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?

Second Session: Shulamith Firestone, Feminist Revolution and Cybernetic Communism

Firestone Selections from The Dialectic of Sex

Weeks The Vanishing Dialectic Firestone and Future

Davis Selection from Women, Race and Class

Our text for April is Shulamith Firestone’s ‘The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution’ (pp. 192-202, 205-209, 226-242). I have included a pdf of the relevant sections above. I have also posted two other texts. Kathi Week’s ‘The Vanishing Dialectic: Shulamith Firestone and the Future of the Feminist 1970s’ examines Firestone text as a ‘utopian manifesto’.  Angela Davis, in short section from ‘Women, Race and Class’, criticises Firestone (amongst others) for her perspective on racism and rape. The best section of the Firestone book is pp.192-202. Feel read as much or as little as you like of the secondary literature (it is really there for reference).

Shulamith Firestone’s 1971 book ‘The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution’ represents, in many respects, the best and the worst of second-wave feminism. On the one hand, it is difficult to judge Firestone’s text, from a contemporary feminist perspective, as anything other than problematic. For example, her attempt to reduce racism to sexism is enough to raise serious questions of her perspective. On the other hand, Firestone’s text does, in a self-conscious manner, posit a radically different future. For Firestone, the task is nothing less than the abolition of sex difference. This will be accomplished through the combined impact of new reproductive technologies and the abolition of the distinction between work and life (thus echoing some of the themes of the ‘#Accelerate Manifesto’). In such a ‘cybernetic communist’ society, Firestone believed that humans would be able to achieve their full potential. We critically examine Firestone’s text to see what value her vision of future has for us today.



Future Society Reading Group – First Session: Accelerationism

March 2016

This month we are reading Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s ‘Accelerationist Manifesto’. The manifesto is available here (http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/14/accelerate-manifesto-for-an-accelerationist-politics/). For those interested, there is also a good interview with Williams and Srnicek, in which they discuss some the ideas included in their book, Inventing the Future, here (http://novaramedia.com/2015/10/inventing-the-future/).

“The future needs to be constructed. It has been demolished by neoliberal capitalism and reduced to a cut-price promise of greater inequality, conflict, and chaos. This collapse in the idea of the future is symptomatic of the regressive historical status of our age, rather than, as cynics across the political spectrum would have us believe, a sign of sceptical maturity. What accelerationism pushes towards is a future that is more modern – an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate. The future must be cracked open once again, unfastening our horizons towards the universal possibilities of the Outside” – The Accelerationist Manifesto

Since its release in 2013, the Accelerationist Manifesto has been the subject of lively debate on the left. The Manifesto raises important questions regarding our ability to imagine alternative futures, our willingness to embrace new technologies and our forms of political organisation. We hope to discuss some of these issues on 10th March, as well as some of the limitations of the Manifesto.

What is the Future Society Reading Group?

In the past few years there has been an increasing degree of interest in alternatives to society as it presently exists. There is a growing desire not only to critique the contemporary world, but also to ‘dream forwards’ and imagine radically changed worlds. If recent decades were defined by the Thatcherite phrase of ‘There Is No Alternative’, perhaps now it is possible to think of an ‘alternative.’ But what does this ‘alternative’ look like? The Future Societies Reading Group aims to study a number of thinkers who have proposed radically different future societies, and consider ways in which such ideas can be brought into actuality. We hope to consider some of the following issues in the coming months:

Accelerationism: Technology and the end of capitalism

Black utopias (from Grigg’s Imperium in Imperio to Gilroy’s Against Race)

Feminist utopias and post-gender worlds (from Firestone to Haraway and beyond)

Queer futurity

The concept of utopia (Ernst Bloch)

Radical design and utopian cities

Strategic utopia? The role of ideas of radical futures in political movements

The ‘wrong’ future and the dangers of ‘reactionary modernism’

New Materialisms

Post-colonial and Third World futures

…suggestions for reading are always welcome!