A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the 18th century are the work of a single individual. Hitherto there is no such book. Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature’s Technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organisation, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in this, that we have made the former, but not the latter? Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them. (Capital Vol.1, Chpt. 15, footnote 4)
In David Harvey’s close-reading of Capital, he elucidates not only Marx’s thought and method, but highlights much of the connective between Marx and Deleuze and Guattari. Marx is often overlooked, yet implicit in their writing. In his lecture on the chapter entitled ‘Machinery and Large-Scale Industry’, however, Harvey unearths a brief, but vital footnote regarding Marx’s admiration of Darwin’s evolutionary theories and how technology ‘discloses’ our social relations and relations to nature. Here, Marx proposes a critical history of technology, an extension of Darwin’s own thought on evolution. Evolution, in essence, is a natural technology that equips animals with tools in order to sustain and reproduce life, which Marx had earlier examined in his theory of species-life. Through this footnote we get an insight into Marx’s method and how he views technology as part of the human evolutionary process. He relates specialisations of function to the division of labour in the workplace and the coercive laws of competition in the market to the survival of the fittest. He also finds analogy in the fluid dynamics of the capitalist process to the evolutionary model. Capitalism evolves through various earlier, less penetrating forms, such as market capitalism through usury capitalism, to industrial capitalism and finally to present-day finance capitalism; the form that disciplines all others. It does so organically, driven by the search for profit (extraction of surplus value).
In his analysis of the chapter Harvey places an emphasis on relations between ‘moments’ in capitalism: Technology is expressive of a relation to Nature and to the process of production, in turn related to the reproduction of daily-life. This then connects to social relations and ‘mental conceptions’; capitalism not only creates value, but also ‘values’. Harvey then looks at how these forces are connected in a dynamic process and whether this makes Marx a technological determinist, ultimately concluding that he’s not. For Marx, technology (particularly the machine) ‘discloses’ and ‘reveals’ the other categories of the dynamic and importantly uncovers the social relations behind the machine (that were ‘hitherto’ discrete). And as we have seen earlier in the German Ideology, whilst discussing his theory of species-life, Marx tells us that ‘man now reproduces the whole of nature’. This is currently most evident in genetics, biotech and GM technologies. As technology changes, so does daily-life and social relations, which in turn effects our mental conceptions. Marx also demonstrates to us how machines and our use of machines can lock us into mental conceptions through their daily usage. The way in which technology changes our mental conceptions is most visible in science, which literally extends what we can see, through technological innovation. In its best examples, technological dynamism is a social necessity of capital, as the need to innovate is derived from market competition and the need to gain advantage in order to maximise the extraction of surplus value.
In effect, Marx seeks to understand the dynamics of relations between the aforementioned forces:
– The Process of Production
– The Reproduction of Daily Life
– Social Relations
– Mental Conceptions
If Marx were a determinist he would only concentrate on one particular category or force. The idealist (technologist, workerist, environmentalist, feminist) is only capable of seeing one force as determining all others. Indeed, the failure of Soviet Communism and certain varieties of marxist thought has been to ignore particular categories, whilst placing an emphasis on one force alone. Marx refutes a model in which one force acts above all others through an external causal relation. Nor is this dynamic a Hegelian totality, an alienated development; it is more a set of autonomous moments or instances, that leaves open the possibilities of all sorts of other transformations to occur. When Marx mentions technology, he is talking about the about the concrete, productive forces taken by the labour process in a given instance; he makes visible, beneath the surface of appearances, the way in which particular use values are produced and the way in which underlying forces are expressed.
The machine incorporates all of these categories simultaneously and internally, which begins to give you some idea as to why the machine is adopted by Deleuze and Guattari in their schema of desire. It is the connectivity that the machine embodies that makes it so crucial; it is confirmed as the very intersection of these forces. Any radical change would require dealing with ALL of these categories simultaneously, this complete world of dynamic transformations. Guattari would say this is why it requires the development of an ‘ecology’ of thought, directly addressing Marx’s postulation that ‘ideas are the material force of history’. Mental conceptions form part of this material basis of the world in a two-fold fashion, not only expressed as objects, but also realised as production processes. As Marx states: ‘…what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality’ (Capital, vol. 2, p. 178). Here he confers that ideas are part of the material foundation upon which the social superstructure is ‘erected’ .
Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring-machines (assemblages), which they credit as being derived Lefebvre’s ‘ensembles’ in his Critique of Everyday Life, clearly relates back to this technological/evolutionary dynamic that Marx hints at, with its instances and opening of possibilities. In Anti-Oedipus they directly discuss the flow of desire, the hyle, as if it was steel being extruded from the furnace and plugged into another machine, much as Marx discusses the continuous flow of capital as a fluid dynamic. D&G then open up the concept of production to include everything, not just the production of commodities; it becomes a form of social-production. Libido is conjoined with labour-power as ‘distinct instances of production-in-general’, a series of machinic processes capable of a multiplicity of interconnectivity. Value does not inhere in objects, but is invested in them by subjective activity, parallel to Marx’s theory of surplus value. Change is then reliant on finding a politics adequate to desires of the collective subjectivity and productive forces of society. The factory, an automaton composed of various mechanical organs, is then used to describe wider social relations, the Body without Organs. Society therefore develops, or should I say evolves, in the form of a co-evolutionary model, through the dynamism between categories (forces), a machine of values.