Interrogating digital capitalism

July 10, 2017

The ways that capitalism uses technology as a means of control was discussed on Thursday evening in London, at a meeting organised by the Breaking the Frame collective.

The meeting was called “Interrogating Digital Capitalism”. Ursula Huws, who researches technology and labour at the University of Hertfordshire, started her talk by arguing that terms such as “digital capitalism” and “biocapitalism” are unhelpful. “I prefer to talk about capitalism”, she said.

Capitalism uses technology at each stage of its restructuring, after recurrent crises, Huws argued. She pointed to three main ways that it uses technology for social control.

■ Technology is used to “simplify and standardise work processes” and sometimes – but not always – to substitute for labour.

■ Technologies are used to control work processes, and for surveillance.

■ Technologies are used to “create new commodities, bringing new areas of human activity into alienated, commodified relationships”. This included Read the rest of this entry »

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The Lucas plan and the politics of technology

October 26, 2016

This guest post by DAVID KING of Breaking the Frame looks back at how workers at Lucas Aerospace championed socially useful technology. It is a shortened version of a two-part article on the Breaking the Frame website, and feeds into a debate we’re holding this Saturday at the Anarchist Bookfair.

This year is the fortieth anniversary of The Lucas Plan, the pioneering effort by workers at the Lucas

The original pamphlet cover

The original pamphlet cover

Aerospace arms company to propose alternative socially useful applications of the company’s technology and workers’ skills, whilst retaining jobs. It was an inspiring model of industrial democracy and has played an important role in showing that traditional trade union concerns about jobs losses arising from closures in harmful industries such as arms, nuclear power, etc., can be met. The Plan was hugely influential in the 1980s peace movement, during the crisis at the end of the Cold War.

But although younger generations of leftists, environmentalists and peace activists may never have heard of it, the ideas of the Lucas Aerospace workers are crucially relevant for the challenges we face today, including climate change, militarism and automation/artificial intelligence. A conference in Birmingham in November will both celebrate the achievements of the Lucas workers and, we hope, reinvigorate movements for socially just solutions to those crises.

The plan

In the early 1970s the workers at Lucas had organised themselves into a cross-union Combine Read the rest of this entry »


I have seen the techno-future, and I’m not so sure it works

April 4, 2016

“I have seen the future, and it works”, wrote the American journalist Lincoln Steffens after visiting Soviet Russia in 1919, at the height of the civil war. The Bolsheviks, he said, were “a revolutionary government with an evolutionary

A Chinese labour demonstration. "Networked humanity", or "the working-class movement"?

A Chinese labour demonstration. “Networked humanity”, or “the working-class movement”?

plan”.  Nearly a century later, one of the UK’s most thoughtful journalists, Paul Mason, argues that information technology can open the road to post-capitalism where the Russian revolution failed. He’s as enthusiastic about technology’s capacity for liberating humanity as Steffens was about the Bolsheviks.

Networked computers underpin “postcapitalism as a process emerging spontaneously”, and what matters now is networks against hierarchies, Mason writes in Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (Penguin/Allen Lane, 2015). He aims to visualise goods, labour and Read the rest of this entry »


‘The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer.’ Marx on machinery is worth reading

June 18, 2015

A response to Ned Ludd by GABRIEL LEVY

Ned Ludd’s article on socialism and ecology raises important questions. What would a “real fusion” of socialism and ecology look like? How should socialist

A can factory, 1909. Source: resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com

A can factory, 1909. Source: resourcesforhistoryteachers.wikispaces.com

movements look at industrialism? Is “technocracy” a concept that helps us get to grips with this?

The left “needs to abandon its mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, Ned argues. “Instead of that narrative of progress, we need to realise that industrialism is a 200-year-old bubble that is beginning to burst.”

Much of the organised left accepts uncritically assumptions about the benefits of industrial progress, and Ned’s warnings about this are justified, to my mind. The view of technology as something that marches forward outside of its social context, and will ultimately serve progressive causes in changing that social context, needs to be challenged.

The best place I can think of to start a serious critique of the “mythology of the ‘liberation of the productive forces’”, as Ned proposes, is with Karl Marx. After all, Read the rest of this entry »


Workers’ solidarity in wartime: Bosnia 1993, Ukraine 2015

March 30, 2015

Read this article in Russian here – читать на русском языке здесь

There is a fragile ceasefire in place in eastern Ukraine, but the devastation wrought by military conflict continues. Some Ukrainian socialists, disappointed by the weakness of the anti-militarist movement, have tried to find ways of delivering aid to communities in the east, and to refugees 

Workers' Aid marching with Bosnian refugees at the Durham Miners' Gala, 1995

Workers’ Aid marching with Bosnian refugees at the Durham Miners’ Gala, 1995

who have fled to other parts of Ukraine. Some have joined non-governmental organisations working on the ground; some have formed links with mining communities; others have launched an international campaign in defence of Alexander Kolchenko, the anarchist from Crimea facing trial in Russia on trumped-up “terrorism” charges. In my view, these activists are taking forward the best traditions of the international working-class movement. One experience worth looking back to is that of Workers Aid for Bosnia, a group of labour movement activists, initially based in the UK, that in 1993 collected truck-loads of humanitarian aid and took them to the Bosnian mining town of Tuzla, which at that time was surrounded on three sides by the Serbian army. Here is an interview with two of its organisers: JOHN DAVIES, a writer, actor and activist who lives in Liverpool and BOB MYERS, an activist based in Manchester.

Gabriel Levy: please explain how the Workers Aid convoys came about. Who proposed them, who acted on the proposal? What was the situation in Bosnia at the time, and how did the convoys impact on it?

John Davies: The Workers Aid convoys were organised in response to an appeal by a Serb socialist, Rade Pavlovic, who was appalled at the atrocities being carried out by the Serb nationalist/Stalinist leadership, and with the widespread support of the Serb intelligentsia. Knowing of the way in which miners in former Read the rest of this entry »


The spectre of social unrest is haunting Putin’s Russia

December 17, 2014

On Russia’s “Black Tuesday” yesterday (16 December), the Central Bank tried to stop the ruble’s value falling by hiking interest rates. It didn’t work. The bankers and corporations panicked; the ruble kept falling. It has now lost half its value in six months. The main cause is the falling price of oil, on which the Russian economy is heavily dependent.

Now Russian people are likely to pay the price, with inflation, unemployment and falling living standards. More than at any time since president Vladimir Putin became the Moscow elite’s dominant figure 15 years ago, he is likely to face a population troubled by serious economic hardship.

Putin’s government has shown that, to deal with social unrest, it is prepared to use tools ranging from

moscow demo

“Doctors good – government bad”. Socialists on the Moscow demonstration against health service cuts last month. Photo: www,openleft.ru

beatings and jailings (used against the Bolotnaya anti-government marches in Moscow in 2012) to incitement of military conflict that wrecks cities and divides communities (used in response to the protests and overthrow of government in Ukraine).

Here are some points that might contribute to an analysis.

Q. What are the underlying causes of Russia’s economic problem?

A. Russia has become a subordinate player in the world economy, relying overwhelmingly on the export of oil, gas and metals. During the oil boom of 2002-08, numerous plans to diversify the economy away from these export commodities were drawn up, but none were successfully implemented. So Russia emerged from the boom more dependent on these exports than ever. In 2012, the energy sector (oil, gas, coal and power) Read the rest of this entry »


Ukraine: war as a means of social control

October 19, 2014

In Ukraine the tumultuous social movement of last winter has been overtaken, divided, and almost silenced, by military conflict. It is a sobering contrast to those times in history, for example at the end of the first and

The “anti militarist coalition” on the Moscow march on 21 September. (See "about photo", below.)

The “anti militarist coalition” on the Moscow march on 21 September. (See “about photo”, below.)

second world wars, when military conflict produced social revolts. This article attempts to consider the historical parallels and what they mean for socialists.

Expressions of discontent around social issues continued to spread across Ukraine – including in the eastern regions – after the overthrow of the government Viktor Yanukovich in Kyiv in February. Some of these protests fed into the so-called “anti Maidan” movement. that actually mirrored the Maidan movement in many ways. But on both sides, corrosive nationalism took its toll. In the Read the rest of this entry »