Most Marxist discourses understand both the technology, the logical discourse about the teleology of perfect control of nature, which proves to be the decisive orientation for the Western natural sciences, and the technical object, the practical object of the theoretical sciences, as part of the productive forces and not of the relations of production. However, it cannot be ruled out that under capitalism production relations themselves may mutate into productive forces, as Adorno has already pointed out.1
It was Hans-Dieter Bahr who, following the 1968 student movement, pointed out that certain philosophical myths persist in the Marxist debates on technology: it was the peculiarity of the Promethean myth and all of its previous extrapolations – which also include most schools of Marxism – to have grasped technology purely as a productive force and at the same time to have integrated technical innovation into a linear and orderly discourse of progress in order to present technology itself as explosive. This can also be seen in the ultra-modernity of Leninism and its later Fordist biopolitics, with which – one thinks of the ruminating of the formula “communism = Soviet power and electrification” (LW 31: 513) – it wanted to set in motion a communist-utopian-technicist human production of bio-cosmic dimensions. (Cf. Balibar 2013: 136)
Although Lenin’s epistemological conception still remains entirely committed to realism, i.e., the recognition of the independent existence of the outside world as the primary reference for discursive knowledge, one also finds in him a politically dominated, prescriptive description of the natural sciences, according to which the task of the theoretical sciences under socialism was to place the laws of manipulating natural objects entirely at the service of society (as opposed to a purely descriptive description, according to which the laws of physics tell us how objects behave. See Schlaudt 2014a: 123). In the course of affirming the unfortunate formula “productive force = progress”, the Marxist-Leninist discourse on progress also has no problems whatsoever with the fact that the technical (especially the machine discourses of mechanics) or the syntax of technical objects proves to be rational precisely when the forces of the technical show themselves to be ordered and ordering relations. Bahr writes: “The technical is a guardian of order par exellence. Its internal discourse shows it not as a productive force, but as a system of order”. (Bahr 1983: 186) This applies equally to theoretical mechanics and to the machine-discursivity of cybernetics. And this applies not least of all to the economic sciences and to the neologism “political economy”, a term that in the 19th century pointed precisely to the fact that an ordering system is immanent in efficient economic activity, which imbues the measure of the political. (Cf. Vogl 2015: 40)
In the nineteenth century, the emancipation of the natural sciences from the tyranny of finiteness required the reorganisation of physics, which was now to be able to take the place of metaphysics, taking possession of the concepts of force and energy in order to incorporate them into a rational network of knowledge that had ever been coded. Only in this way was it possible to expressly write down an axiom that Michel Serres described as the first and most important axiom of the 19th century: “The real is rational, the rational is real” (Serres 1993: 77). And the axiom corresponds to this in Western philosophy: “The real is communicable, the communicable is real” (cf. Laruelle 2010c: 22). Laruelle’s statement refers to the classical philosophical model of mediatized being, which is still prevalent from antiquity to the present, and for which the god Hermes stands, who transports things from and through foreign places. With its hermeneutic mega-machine and its fog of semantic transfers, Western philosophy has placed the concepts of rationality and truth in relation to what is possibly hidden, but must and can be revealed.2
It can be assumed that modern science always confronts its own object – nature – in the form of mathematics, discourses and material apparatuses/machines. (Cf. Schlaudt 2014a: 68) Thus, one can only speak of technology/engineering when material-spiritual production itself has already matured into technology. If we now take up this problem, should we define technology and engineering less as phenomena constituted by the economy of capital, but rather as phenomena of industrial societies, as
Oliver Schlaudt does, so that one would have to speak of technology as a specific discourse of the domination of nature under capitalist conditions? (Schlaudt 2014b: 160) Or is it necessary to insist on the position that says that the logical rationality of monetary capital or capital power has ever already been inscribed in the concept of the techno-logical? (Cf. Bahr 1970: 34)
For Simondon or Laruelle, the power of capital is linked both to the aspect of individuation of thought and to technologies, insofar as the latter allow for an operational circulation of knowledge and simultaneously structure a specific axiomatic of signification. And the question always arises as to how such a system of signification can make the production/circulation of capital more effective in relation to technical objects. Simondon provides a scheme that seeks to comprehensively explain the relationship between capital and technology, in order to finally de-mystify the power of capital. (Cf. Simondon 2012) For Laruelle, the “sense” of capital power has ever been linked to a certain mode of thinking, whereas for Simondon such a “sense” can be mobilized by technical invention, which is itself a mode of thinking.
Simondon locates the origin of technology, at least for the Western Occident, in the encounter between technology (the practical use of various devices/machines) and the logos of the theoretical sciences. In contrast to technology, which despite its close relationship to the human remains an autonomous and automatic mode of being and is thus to be understood independently of the human, Simondon conceives of technology or mechanics as a thoroughly human construction (ibid.) Technology inaugurates a generative code that structures the correlation between man and nature qua the “laws” of man and which is thus to be understood as the direct consequence of the development of human language and the theoretical sciences. Simondon further asserts that the “laws” of man have hitherto served exclusively to domesticate and regulate nature, in so far as they have been used to describe and anticipate natural phenomena and to advance the exploitation of work; strategies that only seem possible if the teleology of mechanical, linear progress can be made permanent. This thinking has finally produced a system that progressively integrates every discontinuity into the continuum of progress, thus preventing the kairos – the aletorical power of nature – in order to instead constantly force the anticipation and activation of the relations between capital and technology and at the same time reduce the freedom of technology until a new technical invention creates a new code. With the help of mathematics and the theoretical sciences, the human species has created the autonomous logo of technology, that is, a chain of theoretical operations that allow a technical system to function effectively. And this implies that the transcendental nomos (law) replaces the ecological code of correlation (between nature and logos) with the economic code (logos and economy). For Simondon, the birth of technology definitely marks the shift from ecological to economic reality (including the cultural superstructure that constitutes the social). It is necessary to analyse the bond that links political and social relations with economic relations in order to grasp the (technological) evolution of money and capital, which, through capitalisation, also stages the quantification of human relations. (ibid.)
The relationship of the human species to the world is fundamentally artificial and technical, it contains a certain configuration of economic and, in addition, of political, architectural, social and erotic techniques, of agricultural, information, war techniques, etc. Because there are many individual techniques and because each technique configures a micro-world and at the same time materializes a certain social form of life, there is no essence of the human to be reported, rather the techniques remain in a certain way (transindividuation in Simondon) autonomous in relation to the human. As has already been indicated with Simondon, it is not primarily technology, but technology (in its relationship to capital) that is adequate to capital without corresponding with it completely (adequate-without-correspondence). And technology is by no means to be understood as the completion of technology; rather, by being determined in the last instance by capital, it forces, to a certain extent, the expropriation of man, at least of various old techniques. Technology incorporates the
auto referential discourse about its subject, the techniques. It is precisely in this sense that capital is sui generis technological, in so far as it forces the profitable organization and operation of the most productive techniques. And the determination of technology by capital in the last instance means that it is used to increase productivity, as a shock of innovation to re-regulate class struggles and as new technologies of power. It was precisely the combination of new information technologies with the construction of new derivative financial instruments for the procurement of liquidity that set in motion an economic development in the USA after 2000 that gave the country competitive advantages again in the accumulation and allocation of capital over other front-capitalist countries. Detlef Hartmann quotes former FED president Alan Greenspan: “The process of capital reallocation was supported throughout the economy by a substantial unbundling of risk in capital markets, made possible by the development of innovative financial products, many of which owe their usefulness to advances in the IT sector. (Hartmann 2015: 69)
While it is true that neither technique nor technology can be directly derived from the discursivity of monetary capital, and it is also true that technical objects or machines are available as means to a certain extent, it is also true that technical objects or machines are available as means to a certain extent, but when one speaks of the neutrality of techniques or machines, this can only be referred to a specific indeterminacy. One can now ask in what mode of operation the techniques function in the context of the material-discursive practices of capital. (Cf. Bahr 1983: 14) Machines/techniques, in this view, intrinsically serve certain purposes. Quite provocatively one can say: technical facts are fossilized purposes, and as means the techniques are materialized purposes of capital (in the last instance). (Cf. Schlaudt 2014a: 41) It remains urgent, however, not to assume a primary rationality of technology based on the pure relation of means and ends, because at least the ends must also be questioned with regard to the coherence and effectiveness of the means and their productions. Techniques and sciences each already contain very specific means, which in turn cannot be separated from very specific ends; this complex is determined by capital (as a social relationship) and its imperatives (including increasing productivity) in the last instance, so that certain technologies are adequate to it (without a direct correspondence between technology and capital being necessary, and this constellation of adequacy without correspondence requires the axiom of non-causality or unilateral duality).
Thus the problem of the disposable applicability of technology within the framework of a socio-economic-historical practice, in which Schlaudt assumes the positive scope of application of theoretical pragmatism compared to realism (ibid.: 139), is far from being solved. At the very least, however, this allows two apparently diametrically opposed positions to be avoided, whereby the first position views technology and machines from the purely instrumental perspective of a neutral utility object that can be appropriated by capital – or alternatively by the proletariat – while the second position analyses the machines exclusively as real subsumed, form-bound capital. Bahr, on the other hand, speaks in his paper On Dealing with Machines of the differential neutrality or the non-neutral indifference of machines. (Bahr 1983: 14) If one assumes that the techniques and/or machines today are mostly imbued with objectified relations of the rationality of capital (specific utility structure of the machinery), then their neutrality, in which differential a-significant semiotics and material discourses (of capital) are already inscribed – and one must insist on this – cannot be separated from the determinacy of capital (in the last instance).
Why is this so? From the point of view of the (Marxist) economist, it is preferred to see the world purely from the perspective of capital. From the point of view of the technologist, one prefers to see the economy purely as an extension of the machinery. Marx apparently had an elegant dialectical solution to this dilemma: according to him, the current machines would always replace an earlier and more primitive form of division of labour, thus improving the accumulation of capital. In this simple way, the machines always tell us something about capital. Philip Mirowski (Mirowski 1986) has shown how Marx extracted certain parts from the scientific models hegemonic in his time
o explain the origin of the value, namely parts from thermodynamics and from Newton’s physics. Thus Marx had brought into play a double measurement of value; the first is based on the hours worked per day, the second on the average socially necessary, socially abstract work. Thus Marx had a thermodynamic measurement (Carnot) and a gravitational measurement (Newton), a metric and a topological one, one based on horsepower, and one based on a field of forces, a more substantial and a more relational measurement.3 But this parallelization of the two physicists and the associated measurements, which are finally “synthesized” via money and capital, remains quite insufficient in its specific reduction.4
Abstractness, repetition, repeatability, broadest applicability and plural procedures are characteristics of a technique or technology that are from the outset related to monetary capitalization and to the corresponding productivity and growth imperatives of capital, which in turn process via the mechanisms of relative value added production. In his early writing, Bahr already noted that individual capital is permanently called upon to technological innovation and investment by the compulsion mediated by competition and its correction mechanisms, which relative value-added production places in the context of the laws of total capital. This implies, among other things, the need to integrate into production a broad procedural plurality of machines, i.e. to establish the interchangeability of machine parts and technological design services, bearing in mind that the same technical processes can be used in quite different ways by companies to generate differential monetary profits. (Bahr 1970: 79) 5 Today, these processes can be traced especially in the technological-economic developments in the financial industry. Here, the application of information technologies leads to the blurring of trade and banking and thus to a wide range of specialised financial service providers and their products, which are tailored to the needs of their customers in many different ways. The reduction of costs by those technologies enormously expands the scale for the provision of corporate and consumer credit. New credit calculation and securization techniques provide faster than ever before access for households and companies to national and international credit markets. (Cf. Hartmann 2015: 79)
However, there is now also the suspicion that the specific constellation – the uni-lateral relation of capital and technology/engineering – cannot be separated from the non-simultaneous historical phylogeny of the machines, i.e. the historical dating of the machines is not to be understood as synchronistic, but rather as heterochronistic. (Cf. Guattari 2014: 56) Thus, even the neoliberal financial capital regime is still characterized by remarkably un-synchronized patterns of the use of technology and even scientific and technological development and research: On the one hand, innovations in techniques of surveillance and digital mapping, transportation, logistics and communication, data collection and data calculation have accelerated rapidly.6 On the other hand, there are techniques used in the production of goods, agriculture and industry (genetic engineering, etc.), yet over several periods they have barely increased the growth in productivity that has characterized the long cycles in capitalist economic history. It is important to note this, as productivity remains an important measure of economic growth. With regard to the latter techniques, one could almost speak of a technological exhaustion of capital, the exhaustion of relations that have so far made the great leaps in capitalism possible, especially with regard to the socio-ecological surplus. Finally, from a temporal point of view, it should be noted that the dominant temporality of capital does not necessarily coincide with that of the highest technological development; revolutionary policies can even pass through apparently archaic periods of time.
The non-simultaneous development remains virulent, especially when the anthropologically motivated definition of machines as instruments, that is, the teleological and purposeful use of the means of production for fixed human purposes, becomes completely questionable. Finally, a discourse on technology that presents machines as a projection or reflection of the body or human cognition can today be considered finally settled.7
Because, on the other hand, the socio-economic logic of capital is not directly reflected in the machine, and not even in techno-logy, the floating of a discourse emerges, which on the one hand suspects that capital as a social and at the same time logical relationship is somehow present in the machine, but which on the other hand continues to assume the transparent neutrality of the machines or their mere instrumentality. Against this diffuse background, even those Marxists for whom politics has an ambivalent character – virtual and contemporary at the same time – argue that ultimately at least technologies and machines should be freed from such virulences. Thus, the Promethean myth continues to proliferate under the surface, when leftist accelerationists are currently appropriating supposedly neutral techniques and technologies under the rubric of “post-capitalist increase in complexity and normativity” by trying to bring them to a socially emancipatory application. At the same time, the accelerationists turn the imperative “forward” into a teleological “up”. As Peter Sloterdijk has pointed out, a theory that drifts on such a stream of progressivism (which the Accelerationists, however, offer as a more homespun theoretical achievement) has to contend with a paradox: The history of technological development simply cannot be written as one of (linear) progress, which necessarily also pushes for emancipation, whatever that may be. (Sloterdijk 2009: 588)
From the outset, a technocratic position, which is often favoured, especially in Marxism, cannot be affirmed, according to which the per se neutral machinery is to be confronted with its function in the process of the exploitation of capital, whereby one has to assume the superfötation of the exploitation-related form determinations of capital, i.e. that the exploitation of capital only overforms the structure of the means of production (and ultimately leaves the content untouched). Thus, in fact, the logic of the monetary utilization of capital would not necessarily be constitutive for the design of machinized production processes, and therefore the corresponding machine systems could be freed from monetary utilization or capitalization and transferred to a “post-industrial capitalism” even without any structural change. This position adopts certain theoretical aspects of the Leninist policy of industrialization in the Soviet Union largely without question. The position of Critical Theory, which is diametrically opposed to these discourses and against which, consequently, the attacks of accelerationism are mainly directed, should not be concealed here. In the context of Critical Theory, the complex of theoretical science, technology and engineering is often understood as being completely absorbed by capital, in that it itself takes on the form of capital in real terms. Thus Stefan Breuer, in the succession of Adorno’s Critical Theory, has remarked on the relationship between economy and technology that today both areas are to be understood as moments of a totality, whereby this totality has progressed from abstraction from the real to the realization of the abstract since the emergence of the transclassical machine, thus finally closing the gap between capital and technology.8 (Breuer 1992: 98ff.)
With all these still very vague formulations, it can finally be suggested that at this point the Kantian heuristics of the as-if could be brought into play again, if one wants to speak of machines as the materialization of capital, i.e. machines would be conceptually conceived as if they were the direct causal expression of economy. For the producer, in turn, this means that he would have to judge his work as if he were actually creating the usefulness of his products himself, while in reality he is only executing the functions of capital. (Cf. Bahr 1970: 66) Also the ontological discourse on technology, the theoretical sciences and technology, insofar as they believe they do not have to take into account the epistemological interests of capital, are not spared from the as-if determinations, insofar as here the technology is evaluated as if it is not subject to any causality or determination by capital. However, the introduction of the heuristic of “as if” into the analysis of the technical/technological is unlikely to go very far, insofar as determination (validity) and causality (genesis) are not consistently related to each other in order to arrive at truly new hypotheses, deductions, conclusions and tests in the technology debate as well. (Cf. Schlaudt 2014a: 281) It can still be assumed that the technical objects/technology can be defined by
are constituted by specific material-discursive practices, whereby these practices are always also socio-economic practices, i.e. in the historically heterogeneous formation of “capitalism” they are determined by monetary capital in the last instance. The material-discursive practices are condensed in apparatuses in which, especially today, the coupling of work and technology leads to overwhelming inhuman constellations, one thinks, for example, of the climate sciences, which consist of a matrix of satellites, computers, terrestrial weather stations, forms of international cooperation within the sciences, agreed standards, etc.
In the Postscript of the Control Societies, Deleuze states that the manifold resonances between socio-economic structures and (technological) machines, namely in the space between technological acceleration and socio-economic transformation, have become so intense today that any attempt to conceptualize either an immediate unity or a crude opposition of technology and economy is in massive crisis. Deleuze attempts to paraphrase the relationship between the economy (its social relations) and the machine complexes with the metaphor of “dramatization”. The question that immediately arises here is what can be done with this metaphor at all. Perhaps dramatization can be thought of in the direction of an asymmetrical determination of technology by the economy (and not the other way around), possibly in the sense of larusal determination in the last instance and in contrast to a symmetrical explanation of the two areas by a third party.
With regard to the latter position, reference should be made to Bruno Latour, who takes a symmetrical approach with his theory of the co-production of nature, technology and society, whereby, following Michel Serres, he initially speaks generally of a “rapid vortex” of the mutual constitution of subject and object. (Cf. Latour 1990: 163) (Subject and object are to be thought of as constituted by discursive-material practices). When Latour replaces the concept of technology (noun) with the verb “to technicise”, noting that “technologies as such do not exist, that there is nothing that can be determined philosophically or sociologically as an object, an artefact or a piece of technology” (Latour 2002: 233), he first attempts to grasp technologies as media and mediators. The term “mediator” refers to the fact that socio-economic conditions cannot inscribe themselves one-to-one into technology, as if the technology were a blank white sheet of paper that would receive its only characteristic description through the inscription. Rather, Latour sees non-human actors at work in technology as mediators, “gifted with the ability to translate what they transmit, umzudeﬁnieren, to unfold anew or to betray it. (Latour 2008: 109) If one puts the concept of the medium in the foreground, then machines are to be conceived as quasi-objects, as Latour calls them, disposable means that multiply “circumstances” precisely when their multiplicity is interpreted as complex messages. The things defined as quasi-objects may have the property of being a medium of potential events that do not necessarily depend on the human actors, but which certainly influence their actions, so that the dichotomy between subject and object ultimately dissolves.
In this way, technical objects, which Latour by no means understands as passive things, are ascribed a potential for action to be determined in each case, whereby a society has always needed subjects, objects and quasi-objects in order to achieve a certain stability. (ibid.: 141). With this symmetrical position Latour wants to overcome the dualisms of nature and society, subject and object, technology and economy, etc., by opening up nature and society in their common historical dimension. And the concept of the collective also serves this purpose, although the collective actually only exists in the plural, in the form of unpredictable dynamics and procedures that serve to gather technological knowledge between humans and quasi-objects. In this context, the verb “gathering” refers not only to practical activity (technology as the practical use of devices), but above all to the reinterpretation of the world (technology). In the scientific context, each fact emerges as a theoretical artifact in the laboratory and at the same time remains integrated in the context in which it was discovered. Latour here proceeds less from processes in the social-deterministic sense (technology as coagulated social action or as condensed power relations), but he sees in
technology itself is the motor in which social constellations gain a certain stability through the order of actors and observers. Technical objects have therefore always been conjugated with subjects and collectives. (Ibid.: 89) However, Latour must seriously ask himself whether the symmetry between technical objects and social actors that he asserts exists at all. Technical objects or things cannot easily make claims of validity against human actors and social conditions, and must therefore be distinguished from the actors and material-discursive practices. Nor do research objects and research means belong to the same category of things. Research means are of an appropriated nature, research objects are not. (Schlaudt 2014a: 89) Schlaudt sees in Latour’s ANT theory an attempt to use the back door to reintroduce the positions of epistemological realism, insofar as Latour forgets that technical artifacts only refer to facts on the basis of historically specific, material-discursive practices.9
It should be clear that in their function of indicating economic conditions, machines are by no means to be understood as a direct expression of economy, although at the same time it is necessary to think beyond any purely instrumental concept of machines as neutral means of production. When Marx writes that the machinery is not identical with its existence as capital (see Terranova 2014: 130), then he himself seems to attribute a certain neutrality to the machinery vis-à-vis capital, which also sounds when he speaks of the application of the machinery by capital, in order to claim its world-historical potentiality (the proletariat then has the world-historical task of separating the capitalists from the productive forces). In this way, however, the relationship between economy and machinery would be simplified again in favor of the autonomy of the latter.
First of all, it can be stated that the essence of technology cannot be inserted into either a linear evolutionist (increase in potentialities) or a digital-dialectical schema (explosion of the contradictions of capital in the context of the unleashing of the productive forces), nor into one of the real subsumption of technology under capital; rather, the technical objects or Rather, the technical objects or machines at least suggest a certain art of disguise when they drift beyond the blunt relationship of ends and means, although the machines are overdetermined by technology and the theoretical sciences and are determined in the last instance by capital. The technical machines are thus not completely open, but rather a certain technological structuring by capital is inscribed in them as an overall complex in the last instance. Because the machines are not purely passive objects, however, it is a matter of “inscribing” the monetary capital relationship in relations that insist as specific concatenations of man-machine and machine-machine constellations. Thus, the inscription – folding or cutting of capital – does not aim at the machine as a thing from the outset, but rather indicates monetary methods, measurements, algorithms, diagrams and material-discursive practices including their objectification in apparatuses – strategies, methods and apparatuses that individual capitals must necessarily use to increase relative added value due to the immanent “laws” of total capital in order to be able to exist at all in the differential accumulation of capital (competition). This at least suggests that a differentiated concept of technology and engineering must be developed, also with regard to the complex composition and concatenation of the machinic and the technological itself. From the outset, the machine exists only in a structure.
And further insisting is the differential or non-differentiated neutrality or the non-neutral indifference of the machines, of which Hans-Dieter Bahr once spoke. (Bahr 1983:14) Bernhard Stiegler, who calls the technology a pharmacon (poison and cure at the same time), also refers back to this in a certain way. (Stiegler 2012) For Stiegler, such a qualification refers to technical categories that are per se open to the political, inasmuch as the transindividuation of technical arrangements and objects (Simondon) has always eluded the economic. In view of our post-industrial situation, the term transindividuation, as used by Simondon, refers first of all to technical objects, whose respective elements always form recursions, and which, in turn, are always used to describe the technical while at the same time the technical objects are in external resonance with other technical objects, possibly in order to be able to play out their own technicality as open machines in the machine ensembles. (Simondon 2012) And when Hans-Joachim Lenger states that the media technologies wrote a different text than that of capital, then the interactions between economy, technology and technology-science (technology) must be examined again. It can be assumed that these relations can be grasped with the concept of superposition, in so far as the capital-economy is still determined in the last instance and infects the technologies/machines per se by means of the structures of the techno-logo.10 In this respect, however, capital cannot do without the use of philosophies to which Laruelle attributes an onto-techno-logical disposition.
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Foto: Bernhard Weber