Changing Anarchism: Anarchist Theory and Practice in a Global Age

By Jonathan Purkis; James Bowen | Go to book overview

Steve Millett


4
Technology is capital: Fifth Estate's critique of
the megamachine

Introduction

'How do we begin to discuss something as immense as technology?', writes T. Fulano at the beginning of his essay 'Against the megamachine' (1981a: 4). Indeed, the degree to which the technological apparatus penetrates all elements of contemporary society does make such an undertaking a daunting one. Nevertheless, it is an undertaking that the US journal and collective Fifth Estate has attempted. In so doing, it has developed arguably the most sophisticated and challenging anarchist approac to technology currently available.1

Starting from the late 1970s, the Fifth Estate (hereafter FE) began to put forward the argument that the technologies of capitalism cannot be separated from the socioeconomic system itself. Inspired and influenced by a number of writers, including Karl Marx, Jacques Ellul and Jacques Camatte, it began to conceptualise modern technology as constituting a system of domination itself, one which interlinks and interacts with the economic processes of capitalism to create a new social form, a 'megamachine' which integrates not only capitalism and technology, but also State, bureaucracy and military. For the FE, technology and capital, although not identical, are more similar than different, and cannot be separated into an 'evil' capitalism and an essentially neutral technology. Any critique of capitalism and the State must recognise the importance of contemporary technology and the crucial role it plays in the development of new forms of domination, oppression and exploitation. Concepts of 'capital' and 'megamachine' are also explored later in this chapter.


The Fifth Estate

The FE began in Detroit in 1965, started by seventeen-year-old high-school student Harvey Ovshinsky. Set-up with the help of a $300 loan from Ovshinsky's father, over the course of the next five years it grew to became a focus for Detroit's burgeoning radical and countercultural milieu.

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