the new digital environment; but they are decentred and recomposed with other arenas of activism.
However, to understand this dynamic more deeply, we must go beyond the workplace and into the proliferating confrontations between popular movements and the capitalist state.
Reproduction of Labour Power I: The Panoptic State If labour-power is to be available for exploitation it must constantly be reproduced.
That is to say, people must be socialised, schooled, trained, prepared and held in readiness for work, in the quantities and qualities required by capital. Marx noted that "the maintenance and reproduction of the working class remains a necessary condition for the reproduction of capital,” but, reflecting both the laissez-faire political economy of his era and the blindspots of his gender, omitted this process from his detailed analysis of capital's circuits, declaring that "the capitalist may safely leave this to the worker's drives for self- preservation and propagation." 33 Over the course of the twentieth century, however, other Marxists, and particularly those within the autonomist tradition, have pointed out that in the course of its development capital has increasingly been unwilling, and unable, to take this reproductive activity for granted. To ensure the proper supply and disciplining of the minds and bodies required for work, it has been compelled to systematically extend its control over society as a whole--a control mediated through the Leviathan-like structures of the Thus the first half of the twentieth century saw all advanced capitalist societies, to varying degrees, respond to the threat of militant working class movements with a shift from the "Rights State"--where the activity of government was restricted to securing the conditions for the free-market--to the "Planner State"--in which the state managed the reproduction of labour power through a vast array of schools, hospitals, welfare offices, and other institutions. Although this transition was set in motion to ward off revolutionary dangers, it also laid the basis for a new stage in capitalist growth. For the schools, health care systems and various forms of social payments of the Planner State cultivated the increasingly healthy, educated and peaceful forms of` `human capital' necessary for intensive technoscientific development of the Fordist era. The advent of what is generally known as the welfare state represented an ingenious social compromise crafted by reformist business interests, social-democratic politicians and trades-union leaders, which constituted both a real victory for workers--in terms of a general betterment of living conditions--and a careful containment of that victory within the overall parameters of In the 1960s and 70s, however, this uneasy settlement began to disintegrate.
Movements of workers, the unemployed, welfare recipients, students and minority groups began to make demands on the vast system of social administration that transgressed the limits set by capitalist logic. They demanded, and sometimes won, increases in social expenditures going beyond those compatible with business’s strictly rationed plans for improving its workforce. In certain cases, such movements were also able to gain a degree of local control over the administration of social programs so they were, in effect, running the state apparatus from below.35 These encroachments were intolerable for North American and European capital, whose rate of profit was already being squeezed by shopfloor militancy and international competition. Its response--part of the larger neoliberal restructuring offensive--was to repudiate the post-war social contract and dismantle the Planner State, destroying what it could no longer control.
The new regime of governance, whose full appearance is usually identified with the electoral victories of Reagan and Thatcher, has a double face. On the one hand, privatisation, deregulation and cutbacks systematically subvert the welfare state, slashing the social wage, weeding out enclaves of popular control, and attacking any of labour’s protections from the disciplinary force of the market. The costs of reproducing labour power are increasingly devolved back onto individuals and households. This shift becomes ever more important to capital as corporate downsising and automation ejects more and more workers from production, thereby swelling the ranks of the unemployed and impoverished, increasing welfare roles and diminishing tax revenues. On the other, those aspects of the state necessary to the protection of accumulation--such as the security apparatus or subsidisation of high technology investment--are strengthened. There thus appears the paradoxical neoliberal combination of what Andrew Gamble terms "the free market and the strong state."36 In what autonomists term the “Crisis State,” the governmental apparatus is dissolved in so far as it serves popular purposes, but maintained or enlarged as the coercive and administrative arm of capital.
Computers, telecommunications and biotechnologies are embedded at the very core of the Crisis State, as both means and end. Social programs are cut to free revenues for assistance to corporations make huge investments in high technology, public channeled to private purposes either directly through subsidisation or indirectly through tax breaks. High technology is, in turn, used to effect cuts to welfare programs that start to be administered through increasingly precise and omnipresent digitised systems. The delivery of social services is increasingly automated--for example, by computerising the making of welfare or unemployment insurance claims. This process not only cuts staff costs, but also reduces payments by imposing daunting electronic hurdles which have to be surmounted by precisely that sector of the population least equipped to handle them, and allowing the digitalised or biometric monitoring of claimants.
As whole strata of the population are cut off from support, potential social disorder is kept in check by the technologically intensive policing applied against the poor, indigent and ghettoised. Around those convicted of transgression, the web of informational control tightens inexorably. Prisons, as Foucault so forcefully pointed out, have long been cutting- edge sites for the development of surveillance techniques. What is not always remembered is that the original panoptic apparatus that Foucault discussed in a carceral setting was at first designed for use in a factory setting, as an instrument of capitalist work discipline.37 In today’s high-technology penitentiaries, however, carceral and the capitalist logic come together. In an increasing number of privatised or semi-privatised US prisons, inmates are put to work for private corporations, often on electronic data-entry jobs or other forms of telework, in a process that uses high-technology to neatly fuses the Crisis State’s drive to minimise social expenditures with the corporate imperative to cut labour costs to the The net tendency is toward a return to the social conditions of the 19th century overseen by the technologies of the 21st. However, this regression, bringing with it huge increases in poverty rates, social polarisation and general human suffering, has catalyzed opposition. In North America, immiseration erupted into rage in the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992, the most violent urban insurrection in the US since the mid-19th century. As Mike Davis notes, Southcentral LA, a "housing/jobs ghetto in the early twentieth century industrial city," is now "an electronic ghetto within the emerging information city "-- a "data and media black hole, without local cable programming or links to major data systems."39 The rioters came from the ranks of the un- and under-employed, in a community whose traditional sources of employment in the aerospace and automobile industries had been gutted through automation and global relocation. This population, dependent on the scanty welfare, casualised service work or criminal industries which constitute the underside of the information economy, was on an everyday basis was subject to a regime of draconian police surveillance and brutalisation--a regime whose systemic violence, publicly exposed in the videotaped beating of Rodney King, finally triggered a mass Its outbreak, in the same city that saw the Watts riot of 1965, was a stunning testimonial to the collapse of a quarter century of capitalist reformism. Framed by the mainstream media simply as an issue of` race, the uprising was in fact, as Mike Davis observed, a "multicultural bread riot" involving Latinos, blacks and whites. 40 Moreover, although the riot was a spontaneous eruption of despair and anger, it was by no means the blind, mindless event which authorities attempted to represent it as. A few days after the uprising, there appeared the "Bloods/Crips Proposal for LA's Face-Lift," a radical, visionary plan for the renewal of the city produced by the infamous street gangs. 41. This document, almost entirely ignored by mainstream media made extensive proposals for reconstructing the urban environment, and for the introduction of governmentally funded educational, health, employment and even law enforcement measures to reverse the Although the conditions of South Central Los Angeles gave the 1992 rebellion its singularity, it would be wrong to see it simply as a`one-off' event. From the late 1980s to today the intensifying destruction of social safety nets has brought into being a variety of new "poor people’s movements," ranging from the squatters of Homes not Jails, to End Legislated Poverty in Vancouver, to the encampments of homeless in New York.42 For example, Food Not Bombs is a group whose activities in San Francisco led to over seven hundred arrests from 1988 to 1994. In addition to running the on-street soup kitchens which have aroused the ire of municipal government, it operates its own radio network, based largely on low- watt broadcasting, produces its own audio tapes and has a World Wide Web site. Through these channels it disseminates information excluded from the mainstream press about the police harassment of its programs and the structural causes of In Toronto, a coalition of trades unionists and anti-poverty groups have taken aim at a contract between the Ontario government and a private company, Andersen Consulting, to automate the delivery of welfare services. The coalition argues that this contract aims to simultaneously eliminate social services staff (Andersen gets a `bounty’ for each job cut) and to make the system increasingly inaccessible to claimants. The coalition has publicised Andersen’s record of cost overruns and unfulfilled promises on similar contracts elsewhere in North America, traced its involvement in the privatisation schemes of authoritarian governments from Russia to Nigeria, and its links to the military industrial complex. In addition to holding marches, pickets and civil disobedience actions at the corporation’s offices, the “Andersen Conversion Project” is also bringing forward proposals for the transformation of the high-tech company to more socially constructive purposes.44 In such movements, anti-poverty groups, trades unionists and other social movements take the first steps to turn the technologies developed at public expense back against the panoptic alliance of state and corporate power.
Reproduction of Labour II: Capital’s Biopolitics The Crisis State’s regime of high-technology control is not restricted to the policing of welfare lines and inner city streets. It extends further, into homes and hospitals, where the informational restructuring of capital has been intimately associated with new interventions into the reproduction of labour power at its most basic levels--motherhood, birth, and, indeed, the basic biological constitution of human beings.
As was discussed in Chapter 4, autonomist Marxist’s have since the 1970s argued that capital benefits from the unpaid reproductive work of women. The classic nuclear family paired the waged male worker and unwaged female housewife in a relation where role of the latter was to maintain, repair and reproduce the labour power of the former. The male worker's wage thus commanded unrewarded labour time not only in the factory but also in the home. This conjunction of masculine domination and capitalist exploitation was challenged by the feminist revolt of the 1960s and 70s on a multitude of fronts; in the exodus of women from unpaid domestic labour in search of waged work, in demands for "wages for housework," in the rejection of the various medical and psychiatric controls placed over housewives. Amongst the most important of these struggles was that over abortion rights. Women asserted control over their own fertility and repudiated a `natural' fate as the unwaged reproductive laborers of the social factory.
The reconsolidating of `family values' and the discrediting of feminism were thus a logical part in the neoliberal offensive of the 1980s. Limitations on and recriminalisations of abortion services; legal regulation of the pre-natal conduct of`unfit' mothers; experiments in the sterilisation of welfare mothers by mandatory Norplant implants were all crucial aspects of Reaganite and Thatcherite regimes.45 What is often not fully recognised is how closely these apparently `cultural’ or `ideological’ aspects of the Crisis State were, in fact, closely bound up with its economic policies. For as welfare services are degraded under the austerity regime of the Crisis State, the resumption of the traditional female role as a 'voluntary' caregiver for the young, sick, and elderly becomes critical to prevent total social disintegration. Although the means to this end include both `pro' and `anti-natalist' tendencies, the common theme of these interventions is enhanced state control over maternity--control exercised to ensure the `proper' management of procreation and to reconstruct the household as a costless, reliable site for the reproduction of labour power.
At the same time, however, the most advanced sectors of knowledge-based capital have been experimenting with an alternative system of system of maternal control--one based on biotechnologies. Already, in vitro fertilisation, amniocentesis, embryo selection, and artificial insemination are becoming the instruments for an extraordinary experiment-- the conversion of motherhood into a domain for the direct extraction of surplus value. As feminists such as Maria Meis and Kathryn Russell have argued, the commercial application of such techniques drives female `labour power'--in the procreative sense-- towards the condition of abstraction, divisibility and alienation traditionally experienced in industrial work.46 Reproductive engineering applies a technological deskilling strategy, classic in form but unprecedented in intensity, comprehending both conscious knowledge and corporeal capacity, detaching, permutating and recombining the various moments of pregnancy until the unifying factor governing the conception, gestation and delivery of a child is no longer maternal but managerial.
This is clearest in the so-called `surrogate mother' business--the ultimate in female service sector labour--in which poor women are, through an entrepreneurial intermediary, paid by rich clients to undergo either artificial insemination or in vitro fertilisation and carry and bear children. 47 But such obviously exploitative repro-tech arrangements only represent the extreme of tendencies evident even in more seemingly benign uses. For example, women who voluntarily attempt in vitro fertilisation not only pay for the service, but also, in a complex and painful process of self-surveillance and constant testing often knowingly or unknowingly providing the surplus material --'excess eggs'-- required for Anti-abortion crusades and reproductive technology businesses seem antithetical, one resting on a sacralisation of procreation, the other on its utilitarian industrialisation.
And there are indeed real contradictions between these strategies, and between the factions of capital which promote them. But the two strategies of control are also intimately connected. Both counter the reproductive autonomy fought for by women. The `family values' campaign cancels `choice' in an outrightly reactionary manner. But the corporate biotechnologists coopt it as the watchword for the commodification of procreation. Just as in production capital combines sweated labour and robotics, so `family values' and genetic engineering are poles in a single overarching regime of reproductive control, with biotechnological options commercially available to the rich, and surrogate mothers drawn In the very near future, moreover, reproductive technologies promise a spectacular convergence with genetic engineering--the splicing, cutting and recombination of the genetic code. After a gradual postwar development, founded in North America upon heavy state investment in basic research, these technologies have since the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s undergone an extraordinary acceleration in commercial development as part of capital’s overall search for post-industrial sources of investment.49 The capacity to rewrite the `code of life' has been applied to agricultural, food production and plant breeding to produce new strains of plants, new forms of food and new types of fertiliser. 50 Increasingly, however, genetic engineering has in its sights direct, control over human behavior. As Gottweiss argues, the burst of state and corporate interest in biotechnologies during the crisis of the social factory arose because in addition to yielding traditional economic benefits, it was conceptualised as "a potential contribution to a broader social stabilisation, mainly by its expanded capacity to control behavior and Today, these ambitions crystallise around the Human Genome Project, the US state sponsored attempt to map and sequence all the DNA of a `normal' human prototype--a project comparable in cost and scope to the space program of earlier decades.52 This project is generally promoted as a means of curing hereditary diseases. Eventually, this dream may be realised, and, if it is, the biotechnology industry anticipates lavish profits from the creation of new ways to improve health, longevity and pleasure for those who can afford them. However, it is important to recognise that currently, genetic engineering's main achievements are neither therapeutic nor even diagnostic but predictive, allowing the probabilistic identification of conditions for which no known remedy presently or Such techniques offer corporate and state managers a way, not of healing, but of targeting subjects with an alleged predisposition to costly disease. 54 The identification of `hypersusceptible' workers with supposed genetic sensitivity towards toxic chemicals or radiation has in the US already become a significant source both of employment discrimination and of exclusion from health insurance coverage.55 It also provides an alibi for failure to eliminate such pollutants, which become redefined not as social hazards, but as problems of individual predisposition, capable of being handled by genetically `subsensitive' labour. Extensive genetic screening holds out the promise of comprehensive, DNA-level quality control over the reproduction of labour power, control aimed not at the cure of disease put at the discarding of potentially unproductive, oversensitive or As the Human Genome Project generates the raw data necessary for new `breakthroughs' to enhance the human body, the combination of genetic screening with reproductive technologies offers prospects for the renewal of a eugenic agenda once thought to have been discredited with the fall of fascism. However, the commercial thrust behind the biorevolution means that such a program would probably have a different `feel' from its historical predecessors. As employment possibilities become increasingly dependent on a clean genetic profile, or even on possession of certain bioengineered enhancements, positive and negative selection will be left to the survival instincts and pocket book of individuals. People may bio-technologically reproduce the labour power of themselves and their children in the most saleable form affordable, in the context of an increasingly stratified, privatised and expensive medical system-- a development whose potential is already apparent in the burgeoning market for synthesised human growth hormones, silicon breast implants, cosmetic surgeries, performance enhancing drugs and transplantable hearts, livers, kidneys and corneas.57 Capital will thus move towards establishing a hierarchy of labour powers in which the various class-ificatory grades are distinguished not simply by education and training, or according to traditional discriminations of gender and race, but according to fundamental bodily modifications.58 As Peter Linebaugh has pointed out, in origin, the term "proletarian" designated someone who has no function but to reproduce themselves.59 In Marxist usage, this has conventionally been understood as a person who has nothing to sell but their labour power.
Soon, however, it may be applied to someone whose only economic asset is their gestational capacity and their genetic heritage.
However, the emergent neoliberal biopolitics has encountered widespread resistance. In North America, much of this has centred on the revival of the women’s reproductive-rights movements. In many cases, its nucleus is the network of abortion clinics and women’s’ health centres, whose defence, both from the harassment, firebombings and assassinations of the right-to-life movement and from the cut-backs of neoliberal governments, has formed a focus of activism. Women have also attempted to enlarge their own technological control over procreation, through campaigns such as that waged in the US for access to the abortion drug, RU 486. However, largely through the influence of poor women and women of colour, the anti-abortion movement has undergone a strategic reorientation, sometimes described as a shift "from abortion to reproductive freedom."60 An earlier emphasis on individual choice has, at least in some sectors of the movement, been gradually replaced by an emphasis on securing the “social conditions necessary for autonomous choice," on the provision of adequate health services, housing, and wages and welfare for women, and on winning control over the research and availability of medical technologies, including opposition to both compulsory fertility and One aspect of this expanded agenda has been an intensive critique of the repro-tech industry. International feminist alliances such as the Feminist International Network of Resistance to Reproductive & Genetic Engineering have exposed the deceptive success rate claimed by the in vitro fertilisation industry, its exploitation of female labour, the misogyny of sex selection amniocentesis, and the eugenic potential of the new technologies.62 They have argued that the `choices' offered by the biotechnologists in fact erode female freedom because they, as Sue Cox puts it, "close off women's abilities to refuse various kinds of technological intervention."63 In Canada, the attempt by the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies to suppress such lines of critique exploded into public scandal.64 Other points of struggle have involved indigenous people, in both North and South America, concerned with the ramifications of Human Genome Diversity Project (known as the `vampire project') which has sampled and patented human cell lines from endangered aboriginal communities.65 Other groups, with different concerns, have found themselves on a similar collision course with the neoliberal administration of health. In the face of alliance between a state apparatus committed to the reduction and rationing of health care, and a burgeoning, profit-oriented medical-industrial complex formed at the intersection transnational medical, pharmaceutical, agricultural, insurance and computer corporations, there have appeared what Patrick Novotny, writing of the environmental justice activism, calls movements of "popular epidemiology."66 These movements often involve groups marginalised by the industrial-medical complex--people of colour, women, gays and lesbians. They challenge established expertise, demand additional allocations of funding, question the priority of profits over people, reappropriate popular capacities for research, and often seek systemic rather than palliative answers to the causes of ill-health.
A striking example is the extraordinary self-organisation of the anti-AIDS movement. In the face of initially inept and callous governmental responses to the HIV epidemic, organisations such as ACT UP and Project Inform attacked the state’s underfunding of research, and its subordination to commercial purposes. They also reshaped research agendas; amassed and circulated immunological and virological information, both by computer networks and other means; investigated `alternative' treatments; set up guerrilla clinics, smuggling rings and buyers clubs; clandestinely manufactured commercially-patented drugs; and showed enormous sophistication in video- activism and other forms of cultural agitation.67 Although these movements on occasion cooperated with pharmaceutical companies, they simultaneously criticised these companies unsparingly for either ignoring AIDS research, or attempting to extract superprofits from new treatments. These points were underlined by dramatic demonstrations and occupations against companies such as Hoffman Larouche, Boroughs Welcome, Kowa Pharmaceuticals, and Astra. Peter Arno and Karen Felden describes the most famous of such actions, the ACT-UP invasion the New York Stock Exchange protesting AZT price gouging: Seconds before the 9:30 am opening bell, the activists began to blare portable foghorns . . . Fake $100 bills imprinted with the words `Fuck your profiteering. We die while you play business' were tossed to the traders Over the history of the anti-AIDS movement, these forms of activism, initially concentrated in the white, male gay community, have become increasingly prominent in movements of people of colour and women. In the process, AIDS has been recognised as a disease of poverty, primarily afflicting those whom the disintegration of social infrastructures, community networks, health-care and education render vulnerable. Anti- AIDS struggles have thus been connected to campaigns for improved public health funding, comprehensive medical insurance, and the reallocation of military spending.69 As Steven Epstein points out, anti-AIDS activism, which itself draws on the earlier example of the women's health movement, is part of a widening circle of popular mobilisations for the “democratisation” of medical technoscience.70 These movements include those of women seeking to establish causal links between breast cancer and industrial pollution; unions opposed to genetic screening and drug testing in the workplace; and green activists, farmers and consumer groups concerned about the implications of artificially mutated foodstuffs. Alongside these single-issue movements, and sometimes intertwining with them in complex ways, are broader movements. These aim at preserving the medical services once guaranteed by the welfare state, as in various Canadian coalitions of hospital workers and community groups defending hospitals and clinics against cuts, or at actively extending the socialisation of health care, as in the struggle over health insurance in the US. All of these efforts run athwart the priorities of a state committed primarily to containing social costs, and a corporate logic focused purely on the Reproduction of Labour III: The Corporate-Academic Complex At the same time as the Crisis State dismantles the social welfare system, it continues to maintain and enlarge the functions of government as a funding and coordinating agency for capital’s technoscientific development. The demands of the information era mean that even as schools, hospitals and social services deteriorate, business still—indeed more than ever—demands literate workers, carefully socialised technicians and world- class molecular biologists and software engineers. An integral part of the transition to a post-Fordist model of accumulation has therefore been a major restructuring of public education, a restructuring which has nowhere been more dramatic than in North American Just as in the workplace, the restructuring of academia has unfolded through a process of revolt and recuperation. Thirty years ago, campuses from California to Paris were in tumult as the post-war generation of students-- the first mass draft of the intellectually trained labour-power required by an ever-more socially-organised and scientifically-oriented capitalism-- rose against the rigidities and atrocities of the Fordist regime. After the tear gas, the shootings and academic purges, the neoliberal response was radical restructuring. Over the late 1970s and 1980s rates of funding for university education in most capitalist economies were cut. Tuition fees and student debt were sharply raised, measures which, alongside a climbing unemployment rate and general economic austerity, chilled student protest, while programs seen as subversive, or simply With campus unrest apparently quashed, conditions were set for a new, deeper integration of universities and business, one vital to the development of high-technology `knowledge industries.'71 The watchword was “corporate-university partnership.” In this new academic order, basic research is sacrificed to applied programs of immediate benefit to the corporate sector. Research parks, private sector liaisons, consultancies and cross- appointments with industry, and academic-corporate consortiums burgeon. Moneys subtracted from base operating budgets are reinjected back into programs of direct utility to high technology capital, such as schools of communication, engineering and business administration, and special institutes for computer, biotechnology and space research.
University administrators move effortlessly between interlocking corporate and academic boards. Enabled by changes in intellectual property laws to exercise ownership rights over patents resulting from government funded grants, universities become active players in the merchandising of research results. Amidst this intensifying commercial ethos, the internal operations of academia become steadily more corporatised, with management practices mirroring those of the private sector.
This new rapprochement with academia has performed two purposes for capital.
First, it has provided business with the facilities to socialise the costs and risks of extraordinarily expensive high-technology research, while privatising the benefits of the innovations.72 Second, it has subsidised capital’s retraining of its post-Fordist labour- force. Rising tuition fees devolve an ever increasing part of the costs of education onto students and their families, effectively excluding from the universities those sectors of the population whose intellectual advancement is considered irrelevant to accumulation. Those that can pay for entry are trained, sorted and socialised for the new information economy by increasingly vocational and technically oriented curricula that stress proficiencies in computer literacy at the expense of critical social analysis.
However, the belief that campuses were pacified now appears premature. Rather, the late 1980s and 1990s have seen the emergence of a new cycle of university struggles.73 As Robert Ovetz notes, this wave of unrest stems from numerous different but interanimating sources.74 Of central importance is the mounting economic jeopardy in which many students now find themselves. Higher education, rather than guaranteeing personal success, serves to create a standing reserve army of intellectual labour, from whom capital can cull the relatively small number of full-time employees required by the `knowledge economy.' With rates of unemployment for college and university graduates high, many find that years of study ensure only life-long and unpayable debt. These grim prospects have led to a spate of protests against tuition increases, student aid cuts, and These concerns interweave with a web of other campus protests: against program closures; against commercial development of university lands; against involvement with corporate investment in authoritarian regimes such as those of China or Indonesia.
Alongside these run demands by minorities and women for campus centres, daycares and programs of multicultural and feminist studies. The net result has been a slowly mounting campus turbulence, involving picket lines, demonstrations, occupations, national student strikes in Canada and major confrontations between police and students on several North American campuses. Indeed, as James Laxer observes, it is likely that in Canada more students were actually `on the streets' in political protest in the mid-1990s than in the 1960s These student protests further overlap with an outburst of campus labour conflicts.
Following the overall downsising logic of post-Fordist capital, academic administrators demand that workers must do more with--and for-- less. The one-time ivory tower witnesses an intensification in the rate of exploitation. This logic is usually visited first, and most severely, on the service workers--the clerical, administrative, janitorial and cafeteria staff--who provide the indispensable infrastructure for the accumulation of intellectual capital. But it eventually arrives at the door of university instructors. Teachers experience increases in the pace and volume of work. A classic strategy of casualisation decreases permanent hiring in favour of reliance on pools of sessional instructors and graduate students who form a contingent academic labour force subjected to chronic insecurity and lack of benefits, and required to exercise mind-bending flexibility in This speed-up of academic production has produced a response that, while shocking to academic traditionalists, would come as no surprise at all to workers in, say, the auto industry. On many North American campuses, including some of the most prestigious, regular university faculty are now unionised--something that would have been largely unthinkable even a decade ago. Strikes by college instructors are no rarity.
Graduate students are now an important constituency for labour organising. Teaching assistants' strikes have spread across North American campuses, involving institutions as The campus activism arising from this combination of factors has a very different flavour from that of the 1960s and 70s--which for most of the participants in today's rebellions belongs to a barely known and faintly mythic past. The revolts of thirty years ago recognised and resisted the movement towards integration of the university "knowledge factory" into advanced capitalism’s military-industrial complex. But the fact that this assimilation was only partially completed, together with the relative affluence of the period, gave these uprisings a certain removal from the world of the labour market.
Campuses could become temporary red ghettoes or autonomous zones; but there was a fundamental divorce between what was experienced in these enclaves and the more general conditions of work and exploitation.
Today, the near-total fusion of academia with business, and the manifest subordination of education to the imperatives of the job-market, removes such relative freedom. But it opens the way for connections between both students and instructors and other waged and unwaged workers, making their conditions far closer to that of the rest of the labour force. The conventional distinction so often made between university and the `real' world, at once self-deprecating and self-protective, becomes less and less relevant.
If students and teachers consequently lose some of the latitude of action relative privilege once afforded, they also become potentially participant in and connected to movements outside the university, movements for whom academia can therefore also become a node within the overall circulation of struggles.
To grasp the full scope of the opposition running around capital’s circuits, however, it is necessary to look beyond struggles over work and wages, or and even over welfare, health care and education. Capital mobilises technology to control not only labour, nor society as a whole, but also nature itself. It needs not just workers but also raw materials. As it reduces people to labour power, so it reduces nature to a resource: both exist to be used up. And as capital as far as possible avoids paying for the reproduction of labour power it exploits by devolving these costs onto households and communities, so to it minimises its costs for the repair and restoration of the natural world by assuming that these processes can be left to the regenerative powers of nature. For all that Marx often participated in the scientific triumphalism of his century, he nonetheless clearly recognised the dangers of this trajectory when he spoke of capitalism "simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth--the soil and the worker."77 Today, amidst a global vista of deforestation, desertification, dying oceans, disappearing ozone, and disintegrating immune systems, the cost of this exhaustive process has become all too apparent, and ecological issues constitute one of the main arenas in which popular movements confront corporate Indeed, an eruption of such green movements was one aspect of the general crisis of the Fordist social factory in the late 1960s and 1970s. As public awareness of the damage wrought by radioactive emissions, industrial wastes and pesticide poisoning mounted, capital found its freedom to `externalise’ costs by dumping poisons onto the surrounding communities challenged by unfamiliar forms of resistance. At sites from Diablo Canyon to Love Canal, environmental activists stormed fences and blockaded gates, disrupting industrial mega-projects as effectively as labour unrest on the assembly line.78 In one of the most notable large scale reverses inflicted on a large-scale capitalist enterprise, development of the North American nuclear power industry was effectively stalled by the ever rising costs of safety measures demanded by an anxious and angry public.79 Across many other sectors of Fordist capital both the sheer depletion of easily accessible natural resources and the growing resistance to corporate despoliation began to constitute a serious barrier to accumulation.
The post-industrial leap into the world of computers, telecommunications and biotechnologies was in part a response to this threat. As the arrival of high-technology on the shop floor was accompanied by promises of liberation from work, so too was it celebrated as the answer to the evils of pollution. Clean information systems would replace industrial smokestacks, recycle wastes, reduce the use of fossil fuels, eliminate paper from offices, replace motorcars with telecommuting, allow for better planning and preservation of natural resources and dematerialise production into an innocuous flow of bits and bytes. These promises became integral to a succession of strategies--`sustainable development,' `Third Wave environmentalism,' `ecological modernisation.'80 All these announce that technological surveillance, substitution and surrogacy will deflect ecological apocalypse, enabling capital to manage the continued reproduction of nature by making a move from mining nature to remodeling it-- shifting from stripping of nature to synthesising it, recreating a world of artificially-generated resources to substitute for the gutted planet left in the aftermath of industrialism. 81 The problem with such plans, however, is that they do nothing to touch the relentless corporate drive to expand the circle of production and consumption. A system in which the survival of each individual firm depends on its ability to enlarge its market, regardless of collective consequences, capital remains committed to, as Marx put it, "production for productions sake."82 In practice, therefore, high technology has been used not so much to halt the destruction of nature but to increase the efficiency of the destroying agencies, and circumvent opposition to their activities. Automobile factories, petrochemical plants, and pulp mills have, amidst fanfare about green business, been made more energy-efficient (and hence more profitable)-- but have not slackened their search for expanded (and hence more ecologically punishing) global markets. The advanced synthesis of substitutes for scarce natural materials has become a license for the anxiety-free liquidation of vanishing animals, minerals and vegetables. Telecommunications and transport networks have dispersed pollution away from centres of activism and regulation onto the doorstep of those least likely to resist, making the shipment of toxic residues to urban ghettoes, native reservations or the Third World a post-Fordist sunrise industry.
Moreover, in many cases, the capitalist development of so-called clean technologies, pursued under the same cost-cutting, profit-maximising logic that produced enormities of industrial pollution, replicate the very patterns of ecological destruction they purportedly eliminate. The computer industry's use of toxic substances in microchip assembly, for example, has made Silicon Valley home to the highest concentration of hazardous-waste Since the new technologies do not, of themselves, halt the devastation of the environment, they also fail to stop green counter-movements. While schemes of high- technocratic resource management have played a part in coopting mainstream environmentalism, they have also unintentionally provoked new and radical opposition.
Thus in the US the intensification in the long-standing practice of dumping hazardous wastes -- including postindustrial toxins -- on the most impoverished and vulnerable sectors of labour has catalyzed the rise of an `environmental justice' movement in communities of colour, traditional working class neighborhoods, Native Indian Lands, and regions of the rural poor.84 Puerto Rican farm workers opposing pesticide poisoning, tenants associations fighting oil and petrochemical industries in Lousiana's `Cancer Alley,’ mothers battling incinerators in Latino neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, and Latino and African American students of the Toxic Avengers coalition fighting the transportation of nuclear waste in Brooklyn have bought into being a new round of ecological struggles.85 Often led by women--whose unwaged reproductive labour deals with the miscarriages, birth defects, and slow deaths created by corporate poisoning--and characterised by strategies which unites class, gender and race issues, these groups have dramatically challenged the elitism of traditional environmentalism, and engaged in a series of head-on confrontations with corporate power.
Generating its own programs of self-education, community research, and communication the environmental justice movement represents an astounding flowering of popular science amongst the excluded and dispossessed. In many cases, sectors of the movement pursues objectives going far beyond the established limits of regulation. Their proposals for funds to support workers unemployed by the closing of ecologically destructive enterprises, restrictions on capital flight, elimination of the production of toxic substances, the development of a less polluting transport system, community economic development, equitable distribution of cleanup costs, and international laws that protect the environment and workers are, in fact, tantamount to demands for a radically new economic One of the most important aspects of this movement has been its efforts to overcome of the rifts between working class and ecological activism. Since the 1970s capital, by playing-off `jobs versus the environment,' has constantly counterpoised labour and ecological concerns, often successfully dividing red from green. However, as it becomes clear that high-tech business destroys livelihoods at the same rate as it destroys ecosystems, the falsity of this choice has become increasingly apparent. While the worker- green split remains virulent, in some sectors groupings of industrial and resource workers have developed their own environmental projects and entered into dialogue with One notable instance involves workers in that most unlikely of industries, automobile manufacturing. Throughout the 1980s an extraordinary coalition of black and Latino trades unionists and community groups in Van Nuys, California, successfully opposed General Motors's plan to close its local car plant by threatening a boycott in the lucrative Los Angeles auto market.88 In 1992, the "Save GM Van Nuys" campaign was finally defeated. However, it then underwent a dramatic metamorphosis, providing the nucleus for the WATCHDOG Organising Committee -- a group combating corporate air pollution of working class neighborhoods, and seeking the conversion of the auto industry to clean, ecologically viable forms of production.89 These activists made connections with workers from the Caterpillar vehicle plant in Toronto, who, following an unsuccessful attempt to prevent closure of their plant by occupation, had entered into dialogue with environmental and anti-poverty groups to devise a "greenworks" conversion campaign.90 This alliance has in turn linked with Japanese workers from a joint Toshiba--Amplex high-technology enterprise, where resistance to plant closure led to an eight-year factory occupation.91 During this time the workers not only continued to manufacture and market high-tech media, educational, medical, and industrial operation systems, but ultimately started to redesign these products in order to meet their own criteria of social and ecological environmental responsibility. 92 They were supported in these efforts by the Japanese peace and anti-nuclear movements, for whom they produced portable loudspeakers for demonstrations, a citisens' Geiger- counter, and another special radiation detector, funded by popular contribution, made for the victims of the Chernobyl disaster at half the cost of commercial systems.
Taken in conjunction with the movements against genetic commodification described earlier, such worker-green alliances introduce an extraordinary dimension to struggles against information capital. For what is a stake in such initiatives is nothing less than what Marx termed humanity's "species being"--its capacity to consciously direct its own development as a biological collectivity.93 The issue today is whether this shaping will be determined by capitalist command and market forces, or by broader social logics.
In this sense, proletarian struggles, which have, today, become struggles in which people strive to collectively assert a self-determining power over the development of the human species and its natural environment, potentially resume all the universalistic significance Movements fighting at different points on capital’s circuit--against workplace exploitation, dissolution of the welfare state, or ecological despoliation--have begun to enter into alliances with each other, creating radical new combinations. The great difficulty facing these struggles, however, remains their fragmentation and separation. Occurring at different points within a vast social factory, and facing different facets of capitalist power, the obstacles confronting the coordination of demands and actions are often prodigious.
Moreover, while these movements have a deep-level underlying interest in contesting the corporate subsumption of society, this common ground can easily be obscured by more local, but more apparent contradictions between them--conflicts between unionists and welfare recipients, workers and environmentalists. Since capital constantly incorporates these local contradictions its hierarchical organisations of control, both in and beyond the workplace, its capacity to divide and conquer, isolating points of opposition and turning them one against another is truly formidable. Paradoxically, however, although informational capital enjoys extraordinary opportunities to overwhelm and disperse its opponents, some of the very technological instruments it deploys to these ends also assist counter-movements to overcome this fragmentation. It is to this process that we now turn.
An explosive proliferation of technologies of communication, from telephone, radio and broadcast television, through fax, video camera, VCRs, cell phones, cable and satellite television to computer networks, is one of--some would say the—most prominent features of advanced capitalism today. As Fredric Jameson has observed, there is a tendency to identify the benefits of the new media and the virtues of the free market, with each legitimating the other—new communications technologies being praised for accelerating economic growth, and the market exalted for promoting the free flow of information.94 Yet there is another side to this dynamic. For amongst the new oppositional movements whose emergence we are charting, alternative uses of all types of advanced communication technologies are becoming a widespread and important element.
To examine this dialectic, it is necessary to mo ve beyond analysis of the production of commodities, the reproduction of labour-power, or the destruction of the environment, and look at how capital circulates in the marketplace. If it is in the workplace that capital extracts surplus value, it is in the market that this value must be realised through the sale of commodities.95 Marx repeatedly emphasised that capital had a tendency to integrate these two moments in its circuit, expanding the circle of consumption to match the growing volume of goods its produced, and decreasing the turnover time by accelerating the speed with which goods passed from production to consumption.96 In the course of the twentieth century, these requirements have become the basis for a massive project of social engineering--the creation of a consumer society. Capital discovered that, as work requires a labouring subject, so the market requires a consuming subject, a subject that needs what capital produces and believes that these needs can and must be satisfied in commodity form. And as in production it develops automatic machinery to reduce and control subjects in their tasks as workers, so in the market it also finds instruments to target and direct subjects in their tasks as consumers--a task performed by ever more sophisticated waves of media technology.
As so many commentators have pointed out, this commercial development of the means of communication has momentous consequences for public speech.97 Whether through explicit editorial intervention, journalistic self-censorship, or the demographic imperatives of advertising, market-driven media tend to filter out news and analysis critical of capitalism. This filtration is done with a gross mesh, not a fine one, and is less absolute than the more monolithic models of capital’s “media monopoly” sometimes suggest.98 Competition amongst various media capitals, or frictions between media empires and other factions of capital, not to mention the occasional refusal of individual journalists or artists to submit to managerial control, mean that something usually escapes.
Nevertheless, the corporate ownership of the major organs of societal communication tends towards a situation in which, in Marx's classic formulation, "the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships"--in this case, an air- brushed affirmation of the rightness and normality of omnipresent commodity exchange.99 This integration of media into capital’s subsumption of society first reached a high level of consolidation in the era of the mass worker. Mass production and mass consumption met in the virtuous circle of Fordism. Broadcast media became indispensable components of this regime, deluging society with the advertising that trained the populace in widespread consumption of standardised commodity goods. In the living rooms of North America the radio and then the television set became the domestic entry point for the same commodifying and conforming capitalist logic that in the factory drove the assembly line However, the revolts of the 1960s and 1970s shattered the stability of this arrangement. The rejection of the Fordist factory regime manifested in movements which, as well as demanding better standards of living, asserted diverse needs for self-expression.
Social rebellion went hand in hand with experimentation in music, dress, drugs and art.
The cultural tumult of the era exploded the homogeneity of the mass market. When capital reimposed social discipline through austerity, driving down wages and polarising incomes, not only work but also consumption had to be restructured. One crucial element in this was a major expansion of media industries.
From the late 1970s to the present there have appeared on the market a profusion of new communications devices--cable and satellite TV, VCR's, camcorders, and personal computers. Deployed beneath the mantle of increasingly concentrated, vertically and horisontally integrated media empires, these technologies have been announced as marking a new era of choice, liberation, and personal fulfillment. 101 In practice, they have accomplished two corporate purposes. First, they have provided the channels for an explosive growth of markets for entertainment and information. Here, as on the shopfloor, capital has advanced by harnessing the energy unleashed against it. The desire for cultural diversity, subversively expressed in the 1960s, has over the subsequent decades been subjected to an unrelenting commodification, converting rock music, fashion, style, personal growth and popular culture into highly variegated zones of vertiginous This skyrocketing commodification of culture has been vital as a compensation for a flagging growth in other sectors. In the polarised post-Fordist economy, even those who can no longer look forward to buy a house or car can still pay for a CD or cable, while those who already have more residences and vehicles than they need can be persuaded to spend on computers and electronic goods. Moreover, the high rates of obsolescence that obtain in these fields--almost instantaneous in cases of evanescent soft goods songs, films and video, scarcely less so in the ever changing electronic equipment--means that there is Second, the new media not only create fresh cultural commodities, but also permit extraordinary refinements in marketing other products. Here a central element in the restructuring of capital has been a huge increase in expenditures on advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing.103 As the Fordist mass market was fragmented by falling wages and social polarisation, corporations sought both to internationalise sales, and to segment them, stimulating hyper-consumption amongst the relatively thin strata of well-paid workers to compensate for the limited consumption capacity of the poor and unemployed.
New media systems, such as cable and satellite television channels are eminently suited to this purpose. They both enlarge audiences (sometimes on a potentially global basis) and make possible this ever more precise targeting of consumers differentiated by taste and This prospect is enhanced by the promise of various kinds of `interactive’ media-- systems such as computerised video-on-demand or teleshopping, which, unlike unidirectional broadcasting, involve some degree of two-way transaction between receiver and transmitter. One common but under-publicised feature of such systems is their capacity to transmit back to the corporate provider detailed information about consumers' identities, location, consumption habits, and daily schedule.104 Integrated with other electronic traces left by point-of-sale devices, credit card scanning, billing and subscription records and direct polling, this allows the compilation of comprehensive profiles of consumer behavior. Such data then forms the basis for the highly targeted, demo- and psycho-graphic micro-marketing required by the increasingly stratified and hierarchical organisation of consumption. Furthermore, this data can be fed back into systems of flexibly-specialised production and just-in-time inventory control designed for rapid response to shifting market conditions. Interactive media thus hold out the promise of what Kevin Wilson terms "a truly cybernetic cycle of production and consumption."105 The implications of this situation were perhaps best recognised two decades ago when Dallas Smythe suggested that the watchers of TV, in "learning to buy," effectively "worked" for advertisers.106 Electronic capital's expanding media reach meant it exploited not just labour power in the factory but also "audience power" in the home.107 As the home entertainment centre becomes the conduit not only for an incoming flow of corporate propaganda but also for an outgoing stream of information about its viewers, this analysis grows in credibility. The level of surveillance in the home tends toward that already experienced in the workplace, and the activity of the waged "watchman" in the automatic factory, described by Marx, becomes integrally linked with the unpaid "watching time" which s/he passes in front of the television.108 The rate of surplus value extraction, dependent on the exploitation of labour power, and the velocity of circulation, dependent on the carefully targeted consumption capacity of the media audience, merely measure different moments in a continuous, overarching, internally differentiated but increasingly However, analyses such as Smythe's often assume capital's intended exploitation of audience-power is fully successful. From my perspective, the more interesting question is how it fails. If audience power is today analogous to labour power, then it too is a disobedient subjectivity that evades, resists, and reshapes technological controls. There is now extensive evidence that viewers, listeners and readers do not passively accept hypodermic injection with narcotic messages, but are rather active agents who engage in thousands of little lines of flight and fight--from turning off advertisements to the oppositional reinterpretation of programs and the creation of micro-networks of At the very time when innovations in communication are becoming the basis for vast commercial empires, there is apparent an opposite tendency that flouts the logic of the market. People are using the new technologies to get or give out information for free: reproducing, transmitting, sampling and reconfiguring without respect for commercial property rights. This is known as `piracy.' And it is prevalent. As access to the new communication machines becomes more and more thoroughly socialised, we see a wave of photocopying, home taping, bootlegged videos, copied software, zapping, surfing, descrambling, and culture jamming. Moreover, an increasingly wide variety of groups and movements are using this generalised availability of communication technologies not simply for individual but for collective purposes.
This manifests in the development of `alternative' or `autonomous' media.110 Such experiments first blossomed during the 1960s and 1970s in a wave of radio-activism, guerrilla video, and public access cable movements.111 Despite enormous difficulties they have persisted. Radio-activism has continued and spread, reinvigorating itself in North America by the proliferation of inexpensive, low power, and usually illegal microwatt FM broadcasting by ghetto communities, squatters and the homeless.112 Oppositional video- making has passed from the avant-garde to common practice amongst social movements.113 New areas of activism have opened around television, with the attempts in the US and Canada to create and sustain public access cable--a medium whose political potential has been developed by the Paper Tiger Television collective and its satellite broadcasting Deep Dish project.114 Lack of resources mean that in most cases the reach of such experiments is limited and their aspirations only very partially realised. But, however raggedly, alternative media do posit something different from, and opposed to, capital's mobilisation of "audience power." Corporate interactivity is ratificatory: it posits dialogue only within the preset limits of profitability. Autonomous media, on the other hand, are, as Rafael Roncaglio puts it, "alterative"--probing the limits of established order.115 Their practice often includes projects of self-representation, involving subjects in the definition and documentation of their own social experience. They attempt to overcome the restrictions of technical expertise characteristic of capital's division of labour. They experiment with forms of collective ownership. Above all, alternative media often give a voice to precisely those who are excluded or silenced by the commercial logic of market-driven information industries--either because they are not demographically desirable or because they are Thus, looking back for a moment at the Los Angeles riots of 1992, one remarkable aspect of the uprising was the degree to which the insurrectionaries were able to turn some elements of capital’s high technology surveillance and media apparatus to their own advantage.116 The uprising was, of course, ignited precisely by a classic instance of counter-surveillance --George Halliday's videotaping of Rodney King's beating, and the recording of incriminating police radio conversations. But even before the rebellion, its idiom of anger had already been disseminated by the high-tech cultural inventions of the ghettoised community--hip hop and rap, music whose political significance was neatly demonstrated by President Clinton’s subsequent public attack on rap artist Sister During the riot, the omnipresence of the corporate media, covering the most televised urban uprising in history, had an ambiguous effect: although its representations frequently demonised and distorted the motives of the insurrectionaries, it could not entirely avoid giving voice to their outrage.118 Simultaneously, a variety of autonomous media, ranging from microwatt radio stations in ghettoised neighborhoods--such as the famous Zoom Black Magic Liberation Radio--to computer networks connecting activists in North America to others in Europe, spread a wider range of news, analysis and debate ignored by mainstream media.119 All this contributed to the circulation of supporting riots and demonstrations in Atlanta, Cleveland, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Toronto, and to the perception of the riot as an indictment of the social policies of the Bush Autonomous media have also played a significant part in less explosive but more protracted forms of struggle, such as the new waves of labour activism. In Los Angeles again, in an episode sometimes referred to as "the riot that didn't happen," Latino and Chicano janitors and maids fighting for a first contract in the hotel industry won a significant victory by threatening to circulate video evidence of abysmal working conditions to potential convention guests.121 In Las Vegas, workers involved in struggle with the entertainment giant MGM used similar “guerrilla media” tactics.122 The use by trades unions of video and film for activist training, worker self-education and public campaigning has become commonplace. In various US and Canadian cities, this media activism has to the establishment of regular labour programming on community cable and radio stations.123 This sort of activity is systematically fostered by organisations such as the Labor Video Project, which also works to connect North American efforts in this field to These examples are only a part of a much wider circle of oppositional media activities. Other instances that could be cited, some of which will be examined in later chapters of this book, include the efforts of alternative media during the Persian Gulf War; the mobilisation of support for political-activist prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, accomplished almost entirely through alternative radio, press, video and computer links; the Vancouver- based `Adbusters' attempt to infiltrate commercial channels with "subvertisments”; and the international computer networking associated with the transcontinental opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Zapatista revolution and the campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment.125 Indeed, surveying the scope of this dissident media activity, it appears that capital, in developing its media apparatus, has let the genie out of the bottle. Just as, by computerising the factory, capital has not so much destroyed labour as dispersed it out into the wider social sphere, so by wiring the household it has not necessarily consolidated control over audiences. Rather, in its drive to extend the scope of the market, it has so thoroughly disseminated and made familiar the technical means of communication as to open the door to a series of individual and collective reappropriations. This means that on occasion corporate control can be interrupted, and spaces opened within which a multiplicity of social movements, all in different ways contesting the dominance of the market, can be connected and made visible to each other. New information technologies therefore appear not just as instruments for the circulation of commodities, but simultaneously as channels for the circulation of struggles.
Today, some of the most dramatic manifestations of this contradiction appear in cyberspace, that notional dimension constituted by flows of electronic data within computer networks. In post-Fordist capital, these digital flows are used by “virtual corporations” to link automated machines to just-in-time inventory systems, connect dispersed production sites, accumulate and mine data about consumer tastes and habits, and forge new marketing opportunities, coordinating these activities on a global scale and as swiftly dispersing them.126 Indeed, it is in cyberspace that capital is now to attempting to acquire a comprehensive command, control and communications capacity allowing it to “appropriate, along with labour, the entire network of social relations.” 127 And yet at the same time it is also in this virtual realm that some of the most remarkable experiments in communicational counter-power are being conducted.
Computer-mediated-communications, created by the linking of computers and telecommunications, were originally designed under military auspices, initially as part of the US nuclear war fighting preparations, and later to connect the supercomputing centres vital to Pentagon research. These origins have led many on the left to see the development of such networks simply as a quintessential expression of capital’s technological domination. However, there is another side to this process. In an entirely unforeseen development, the technoscientific labour employed in the sites of the military-academic- industrial complex--faculty, systems managers, and especially graduate students--extended the network far beyond its original scope, using it for non-military research, designing successive layers of alternative systems which connected into the main backbone. This accretion of self-organised services proceeded, with the complicity of systems managers enchanted by the technological `sweetness' of the results, until, as Peter Childers and Paul Delany put it "the parasites had all but taken over the host."128 Strangely, in the era of that supposedly marked the triumph of the free market, the most technologically advanced medium for planet-wide communication was in fact created on the basis of state support, open usage and cooperative self-organisation. A proliferation of autonomous activity transformed a military-industrial network into a system that in many ways realises radical dreams of a democratic communication system: omni-purpose, multi- centred, with participants transmitting as well as receiving, near real-time dialogue, a highly devolved management structure, and-- since universities and other big institutions have so far paid a flat rate for connection--offering relatively large numbers of people access for little or no cost. On this basis there emerged the unplanned explosion of popular interest in computer networking which by the late 1980s had catapulted the Internet on a trajectory of exponential growth totally unforeseen by corporate planners.
Capital is now of course attempting to contain this outbreak of unanticipated popular inventiveness—most significantly through the US government's National Information Infrastructure initiative, with its plan for a publicly subsidised but corporately owned and operated information superhighway. Such a system would rationalise the already-existing but tangled web of fibre optic, cooper wires, cable radio waves and satellites that provide the basis for telecommunications, cellular technologies and cable television into a comprehensive, integrated network. Many companies are interested in this highway for internal purposes: to connect customers with suppliers, improve monitoring of employees, eliminate jobs, cut travel costs and gather competitive data. The giants of the information and entertainments sector, however, see unprecedented market opportunities.
Telephone, cable, video and software companies a preparing to colonise cyberspace with their `killer' applications--video-on-demand, tele-gambling, pay-per-computer games and info-mercials. To many, the so-called highway running across the electronic frontier seems closer to the late nineteenth century US railway development, complete with informational However, cyberspace remains an arena of contradictions, in which capital's development is both opposed and spurred by alternative initiatives. To create and operate computer systems, commerce has had to summon up whole new strata of labour power, ranging from computer scientists and software engineers, through programmers and technicians, to computer-literate line and office workers, and ultimately to whole populations relegated to tedious, mundane jobs yet required to be sufficiently computer- literate to function in a system of on-line services and electronic goods. As this virtual proletariat emerges, there also appears a tension between the potential interest and abundance it sees in its technological environment, and the actual banality of cybernetic As so often before, new forms of conflict appear first under the guise of criminality and delinquency--in this case, as `hacking.' If, following Andrew Ross, we define hacking simply as the "unauthorised use of computers," then the term embraces computerised sabotage; the reappropriation of work time to play games or write novels, or exchange unauthorised email; so-called crimes of data copying, electronic trespass and information dissemination; and unofficial experimentation with and alteration of systems up to and including the invention of new machines and of alternative electronic institutions.129 These activities are now giving capital's managers multiple headaches over loss of productivity, theft of trade secrets, cybernetic revenge by terminated workers, and violations of Moreover, the networks are now the site for an array of "virtual communities."131 These experiments in on-line social relations vary enormously; staggering diversity is perhaps their preeminent feature. However, in many cases participants see such communities as offering escape from the everyday logic of capital. In some cases, they are consciously conceived as constituting a new, electronic form of civil society in which many-to-many cybercommunications undermines the control of established societal gatekeepers--including the giant media corporations--over flows of information. Indeed,



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