Two threads from Twitter

Preface
Its occurred to me that since Twitter is a shitty imageboard complete with random bans, tripcode users (the notorious blue tick), and unaccountable admins, I should probably backup whatever Twitter content I produce that shows a flash of insight. So here’s two recent threads people seemed to like. They are unmodified from the originals.

Urban warfare: rhizomes and rubble

Seeing those pictures of Mosul devastated, and seeing the same thing happening, on a smaller scale, in Raqqa has me thinking. Before the Great War we saw microcosms of the mass destruction and suffering that was to come in various colonies and other small wars. Concentration camps in South Africa against the Boers. Machine guns slaughtering massed infantry and cavalry, as witnessed by Churchill. Bombs being dropped for the first (and not the last) time in Libya. Many other such examples, point being it was all laid out before us, ready to be combined into a phenomenally brutal and traumatic event.

As people are saying, urban combat is now the norm not the exception as it was a century ago. Mosul does more than echo Stalingrad. It points the way towards average level of destruction that can be expected from any large scale war, in any city fought over. Daesh was resilient, well-organized, and fanatical. But they weren’t the best trained, equipped, or even experienced combatants. (In Mosul). All the same, the destruction required to root them out was excessive, the entire process costing 40% of Iraq’s spec ops. Never mind the civilian trauma. What we see in Mosul, soon enough Raqqa, is the future devastation of any European, American, etc. city. That is, if there’s another large-scale war. Not necessarily a World War, though it must be said all wars are essentially global now. Jihadis from the world over fought for Daesh, same as self-styled revolutionaries flocked to serve in Rojava’s international brigades. The US, from well over the Atlantic and Mediterranean horizon, intervened, as did Russia, Qatar, SA, Iran, Turkey, and many others. Few, if any, significant conflicts are fought in isolation from global capitalism and thus away from the eyes of its major states.

Urban combat is not new; what is unsettling is how ferocious it has become. Precision weapons are no small influence on this. Hypothetically, if the US and Russia were to marshal their forces on a flat plain and fight, the result would be Pyrrhic for any victor. The Soviets recognized this in the 1980s, IIRC, as a new military revolution in progress; one potentially more destructive than nukes. How so? Because there would be no restriction on the use of these precision weapons. Their mass deployment would result in mass destruction. Not the kind that churned the fields of Europe into a bloody pulp, but the kind that would render openly deployed armies mere targets. Aside from the usual stuff, like contesting air superiority, the only option was to enter an environment where you were less of a target.

Enter the city. Daesh learned the lessons of the Viet Cong very well in this regard (their love of tunnels), and many other conflicts. Walking through walls, “inverse geometry“, is a way of evading the sight of precision weapons. If the enemy uses buildings as, essentially, rhizomes, then it often becomes impossible to destroy the enemy without destroying their cover. “Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, the rhizome is made only of lines”—Deleuze and Guattari. “[T]he rhizome pertains to a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detatchable, connectable, reversable, modifiable and has multiple entranceways and exits and its own lines of flight.” In this way, any city can become a rhizome in urban combat. Add tunnels in, and the result is a truly byzantine complex of death awaiting those who do not utilize mass destruction to compromise it.

The Israeli army was probably the first to assign post-structuralist texts like D&G in response to their experiences in places like Lebanon. Thousands of soldiers/guerrillas can maneuver through the urban rhizome but very few are simultaneously visible from the air. This is a marked change from traditional urban combat, which took place the streets, alleyways, lanes, and roads. What Daesh has demonstrated that even a relatively small number of soldiers crammed into around 250m2 can be tenacious. Provided they are 1) networked, and 2) operate in a rhizome, perhaps with tunnels to boot. Add their IEDs, drones and it’s a slaughter. This kind of combat simply impracticable outside of a city. Plausible in a jungle, as demonstrated in the Vietnam war, but not at its best. Daesh has been unable to hold vast swathes of desert and scattered villages with anything like the iron grip they’ve kept on many cities.

A December 2016 document highlights the increasing recognition by the US that combat in “megacities” will be a feature of future warfare. “[C]ities are in some ways a great leveler in warfare, negating many of the advantages of high technology”. The need for an “urban warfare” school is also on the agenda (as of April 2017). “The Army is fighting in cities today,” Spencer wrote. “It will find itself fighting in cities in the future.” What we are seeing, in Mosul, in Aleppo, in Raqqa, is not the future of urban warfare but its current reality. The mass destruction, the horrific toll on civilians, the increased ferocity, the perilous and ingenious traps, all in the urban rhizome.

The war in Syria, the “civil” war, the small war, which has displaced millions and killed thousands upon thousands, is the current model. All you need to do is scale it up. Just as what could have been done a century ago. The evidence is right there in front of us. Instead of tens of thousands of soldiers, think hundreds of thousands, even millions. Think megacities like Tokyo becoming like Mosul. In a situation like this, where a megacity becomes an urban rhizome, where even precision weapons are blunted, what could be the outcome? What’s the easiest way to destroy the rhizome without engaging in what could potentially be the most protracted warfare since the trenches?

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Do I need to say it?

That specter is still very much with us. It hangs over this small war in Syria, as the US and Russia jostle for position. I haven’t covered everything here, but I think the main thrust has achieved its purpose. We see an embryo of warfare here. Just as Engels saw the embryo of the Great War shortly before his death. Warfare that seems difficult to imagine. But Syria has shown us.

 

Proletarian and homeless in the Neoliberal city

“[T]he growth in pseudo-public spaces is a reflection of the neoliberal city“. The removal of the “urban commons”, “a new era of ‘urban enclosure’”. Except this time there’s no literal gates, just rules you don’t know. Only certain people are excluded, sometimes for being what they are (e.g. homeless), or for doing things that displease the landowners.

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The land is open until the (arbitrary) rules are broken, which is usually the time it’s discovered that the land is private. In effect, outsourcing not only the ownership and administration of “pseudo-public” places but their policing as well. Challenge the security guards and then the police show up to enforce the landowner’s property rights. Otherwise the police aren’t needed. It’s “neoliberal” because ownership is hidden. Gate communities, which typified 19th century London, aren’t subtle. Rules-based ones are. You can find out if you bother to dig around and ask questions; but as this story showed the rules change from place to place. It’s a widespread development and yet so unnoticed that it has to be mapped, which suggests it has been very effective thus far.

My gut is telling me that this is some kind of process inherent to late bourgeois society. Hide authority, hide the rules, hide ownership. Cover it beneath a surface appearance of normalcy and openness. Deploy enforcement against those considered undesirables. (Those most people won’t bother noticing anyway.) Cover the iron gauntlet with a velvet glove and people aren’t aware it’ll strike them too. Broad exclusion—gates, police, signs—is replaced by targeted exclusion. The homeless demonstrate the barriers are invisible to most. Yet they are concrete. They exist, and they are social in nature. Thoroughly material. Those who do not move do not notice their chains. The homeless notice because they run smack into barriers other people can traverse unmolested. The homeless are aware of their chains.

Proletarians are as well, but not in the same way. Being forced to work is different from being excluded from certain spaces. If you don’t go to work, the company security guards don’t show up to your door to drag you there (yet). You’re simply fired. The difference is the proletarian is disciplined in a covert way. The homeless remain disciplined by overt force. Nonetheless, the homeless are aware of things proletarians are not. Being a proletarian is to be disciplined by covert (hidden) force. Being homeless, terminally jobless, is to be disciplined by the regular application of overt force. It’s a less advanced, older method. Proletarians only notice their chains once they move against capital and landowners (e.g. strikes, protesting, etc.). They only confront the older, overt force in open confrontation with capitalism. The covert discipline is scarcely noticed until a crisis. Otherwise proletarians remain unmolested through spaces the homeless cannot traverse. The homeless are ignored, but they shouldn’t be. What happens to the homeless is merely what will happen to the proletarian, once they notice their chains. Just some thoughts.

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Research note: excerpts from “Julian Assange speaks about AI controlled Facebook propaganda”, June 12, Wikileaks.

Photo: Copyright Timothy Allen . http://humanplanet.com

Source: https://www.facebook.com/wikileaks/videos/1348789135156195/

“Human beings have always been influenced by sophisticated systems of production, of information and experience” which, in turn, shape the thoughts of human beings.
“What I think is probably the most important development happening as far as the fate of human beings is concerned, is that we are getting close to the threshold where the traditional propaganda function that is employed by BBC, Daily Mail, etc. […] can be encapsulated by AI processes.”
“When you have artificial intelligence programs harvesting [data uploaded to social media] and it starts to lay out perceptual influence campaigns 20-30 moves ahead this starts to become totally beneath the level of human perception. And once a computer augmented organization such as Google is able to engage in influencing human beings…beneath human perception there’s nothing we can do about it because we can’t see it”.
“[A]nd if you can do that more than others can do it, you win… so that’s where I think we’re going in terms of politics. If you look at that kind of prediction of the future, we’re all doomed from that viewpoint because reality becomes invisible. Reality becomes something that is unperceivable by us as individuals.”
“[T]he most immediate way of generating capital from artificial intelligence is to sell access to it. Just like Google sells access to Google search…[by] you sell[ing] yourself. You sell what you wanted to search and you sell your attention to Google by searching. That’s surveillance capitalism. You give a little bit of your insight to who you are to Google by searching and in exchange all the resources it has and its capacities you can use to get the result.”
“[I]nsofar it has a very serious increase in AI capacity it can lease that AI capacity to other organizations to get knowledge about those other organizations in terms of surveillance capital flow, or just for money. It’s a way getting profit fast for Google… [I]n that dynamic of acquisition of capital, exchange of intelligence capacity, who ends up winning?
You end up with, basically, [either] a diversification like is done to a degree with Google search, where every individual who has access to it effectively ends up with something like the ability that the state department once had. So you have access to enormous archives produced around the world.
Or, we move towards a situation where Google or an equivalent organization is able to acquire so much more in terms of capital flows, in terms of knowledge, about how organizations are working by collecting what they want to do with this AI capacity.
Then you can end up with very, very substantial [and] powerful organizations that are operating at a level beneath what human beings can perceive, and ultimately move into a situation where what human beings are interested in becomes totally irrelevant because you have computerized organizations and manufacturing processes, and automated transport flows, etc. which make human beings just inefficient and irrelevant… and [human beings] are treated like we treat irritating animals like moles, for example, that are getting in the way of our ability to use the land for something else.”
“[H]uman beings have been extremely foolish. Surveillance capitalism, as a model, has meant that we’ve all been in the process of putting our lives onto the internet… giving our lives over to these Silicon Valley companies, so Silicon Valley datastores now have a very, very rich description of reality as experienced by human beings, and some bits of data not experienced by human beings like stock market indexes and so on—and that is what artificial intelligences are trained on.”
“[W]hat we have done is given [Google, Facebook, etc.] Rosetta Stones, keys to how human beings think and how we manage our political structures and our social structures and our language structures—visual and word examples in the trillions—so it’s all there, the full description of humanity is all there in all its beauty, horror, and detail—it’s all there to be gleaned from, learned from, and extracted like an open cut mine. And you just need to construct various… types of artificial intelligence that simply mine this out—the collective digitized experience of humanity.”

For one, I think it perfectly illustrates the contradiction between social production and private appropriation. Social media is just that: social. Yet its ownership and administration is private. So is all the data produced by our interaction with each other digitally. It’s not used, by and large, for a social purpose but a private purpose: profit. What Google etc. are attempting is algorithmic automation; essentially, that’s AI. When algorithms can maintain and write themselves the less programmers and other support staff are needed. On the consumer side, the actual interests and emotions of the humans producing the data appropriated by these companies are irrelevant. Assange’s Surveillance Capitalism is the dominance of the producer by the product. I.e. social media dominating the individual. Every tweet on Twitter or post to Facebook is value production. It’s digital socializing as free labor-power. The old adage of “if it’s free you’re the product” rings especially true with social media, and just as it is with selling your labor-power to an employer, interacting with your family, friends, strangers etc. on social media is cloaked in the appearance of a free and equal exchange. Your time and input in exchange for access to the network. In fact, you are being exploited. But due to the nature of the exchange the exploitation is hidden. Further still, the value of your time and input and the value your time and input creates for the company “are two different magnitudes”, to cite Engels. The aggregate of that data, as illustrated by Assange, provides a rich source of income to Silicon Valley giants by them selling access to advertisers, for example, while the algorithms (perhaps AI eventually) can be leased to other enterprises, further expanding the market opportunities of the company. What you produce for the company is orders of magnitudes more valuable than what your input would suggest, especially the mundane details and dramas of your everyday life; and yet, you are producing value when these are uploaded to social media. More attention and more rigorous analysis is required to either prove or disprove these conjectures.

Research note on the relationship between State & Capital

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Preface

Just another signpost on another important question. Again, no citations and very rough. Special thanks to Jehu for asking the question in the first place via Twitter.

To what degree does the state control capital? Originally, the state was conceived in these terms – it was the instrument of capitalist exploitation (Engels) and the executive committee of the bourgeoisie (Marx). Many other Marxist theories of the state been developed since. Bob Jessop is one the of leading Marxist authorities on the state, just as an indicator.

Leaving that point aside, if monetary or exchange control is examined then the relationship of state to capital becomes a little more clear. The United States of America enjoys a privileged position in world politics due to the USD being effectively the world reserve currency. Many smaller states use the USD as their own currency, and the USD is traded and accepted globally as legal tender even in nations where this is not the case. US economic preponderance owes a lot to this development, and the US takes a dim view to states attempting to challenge it directly (e.g. China).

The EU is another case, where the Euro acts as the effective reserve currency of Europe and is legal tender in almost every member state integrated into the internal market (the UK being a notable exception). Similar to the US, some smaller states use the Euro as their own currency. The EU differs from the US in that it is a supranational arrangement where no one state, officially, dominates the agenda. In reality, the old Continental powers of France and Germany, particularly the latter, exercise inordinate influence in the EU. The Euro developed out of the European Economic Community, set up in 1957 with the Treaty of Rome, which paved the way to the creation of a single internal market (the Eurozone).

The difference between the USD and the Euro is that the latter is a global reserve currency whereas the Euro is mainly, but not exclusively, regional. The Euro is the second most important currency in the world, which is nothing to dismiss. All other nations in the world are subject to the two reserve currencies according to various regimes – floating exchange rates and other monetary policies. In this sense, the difference between a superpower or a supranational union and a single state is significant indeed.

So what this means about the state and capital is this: in a superpower the state and capital are bound tightly together, control over monetary policy is ironclad, a cornerstone of its economic preponderance. Other states who cannot hope to match the superpower on their own must band together into supranational unions and develop a single internal market with a single currency. Lesser states who join that arrangement are subject to the influence of the larger states within, but aren’t as vulnerable as they would be on their own. The relationship between state and capital is diffused into a bureaucratic mechanism which mimics (unsatisfactorily) the arrangement of a superpower – tight monetary control. Other states, struck out on their own, have less control over their monetary policy and as a result less control over their own economies. More controversially, this melding of state and corporate power in the US and EU has distinct fascist overtones.

Consequently, a superpower and a supranational union are less subject to the whims of nominally ‘free’ market forces. However, when crisis grips their economies it effects the entire world; it threatens to collapse the global economy. This explains why Russia has made moves to construct its own Eurasian Union, though without much success, and why China seeks to construct its own international organizations which parallel the World Bank and the IMF. Both are attempts to secure greater control over their own economic conditions.

It can also be seen how the EU was an attempt by the national bourgeoisies of Europe to a) avoid another disastrous Europe-wide war, b) counter the economic preponderance of the US and thus the US bourgeoisie, and c) provide an economic bloc counter to the Warsaw Pact and the USSR. The relationship between state and capital is tightest where the greatest capital can be found. This should be possible to demonstrate in empirical terms.

Research note on the USSR & the Cold War

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Preface

I wrote this up in order to consolidate a few threads that have been dragging behind me for a while. I’m still far from being able to demonstrate all of this satisfactorily, and it’s undoubtedly wrong in some areas since this is constructed entirely from memory of sources I read (some of them years ago), but with those caveats in mind I decided to post it here as a kind of signpost of where I am in regards to the question of the USSR and the Cold War. It is extremely rough, and lacks citations, and I make no apologies for that seeing as it basically would have been hidden away in one of my notebooks if it weren’t posted here.

Lets nail something down first: the USSR’s ‘state capitalism’ != capitalism in the West. That’s a point so-called value form critiques ignore. It’s character was fundamentally different, i.e. there was a quantitative difference. Value form critiques ignore the significance of this because all they see is qualitative similarities, and thus capitalism in the form of the ideal total capitalist embodied in the Soviet state.

Another point: far from consolidating a new ruling class, the purges weakened the USSR to the point that, if Stephen Kotkin is to be believed, Stalin did not receive foreign intelligence reports for over 100 days at one point. I.e. he was effectively blind. In a roundabout way, the purges effectively set back the development of a semi-autonomous class by decades. It wasn’t their purpose, but that’s what it accomplished. This goes heavily against the accounts of a united and consolidated ruling class in the USSR from the time of Lenin onwards.

This doesn’t make Stalin a positive force in the USSR. Quite the opposite. Everything he accomplished could have been accomplished without him, and a lot more good Bolsheviks like Bukharin could have lived and achieved their full potential. Lenin set the whole thing in motion, all Stalin could do was run with it and set himself up as Lenin’s natural successor as the good student of the master. In turn, Stalin’s successors had to deal with this legacy. It was an endless accumulating weight of tragedy and historical inertia away from Lenin and the original Bolsheviks.

Case in point: the 1928 Five Year Plan was the last major attempt at economic reform in the USSR’s history until Gorbachev. It’s difficult to overstate the significance of this. Everything outside of heavy industry (which incl. the military) was conducted on a shoe-string budget – even the space race. Light industry and agriculture suffered the worst, with well-known results: a crisis of overproduction in heavy industry and underproduction and underdevelopment everywhere else, which trading in hard currencies bartered from oil etc. could not change. In other words, the same ‘capitalist’ crisis with a different character.

So the label of ‘state capitalism’ obscures more than it explains. Indeed it functions as a way to shut down debate about the USSR’s true significance and history. It cannot explain the Cold War. It’s classification of the USSR as a form of capitalism is correct, but it ignores fundamental differences and incompatibilities between the USSR and the ‘original’ form of capitalism in the West. Very early on in the Cold War, the US State Department, influenced by George Kennan, shut down the idea of economic cooperation between the two superpowers. Not only was it Russian “neurosis” that stood in the way but the fundamental fact that communists were “traitors”. The Marshal Plan was partially rejected by Stalin for the simple reason its multilateral economic features were incompatible with the Soviet economy; and in hindsight, it’s clear the US deliberately constructed the Plan in this way so it would be rejected. Containment, advocated by Kennan, was in motion from 1946 onwards.

Here we can see why the Cold War started between two ‘capitalist’ superpowers. From a fundamental economic incompatibility, which saw the Ruble remain worthless outside the Bloc states, to an ideological incompatibility – the USSR was rightly considered a form of Marxism, even with a particularly neurotic character. Value form critiques cannot account for this as they don’t consider Marxism-Leninism as legitimate. If the object of your analysis is a priori illegitimate, then any kind of conclusion will be shaped by this view – it’s bordering on the tautological.