Future Society Reading Group – Third Session: Marx’s ‘Fragment on Machines’: The ‘General Intellect’, Automation and the End of Capitalism

Our text for June is Karl Marx’s ‘Fragment on Machines’ (a section from the Grundrisse). There is a pdf version below.

Marx Fragment on Machines

There are two other texts that might be of interest. First, Gerald Raunig’s offers some interesting reflections on Marx’s text (http://eipcp.net/transversal/1106/raunig/en). Second, Paul Mason draws on the ‘Fragment’ and discusses the relevance of the text to the current stage of capitalism (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun). Feel free to read as much or as little as you like of these secondary texts.

Marx’s ‘Fragment on Machines’ is a vital text. Written in 1858, the ‘Fragment’ has proved highly prescient. Marx posits a number of facets of capitalism that are of importance for the contemporary conjunction. These include: the importance of knowledge to the process of production (the ‘general intellect’): the relationship between working hours and automation under capitalistic conditions; the question of whether increasing automation imperils the profitability of capitalism. However, the text is, of course, not without limitations. For example, we might ask: Does Marx put too much of an onus on technology and insufficient emphasis on working class agency? Can we simply rely on the unfolding of these economic processes or is there a need for a political intervention? Also, what are the environmental consequences of increased automation?