The 2019 Global Climate Strike — in which more than 6 million people from 150 countries partook— is a misnomer. Strikes occur in the context of the workplace; they are a tool for collectively bargaining with the employer. In the climate strikes, there was no work, no place, no employer, and no employees. They were a public spectacle insofar as they appeared in public squares and on media technologies. The direct political object of this spectacular action was the UN Climate Action Summit — a forum where delegates claimed to represent most of the people involved in the protests. The delegates had an interest in heeding the demonstration insofar as their legitimacy as representatives is partly reliant on them aligning with opinions of their constituents. The antagonism between labor and capital, traditionally escalated in a strike by attacking or abandoning the means of production, is nowhere to be seen here. This was a civil demonstration masquerading as a strike. It is akin, but also diametrically opposed, to another masquerade/demonstration — climate mourning, like that done for glaciers and other natural “capitals.” Both the strike and the funeral are united in their techniques and aspiration: they are moments in the history of socializing nature, of articulating and enacting real relations to it in the face of climate change. They differ in affect; while one takes up the loss of an object of desire, the other draws on an antagonism between labor and capital. In order to get us out of what Andreas Malm calls the warming condition, the strikes promised, by metaphorizing political history, to make planetary history. But at the same time, due to that very metaphoricity marking the promise, the revolutionary potential of this strike remains an open question.
It would be nice then to have a literal climate strike — but a planetary factory does not colloquially exist. As in the autonomist critique of post-Fordist capitalism, wherein the factory was shipped off to China, we will have to make do with a factory that has spilled out into society. As Matteo Pasquinelli has pointed out, the use of energy metrics, rooted in the industrial factory, is “no more the precise calculation and modulation of productivity, but the management of its collateral costs (e.g., environmental costs) that expresses a model of the reverse valorization of energy resources and assets. Whereas in the industrial age the metric of energy was a measure of the factory’s productivity (workers’ performance, steam engine output, fuel costs, etc.), today it is used in fact for the calculus of the energetic impact of all sectors and members of society.”2 This generalization of the energy metric and its calculus on one hand genealogically links the climate to the industrial factory, and on the other gives import to a planetary factory known and managed via environmental and climate science. In his essay on “Political Metrology,” Pasquinelli sees the steam engine and the telegraph as means of production that also acted as “mediators” between political-economic and natural scientific categories, becoming the interface between concepts of work, information, energy, and freedom. Moreover, early automata included the cybernetic and informatic element of the “governor.” Literalizing the climate strike for our revolutionary goals entails the objectification of this planetary factory by drawing on this genealogy. This proposed revolutionary objectification must work along and against the dominant objectification of the planet in the hegemonic discourse of earth system sciences, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and speculative finance and philosophy alike. For them, the planet is not a factory to strike against, but a dynamic system to model, predict, measure, and plan.
The Fetishism of the Planet and its Secret
The dominant objectification of the planet works on both a political and theoretical register. For the political register, which coalesces around IPCC’s global governmental assessments of the climate, the planet’s parameters are operationalized as independent of and unmoored from socioeconomic causes. In her discourse analysis of the IPCC’s assessments, Shachi Mokashi analyzes its fifth assessment report (AR5)’s novel introduction of socioeconomic uncertainty alongside uncertainties about the climate system in their methods for constructing future climate scenarios.3 The IPCC uses a scenario planning methodology which, instead of determining future outcomes, projects diverging tendencies known at the present into the future to yield scenarios. Mokashi describes the parallel modeling methodology of AR5: “Unlike the previous scenarios-constructions, where the socioeconomic scenarios predated the radiative forcing levels and climate models, the Fifth Assessment Cycle began with defined levels of radiative forcings.”4 Radiative forcing refers, roughly, to the difference in the energy input and output of the atmospheric system in the form of radiation (it is “forced” by, say, greenhouse gasses). While economic data could be used to predict future emissions to project forcing in the future (as has been done in past assessment reports), AR5 made the Earth Systemic parameters independent of their anthropogenic causes.
The independence of the planetary parameters is consistent with an increasingly popular theorization of the planet. Consider Dipesh Chakrabarty’s planetary thought,5 which points out, rightly so, that the globe of globalization is not the globe of global warming. The former refers to the site of social histories of empires and capital. The latter refers to the geophysical trajectory of the earth system. The globe is made and remade by human beings, while the latter — following Chakrabarty, we will call it “the planet” — is articulated through an ancestral discourse that is not even specific to this planet: earth system science is a set of techniques that can study any terrestrial system.6 As human subjects standing at the intersection of these two histories — the global reckoning with planetary crisis — we find ourselves constituting the globe and only contingently partaking in and effecting the planet. As in AR5, planetary phenomena like emissions, climate change etc. are very easy to conceive without human actions, even if they are caused by humans. They are independent variables now.
Mokashi demonstrates that the effect of this independence is to reify a climate capitalist future. In the AR5, certain futures could be projected as “ideal” and desirable, as “levels of radiative forcing that an amalgamation of social, political, and economic structures could aim to achieve.”7 Based on non-catastrophic levels of radiation forcing scenarios, “the IPCC does, in fact, attempt to provide imaginaries of the ideal future wherein mitigation is effectively managed by the unit of the nation-state and the desired levels of radiative forcing;” Mokashi cites the report correlating policy-based stabilization of the atmosphere to “annual changes in investment flows.”8 The IPCC has provided an image not only of what the future might look like, but also how it should look, who might implement it, and how.9
Chakrabarty is less sanguine than the UN about redirecting investment flows. Even though he projects a complementary independence of the globe and the planet, his thought culminates in a reformist critique of hegemonic sustainability as anthropocentric. Insofar as life is so utterly contingent to the planet — and climate change is a crisis that threatens life-as-such, and not simply human life — he offers a biocentric political value of habitability in its stead. But the impasses of politics are not fully overcome in this replacement. The planet/globe wedge raises a whole family of political problems in facing this crisis. Who is the political subject for a truly planetary politics?10 Chakrabarty renders the political aporia at the crossroads of globe and planet in agential terms: “the mode of being in which humans collectively may act as a geological force is not the mode of being in which humans — individually and collectively — can become conscious of being such a force.”11
I want to call this dominant objectification a planetary fetishism. At first sight, the very idea of the existence of a planetary fetishism is a dangerous and reactionary one. Indeed, a revolutionary materialism is itself scientific, and science too needs the revolutionary project for its liberation from the fetters of the profit motive in knowledge production. The claim that the planet is a fetish, on one hand, recapitulates the trope of critical thought as a magician’s trick of defetishizing everything, and on the other, it dovetails with a fossil fascist project of propagating misinformation and climate change denial. However, the aim of a critical or clinical working through ideology or fantasy is not to expose the secret but to do justice to it.12 To cling to some truth underneath it all, is that not yet another fetish? To the contrary, the charge of planetary fetishism, in the terminology of Andreas Malm, is not only climate realist but climate socialist realist. For the liberal hegemonic project of green capitalism, climate realism has been an unsettling force, but it is still potentially compatible. The green capitalist project — to de-correlate emissions and profits, to internalize nature into the economy through natural capital assets and weather derivatives, to sustainably develop during a planetary crisis — is rife with contradictions that both destabilize and nourish it. The gambit of decrying a planetary fetishism serves to politicize climate science fully, and to preclude its assimilation into capitalist realism.
A planetary fetishism is more complicated than the classical case of the commodity. Fetish objects are “sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social.”13 There are two approaches to the suprasensible: scientific and mystical. While the former seeks the essences behind appearances, the latter subjectivizes substances, positing a hidden soul or power or value intrinsic to the fetish object. In Marx’s classical account of the fetishism of the commodity, a form of relations between subjects is taken by the very same subjects as a form of relations between things. Unlike the commodity, the planet necessarily appears indirectly to our bodily senses. Planetary phenomena are technically and scientifically mediated — whether it is the world-picture from a satellite, the moon, or Voyager II, or if it is belabored models, graphs, and simulations. If the planet appears, it appears through already technical, socialized organs — sensing, imaging, and synthesizing machines, protocols, and algorithms — embedded in the circuit of capital. Moreover, fetishism is also trickier in the case of the planet because what needs explaining is not an objective relationality but rather a non-relationality, the independence of the planet from the social. However, the complications of planetary fetishism are not extraneous to the logic of commodity fetishism; on the contrary, they are its perfection. Even our unmediated sense organs have a social history of acculturation and disciplining,14 but in the dynamic of appearance/essence of commodity fetishism this historicity was easily elided. As the frontier of capital expands, however, with the commodification of the body and its organs, and on the other hand with the production and proliferation of vision machines, the society/nature line becomes unsettled and the historicity of perception becomes legible. Planetary fetishism is thus a higher form of fetish into which the fetishism of the commodity evolves concurrently with capitalist development.
Despite all these theoretical difficulties, planetary fetishism is a worthwhile concept insofar as it explains the occlusion of the planetary factory. Chakrabarty’s missing mode of being — where geological agency and political consciousness are coincident — is reminiscent of the theme of marxist political psychology: what are the conditions for class consciousness? How do political subjects come to see themselves as determining and determined, as the subject-object of history? We find this theme recapitulated in Chakrabarty on the planetary level, albeit with a biocentrism that displaces the social contradiction between labor and capital — thus the working class — from the center. I argue that the planetary factory is precisely that same mode of being in which humans are a geological force and become conscious of being such a force. Planetary fetishism is the mechanism through which that factory, as the condition of planetary facts, disappears from consciousness. It arises as a complicated fetish insofar as it is a reconfiguration of our senses in the moment of a real subsumption of labor to capital. This moment, as typified in the confrontation of the worker and the machine, Marx writes, intensifies the fetish and mystery of objects. In the planetary factory, not only are we confronted with capitalist relations ossified in the means of production, but also in our very apparatus of sense and apprehension.
The Planetary Factory
As hinted above, Pasquinelli’s planetary factory concept is based on the autonomist concept of the social factory. In Mario Tronti’s Factory and Society, the social factory emerges from the nexus of factory-society-state. The state enshrines labor regulations fought for by the working class against capital, while society tends to the point where the social relation itself comes to be a productive relation. Such a relation is the limit and tendency of the real subsumption of labor to capital. The capitalist responds to the workers’ victory of a limit to the working day, and thus the production of absolute surplus value, by increasing labor productivity through technical (automation) and economic means (cheapening the conditions of reproduction of labor-power, like food).15 In the process, relative surplus value is produced, characterized by the fact that now the surplus is not extensive (the length, labor-time) but intensive (the density, labor-power). Marx calls the production of relative surplus value “a specifically capitalist mode of production” with its own “methods, means and conditions;” real subsumption of labor to capital evokes a world remade in the image of capital, where the machine not only conditions relative surplus value in the factory, but has become the very diagram for society.16
The concept of the social factory comes to the fore in following the consequences of the machine as a concretion of capitalist social relations. First, the machine’s automaticity lies in its fact of having enclosed the social brain and general intellect, the knowledge of the skilled worker into itself.17 As a result, social life in general comes to be imbricated in the production process. Secondly, drawing on Marx’s concept of “social capital” as both the totality of all individual capitals and the socialization of capitalist production, Tronti suggests that the social factory produces capitalism as a mode of production itself, with social capital at its heart. The production of relative surplus value is a necessary moment in the production of capitalism as a mode of production, for without real subsumption in the face of proletarian upheaval, social capital will be unable to reproduce. In these two moments — the enclosure of the intellect and the reproduction of total social capital via the competitive relation of individual capitalists — Tronti’s social factory thesis coalesces: social relations themselves become a relation of production.
The question is whether real subsumption stops at the boundaries of society or whether the factory continues to spill out to the level of planetary nature. This question can be seen as a continuation of Andreas Malm’s ecological autonomism in The Progress of This Storm.18 He defines the autonomy of nature and labor from capital along three lines: 1) ontological priority, 2) struggle for control by the ruling class, and 3) dormancy and upheaval. The first line refers to the fact that labor and nature precede capital both historically and ontologically. The second line refers to the fact that the capitalist seeks to control labor and nature (but is only doomed to do so via a further parasitism on the autonomous forces). The third line refers to the fact that this autonomy does not manifest itself except in a moment of crisis. The autonomous force of nature and capital “strikes back,” either in the form of workers’ upheaval or natural disaster — Malm considers climate change as “the ultimate blowback.” For this reason, Malm suggests that “ecological autonomism, if such a thing could exist, would then primarily be a theory of acute crisis.”19 The autonomy of nature and labor converge on these three fronts, but Malm emphasizes — given his larger polemic against new materialism and posthumanism—that nature has an autonomy without agency, whereas labor has an autonomy with conscious agency. He writes that while the other of labor is capital, the other of nature is society, and thus the blowbacks of nature will create indiscriminate casualties, on the side of labor in the war against capital; he echoes Moore, “Your Wars, Our Dead.”
Malm’s second line of thought suggests the subsumption of nature to capital, but it does not go far enough as an ecological autonomism. While Malm is sober instead of celebratory about ecological crises that are borne of this subsumption, he under-theorizes the recursive character of this subsumption. The turbulent and unpredictable blowbacks of nature — while being indices of its autonomy — are precisely the stuff of the planetary factory. For instance, Melinda Cooper shows that there is a homology between financial markets and climate systems in their tendency for turbulence, resulting in the increasing trade of weather derivatives and natural security bonds.20 John Bellamy Foster sounds the alarm for the financialization of the earth as the climate capitalist program championed by global capital and global governance: to re-read the world as natural capital assets to be traded.21 Sara Holiday Nelson analyzes the emergence of the ecosystem service economy in the post-war west as a moment leading up to post-Fordism, that is to say, as a subsumption of ecological reproduction alongside social reproduction into the valorization process.22 The fantasy of green capitalism pointed out by these thinkers and others like them is that profitability might be decoupled from emissions (which have been linked together in an iron-clad union since at least 1830); speculative finance and environmental science are thus becoming ways for society to internalize nature in hopes of regulating the latter by marketizing it. Ironically, the concepts of society and nature hitherto, and policy practice under the neoclassical paradigm, had been premised on their mutual exclusion. The market was natural in its laws and self-regulation like nature, but only because it was decidedly not nature. The awareness of climate change and the green capitalist project thus marks a rupture: it coincides with a planetary system recursively coming to know and constitute itself, and by extension creating modes of manipulating itself. In the words of Ian Alan Paul: “all of Earth is mediated by climate, capitalism, and control, three assemblages that have come to be entangled with one another at planetary scales;” they are becoming “integrated within a singular planetary logic.”23
We can call this system or logic a planetary factory; it refers to the planetary production of capitalism as a mode of production, and the production of planetary facts — knowledges and events. The popular term for the planetary factory is Earth System, or Planetary Computation. This is because the constitutive (as opposed to casual) role of cyberfossil capital and carbosilicon machines for planetary computation24 is severely bracketed (as in Chakrabarty), if ever mentioned in planetary analyses.25 Pasquinelli asks, “is the similarity of climate science and control apparatuses just a coincidence, or does it point to a more general form of governance?” It is possible for some to ignore this question because the Earth System — the subject of planetary history — appears without its historiography. Chakrabarty’s commitment to an ancestral and objectified earth divests not only the political histories of the anthropocene (which he somewhat explicitly addresses) but also the very nature of the self-awareness of the Earth System. The geological force of humanity must be taken to its logical conclusion: instead of some kind of unconscious agency, the geological force here is planetary capital.26 To give a history of the planetary factory is to also make it visible — landing a blow becomes possible.27 While such a project is outside the scope of this paper, I offer the following note.
The planetary factory is spread all over the troposphere, built on the skeleton of the imperial organism just like global capital.28 The UN and IPCC are only the most recent iteration in atmospheric and ecological projects of modern empires. From plantations in the West Indies to famines in India, from exotic plants in greenhouses to cholera epidemics, geographical differentials have served as the motor for natural science.29 Specifically, statistical climatology, meteorology, and ecology were pursued at imperial institutions for imperial interests; they make up the basis of climate science today.30 The networks and mutually intelligible data practices of global climate science that make up the “vast machine” of the planetary factory were the result of imperial adventures.31 Even after the world wars, geophysical earth science — as opposed to bioecological earth science — was developed in the Cold War to serve the neoimperial and security interests of the US.32 Within the borders of the US during the decolonization wave of the mid-twentieth century, the Cold War came home, and chickens roosted: climate science techniques and technologies began to define the minimum conditions of life in the face of hydrocarbon disasters, producing the environment as a politically and scientifically stable category.33 The control systemic and cybernetic character of climate knowledge and its production processes was preempted by the cybernetic organism of empire — where channels and networks interact and communicate and produce asymmetric effects on each other.34 The society of control that came about from the real subsumption of labor to capital in post-Fordist production is thus homeomorphic to both the thermodynamic machine and the topology of empire. Finally, as the genealogy of planetary metrics lead us to the factory, tracing the genealogy of the factory itself to the colonial plantation as a space of producing world historical social ecological relations through disciplinary and violent practices returns us to empire.35
This is not to expose planetary history, as produced in ESS, as if it were a mere fetish-effect of empire. Instead, the genealogy serves to underscore the belabored reflexivity of the planet — the political exigencies of how it comes to know itself through capitalist machinery (knowledge practices, institutions, technomass).36 That planetary effects (GHG emissions, fossil consumption) are imbricated in planetary knowledge (the logic of control systems, imperial organism) indicates less the capitalist character of geology than the geological force of capital. Chakrabarty understates the capacity of planetary reflexivity because he does not read the Earth System as a real subsumption of nature by cyberfossil capital — “the metabolism of the most archaic biosphere and the most abstract technosphere united by capital.”37 Following Chakrabarty’s famous re-reading of Marx, we might suggest Two Histories of Planetary Capital.38 History 1 was the history of capital as posited by itself as part of its life process, and History 2 was everything that escaped this teleological history. The former is, say, the history of the money-form progressively perfected until the arrival of capital. The latter is then the many lives of money that do not assimilate into the logic of general exchangeability. Along these lines, the planetary factory is the culmination of capital’s History 1 in the ecological aspect — the capitalist perfection of nature.39 There might as well be a History 2 of the planet, moments of interruption which exceed the valorization and expansion of capital at the planetary scale — say, the phenomenological apprehension of climate events without weather balloons, data, and sensor apparatuses (this is the subject of climate realist art). On the side of History 1, however, the planetary factory bridges the theoretical gulf between natural and social history, the globe and the planet. It is the very mode of being in which humanity exerts geological force and becomes aware of being such a force. Why we have not been able to do much about it — say, abruptly ceasing fossil fuel production tout court — is a political question. Who, or what, controls the planetary factory?
From Political Metrology to a Revolutionary Mathematics of the Planet
How does the industrial genealogy of energy and information bear upon present struggles and politics of the climate? If there is indeed a planetary factory, that is, a capitalist mode of producing planetary facts — climate events, disasters, tendencies, representations, graphs, simulations, etc. — how do we strike against it, and who is this “we”?
The problem of the revolutionary subject recurs for planetary politics. Strike action is a disindentification of labor; in upheavals against and within the factory, the politicized worker simultaneously embraces and refuses the subjection to homogenous work. However, to go looking for a worker at the planetary factory is difficult. While the idea of the working class as a subject-object of history was once a lynchpin of revolutionary thinking, it has come to define a space of problems over the course of the twentieth century. Justin Joque writes:
The struggles of student radicalism in the late ’60s; the emergence of non-class-based liberal movements (e.g., the environmental movement, anti-war movement and human rights organizations); the recognition that this ideal of a universal subject was likely just a Western white male fantasy; the realization of the violent excesses of Stalinism and Maoism; the collapse of the Soviet Union; and the “return” of ethno-national conflict and religious fundamentalism have all served to call into question the viability of a unified political subject who could foment global revolutionary change.
This problem is only intensified in the context of a revolution in the course of planetary history, where, as Chakrabarty has pointed out, not only the worker, but the human ceases to be the protagonist. Undeniably, animals, plants, forests, fungi, bacteria, corals — the litany is inexhaustible — the entire biosphere is caught in the fray of the planetary factory. On the other hand, besides prognostic issues of finding a political subject, the gap between social subjects and natural objects also suggests a problem for a revolutionary theory of the planet. Are we not indulging in a reification of social relations if we conceptualize natural relations using social concepts like revolution? Rather than locating the social contradiction at the heart of natural science, we end up naturalizing capitalist domination by trafficking society into nature. In trying to undo planetary fetishism, have we wound up developing another?41
As if the exposure of this or that fetish, from the commodity to the planet, is the point of revolutionary thought.42 What is precisely at stake is not subjectivity or objectivity but the point at which one becomes the other: “While the entire production process is social, and hence an agreement between subjects — in essence subjective — it does not matter what we think or desire; if we do not own capital, we must sell our labor on the market at the going rate.”43 As the two poles of the subject and object become indeterminately interspersed in the real subsumption by capital in general, and the planetary factory in particular, we might consider, following Joque, that “the most politically efficacious path forward may be neither a directly hybrid route nor a privileging of one specific pole. Instead, we must work directly on the torsion between the objective and the subjective.”44 Joque calls this torsion, following Marx, objectification — the process by which relations between subjects are reflected as relations between objects. Commodity fetishism, in which the commodity comes to have strange powers and a mind of its own, or alienation, in which the machine seems to have a soul and the working self becomes but an appendage, are but moments of objectification. The social work of objectification — carried out by all social objects to varying degrees, including algorithms, knowledge, commodities, means of production — occurs when these objects are “thinking for us and carrying out our affairs.”45 This is particularly evident in the case of knowledge wherein laws, which are very much constructed (facts, as in a factory), determine us irrespective of our will.
The politics of objectification seizes on this mechanism, and seeks to decouple its relation to capitalist exploitation (in fetish, and in alienation). A revolutionary objectification, like Marx’s discovery of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, makes the revolution inevitable through the force of scientific laws: the necessary dissolution of the fetters and necessities of the proletariat. Joque writes that such a revolutionary thought of objectification “must change the underlying structures of exchange and objectification… This is the task of a revolutionary mathematics: to create new mysteries, rather than simply attempt to repair those that capitalism has left us.”46 A mystery is the engine of objectification, even scientific ones. All mysteries are rooted in an equal inequality, from the Trinity (1=3) to the calculus (something = nothing), for they make contingencies necessary.47 Here are some candidates for new mysteries in the face of the planetary factory: life = death, waste = nutrition, etc.48 Any equivalence relation between real things is mysterious if we take the uniqueness of things for granted49 — this is the very mystery of exchange, whose conditions in an unequal society would be subjective, but under liberalism is the objective value relation.50 Joque points out that the Bayesian epistemology upon which AI and knowledge production are based—including climate knowledge production—is grounded in the metaphysics of speculative exchange. The axioms of probability are defined in terms of avoiding a losing bet.51 On one hand, this discovery ossifies capitalist relations into the very methodology of statistical knowledge production. On the other, Bayesian epistemology marks the limit of capitalist knowledge — it knows the world qua profitable. In Joque’s words, rather than naturalizing capitalism, Bayesian epistemology “denaturalizes nature.” As the protocol of climate knowledge production, it constitutes the very rhythm of the planetary factory.
A literal strike at the planetary factory would amount to a counter-objectification, one that negates the UN’s green capitalist future. This objectification will be buttressed by a new mystery to come out of revolutionary mathematics, but it could also be composed of swathes of data jammed into the vast machine within the planetary factory. Whose data, and who does this jamming? Who makes the new mysteries? Although we are on the very torsion between subject and object, we must, like Joque, defer to the subject again:
The only question that remains is whether statistics is to be managed by plant managers — at pharmaceutical companies, tech companies, university research offices, and so on — or by some form of collective set against and beyond capitalism.
What must be decided politically, and with it metaphysically, is whether these abstractions and knowledges will be founded on deception and the reproduction of social inequality, or instead on some other equality. This decision, if we can correctly call it that, is not simply a decision made by individuals; it must be collectively discovered and constructed, and made into a necessity — just as the commodity has decided how one must survive under capitalism.
Who could this collective be? And what does their mode of counter-objectification (or striking) look like? Insofar as the planetary factory uses data to accumulate capital, to mitigate the negative externalities of the production, and overall to produce objectifications, so it is safe to say that what might jam this machine will take the form of data. What kind of data? We need indices that make the collapse of capitalism inevitable. If Bayesian epistemology can only know what is profitable, the point at which the revolutionary objectification would be successful is when this machine malfunctions under the weight of the data that refuses to produce a future, where a green capitalist future is impossible. To this end, we need to account for all the injuries, we need to measure what no one wants to measure.
I want to wager two political classes for a climate strike to come: a class of intellectual revolutionary mathematicians (knowledge producers whose struggle is going strong in the form of graduate students striking across the US), and a class of masses, a lumpencognitariat.53 The latter is the pseudo-savant; the consumer of mis/information; lover of content. This is a product of late capitalism itself; a consumer invented by states, telecom companies, and Silicon Valley. For their platform machines, the lumpencognitariat is the fleshy circulating capital.54
While some have lamented the loss of the self-present subject, and saw it as the closure of revolutionary possibility,55 the very erosion and reinscription of the subject at the heart of digital experience in the concept of produser, or prosumer, or autoexploiter, or entrepreneur of self, or human capital, when re-plugged into the matrix of the planetary factory spells its doom. The task of a revolutionary mathematical vanguard is to produce the right climate financial instruments, algorithms, post-Bayesian nootechics — that is to say, to produce new ecological mysteries — to take the planetary computation to its overload, its crisis, its collapse.
The lumpencognitariat — when furnished with pirate platforms, and algorithms, parasitic on consumer devices by revolutionary mathematicians and the ecotechnic vanguard of intellectuals — will become users whose ecological meta-data can be used to objectify the critique of the planetary factory. This meta-data might include the experiences of climate emergencies, toxins, breathing problems, new pathologies and syndromes, neurological and immunological disorders. What would it look like for all this data to reflect in the vast machine plugged into the self-regulating financial market? Market society is attempting to internalize nature, its strategy might continue to remain a selective externalization of humans, especially in the global south. Here, against Chakrabarty’s biocentrism, a universalist humanism becomes strategically important. To be a subject-object of planetary history, the lumpencognitariat must see itself as the planet — as systems of energy and as information — and in becoming readable to itself and the vast machine through the mysteries of a vanguard, it will have struck the planetary factory.
This essay greatly benefitted from Elio Jahaj’s comments and encouragement on an early draft, and from Andrew McWhinney’s careful feedback and editing for bringing that first draft to its present form.
- The title of this essay is borrowed from Hito Steyerl’s “Is the Museum a Factory?” More generally, my argument and its development are very much inspired by art-theoretical explorations of the dis/appearance of the factory and its representation as in Harun Farocki’s Workers Leaving the Factory and Andrew Norman Wilson’s Workers Leaving the Googleplex.
- Matteo Pasquinelli, “Labour, Energy, and Information as Historical Configurations: Notes for a Political Metrology of the Anthropocene.” My attempt aims to continue Pasquinelli’s project of leveraging the genealogy of physical and informatic metrics. While he recently explored this genealogy, I will end this essay with considerations on strategies for contemporary politics.
- Shachi Mokashi, Uncertain Futures: Tracing the Conceptualizations of Uncertainty and the Imaginaries of Future in the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change.
- Ibid., p. 37. Emphasis in the original.
- See The Climate of History in a Planetary Age. Chakrabarty’s work is propagated and featured in the media productions of the Berggruen Institute, owned by the finance capitalist billionaire Nicolas Berggruen. He was recently in the news for purchasing the Hearst Estate of Citizen Kane fame. He is also now a patron of Benjamin Bratton’s left accelerationist project of planetary computation and planetary sapience.
- The planet poses itself “as anterior to every form of human relation to the world.” See p. 87, “The Planet.” Chakrabarty is quoting Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude, wherein he mounts an attack on all critical philosophy as correlationist. The latter uses “ancestral discourse” to refer to facts that refer to events and things that are antecedent to subjects. Chakrabarty’s posthumanism in the biocentric aspect of his planetary project is consistent with the posthumanism of speculative realists. Marxists have characterized speculative realism as a fetishism; see Alexander Galloway, “Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Post-Fordism” and the defense by Graham Harman, “Object-Oriented Ontology and Commodity Fetishism.”
- Mokashi, Uncertain Futures, p. 37.
- Ibid. p. 41.
- Ibid. This event of objectification can also be seen as the production of a subject, financial and sovereign and global governmental.
- This problem is taken up directly in the last section of the essay. To anticipate: Andreas Malm has suggested that the climate revolutionary subject — one that may take up the call of habitability — must be invented. The ecological marxists of the metabolic school draw on the general sense of the proletariat as the dispossessed to posit an environmental proletariat displaced by both the disasters of climate change and capitalism, and by green capitalist solutionist projects on the other.
- “Anthropocene Time,” Climate of History in a Planetary Age, pp. 176-177.
- On this theme, see Taussig, Defacement; Ben Kafka, “Human, Also Human”; Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and the Market”; Judith Butler, “The Inorganic Body in the Early Marx.” Everyone except Jameson is explicitly responding to a post-critical caricature of critical theory as a fetish for defetishization.
- Marx, Capital Vol. 1, p. 165. Also see “Sensing Climate Change and Expressing Environmental Citizenship” in Program Earth.
- See Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer, and the socio-historical aspect of “natural praxis” in John Bellamy Foster et al. “The Dialectics of Nature and Marxist Ecology” in The Ecological Rift. The so-called metabolic school recovers Marx’s reading of Epicurus to develop natural praxis as the sensuous process for the objectification of appearances at the foundation of human experience. While they distinguish natural praxis from social praxis, the sensuous objectification is historically situated and socially mediated insofar as it is coextensive with the process of sustenance. Also see footnote 42 of this essay.
- Marx, “Appendix: Results of the Immediate Process of Production,” Capital Vol. 1.
- I use diagram here in a Deleuzian sense. Contradicting the hyped-up difference between an industrial and cybernetic capitalism, real subsumption casts the latter as a perfection of the former. The thermodynamic machines in the first factories were in reality cybernetic and control mechanisms. The cybernetic society of control is therefore the world remade in the image of that technology. See Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control” and Matteo Pasquinelli, “Automaton of the Anthropocene: On Carbosilicon Machines and Cyberfossil Capital.”
- Sean Cubbit, Finite Media.
- The most at-length development of ecological autonomism was in South Atlantic Quarterly’s 2017 issue, “Autonomia in the Anthropocene.” A concept with the force of planetary factory outside of autonomism exists in Jason W. Moore’s world-ecological framework. He writes in Capitalism in the Web of Life: “Abstract social nature names the family of processes through which states and capitalists map, identify, quantify, measure, and code human and extra-human natures in service to capital accumulation.” Geographer Neil Smith has a similar concept in “Nature as Accumulation Strategy” considering natural capital assets — he explicitly talks about real subsumption of nature. Foster recently wrote an essay titled “Nature as a Mode of Accumulation” on the same theme. My main litmus test for choosing between these variants (I did not choose any to develop here) is Jason Read’s concept of “the antagonistic logic” of real subsumption. It refers to the fact that the switch from formal to real subsumption is a reactive moment in the struggle between labor and capital, and that automation is a way of maintaining profits in the face of labor’s political organization. Malm and Mandel come through on the antagonistic logic in the history and theory of capital, but they do not develop a theory of real subsumption of nature. See Andreas Malm, “Long Waves of Fossil Development.” While I do not develop the antagonistic theme here (although I am very focused on finding a new, revolutionary antagonism), I think Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums and Late Victorian Holocausts give a good counterpoint to the fetishistic planetarity in vogue.
- This is a moment of convergence between Malm and Moore. The latter develops the concept of negative value wherein superbugs, superweeds, toxins, pollutants accumulate from the side of abstract social nature and in turn interrupt the accumulation of capital.
- Melinda Cooper, “Turbulent Worlds.” I am grateful to Shachi Mokashi for sending this essay my way.
- See “The Defense of Nature” and “Nature as a Mode of Accumulation.”
- “Beyond The Limits to Growth: Ecology and the Neoliberal Counterrevolution.”
- Ian Alan Paul, Climate Capital Control.
- Pasquinelli, “Automaton of the Anthropocene.” Pasquinelli points out the “governor,” as in the etymological sense of cybernetics, in industrial automata. The planetary significance of his themes is developed in this section. He goes further than my planetary factory concept and produces complementary energy and information theories of labor, corresponding to cyberfossil capital.
- This is kind of a war of positions in the Gramscian sense. The Berggruen Institute, which houses the Antikythera center for the speculative philosophy of planetary computation, is a think tank. See footnote 13.
- This is particularly true if fossil fuels and carbon cycles are seen as constitutive of the shift from formal to real subsumption, which is what Andreas Malm suggests in Fossil Capital.
- I am grateful to Elinor Phillips for this phrase.
- I first encountered the cybernetic and energetic analysis of the imperial organism in Cara New Dagget, The Birth of Energy. Richard Grove’s Green Imperialism and Peder Anker’s Imperial Ecology were important historical sources for finding a critical way around ecological science. In “The Sociology of Ecology,” the metabolic school draws on Anker to claim the ecosystem concept as a dialectical one, and to make the case for a systematic dialectical ecology against a holistic, arcadian ecology because of its association with South African apartheid. Alf Hornborg’s idea of ecologically unequal exchange describes imperial organisms. Finally, Melinda Cooper discusses the financialization of turbulent climate in the context of US empire and the petrodollar.
- In the order of evocation: Grove’s Green Imperialism, Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts, Sarah Carson’s “Anticipating the Monsoon,” David Arnold’s Tropics and the Travelling Gaze, Jessica Ratcliff’s “The East India Company, the Company’s Museum, and the Political Economy of Natural History in the Early Nineteenth Century,” J.A. Voelcker’s Report on the Improvement of Indian Agriculture, Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb’s Epidemic Empire. Kolb shows how, over the course of first and second cholera epidemics, the imperial immunological science shifted from using climate as a mode of explanation of disease to communication and intercourse. At the very outset of the latter idea, the importance of preventing communicable diseases had to be negotiated alongside the imperative for free trade. Alongside the relation between communication, capitalism, disease, climate, and empire, also consider, in the fashion of Pasquinelli, the greenhouse as a technology that mediates between physical (radiation, closed system, climate) and social concepts (nature, colony/metropole, tropicality).
- Paul Edwards’ Vast Machine emphasizes the role of empire in anticipating a global network for climate data collection and exchange, other scholars, like Sarah Carson, emphasize the imperial interests in undertaking imperial knowledge production at all.
- Pasquinelli quotes Edward’s quoting John Ruskin: “Surprisingly (or maybe not), the first picture of the 'vast machine' of meteorological computation by John Ruskin (1839) resembled closely the 'vast automaton' of the industrial factory described by Ure (1835).” This is poetic evidence for the planetary capital and planetary factory argument I am making.
- See “Earth Sciences in the Cold War,” Vol. 33, No. 5, Oct., 2003, of Social Studies of Science. From a brief glance at this issue, and in surveying more sources such as Steffen et al.’s “The Emergence and Evolution of Earth System Science,” it becomes clear that while the Cold War did continue the trend of development of Earth Science, its emphasis was on geophysics compared to pre-War focus on life sciences. Geophysics is more important for ESS than, say, Liebig’s soil chemistry, but also it is more important for superpowers at the brink of nuclear war.
- In “A Natural History of Destruction: The Environmental Consequences of War,” Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz discuss how the US used terraforming and geoforming technologies to degrade the conditions of life and have now repurposed these technologies to pose solutions to climate change. More recently, environmental anthropologist David Bond has penned a Foucauldian genealogy of “our hydrocarbon present” titled Negative Ecologies: Fossil Fuels and the Discovery of the Environment. Bond traces the post-war formation of the environment concept in the US as the objectification of minimum conditions of life out of hydrocarbon disasters such as oil spills and PFAS contamination. Besides science — objectifications of nature — this negative ecology also produces a subject injured by synthetic toxins and excesses, whose search for remediations (from which they are excluded by the state—the gap between “environment” and “public health”) leads them to a critique of nature/society categories. On the theme of chickens coming home to roost, see Beatriz Colomina, Domesticity at War, and also Kittler and Virilio’s studies of war and media technologies.
- See for example Christopher A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870.
- Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power; Wendy Wolford, “The Plantationocene.” Not only the factory as space, but the subsequent computer system — without which the Earth System cannot be represented — is also genealogically tied to the imperial plantation. See Meredith Whitaker, “Origin Stories: Plantations, Computers, and Industrial Control."
- The concept of the technomass comes from Hornborng, “Machines as Manifestations of Global Systems.”
- Pasquinelli, “The Automaton of the Anthropocene.”
- See Chakrabarty, “Two Histories of Capital,” in Provincializing Europe. I am grateful to Emma Kast for teaching me how to engage the tension between logic and history in Marxism, and for framing Chakrabarty’s problematic within that wider dialectic.
- I welcome the charge of teleology on this note. I qualify it methodologically as the dialectical progression through which the mental organ grasps the concrete (instead of grasping the concrete through an idea of concrete). See Marx, Grundrisse, “The Method of Political Economy.”
- Joque, Revolutionary Mathematics, pp. 15-16.
- For a discussion of the dialectical science of nature and the Western Marxist opposition to it, see “The Dialectics of Nature and Marxist Ecology,” in The Ecological Rift. I am grateful to philosopher Nishad Patnaik for rehearsing the themes at the heart of what the authors call “the Lukács problem” and discussing this paper with me; I was able to understand it as an impasse I had to work with and through, rather than solve.
- The point, of course, is to change the world.
- Joque, Revolutionary Mathematics, p. 19.
- Ibid., Revolutionary Mathematics, pp. 97-98.
- Ibid., pp. 67-73.
- These equations relate to the great oxygenation event, which is seen as the genesis of the biosphere as we know it. See Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Microcosmos, “The Oxygen Holocaust.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense.”
- Marx, Capital Vol. 1.
- Joque, Revolutionary Mathematics, p. 213. Joque is building on Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s work on tracing cognition to the exchange process, wherein knowledge, like exchange, is a real abstraction.
- Joque, Revolutionary Mathematics, pp. 175-56.
- I am indebted to Andrew McWhinney for pointing out the tension between this vanguardist framing and the decentralizing spirit of the autonomist projects. Indeed, in Soul at Work, Bifo writes: “The only relation between the State Communism imposed by the Leninist parties in the Soviet Union elsewhere, and the autonomous communism of the workers, is the violence systematically exerted by the first over the second, in to subdue, discipline and destroy it.” I would still motivate a vanguardism against a received autonomism given the unevenness of the working classes and the axiomatic importance of solidarity across those differences.
- Bernard Stiegler has developed the theme of consumerization as also a proletarianization, a dispossession. With intense automation in the factory, the worker loses savior-faire, with intense automation in life, the consumer loses savoir-vivre.
- For instance, Byung Chul-Han in Open Democracy.