Radical machines against the techno-empire. From utopia to network

by Matteo Pasquinelli

bron nettime 23-02-2004

[ dear nettimers, orig. for framemagazine.org and neuro.kein.org /m]
rtf + pdf: http://www.rekombinant.org/article.php?sid=2264

Everyone of us is a machine of the real,
everyone of us is a constructive machine.
-- Toni Negri

Technical machines only work if they are not out of
order. Desiring machines on the contrary continually
break down as they run, and in fact run only when they
are not functioning properly. Art often takes advantage
of this property by creating veritable group fantasies in
which desiring production is used to short-circuit social
production, and to interfere with the reproductive
function of technical machines by introducing an
element of dysfunction.
-- Gilles Deluze, Felix Guattari, L'anti-Oedipe

What is knowledge sharing? How does the knowledge economy function?
Where is the general intellect at work? Take the cigarettes machine.
The machine you see is the embodying of a scientific knowledge into
hardware and software components, generations of engineering stratified
for commercial use: it automatically manages fluxes of money and
commodities, substitutes a human with a user-friendly interface,
defends private property, functions on the basis of a minimal control
and restocking routine. Where has the tobacconist gone? Sometimes he
enjoys free time. Other times the company that owns the chain of
distribution has replaced him. In his place one often meets the
technician. Far from emulating Marx's Fragment on machines with a
Fragment on cigarette machines, this unhealthy example is meant to show
how postfordist theories live around us and that material or abstract
machines built by collective intelligence are organically chained to
the fluxes of the economy and of our needs.

Rather than of general intellect we should talk of general intellects.
There are multipleforms of collective intelligence. Some can become
totalitarian systems, such as the military-managerial ideology of the
neocons or of Microsoft empire. Others can be embodied in social
democratic bureaucracies, in the apparatus of police control, in the
maths of stock market speculators, in the architecture of our cities
(every day we walk on concretions of collective intelligence). In the
dystopias of 2001 Space Odysseyand The Matrix, the brain of machines
evolves into self-consciousness to the point of getting rid of the
human. 'Good' collective intelligences, on the other hand, produce
international networks of cooperation such as the network of the global
movement, of precarious workers, of free software developers, of media
activism. They also produce the sharing of knowledge in universities,
the Creative Commons open licenses and participative urban planning,
narrations and imaginaries of liberation.

From a geopolitical perspective we could figure ourselves in one of
Philip Dick's sci-fi paranoia: Earth is dominated by one Intelligence,
but inside of it a war unfolds between two Organisations of the general
intellect, opposed yet intertwined.

Used to thetraditionalrepresentativeforms of the global movement we
fail to grasp the new productive conflicts. Concerned as we are about
theimperial war, we do not appreciate the centrality of this struggle.
Following Manuel Castells, we define the movement as aresistance
identity that fails to become aprojectidentity. We are not aware of the
distance between the global movement and the centre of capitalist
production. Paraphrasing Paolo Virno, we say that there already is too
much politics in new forms of production for the politics of the
movement to still enjoy any autonomous dignity.[1]

The events of 1977 (not only in Italy but also in the punk season)
sanctioned the end of the 'revolutionary' paradigm and the beginning of
that of movement, opening new spaces of conflict in the fields of
communication, media and the production of the imagery. These days we
are discovering that the 'movement' as a format needs to be overcome,
in favour of that of network.

Three kinds of action, well separated in the XIXth century - labour,
politics and art - are now integrated into one attitude and central to
each productive process. In order to work, do politics or produce
imaginary today one needs hybrid competences. This means that we all
are workers-artists-activists, but it also means that the figures of
the militant and the artist are surpassed and that such competences are
only formed in a common space that is the sphere of the collective

Since Marx's Grundrisse, the general intellect is the patriarch of a
family of concepts that are more numerous and cover a wide range of
issues:knowledge-based economy,information society,cognitive
capitalism,immaterial labour, collective intelligence, creative
class,cognitariat,knowledge sharing and postfordism. In the last few
yearsthe political lexiconhas got rich of interlaced critical tools
that we turn over in our hands wondering about their exact
usefulness.For the sake of simplicity, we only accounted for the terms
that inherited an Enlightenment, speculative, angelic and almost
neognostic approach. But reality is much more complex and we wait for
new forms to claim for themselves the role that within the same field
is due to desire, body, aesthetics, biopolitics. We also remember the
quarrel of cognitivevs. precariousworkers, two faces of the same medal
that the precogsof Chainworkers.org describe in this way: "cognitive
workers are networkers, precarious workers are networked, the former
are brainworkers, the latter chainworkers: the former first seduced and
then abandoned by companies and financial markets, the latter dragged
into and made flexible by the fluxes of global capital".[2]

The point is that we are searching for a new collective agent and a new
point of application for the rusted revolutionary lever. The success of
the concept of multitude also reflects the current disorientation.
Critical thought continuously seeks to forge the collective actor that
can embody the Zeitgeistand we can go back to history reconstructing
the underlying forms of each paradigm of political action: the more or
less collective social agent, the more or less vertical organisation,
the more or less utopian goal. Proletariat and multitude, party and
movement, revolution and self-organisation.

In the current imaginary the general intellect (or whatever you want to
call it) seems to be the collective agent, its form being the network,
its goal creating a plane of self-organisation, its field of action
being biopolitical spectacular cognitive capitalism.

We are not talking about multitude here, because it is a concept at
once too noble and inflated, heir of centuries of philosophy and too
often called for by marching megaphones. The concept of multitude has
been more useful to exorcise the identitary pretences of the global
movement, than as a constructive tool. The pars construenswill be a
task for the general intellect: philosophers such as Paolo Virno, when
they have to find a common ground, the lost collective agent,
reconstruct the Collective Intelligence and Cooperation as emerging and
constitutive properties of the multitude.

In a different paranoid fable, we imagine that technology is the last
heir of a series of collective agents generated by history as in a
matryoshka doll: religion - theology - philosophy - ideology - science
- technology. This is to say that in information and intelligence
technologies the history of thought is stratified, even though we only
remember the last episode of this series, i.e. the network that
embodies the dreams of the previous political generation.

How did we come to all this? We are at the point of convergence between
different historical planes: the inheritance of historical vanguards in
the synthesis of aesthetics and politics; the struggles of '68 and '77
that open up new spaces for conflict outside of the factories and
inside the imaginary and communication; the hypertrophy of the society
of the spectacle and the economy of the logo; the transformation of
fordist wage labour into postfordist autonomous precarious labour; the
information revolution and the emergence of the internet, the net
economy and the network society; utopia turned into technology. The
highest exercise of representation that becomes molecular production.

Some perceive the current moment as a lively world network, some as an
indistinct cloud, some as a new form of exploitation, some as an
opportunity. Today the density reaches its critical mass and forms a
global radical class on the intersection of the planes of activism,
communication, arts, network technologies and independent research.
What does it mean, to be productive and projectual, to abandon mere
representation of conflict and the representative forms of politics?

There is a hegemonic metaphor in political debate, in the arts world,
in philosophy, in media criticism, in network culture: that is Free
Software. We hear it quoted at the end of each intervention that poses
the problem of what is to be done (but also in articles of strategic
marketing.), whilst the twin metaphor of open source contaminates every
discipline: open source architecture, open source literature, open
source democracy, open source city...

Softwares are immaterial machines. The metaphor of Free Software is so
simple for its immateriality that it often fails to clash with the real
world. Even if we know that it is a good and right thing, we ask
polemically: what will change when all the computers in the world will
run free software? The most interesting aspect of the free software
model is the immense cooperative network that was created by
programmers on a global scale, but which other concrete examples can we
refer to in proposing new forms of action in the real world and not
only in the digital realm?

In the '70s Deleuze and Guattari had the intuition of the machinic, an
introjection / imitation of the industrial form of production. Finally
a hydraulic materialism was talking about desiring, revolutionary,
celibate, war machines rather than representative or ideological

Deleuze and Guattari took the machine out of the factory, now it is up
to us to take it out of the network and imagine a post-internet

Cognitive labour produces machines of all kinds, not only software:
electronic machines, narrative machines, advertising machines, mediatic
machines, acting machines, psychic machines, social machines,
libidinous machines. In the XIXth century the definition of machine
referred to a device transforming energy. In the XXth century Turing's
machine - the foundation of all computing - starts interpreting
information in the form of sequences of 0 and 1. For Deleuze and
Guattari on the other hand a desiring machine produces, cuts and
composes fluxes and without rest it produces the real.

Today we intend by machine the elementary form of the general
intellect, each node of the network of collective intelligence, each
material or immaterial dispositif that organically interlinks the
fluxes of the economy and our desires.

At a higher level, the network can itself be regarded as a mega-machine
of assemblage of other machines, and even the multitude becomes
machinic, as Negri and Hardt write in Empire: "The multitude not only
uses machines to produce, but also becomes increasingly machinic
itself, as the means of production are increasingly integrated into the
minds and bodies of the multitude. In this context reappropriation
means having free access to and control over knowledge, information,
communication, and affects because these are some of the primary means
of biopolitical production. Just because these productive machines have
been integrated into the multitude does not mean that the multitude has
control over them. Rather, it makes more vicious and injurious their
alienation. The right to reappropriation is really the multitude’s
right to self-control and autonomous self-production".[4]

In other words in postfordism the factory has come out of the factory
and the whole of society has become a factory. An already machinic
multitude suggests that the actual subversion of the productive system
into an autonomous plane could be possible in a flash, by disconnecting
the multitude from capital command. But the operation is not that easy
in the traditional terms of 'reappropriation of the means of
production'. Why?

Whilst it is true that today the main means of labour is the brain and
that workers can immediately reappropriate the means of production, it
is also true that control and exploitation in society have become
immaterial, cognitive, networked. Not only the general intellect of the
multitudes has grown, but also the general intellect of the empire. The
workers, armed with their computers, can reappropriate the means of
production, but as soon as the stick their nose out of their desktop
they have to face a Godzilla that they had not predicted, the Godzilla
of the enemy's general intellect.

Social, state and economic meta-machines – to which human beings are
connected like appendixes - are dominated by conscious and subconscious
automatisms. Meta-machines are ruled by a particular kind of cognitive
labour which is the administrative political managerial labour, that
runs projects, organizes, controls on a vast scale: a form of general
intellect that we have never considered, whose prince is a figure that
appears on the scene in the second half of the XXth century: the

As Bifo tells us recalling Orwell, in our post-democratic world (or if
you prefer in empire) managers have seized command: "Capitalism is
disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is
a new kind of planned, centralised society which will be neither
capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The
rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control
the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians,
bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham, under the name of
managers. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush
the working class, and so organise society that all power and economic
privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be
abolished, but common ownership will not be established. The new
managerial societies will not consist of a patchwork of small,
independent states, but of great super-states grouped round the main
industrial centres in Europe, Asia, and America. Internally, each
society will be hierarchical, with an aristocracy of talent at the top
and a mass of semi-slaves at the bottom".[5]

At the beginning we mentioned two intelligences that face one another
in the world and the forms in which they manifest themselves. The
multitude functions as a machine because it is inside a scheme, a
social software, thought for the exploitation of its energies and its
ideas. Then, the techno-managers (public private or military) are those
who, whether consciously or not, plan and control machines made up of
human beings assembled with one another. The dream of General intellect
brings forth monsters.

Compared with the pervasive neoliberal techno-management, the
intelligence of the global movement is of little importance. What's to
be done? We need to invent virtuous revolutionary radical machines to
place them in the nodal points of the network, as well as facing the
general intellect that administers the imperial meta-machines. Before
starting this we need to be aware of the density of the 'intelligence'
that is condensed in each commodity, organization, message and media,
in each machine of postmodern society.

Don't hate the machine, be the machine. How can we turn the sharing of
knowledge, tools and spaces into new radical revolutionary productive
machines, beyond the inflated Free Software? This is the challenge that
once upon the time was called reappropriation of the means of

Will the global radical class manage to invent social machines that can
challenge capital and function as planes of autonomy and autopoiesis?
Radical machines that are able to face the techno-managerial
intelligence and imperial meta-machines lined up all around us? The
match multitude vs. empire becomes the match radical machines vs.
imperial techno-monsters. How do we start building these machines?


Matteo Pasquinelli
mat AT rekombinant.org
Berlin - Bologna, February 2004
(translated by Arianna Bove)