Cybernetics and the Making of a Global Proletariat

Nick Dyer-Witheford


This article analyses the relation of cybernetic technologies to global class composition in the light of the 2011 revolts and their aftermath. Almost from their inception, computers and networks were weapons wielded by advanced capital not only against external enemies but also against its industrial working class. From the 1970s on, computerized automation, digital supply chains and electronic financialization served as instruments in the decomposition of the Fordist mass worker of the global North-West. In the same process, however, they constructed the technical basis for a new world-scale mobilization of labours, wages and unwaged—that of a global proletariat. It was stacked, segmented and segregated across planetary wage zones, but commonly characterized by subjection to extremes of plutocratic power, precarity, migrancy, ecological disaster and networked connection. The financial crash of 2008- paradoxically caused by the very success of capital’s cybernetic offensive in creating a low-wage high-tech economy--in 2011 generated a new cycle of struggles signaling a political recomposition of new proletarian segments and re-proletarianized members of intermediate ‘middle class’ strata.  These uprisings featured widespread re-appropriations of social media and mobile networks. The detournement of capital’s technologies is however, a more contradictory process than is recognized by either enthusiasts for or detractors of so-called ‘Facebook revolutions’; it brought both strengths and weaknesses to the 2011 uprisings. As repercussions of the crisis continue to roil the word economy, new movements of proletarian recomposition combining both rejections and adoptions of the digital, can be expected in contexts characterized by intensifying automation, omnipresent surveillance and incipient cyber-wars.

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