Economy, Subjectivation, and Revolution in the Era of Digital Capitalism
We are commemorating May ’68 because the real outcome and the real hero of ’68 is unfettered neo-liberal capitalism.
Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis[i]
Marx’s thesis concerning the tendency of the rate of profit to fall argues that technological development and growing automation always backfire, since they reduce the relative contribution made to a commodity by labour which alone increases in value during the production process. Under conditions of competition this puts deflationary pressures on prices thus leading to the cyclical nature of capitalist crises and the need to regularly reorganise relations of production and society at large (Schumpeter’s ‘creative destruction’). Today, deflationary pressures on the economy associated with reduced real demand, made endemic by neoliberal wage growth suppression, combine with the falling rate of profit in our digital age, where the cost of reproducing a digital commodity falls exponentially to zero, and where rent-extraction and monopolisation are the primary means by which corporations can generate value. Capital accumulation thus seems to be reaching an impasse and for some presages the end of capitalism as such (Mason, 2015; Srnicek and Williams, 2015).[ii]However, if for others the algorithmic labour generating deflationary value from human users as raw materials conceals a governmental dimension (Rouvroy, 2016),[iii]how might this complicate the notion of a ‘post-capitalist’ era?
If after Foucault one can no longer distinguish capitalist crises from crises of governmentality, as Dardot and Laval (2016)[iv]have recently reiterated, how are we then to articulate these analytical axes to make sense of the present conjuncture? It appears that what is needed is an understanding of the interdependent co-articulation between capital accumulation and contemporary capitalism’s modes of subjectivation, as mediated by new digital and algorithmic technologies which bypass the distinction between production/consumption (Terranova, 2004; Virno, 2007),[v]and between production/consumption on the one hand and subjectivation on the other – as foreseen by Deleuze and Guattari as long ago as 1972.[vi]Consequently, what new forms of subjectivity would be needed to shift from an information economy to a genuine sharing economy working alongside but in contradistinction to the market (cf. Mason, 2015)? What would be the role here, for instance, of Universal Basic Income programs which serve to delink labour from wages?
Moreover, it seems that the co-articulation of capital accumulation and processes of subjectivation is inseparable from the category of the event. Inherent to Foucault’s definition of a dispositifor apparatus of power/knowledge/subjectivation, is the notion of event as a reversal of the dominant relations of force in a given social field.[vii]It can be argued that neoliberalism, as entailing both a new mode of subjectivation and new technological/social/industrial/financial mixes, was economically made possible, in part, by the first oil crisis, just as it was governmentally prepared for by the global 1968 uprisings – an event whose fiftieth anniversary we are commemorating this year. If these uprisings rightly sought to challenge State power, US global military and economic dominance, unsatisfactory levels of institutional recognition for minorities, in short institutional control of economy and subjectivity, it can be argued that their most significant albeit unintended effect has nonetheless been an intensification of capitalism.
While the new social movements and identity politics have laudably prospered in the wake of ’68, the left has yet to successfully reintegrate these disparate strands into a form of collectivism capable of resisting neoliberalism’s post-’68 attack on labour. Rather it appears that digital capitalism’s networks take or have the potential to take on this role (as seen for example in #MeToo’s mutation into #PayMeToo). This positions digital networks as the contemporary site of both society’s real subsumption by capital and also of potential resistance to it – in other words the new site of events.
Moreover, if production/consumption and subjectivation depend both on economy and on governmental apparatuses – a distinction that only really exists abstractly – how does Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘war machine’ problematise the very notion that these two axes are ultimately co-ordinate, given the war machine’s exteriority to the State apparatus and its association, in their work, with neoliberal (or what they call ‘totalitarian’)[viii]capitalism? This question is particularly pertinent today considering the Cambridge Analyticascandal, given that the firm was supposedly pivotal to both the outcomes of the 2016 US Presidential Election and the UK’s EU membership referendum. Rather than understanding these two events solely in terms of a populist backlash against neoliberalism, the apparently decisive role of Cambridge Analytica’s political marketing algorithms in the outcomes of both votes in fact suggests the opposite – that these outcomes were engineered by the neoliberal digital war machine at its most ‘totalitarian’ and indeed in tension, both economically and governmentally, with the State apparatus.
If 1968 functioned in large part as an anti-capitalist revolution – whose effects outstripped any intended aims – can we say that the revolutions of today are just as likely to be engineered by capital itself (even as they continue to be nourished by neoliberalism’s inaugural event)? Two hundred years after Karl Marx’s birth, are we any closer to realising a beyond of capitalism? Might developments in information technology not only reiterate but also allow for a counter-actualisation and re-opening of the field of possibility of the event of ‘68? And what role should be given to individual and collective agency when considering the nexus of information technology and post-’68 events?
Possible topics include but are not limited to:
– Articulations of capital and eventin contemporary philosophy (Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, Badiou, Hallward, Žižek, etc.), and the role of subjective agency in this articulation (as fidelity to the event (Badiou), as ‘will of the people’ (Hallward), as collective assemblage (Deleuze and Guattari), etc.); revolutionary and regressive modes of individual and collective agency as mediums for socially inscribing/expressing events.
– Marxism and intersectionality; Marxism and biopolitics/necropolitics; Marxism and governmentality; counter-histories of capitalism; non-dialectical Marxisms.
– Digital capitalism as (ir)rationalisation (Frankfurt school), delirium (Deleuze/Guattari), and/or stupidity (Stiegler); digital capitalism and governmentality/subjectivation; digital capitalism and bio/necropolitics; digital capitalism and revolution / digital capitalism and counter-revolution; digital capitalism and capitalist crisis.
– Post-capitalism and Bitcoin/cryptocurrencies; post-capitalism and individual or collective subjectivity; post-capitalism and digital economy; ‘luxury communism’ and full automation.
– Digital propaganda; political marketing strategies; digital war machine; State-sponsored cyberwarfare; digital wars of subjectivity.
Articles of 20-50,000 characters (including spaces), accompanied by 1,500 character abstract and keywords in English, to be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15th September 2018
First round of reviews will be ready by 15thOctober 2018
Final drafts post-corrections due: 15thNovember 2018
Online Publication: December 2018
Languages accepted: French, Italian, Spanish, English
Please follow these authors guidelines:
Chiara Bottici, ‘Anarcha-feminisme et l’ontologie du transindividuel’
Christian Laval, ‘Mai 68 a-t-il préparé le triomphe du néolibéralisme?’
Patrice Maniglier, ‘May 68 in Theory’
[i]Badiou, A., The Communist Hypothesis (2015, Verso: London), p. 44.
[ii]Mason, P., Post-Capitalism: A Guide to our Future(2015, Allen Lane: London); Srnicek, N. and A. Williams, Inventingthe Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work(2015, Verso: London).
[iii]Rouvroy, A., ‘Algorithmic Governmentality: Radicalisation and Immune Strategy of Capitalism and Neoliberalism?’, La deleuziana,3,2016, pp. 30-36.
[iv]Dardot, P. and C. Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society(2016, Verso: London).
[v]Terranova, T., Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age(2004, Pluto Press: London); Virno, P., ‘General Intellect’, in Historical Materialism,15 (3), 2007, pp. 3-8.
[vi]Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Volume I(2004 , Continuum: London).
[vii]Foucault, M., ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault’s Thought(1991, Penguin: London); Agamben, G., ‘What Is an Apparatus?’, in ‘What Is an Apparatus?’ and Other Essays(2009, Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA).
[viii]Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Volume 2(2004 , Continuum: London), p. 511.