Flow of Ideas

PLANET OF THE CAPITORG



Glenn Rikowski, London, 7th January 2007


Introduction

The ‘Capitorg’ was invented by Soowook Kim, drawing upon my own work, specifically Rikowski (2002) but also including material from Rikowski and McLaren (2002). This fearsome beast is the ‘capitalist organism’; that is, according to Kim, us humans, as also capital (literally human-capital) at the current historical juncture. We are all Capitorgs. You can view a classic example of this form of life on the first page of Soowook Kim’s recent article in Educational Insights [1]. It appears that we live on the Planet of the Capitorg.

Of course, the Capitorg first appears to be a bit of fun; though the horror is barely concealed beneath the surface. Furthermore, it is most flattering to have someone posit a ‘new life-form: human-capital’ (Rikowski, 2002, p.111 in Kim, 2006, p.2) based on readings of one’s works. However, Kim’s presentation of humankind as part-capital/part-human is problematic. Kim may have seen this if other works of mine had been examined: principally, Rikowski (2003 and 2006). So, in what ways has Kim got things wrong, or has given us a very limited conception of the Capitorg? For me, the Capitorg is a much more complex and hopeful entity than that concocted by Kim.


All Power to Capital within the Capitorg?

Firstly, I agree with the following powerful statement by Kim:

“Educational discourses of neoliberalism, promoting literacy for job opportunities, economic advancement, and individual success are of paramount importance to producing human capital rather than human beings” (p.2).

Education and training are being reduced, practically, to human capital production. Furthermore:

“We are not just learning, teaching, and living in neoliberal capitalist societies, but are becoming “a new life form: human capital” through “the capitalization of humanity” (Rikowski, 2002, p.111 in Kim, 2006, p.2).

Thus far I agree. However, Kim goes on to pose the question: “Is there an unfettered Capitorg (capitalist organism) in all of us (Figure 1)?” Although I have concurred with the statement “We are capital!” in Rikowski (2002, pp.111-114; and 2003, pp.149-157), even there I proposed that there are limits and constraints on our social constitution and existence as capital. This is because we also labour. Our social existence as labour places limits on our existence as capital. If Kim was correct, there would indeed be no basis for hope; we can only ever progressively become capital, historically. All notions of the ending of capitalism, of human progress, indeed of any kind of progress become unwarranted. The becoming of capital within us is identical to the erosion of any notion of humanity as its own, of human freedom, for Kim’s Capitorg.

Rather, we are thoroughly contradictory social beings: the struggle between labour and capital – what I take to be the class struggle – therefore also exists within us as social individuals. Only a real psychology of capital can begin to unravel what this means for us, and a psychology of capital is simultaneously a psychology of our selves.

These points cannot be demonstrated here. In terms of indicating how, and in what ways ‘are are capital’ and how we become a capitalist form of life, I have made some progress (in Rikowski, 2002 and 2003). The ways in which and how we ‘become labour’, I have not examined to the same extent.


No Surgery is Possible

Kim’s Capitorg is misleading in another sense. He suggests that capital is something in or within humans, as opposed to what humans are, and are becoming. We are Capitorg’s because of our social constitution. Basically, Kim reifies capital within us. Thus, in this sense, his monster mask is revealing: if only we could get rid of the mask, we would reveal and be our true selves once more! Capital cannot be located within us, or exist as some appendage, cover or particular physical part of us. It is, I repeat, a social phenomenon made real by particular social forces and relations. To transform ourselves into something other than Capitorgs, therefore, we need to abolish the social relations and forces that nurture and sustain capital and capitalist society. There are no quick fixes for ending our social existence as Capitorgs. It is not like banishing demons, surgery or extracting something, or altering our interiors or covering our faces: there is no physical manifestation of capital within us that pins it down.

In addition to the Capitorg being a site of the struggle between labour and capital, within its own self as well as external to its own body and self, the fact that “we are capital” also means that we are subject to the contradictions within capital. Ours selves as capital means that we incorporate its contradictions. In a paper I presented at the MERD IX seminar (Rikowski, 2006) I indicated in point (8) The Psychology of Capital, various aspect of labour (power). There are six of these (see Rikowski, 2006, p.4) [2], six aspects of labour (power) that in contemporary capitalism become incorporated within our selves; into our own souls, if you like. These aspects of labour (power) screw up our psychologies, our personhoods, further still. Of course, we seek solutions to these contradictions. This search drives us on to change and subvert our social and individual condition; given that when I refer to ‘individuals’ I refer to the social individual, where there is no dividing line between the ‘individual and society’, as in bourgeois social science. These considerations place further limits on capital within us; as Capitorgs, capital clashes against itself within us. It is not the triumphant, unfettered force within humankind, as Kim suggests, even on its own terms.


Kim’s Technological Determinism

One final point of criticism: Kim appears to herald a technological determinism on the Planet of the Capitorg. It is argued that:

“Capitorgs learn, use and live with technologies that are driving forces of contemporary capitalism” (Kim, 2006, p.2).

Kim give yields too much to technology here; the analysis resides at the level of the concrete and immediate appearance. However, I would argue that the existence and expansion of capital rests on the generation of value and surplus-value in the labour process and, in contemporary capitalism, on the social production of labour power. Technologies are concrete expressions of these social drives, especially the drive to increase relative surplus value. Thus, just as we cannot ensure that the Capitorg becomes extinct as a life-form through some concrete process of extraction, surgery, cleansing, exorcism, or whatever, neither does somehow manipulating, controlling or reconfiguring technology mean the termination of capitalist social relations and of capital.



Conclusion: Planet of the Capitorg

Yes, we may well live on the Planet of the Capitorg. And I would agree with Kim that the Capitorg is a more accurate figure of what we are, and are becoming [3], than Donna Haraway’s cyborg (in Haraway, 1991). However, it is a more complex, contradiction-ridden and hence ultimately less formidable foe than that rendered by Kim. If Kim is right, we cannot fight against ourselves and become victorious for a better world.


For me, the Capitorg has openness in its social constitution, and hence is also a creature of hope as its evolution is not completely blocked off by capital, and a future beyond capitalist social relations beckons. We are Capitorgs, but we have the ability to metamorphose into something altogether strangely other, more beautiful and truly revolutionary.


Notes

[1] See Kim (2006). Note that if you move you cursor across the Capitorg you will discover that it changes to and fro, from a straightforwardly recognisable human to a human-monster hybrid. But perhaps the T-shirt the guy is wearing, which says “I Love Capitalism” is perhaps more scary than the monster mask! The latter is quite cute. Kim designed the Capitorg on the basis of an image at: http://flickr.com/photos/michaelhenderson/23059611

[2] Pagination is based on the ‘Print Friendly’ version of Rikowski (2006): http://www.flowideas.co.uk/print.php?page=195

[3] It is a developing process, though not irreversible, or impossible to destroy. The state of the class struggle, and our understanding of its nature, holds the future for the Capitorg. If we identify with the labour aspect of our selves, on a progressive scale, its extinction is assured.


References

Kim, S. (2006) Capitorgs and Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS): Toward Critical Technological Literacy and Free/Libre and Open Source Society (FLOSS), Educational Insights, Vol.10 No.2, online at: http://www.ccfi.educ.ubc.ca/publication/insights/v10n02/html/kim/kim.html

Haraway, D. (1991) A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century, in: D. Haraway (ed.) Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The reinvention of nature, New York: Routledge.

Rikowski, G. (2002) Education, Capital and the Transhuman, in: D. Hill, P. McLaren, M. Cole & G. Rikowski (Eds.) Marxism Against Postmodernism in Educational Theory, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Rikowski, G. (2003) Alien Life: Marx and the Future of the Human, Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory, Vol.11 No.2, pp.121-164.

Rikowski, G. (2006) Ten Points on Marx, Class and Education, a paper presented at the Marxism and Education: Renewing Dialogues IX seminar, University of London, Institute of Education, 25th October. Online at The Flow of Ideas web site: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Ten%20Points%20on%20Marx,%20Class%20and%20Education


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