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The Truth About Networks

Between the total hell of networked, salaried labor and the promises of the
commons

by Trebor Scholz

In short succession the first two in a series of publications called "DATA
browser" were just released. Both start out with historical texts to search for
effective contemporary models of cultural production that merge
socio-technological with artistic critique. "DATA browser 01" takes Theodor
Adorno's and Max Horkheimer's notion of the culture industry (1944) as a departing
point. "DATA browser 02" links to Walter Benjamin's essay "The Author as Producer"
(1934). Let's start with Brian Holmes' essay "The Flexible Personality," which
contributes a rare meditation on today's network society and sketches out an
intellectual history of anti-systemic movements that becomes the critical backdrop
for both volumes of "DATA browser." Here, the Paris-based art critic, activist,
and translator Holmes leads us into a social landscape of total network hell.
Together with the social theorist Maurizio Lazzarato, Holmes is not on board when
it comes to the techno-utopian celebration of the networked life style. Lazzarato
thinks that new networked techniques are even more totalitarian than the assembly
line. Brian Holmes includes a reference to Adorno's notion of the authoritarian
personality (1950), which is defined by its rigid conventionalism, submission to
authority, opposition to everything subjective, stereotypy, an emphasis on power
and toughness, destructiveness and cynicism, and an exaggerated concern with
sexual scandal. Holmes criticism of networked labor is sharp - he argues that
distributed, casualized labor is based on the ruthless pleasure of exploitation
and soft coercion that the laptop as portable instrument of control affords. The
Italian philosopher Paolo Virno places questions about idleness, leisure and the
refusal to work at the center of the discussion about contemporary production.

The Scandal of the Word “Class”:

A Review of David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford UP,
2005)

David Harvey's new book has four faces on its cover: Reagan, Thatcher,
Pinochet and Deng Xiaoping. It makes one self-evident, yet strangely
scandalous assertion: the rise of neoliberal economics since the late 1970s
— or more precisely, since the bankruptcy of New York City and the
dictatorship in Chile — is the centerpiece of a deliberate project to
restore upper-class power. True to its title, the book presents a concise
but extremely well-documented economic history of the last three decades,
encompassing not only the usual G-7 countries but the entire world, with a
particular emphasis on the US and capitalist China.


It identifies
structural trends of neoliberal governance that, as the book nears
conclusion, serve equally to explicate the present crisis, both of the
global economy and of interstate relations. And finally it asks the
political question of how resurgent upper-class power can successfully be
opposed. Here is where the most benefit could be gained by examining the
aura of scandal that surrounds its central thesis.

The Truth About Networks

Trebor Scholz

Between the total hell of networked, salaried labor and the promises of the
commons

In short succession the first two in a series of publications called "DATA
browser" were just released. Both start out with historical texts to search
for effective contemporary models of cultural production that merge
socio-technological with artistic critique.

"DATA browser 01" takes Theodor
Adorno's and Max Horkheimer's notion of the culture industry (1944) as a
departing point. "DATA browser 02" links to Walter Benjamin's essay "The
Author as Producer" (1934).

Let's start with Brian Holmes' essay "The
Flexible Personality," which contributes a rare meditation on today's
network society and sketches out an intellectual history of anti-systemic
movements that becomes the critical backdrop for both volumes of "DATA
browser." Here, the Paris-based art critic, activist, and translator Holmes
leads us into a social landscape of total network hell. Together with the
social theorist Maurizio Lazzarato, Holmes is not on board when it comes to
the techno-utopian celebration of the networked life style. Lazzarato thinks
that new networked techniques are even more totalitarian than the assembly
line. Brian Holmes includes a reference to Adorno's notion of the
authoritarian personality (1950), which is defined by its rigid
conventionalism, submission to authority, opposition to everything
subjective, stereotypy, an emphasis on power and toughness, destructiveness
and cynicism, and an exaggerated concern with sexual scandal. Holmes'
criticism of networked labor is sharp — he argues that distributed,
casualized labor is based on the ruthless pleasure of exploitation and soft
coercion that the laptop as portable instrument of control affords.

Anthropology Against the State:
A Review of David Graeber's Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology

Stevphen Shukaitis

If there is any question thrown at organizers within the various tendrils of the global justice movement intended to make our efforts appear utopian and unrealizable, it would have to be “I understand what you’re against, but what are you for?” The implicit idea being that there is no reason to believe that another world is possible in more than a rhetorical sense, or at least not examples to prove such is possible. Frequently those of us who dream of a liberated world without a market or state structures turn to anthropology for inspiration from the thousands of years of human history where such didn’t exist. Anthropologists, worried about being accused of romanticizing populations, have generally responded to these inquiries with a confused silence.

In Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology Yale based anthropologist and political activist David Graeber asks, “what if that wasn’t the case?” Drawing from the rich history of ethnographic materials and anthropological records as well as critical theory and current practices within the global justice movement Graeber demonstrates that there is an endless variety of revolutionary political and social organization to draw from. Rejecting both the Hobbesian fable of the “war of all against all” and the blatant forms of racism and Eurocentrism used to argue that so called “primitive” societies have no bearing on and are completely removed from the world we live in, Graeber explores the endless variety of political and organization which have existed throughout the world. From the Tsimhety of northwest Madagascar to Amazonian tribes what emerges are the dynamics of struggle and contention, of insurrection and resistance that have existed not just through the past two hundred years of European history but arguably since the dawn of human existence.

"Looking Back at 'The Battle of Algiers'"
Louis Proyect, Monthly Review

Challenged by terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare in Iraq, the Pentagon recently held a screening of "The Battle of Algiers," the film that in the late 1960's was required viewing and something of a teaching tool for radicalized Americans and revolutionary wannabes opposing the Vietnam War.

Back in those days the young audiences that often sat through several showings of Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 re-enactment of the urban struggle between French troops and Algerian nationalists, shared the director's sympathies for the guerrillas of the F.L.N., Algeria's National Liberation Front. Those viewers identified with and even cheered for Ali La Pointe, the streetwise operator who drew on his underworld connections to organize a network of terrorist cells and entrenched it within the Casbah, the city's old Muslim section. In the same way they would hiss Colonel Mathieu, the character based on Jacques Massu, the actual commander of the French forces.



The Pentagon's showing drew a more professionally detached audience of about 40 officers and civilian experts who were urged to consider and discuss the implicit issues at the core of the film — the problematic but alluring efficacy of brutal and repressive means in fighting clandestine terrorists in places like Algeria and Iraq. Or more specifically, the advantages and costs of resorting to torture and intimidation in seeking vital human intelligence about enemy plans.

— Michael T. Kaufman, "What Does the Pentagon See in 'Battle of Algiers'?" (New York Times, September 7, 2003)

At a press conference dramatized in The Battle of Algiers, the captive FLN leader Larbi Ben M'Hidi is asked what chance he has of defeating the French. He answers that it has a better chance than the French have of defeating history. M’Hidi’s reply was probably lost on the Pentagon audience since every imperial power in history seems utterly convinced of its own invulnerability. The film has an entirely different significance for the left. We watch it to become inspired, all the more so at a time when Americans are facing our own version of the battle of Algiers.


The Third Crusade

New Left Review

Richard Gott on Anthony Seldon, Blair. As ‘Iraq’ joins ‘Munich’ and ‘Suez’ in the lexicon of British foreign-policy disasters, does the Labour Prime Minister have his own neo-imperial programme?

Elections in Britain on 5 May 2005 brought a third victory to Tony Blair’s New Labour party, though with a much reduced majority in parliament, only 35 per cent of the popular vote, and barely a fifth of the overall electorate—the lowest percentage secured by any governing party in recent European history. ‘When regimes are based on minority rule, they lose legitimacy’, Blair had told an audience at the Chicago Economic Club in April 1999. He was thinking at the time of the former Yugoslavia of Slobodan Miloševic´ and of apartheid South Africa, but his warning could now be applied to his own regime. More people abstained from voting in May 2005 than voted Labour. Disgust, rather than apathy, was the root cause of the abstention.

Widely celebrated as the first, ‘historic’ occasion on which a Labour government had won three elections in a row, the Blairite success might more relevantly be described as the sixth victory of a British government operating under Thatcherite principles since Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister in 1979. ‘Almost everything Blair has done personally—in education, health, law and order and Northern Ireland—has also been an extension of Conservative policy between 1979 and 1997’, argues Anthony Seldon in his exhaustive study, Blair, the largest and most useful of the raft of recently published biographies, most of which have been hagiographic but some more critical. Seldon’s charge is difficult to refute, and Blair’s relatively meagre showing in the election of 2005 had much to do with the disillusion of traditional Labour voters, finally obliged to admit that their party had been captured by the proponents of an alien ideology.

"Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty:

A Political Review"

George Caffentzis

"At length the term-day, the fatal Martinmas, arrived, and violent measures of ejection were resorted to. A strong posse of peace-officers, sufficient to render all resistance vain, charged the inhabitants to depart by noon; and as they did not obey, the officers, in terms of their warrant, proceeded to unroof the cottages, and pull down the wretched doors and windows, — a summary and effectual mode of ejection, still practiced in some remote parts of Scotland, when a tenant proves refractory."
— Sir Walter Scott, Guy Mannering or The Astrologer (1829)

Neoliberal globalization entered into its first major crisis seven summers ago, with the so-called “Asian Financial Crisis.” Since then the ideological power of this form of capitalism has been slowly ebbing. The once attractive image of the creative powers of humanity finally being brought together in the process of globalization for the “general welfare” by borderless transfers of money, capital and labor at the speed of light now seems to be a nostalgic relic.

Since 1997, along with the continuing economic crises and stagnation of Europe, South America, and Africa, neoliberal globalization has faced two major ideological reversals. The first reversal is associated with a city (Seattle) and the second with a date (September 11, 2001).

"Parecon and the Nature of Reformism"

Wayne Price, Anarkismo.net

Reviewing

Robin Hahnel, Economic Justice and Democracy: From Competition to Cooperation.
NY/ London: Routledge, 2005

The second most important problem for anticapitalist radicals is how to get from here to there; that is, how to get from a capitalist society to a good society. The first problem is where do we want to go — what we mean by a good, noncapitalist, society. Working together with Michael Albert, Robin Hahnel has spent years on this first problem, developing a model of what a good society might be like, or at least how its economy might work. In a series of books and essays (e.g., Albert 2000, 2005; Albert & Hahnel 1983, 1991), they have thought out how an economy might function which is managed by its people rather than by either private capitalists or bureaucrats — an economy managed through bottom-up democratic cooperation, rather than by either the market or centralized planning. They call this “participatory economics,” or “parecon” for short. Their model involves coordination by councils of workers and consumers to produce an economic plan. I will not go into it now; it is further discussed in Hahnel’s current book. In my opinion, their model has enriched the discussion of what a socialist anarchist society might look like


However, they have written little on the second issue. Having decided on a social goal, then what? Might it be possible to gradually, peacefully, and incrementally evolve through small positive changes from capitalism to antiauthoritarian socialism? Or must a mass movement, eventually, overturn the capitalist class, smash its state — against the will of its agents — dismantling its police, military, and other institutions, and replace them with alternate structures? This is, of course, the topic: Reform or Revolution? It leads to a certain focus on the nature of the state.

"The Wobbly Legend Lives On in Popular Culture"

Paul Buhle, Chronicle of Higher Education

No title seems more likely to cause an academic publisher to dolefully predict sales in the low three figures these days than one stuck with the word "labor." More often than not, it is slipped into the subtitle, as if arriving in disguise. And no wonder, from one perspective: The American labor movement itself has been on a downward spiral, as a proportion of the work force, for more than two generations.


The aura attached to working-class studies by scholarly generations of the 1960s through the 1980s has also now badly faded. Despite a trove of well-crafted monographs, specialty journals, and annual meetings of regional groups with healthy admixtures of nonacademic enthusiasts, the mood in the field is insular, a holding pattern. Today's students with uncles, aunts, or grandparents in the labor movement often don't even know which particular unions so occupied their time and energy.


And yet the Wobblies continue to evoke interest, on campuses and off. The Industrial Workers of the World, as the movement was formally known, never exceeded 150,000 members and sank into memory by the 1930s. But its luster has somehow survived, perhaps because it never really depended upon numerical strength or bargaining power.

Mr and Mr and Mrs and Mrs

James Davidson, London Review of Books

Reviewing:

The Friend by Alan Bray

Chicago, 380 pp, £28.00


In 1913, Turkish workmen restoring the Mosque of the Arabs in Istanbul uncovered the floor of a Dominican church. Among the gravestones was a particularly striking one in grey-white marble with pink and blue veins. Two helmets with slits for eyes faced each other, like a pair of beaky dolphins about, clangingly, to kiss: ‘Tomb Slab of an English Couple’, the label in Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum says.


The couple were illustrious knights of the royal chamber of Richard II, Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe, ‘the Castor and Pollux of the Lollard movement’, as the medieval historian Bruce McFarlane called them. Neville died just four days after Clanvowe, the inscription records, in October 1391. The Westminster Chronicle fills in the details. Following the death of Clanvowe, ‘for whom his love was no less than for himself’, Neville starved himself to death. Beneath the helmets their shields lean on each other, indicating the position of the bodies beneath. Their coats-of-arms are identical, half-Neville, half-Clanvowe, a blend called ‘impalement’, used to show the arms of a married couple, with Neville’s saltire on the husband’s half, Clanvowe’s bearing on that of the wife. Well, not quite. There are two impaled shields rather than the usual one, indicating a mutual exchange of arms, a double dubbing, so to speak.