Life on this planet isn’t as agreeable as it could be. Something obviously has gone wrong on our space-ship called Earth. But what? Maybe a fundamental mistake was made when nature (or somebody else) came up with the idea of “human”. Why should an animal walk on two feet and start thinking? It seems we haven’t got much choice: we’ve got to cope with this error of nature, with ourselves. Mistakes are made in order to learn from them.
In prehistoric times our deal seems not to have been so bad. During the Old Stone Age (50,000 years ago) we were few, food (plants and game) was plentiful and survival required only a little working time and moderate efforts. To collect roots, nuts, fruits or berries (don’t forget mushrooms) and to kill (or with even less effort, to trap) some rabbits, kangaroos, fish, birds, or deer, we spent about two or three hours per day. In our camps we shared meat and vegetables and enjoyed the rest of the time sleeping, dreaming, bathing, dancing, making love or chatting. Some of us took to painting on cave walls, carving bones or sticks, inventing new traps or songs. We roamed across the country in gangs of 25, with as little baggage and property as possible. We preferred the mildest climates, like Africa, and there was no “civilization” to push us into deserts, tundras or mountains. The Old Stone Age must have been a good deal–if we can trust the recent anthropological findings–for we stuck to it for several tens of thousands of years, especially if compared to the 200 years of actual industrial nightmare.
Then somebody must have started playing around with seeds and plants and invented agriculture. It must have seemed a good idea, for we didn’t have to walk far to get enough food. But life became more complicated and toilsome. We had to stay in the same place for at least several months to store the seeds for the next crop and to plan and organize work on the fields. Fields and harvest also had to be defended from our nomadic gatherer hunter cousins who kept thinking that everything belonged to everybody. Conflicts between farmers, hunters and cattle breeders arose. We had to explain to others that we “worked” to accumulate our provisions–and they didn’t even have a word for “work”. With planning, with-holding of food, defence, fences, organization and the necessity of self-discipline we opened the door to specialized social organisms like priesthood, chiefs, armies. We created fertility-religions with rituals to stay convinced of our lifestyle. The temptation to return to the free life of gatherers/hunters must have always been a threat. Whether it was the patriarchate or matriarchate: we were on the road to statehood.
With the rise of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, India, China, and Egypt, the equilibrium between humans and natural resources was definitely ruined. The future breakdown of our spaceship was programmed. Centralized organisms developed their own dynamics and we became the victims of our creations. Instead of two hours per day we worked ten hours and more on the fields and constructions of the Pharaohs and Caesars, we died in their wars and were deported as slaves where they needed us. Those who tried to return to their former freedom were tortured, mutilated, killed.
When they started industrialization, it wasn’t any better. To crush the peasant rebellions and the growing independence of craftsmen in the towns, they introduced the factory system. Instead of foremen and whips, they used machines. They dictated our rhythm of work, punished us automatically with accidents, kept us under control in huge halls. Once again progress meant working more and under more murderous conditions. The whole society and the whole planet was turned into one big Work-Machine. And this Work-Machine was at the same time a War-Machine for all those within and without who dared oppose it. War became as industrial as work. Indeed, peace and work have never been compatible: You cannot allow yourself to be destroyed by work and prevent the same machine from killing others, you cannot refuse your own freedom and not attack the freedom of others. War became as absolute as work.
The early Work-Machine produced strong illusions of a “better future”. After all, if the present was so miserable, the future could only be better. Even the working class organizations were convinced that industrialization would lay the basis for a society of more freedom, more free time, more pleasures. Utopians, socialists and communists believed in development and in industry, in “progress”. Marx thought that with its help, humans would be able to hunt, make poetry and enjoy life again. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and others demanded more sacrifices to build a new society. But socialism only turned out to be another trick of the Work-Machine to extend its power in areas where it was lacking. The machine doesn’t care if it is managed by transnational companies or state bureaucracies. Its goal is the same everywhere: steal our time to produce steel.
The industrial War-and-Work Machine has definitely ruined our space-ship and its future: the furniture (jungles, woods, lakes, seas) is torn to shreds; our playmates have been exterminated or are sick (whales, birds, tigers, eagles); the air stinks and is out of balance (CO2 , acid rain); the pantries are being emptied (fossil fuels, metals) and self-destruction is programmed (nuclear holocaust). We can’t even feed all the passengers of this wrecked vessel. We’ve been made so nervous and irritable that we’re ready for any kind of nationalist, racial or religious war. For many of us, the nuclear holocaust is no longer a threat, but seems to be a welcome deliverance from fear, boredom, oppression and drudgery.
5000 years of civilization and 200 years of accelerated industrial progress have left us with a terrible hangover. “Economy” has become a goal in itself and we’re about to be swallowed by it. The hotel terrorizes its guests: But we are guests and hosts at the same time.
The Planetary Work Machine
The monster that we have let grow and that keeps our planet in its grip is the Planetary Work Machine. If we want to transform our spaceship into an agreeable place again, we’ve got to dismantle this Machine, to repair the damage it has done and to come to some basic agreements on a new start. So our first questions must be: How does the Planetary Work-Machine manage to control us? How is it organized? What are its mechanisms and how can they be destroyed?
It is a Planetary Machine: it eats in Africa, digests in Asia and shits in Europe. It is planned and regulated by international companies; the banking system; the circuit of fuels, raw materials and other goods. There are a lot of illusions about nations, states, blocs, First, Second, Third or Fourth World- these are only minor subdivisions, parts of the same machinery. Of course there are distinct wheels and transmissions that exert pressure, tensions and frictions on each other. The Machine is built on the basis of its inner contradictions: workers/capital, private capital/state capital (capitalism/socialism), development/underdevelopment, misery/waste, war/peace, women/men, etc. The machine is not a homogenous structure, it uses its internal contradictions to expand its control and refine its instruments. Unlike fascist or theocratic systems or like Orwell’s 1984, the Work-Machine permits a “sane” level of resistance, unrest, provocation and rebellion. It digests unions, radical parties, protest movements, demonstrations and democratic changes of regimes. If democracy doesn’t function, it uses dictatorship. If it’s legitimation is in crisis, it has camps, prisons and torture in reserve. All these modalities are not essential for understanding the functioning of the machine.
The principle that governs all activities of the Machine is economy. But what is economy? Unpersonal, indirect exchange of crystallized life-time. We spend our time producing some part which is assembled with other parts by somebody we don’t know to make a device that, in turn, is bought by somebody else we don’t know for an unknown goal. The circuit of these scraps of life is regulated according to the working time that has been invested in its raw materials, its production and in us. The means of measurement is money. Those who produce and exchange have no control over their common product and so we have situations where rebellious workers are shot by exactly those guns they helped produce. Every commodity is a weapon against us, every supermarket an arsenal, every factory a battleground. This is the dynamic of the Work-Machine: split society into isolated individuals, `blackmail’ us each separately with the wage or violence; use our working time according to its plans. Economy means expansion of control by the Machine over its parts more and more dependent on the Machine.
We are all parts of the Planetary Work Machine–we are the Machine. We represent it against each other. Whether we are developed or not, waged or not, working alone or as employees- we serve its purpose. Where there is no industry, we “produce” workers to export to industrial zones. Africa has produced slaves for America, Turkey produces workers for Germany, Pakistan for Kuwait, Ghana for Nigeria, Morocco for France, Mexico for the U.S. Untouched areas can be used as scenery for the international tourist business: Indians on reservations, Polynesians, Balinese, Aborigines. Those who try to get out of the Machine fulfill the function of picturesque “outsiders” (bums, hippies, yogis).
As long as there is the Machine, we’re all inside of it. It has destroyed or mutilated almost all traditional societies or driven them into a demoralizing defensive position. If you try to retreat to a “deserted” valley in order to live quietly on some subsistence farming, you’ll be found by a tax collector, a draft-agent or by the police. With its tentacles the Machine can reach virtually every place on this planet within hours. Not even in the most remote part of the Gobi desert can you be sure to take an unobserved shit.