Mining is extending primitive accumulation


I am not sure I already wrote about this, but I am going to write about it now.

There is a relationship between technology and primitive accumulation. 

The story goes like this… where did all the capital come from to allow capitalism to begin?  One story is that people saved up or found buried treasure left by victims of the black plague. Another story is that this original capital was some how stolen – the commons were transformed into private property or all the gold of the mesoamerican empires were stolen by the europeans)

This idea of primitive accumulation always was interesting to me because we are in an era of personal data primitive accumulation. All the information we share and give, even this blog, is being monetized and someone is profiting off of it (not me). 

I was reminded of this and more while reading Martín Arboleda’s excellent book Plantary Mine.

Arboleda even says: 

“The capital form hinges upon appropriating the vital capacities and potentialities of individual workers and the collective power that results from their socialization.” The key being their socialization. It is not just the work of the individuals but the collective power (one could even connect the concept of the General Will to this). This is some sort of accumulation outside of the M-C-M circuit. 

The traditional monetary circuit in Marx is the M-C-M circuit, whereby money creates a commodity when creates (often more) money (money prime). Value exists in these different forms (the money, commodity, and perhaps money’ / surplus value?).

In Planetary Mine this circuit is expanded to the global supply network that begins in the mines – or the extraction of natural resources. This extraction serves as a driver for other transformations in the economy. To paraphase a friend of mine …  anarchism is the notion that society imposes class… get rid of society and you get rid of class, and marxism is the notion that class creates an oppressive state.   Here we go one level below, what are these structural drivers of this and what is the scaffolding or physical bones of this. In Marxism we always hear about money, if we get rid of money then we will be free.

But money is not the only way to represent commodified value. Value exists within a global network of change and surplus value is created at different ratios (although Marx would not agree perhaps) along the way in regard to more or less human labor.  Khanna calls this a “fact” and connects surplus value with a higher ontological order (in Khanna’s case the ontological order refers to organizations of people, but I think ontological state refers to material complexity)

One of the most interesting things, is the extraction as a site of primitive accumulation, and that primitive accumulation does not only exist at the beginning of capitalism but throughout. Perhaps the distinguishing feature in different stages of capitalism is the locus of primitive accumulation.  Schwab identifies the fourth industrial revolution as not because of some new technology but the convergence of all technologies.

One could go one step further and say this convergence also represents a change in the topologies of the value stream, as it changes from the source of primitive accumulation to the deployment of capital. The flip side of convergence of techology i ubiquity – that technology becomes the milieu – there is no more distinction between background and foreground, between environment and object.

Arboeda states “territory needs to be viewed above all as a form of political technology; that is, a spatial category that is measured, demarcated, bordered, represented, and policed eminently by the lawmaking violence of the state.”  We see the idea of geography as technology with gerrymandering in the united states. This is the construction of culture as technology, or the construction of consciousness.

Mining represents not just a territorial expansion but as Arboeda states an “intensification”… an intensification enabled by technology. This could even be seen as a way to create new methods of measurement of finer and finer granularity.  Intensification is perhaps transformative in a way that territorialisation is not. Intensification is a blurring of boundaries just as convergence is blurring of boundaries where as territorialization is a reification of boundaries through transgression of those boundaries. 

I am thinking now about the films that I teach… In Blade Runner, there are replicants for mining. Mining is dirty … mining is destructive there is a cyber punk aesthetic to films that feature this sort of extraction. That we separate the the place where we use the technology from the place where we extract the raw material.  In cyber utopian films, like AI, there is no extraction. 

Towards the end of the book there is a discussion of Hegel’s inverted world. I dont really get it. I have maybe mentioned it before. I now think of the upside down when I think of the inverted world. The interpretation I like these days is that it shows the absurdity of binaries. If I put a Wittgensteinan gloss on this, what if I took everything as the state of the world as it is, all statements, and then reversed them… What is the purpose of this exercise?  That perceptions of the world by another person can be opposite… so what is true?  We come to a higher law through this “dialectic”

For Arboeda The inverted world is the idea that your tool is also using you. The smart phone is a product of extraction but it is also a tool of extraction. From this perhaps we can say that extraction is one of the fundamental laws of capitalism. 

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