Deleuze and Guattari argue that Richard Lindner’s painting “Boy with Machine” (1954) demonstrates the … the primacy of desire’s social investments over its familial ones: “the turgid little boy has already plugged a desiring-machine into a social machine, short-circuiting the parents.” and that’s pre-computer games and smart phones…
the long view: the last major ‘positive’ sociopolitical shift began with the rise across Europe of representational democratic states, in 1848. these were foreshadowed by revolutions in the US in 1776 and France in 1789. Marx was of course on hand to witness the period of 1848, predicting on that basis his historical materialist theory of class struggle – the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or the struggle between capitalism and communism. What is often misunderstood about Marx, is that despite his critique of the rise of the bourgeoisie, he considered their rise an evolutionary advancement in the history of human consciousness because it did expand the positives of human allegiances to greater numbers of people, the middle-class, while overcoming the extremes of the feudalist, aristocratic from of political economy. the following passage from the Communist Manifesto, section I, has been misunderstood for a good reason: the characteristics he attributes to the bourgeoisie are couch in a series of negative descriptions: pitilessly tearing asunder; naked self-interest; drowned out; philistine sentimalism; icy water of egostistical calculation; and the like. So it can be difficult to understand that he understands those traits as positive.
to comprehend why Marx thought, despite his negatives, that the bourgeoisie, “historically, has played a most revolutionary part,” it is necessary to understand his use of Hegelian dialectic. in a nutshell, the history of human consciousness proceeds through a series of ‘dialectical phases.’ human consciousness is not a stable, unchanging state of mind: it changes over time. the consciousness of a person from the late 19th century is very different from that of the feudal period that preceded it, because a feudal peasant working the land and subject to an aristocratic Duke lived a daily life that is radically different than a shoemaker of 19th century London who was subject to elected parliament and in charge of his own economy. similarly, from today’s reference point, those who came to consciousness as adults before the rise of the computer and the smart phone, think/feel/act quite differently than those who grew up prior to them. just imagine the difference between yourself and a grandparent, or perhaps between yourself and your child. In many ways, you and your grandparent inhabit radically different worlds because you think/feel/act different than they do or did.
only through the rise of the industrial revolution did people become conscious of what life was/meant under feudalism, but they didn’t understand the couldn’t understand the transformation of their own consciousness because it became the ‘new normal’. we can’t really understand what our own consciousness is/means, because it’s simply ‘normal’, the way thing are. but when we take a historical perspective, looking back in time, when we compare our consciousness, our own ways of thinking/feeling/acting to a previous generation, then we can that consciousness does in fact change significantly. that comparison is what Hegel, and Marx, mean by dialectic. it is only through historical ‘dialogue’, a comparison with a previous historical moment, that we can recognize and understand through contrast that history has moved on, and the form of human consciousness, with it. Marx believes in progress, that as history moves forward, human conditions improve. while that is a questionable assumption, in order to understand the passage that follows, we need to make the same assumption. the bourgeoisie is a positive, progressive, revolutionary, historical class because in it we can recognize just how terrible life under feudalism was: it pitilessly tears asunder the motely feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’. thus the negative ways in which he describes the bourgeoisie are actually positives because that make us recognize the bad forms of previous human existence, and if we are sensitive, can come to recognized the negative conditions of our own present historical conditions, and by recognizing them, work to change them for the better. we understand the ways in which Free Trade, while improving on the conditions of feudalism, is still essentially a form of social life that benefits those in control of Free Trade, which is ‘free’ for only those that control it; while oppressing others who make their benefits possible – the workers who to the labor for a mere pittance in wages compared to the enormous wealth acquired by the factory owners.
here’s the passage from the Communist Manifesto, 1848:
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.
It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left no other nexus between man and woman than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment.” It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstacies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which Reactionists so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to shew what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real condition of life, and his relations with his kind.
but there are several factors that Marx was unable to foresee: his own scientism and enlightenment rationalism prevented him from putting those two forces under critique; he failed therefore to imagine the consequences of what Sigfried Giedion described in his well known book, Mechanization Takes Command; that as Eric Hobsbaum concluded, enlightenment rationalism’s inevitable fate would lead directly to the mechanization of war in the form of the 30 years war (WWI + WWII – machine guns, tanks, airplanes); that, as Hobsbaum analyzed, put the world in the hands of an administrative, bureaucratic elite that through the ‘total war’ conditions put capitalism on a permanent war economy footing and put an end to participatory, democratic governance, establishing the means of production in the shape of the military-industrial complex as Eisenhower termed it. nor could Marx have predicted the next great shift in political economy that was the direct result of the mechanization of war – the rise of information science and it’s main technology, the computer – and the shape of today’s political economy as the information-military-industrial complex. nor could he have imagined capital’s seemingly limitless wiliness in maintaining and reinforcing its power over consciousness to defeat class conflict and stabilize class boundaries as seemingly ‘natural’ but shifting social positions. Capitalism though the assemblage of several social factors, has successfully eradicated opposition to it time and again through such ideological contracts as Manifest Destiny, the American Dream, the Ideology of Progress, and in particular, the blinding force of the ‘inalienable’ ‘right’ of radical, libertarian individualism that in effect underwrites a moral-economic code that can only be called Social Darwinism – the right of the economic elite to dominate because they are the strongest and fittest naturally selected by the ‘laws’ of capitalism.
Marx also ‘failed’ in his critique because as Nietzsche and Freud and Reich and many others have noted, his scientistic rationalism analyzed the economy in mainly mechanistic terms, and did not account for psychology, for the strength and depth of human desire, unconscious drives, the great elasticity and susceptibility to manipulation of the former, or the great resistance to change, of the latter. he could not have imagined the power of the Spectacle and its Advertising Machine, or as Reich so aptly articulated the paradox that – people desire their own oppression. in, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), in their chapter, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, the Marxist philosophers/sociologists attempted to redress Marx’s shortcoming by rethinking capitalism through an analysis that combined the work of Freud with that of Marx. if humans are ‘driven’ to eat, to reproduce, to speak, to make art, if those drives remain relatively constant; the types of food, sex, language, and art, can be determined by those who control what Foucault called disciplinary institutions like law, hospitals, schools, science, the religion, or aesthetic canons – and the various connections between such institutional forces.
similar to Adorno and Horkeimer, but with a radically different critique of Freudian and Lacanian psychology in mind, Deleuze and Guattari describe a human world constituted by productive ‘desiring machines’: social desiring machines that operate in connection with individual desiring machines that co-produce each other:
“There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.”
in other words, advertising and Hollywood cinema are both social desiring machines with which we, as desiring machines, individually are connected and interwoven.
See my post below:
more on war: from vanderbeek to hobsbaum to foucault to black panther
yet, despite all of Marx’s ‘failures’, today, human consciousness is most shaped by the means of late capitalism, now generally called, globalism, the material base of which is the desiring machinery of digital communication. the disparity between classes, the well noted extremes between the ultra rich and the absolute poor, the extremes of inequality in every social register, the rise of a new oligarchy created on the backs of the vast numbers of disenfranchised, is certainly not the same as the sharp division between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the 1848, but certainly, in qualitative characteristics, looks very much the same as it was then. the mechanism are very different, and the characteristics of human consciousness are very different, but the material conditions of human life today, are very similar.
as has often been commented on in mathematics and science, ‘the law of large numbers’ suggests that beyond a certain threshold of scale, a significant ‘qualitative’ transformation occurs. In other words, the value of a small number of individual desiring machines will not be the same as a large number of socially aggregated desiring machines. Globalization is qualitatively very different than the early form of 19th century, mercantile capitalism; in part because their respective means of production are radically different, but also because they operate on radically different scales.
for our historical moment, it’s important to understand the two economic forces that have determined a radical break between the desiring machines, both individual and social, of 20th and 21st centuries [not that break can be located at a single historical moment]. loosely put, 20th century capitalism was restricted largely and materially to the confines of the nation state, to, therefore, a bounded geographical territory governed by the state’s particular laws and other forms of social organization, to therefore, the economic trading relations and interactions between states. this was in part because the pragmatics of running large corporations were possible only ‘locally’, where factories and markets and resources were located, and when temporally speaking, communication could only be carried out easily and quickly within primarily, relatively small geographical areas. the development of information technology, digital, computerized technology changed everything radically.
early digital communication was restricted to small groups of scientists, universities, and the military (DARPA) in the US between the 1960s and 1990. That was for two reasons: first, because only those with a knowledge of computer programming languages had access to computers; and second, because at that time computers were still not widely available because of the cost of individual computers, and the knowledge to use them in the 70s and 80s required a level of technical expertise that restricted their popular use. but everything changed radically in 1990 when CERN scientist, Tim Behrens-Lee invented the first Graphical User Interface (GUI), so the widely distributed CERN scientific community could communicate with each other over long distances. 1990 was the year that World Wide Web was born, and then implemented with an astonishing rapidity. the GUI made the need to know technically difficult programming languages unnecessary because it made manipulating digital data possible for everyone willing to learn some easy to use software programs through the manipulation of visual icons, the most famous of which was Apple’s development of the ‘desktop’ and ‘file’ metaphors. my account here is highly oversimplified so i can return the point i’m trying to make here: to understand the radical break between the forms of desiring machines of the 20th and 21st centuries.
thus, the development of, to put it in the loosest of terms, the ‘net’ [WWW], on the basis of gigantic server farms and wiring of the world, and i mean the world, with underground cables, in conjunction with mobile phone satellite networks including the network of geocentric, GPS satellites, etc, which allow for the near instantaneous transmission of vast amounts of data, established the technological infrastructure operating easily by graphic interfaces [like browsers], the vast increase in first home computers, then smart phones, with the uploading and distribution of the data from every home this side of the digital divide [growing smaller by the hour, i.e. the African continent now networked through mobile phones], corporations became transnational and individuals became globalized. the geographical borders of nation states have been drastically eroded, reshaped, perforated, porous, transgressed and easily transgressible, for good and for bad. essentially, the bricks and mortar form of capital has been doubled, supplemented, by the vast, ‘virtual’ desiring machine of the internet and it’s server farm infrastructure.
the second economic force was the decades long process [it began in 1947] of the world’s business elite to lay the groundwork for global trade. this took the form of GATT, the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs, implemented, signed into international law under the Clinton Administration in April of 1994. GATT is administered by the members of the World Trade Organization [WTO], members of whom consist ONLY of the business elite, who govern global trade with almost complete independence of its 123 nation state signatories. the WTO includes it’s own court whose membership consists not of ‘judges’ in the sense typically used in the courts of nation states, but of corporate elite. cases arbitrated there are meant to resolve conflicts between nations, and its cases are adjudicated in complete secrecy. the WTO court has the power to overrule the laws of any given nation state, if the GATT agreements are interpreted as being contravened by the economic regulations of the nation state. no ‘public’ ever sees these cases, never has a say in them, and they are rarely if ever made pubic.
the consequences and combination of these two economic forces, the digitization of the economy and the GATT/WTO, are too many to recount here. but it isn’t difficult to understand that their combined force had led directly to the mania of neoliberal deregulation since the 1990s, and before that under Reagan/Thatcher, the fist wave, of the nation state, today in the US and elsewhere, in Bannon’s extreme expression, of the ‘deconstruction of the regulatory state’ in full swing under the Trump administration.
what impact has all this had on the constructions of desiring machines? i will sketch, briefly, just a few and only partially:
Family: whose family? those that fit the definition of ‘family values’ articulated in the campaign of George W. Bush = white, strait, patriarchal, in which there is a husband and wife; therefore conservative, racist, sexist, homophobic, christian, identity politics.
Party: constituted by absolute partisanship: left vs right, ‘liberal’ vs. ‘conservative, positions on the migration problem, taxation, social benefits, labor rights, abortion, women’s rights generally, religion, white supremacy, racism, extreme individualism, civil/human/environmental rights, NRA, privacy, annihilation of civic/public duty, etc., etc.
Nation: what constitutes patriotism, identity, nationalism, race, inside/outside parameters, us/them, fear, security, and last but not least, the nationalist ‘right’ to wage war to defend ‘its’ [capitalism’s] own interests. and that now includes ubiquitous spying on everyone anywhere in all media, cyber-warfare across all media, digital, cinematic, print, telephonic, satellite, the subsumption of any form of ‘information’ in any form in ‘defense’ of the ‘state’, where the ‘state’ now = relevant only as instrument with which, and by which, the ‘public’ is deceived in order for ‘war’ = capitalism’ to use trillions and trillions of public money for private gain. the great pearodox = capitalism = socialism for the rich, only.
Peace: no desiring machine on the level of any of the above, exists.
i began this post with this suggestion:
the long view: the last major ‘positive’ sociopolitical shift began with the rise across Europe of representational democratic states, in 1848.
yet today, as we’ve seen, that very form of what Foucault called, ‘governmentality’, has been significantly eroded. as with the rhetoric around climate change, it’s not a matter of being in danger of erosion, but is now, today, very badly damaged, and like climate change, it is here, now, and may already be beyond repair. Only if we come to realize with Marx what an unrestrained capitalism is:
It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
might we, possibly, be:
at last compelled to face with sober senses, [our] real condition of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.
fact: 8 men today collectively own wealth = to that owned collectively by 50% of the world’s poorest = 3.5 billion people.
if that doesn’t constitute the basis of a radical revolution, why not? people in the wealthy country’s desire their own oppression; while those in poor countries, have no means by which to fight back because their every moment is occupied with subsistence living. and some of those are probably better off…
see for a vision of the past future, the future past, the pluperfect: this work by miru kim:
for a very important historical account of the Communist Manifesto, see
Raoul Peck’s new film: The Young Karl Marx
for Peck’s brilliant account of his work and the history of capital and war, see:
interview with Peck by Amy Goodman: watch at least the first 3 minutes for it’s immediate relevance to this post, the relevance of Marx today, but mainly, for Peck-Goodman’s sweeping dialogue about history and politics today – do take the time to watch it all. it’s important and astonishing as a history lesson: without haiti, the first independent black nation in the world in the early 19th century, that defeated Napoleon the 3rd, causing him to sell the vast track of what’s now the western US, as the Louisiana Purchase, for dirt cheap… there might not be the US as it is today.