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16 June, 2017

Automation and the planned obsolescence of the Proletariat

Garry Glass discusses how advances in automation are disrupting class relations.

Part 5 - Infinite luxury?


The question over the legitimacy of fully automated luxury communism is fundamentally one of democracy, specifically of whose brand of luxury we are expected to aspire towards. A post-capitalist project that puts unbridled consumption as a central guiding principle is uncannily similar to the current offering from wage-slave, debt-cycle, eco-catastrophic late-capitalism. The accoutrements of the capitalist spectacle may have less meaning to a culture with different values and incentive structures. With the liberal-left focussed on the inequality discourse little has been made of the need to discuss more thoroughly what material requirements are actually necessary for life satisfaction. It is content under its current rubric to envisage everyone on earth owning a smart device, whilst there is little concern on the left with the actual metrics of material scarcity, in this case the abundance of rare earth metals.

The fragile post war agreement of social democracy between the welfare state and unions sought to overcome the first contradiction of capitalism and appease the power of organised labour. The second contradiction of capital is the material and energetic limitations of infinite expansion of production on a finite biosphere.

Prophetically in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World Henry Ford is presented as a religious icon in a society that mass produces people in test tubes, as well as things. Huxley understood that a society based around consumerism would lead to an inversion where the population had to be produced as consumers otherwise the entire industrial system would collapse.

The more reliant we are on centralised automated production the less political agency we shall have. Compliance is purchased via the convenience of a domino’s pizza delivered to your doorstep by drone.

Industry requires a state because of the scales of social organisation required to maintain the necessary infrastructure. Increasingly we are tied into the global supply chain. Our machines don’t work without their chips made in China from rare earth metals mined out of the Congo. Smart cities and mega-projects demand it. Corporate fascism is interested in automation because it removes human uncertainty and error – a computer program might need a patch but it is not going to get sick or go on strike.

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