Sunday, April 15, 2018

Means of Production or Means of Destruction?

By Kamran Nayeri, April 14, 2018

As robotics increasingly is displacing workers, it may be easier to see what the workers actually used to do. This robotic lumberjack raises a question for the Marxists to ponder: Is this a means of production or a means of destruction?  May I suggest that it depends on what we think of those trees? Are they living beings facing a doomsday machine that is employed to make more wealth from nature quicker? Or they are "natural resources," "raw material," etc.

But if the robotic lumberjack is a means of destruction (it sure looks like it, doesn't it) what that makes the lumberjack with his/her less fully-automatic tools? A means of production or a means of destruction? Replacing human labor power with robotics in this stage of production as a means of destruction is not the end of it, clearly, the robot made for this purpose was invented, manufactured, marketed, and is serviced by workers with various skills along the line. Then what does this knowledge of the purpose of the robotic lumberjack makes the workers in its full production and maintenance cycle? Are those workers part of the means of production or means of destruction? 

May I suggest, that they too are engaged in the process of production of means of destruction which make them indirectly means of destruction as well.  But how many other economic activities fall into this category of means of destruction? You can think about entire industries that, largely if not entirely, employ means of destruction. Think about the arms industry of all kinds, from military to hunting. Think about pesticides, insecticides, herbicides industries, think about the meat industry from the beginning to the end.  

As Marx and Engels argued in their materialist conception of history, social relations of production as well as human nature itself, are changed by the development of modes of production.  What they did not consider is whether and how means of destruction also shape human nature and "social relations of production." We know they do in the conflict we see between lumberjacks and "tree-huggers."  We see this in coalminers' support for the coal industry and Trump administration environmental deregulation even as the incidence of black lung disease is spearding among them again.  In brief, we need to revisit the materialist conception of history to allow for this kind of "means of production/destruction" and their effect on how societies have evolved and what lessons we can draw for the political strategy to deal with the social and planetary crisis.  

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