( In the context of North American anarchism, surprisingly little has been written about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The same cannot be said of the radical scene of Europe. The text you are about to read is excerpted from the latest issue of the anarchist journal 325, published by one of the world’s foremost insurrectionist websites. The reader is highly encouraged to check out 325 #12, which is likely to forever alter the political consciousness of those who take the time to engage seriously with the ideas presented therein.)
“One of the features of this fourth industrial revolution is that it doesn’t change what we are doing, but it changes us.” – Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic, which has set up a Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution inSan Francisco, United States.
An industrial revolution is an economic, social, philosophical and political event whereby the elite appropriates that which is free – land, nature, talents, social relationships, skills and dreams – and repackages and transforms them into agents within the mechanism of profit and power. To do this, they deprive the bulk of the population of autonomy, self-determination, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, mutual aid and relationship, and freedom.
We have had three industrial revolutions in the last 250 years. We are now in the grip of the fourth and fifth revolutions. All of these revolutions have been fundamentally based on extraction industries and the devastation of the ecosystem.
The First Industrial Revolution occurred between 1760 and 1870 when water and steam were used to mechanize production through the invention of the steam engine, which also had the effect of ‘globalization de-localization through the railway. The First Industrial Revolution broke the people’s relationship to nature, ushering in the age of cities.
The Second Industrial Revolution occurred between 1870 to 1914 and brought electric power to the Western world along with steel, oil and the combustion engine enabling mass production and eradicating the artisan cottage industries.
The Third Industrial Revolution began in the 1980s when electronics and information technology automated production and began to decentralize as the ascension of the digital revolution eventually ‘democratized’ the personal computer and the internet, a development that further eroded Western humanity’s declining relationship with the natural world and with each other as citizens became part of a global community in lieu of a local one which was fast disappearing. The Third Industrial Revolution and the incipient Fourth has created systematic loneliness, isolation, widespread mental health problems and a more subtle and complete dependence on the system: when human relations and family networks can no longer be guaranteed to ensure our survival, we are led to believe that reliance on the machine can.
These successive industrial revolutions have consolidated and deepened this break not only from the natural world for many of the world’s population, now urban and dependent on the mechanisms of civilized culture, but lead to an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor.
The aim of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is the convergence of physical, biological and digital technologies in the purpose of a new vision of humanity and the planet. 4IR, Cyber-Physical or Industry 4.0 involves mass connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, access to knowledge via the internet, storage, autonomous vehicles, massive processing power via 5G, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetics, bio-printing (manufacture of cells, organs and body parts), life extension, augmented reality, materials science, energy storage, quantum computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT) such as smart buildings and cities, blockchain and cryptocurrencies. These are ‘disruptive’ technologies in every sense: governance, finance, logistics, society, human ontology. Compliance is also achieved through the appeal of 4IR to our need for “convenience, comfort, harmony and pleasure”. This is what is meant by a world of ‘frictionless technology’ in the sense of a technified world.
In this new world, Covid-19 has presented the techno-elite with the greatest opportunity: global populations in physical isolation from each other, in some countries a tacit cull being allowed of humans who are burdens on a system which will not need them, total dependence on technology to communicate with each other, work or entertain ourselves, the use of these technologies to institute mass surveillance and compliance on a scale hitherto unimaginable and an experience and fear of more-than-usually imminent death on a mass scale. It has also shown us some truths: that despite two hundred years of ‘progress’, all that really has happened is that the elite have shored up their own stores, public welfare systems have been all but destroyed, that humanity itself has been ‘decoupled’ from nature so completely that in fact we cannot support ourselves during a crisis without the system and that promises from the elite – whether political, economic or technological – will never be kept.
If 4IR is the establishment of the means,-the new technologies themselves-, that elites will try to use to confront the instability resulting from inequality of resources, climate collapse and a rise of computing and post-industrial power, then the Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR) begins at that point where there is mass acceptance of these new technologies that converge within our bodies, environments and realities to such as degree that the machine-world is ever-present, even at a nano-scale or at the furthest reach of humans into space. That’s why if you make any basic research into the 5IR, you only find capitalist green-washing about so-called “sustainable development” and “improving the lives of everyone” marketing-babble of a techno-utopia. That’s because the technocrats and elites do not want the true realities of these technological developments to be known until it is too late to do anything about it.
Technological progress, we’re told, is “inevitable”. 5IR will usher in such huge conceptual changes regarding how we see our bodies, technology and the “natural world” that many distinctions will begin to have less boundaries. For “relic” humans like ourselves, who think only of prosthesis as a resolution of disabilities, 4IR provides the tech, and through development soon the results of 4IR intend to be better than the original limb. 5IR is not only about extending and refining the technologies and incursions of the Fourth, it is about white-washing it, bringing the public into alignment with those technologies by applying their propaganda to the basest of human instincts. 5IR is the acceptance that the robotic-cybernetic limb is superior to the organic and the desire for the artificial representative over the organic and chaotic. Framed within a newly evolving reality of total artificialization, and as artificially intelligent technology miniaturizes, intervening in everything within the grasp of the specialists, the outcome of 4IR reality is a vision of a new Earth and of a new “humanity”. A “Humanity +” that lives inside a prison-world dependent on “green energy” and regulated and intervened upon by functionaries, scientists and technocrats through methods like A.I, biotech and nano-tech. If the 4IR is the actual emergence and converging development of these new post-industrial technologies, then 5IR occurs from the accelerated rate of development and mass acceptance of that same techno-industrial complex. 5IR is characterized by unprecedented exponential speed (machine-time) as opposed to linear/non-linear (human-time) which means that even the designers and social-engineers of this brave new world admit that they cannot control the outcome of these new technologies. It tends toward the emergence of something even more horrific than the fictional Skynet of the Terminator series: the Technological Singularity.
Ray Kurzweil writes in The Singularity is Near that “It is hard to think of any problem that a superintelligence could not either solve or at least help us solve. Disease, poverty, environmental destruction, unnecessary suffering of all kinds: these are things that a superintelligence equipped with advanced nanotechnology would be capable of eliminating.” He adds that “Machines can pool resources in ways that humans cannot.” Reading these statements, it is hard to think of any problem that we could not solve with our own intelligence and the intelligence of the planet by simpler means, determination and a change of perspective and behaviour. Moreover, it is obvious that humans are quite capable of pooling resources, it is just that those who own and profit from it all deny it to everyone else through force, and the rest go along with it. Choosing not to change the situation and not to fight against the “future” is a position most will take.
So it is, that after a century of technological progress and promises of feeding world hunger and eradicating pollution, a few are wealthy beyond comprehension whilst the masses still scrabble for a basic existence; medical advances and even commonplace medicines are still scarce in many countries. We are thrown trinkets naturally to keep us quiet: internet, smartphones, apps, social media, computer games, live streams and podcasts, prosthetic and promises of more to come. But the real advances will not redistributed any more equitably than the wealth of the previous industrial revolutions was, and the real advances will likely have to be endured by us: total surveillance in the privacy-less future, demands for total mind-control, total conformity, total compliance, through conditioning, social reliance, citizenism,“community” and benefits systems such as a (minimal) basic universal income. If an industrial revolution cannot meet enough of humanity’s needs to be fully accepted, it either erases those needs or applies itself through force.
In the context of the 4IR and 5IR, what qualities the machines currently lack – empathy, love, intimacy, for example – are those damaged in the human being by the techno-industrial complex itself –from the fear of intimacy and ‘real-time’ relationships that results from the use of social media, to the lack of empathy now known to be induced by pharmaceuticals drugs such as paracetamol and the poisons in our food and water systems – so that technology will be said to truly meet our (now modified) needs. Domesticated, brutalized slaves to a mechanistic system of materialism, greed and self-interest. This is part of the dominion of the machine-world: talk of repairing disabilities and curing disease means the mechanization of the body; talk of life extension means the rule of the elite forever.
While the techno-priests wax lyrical about liberation from our organic bodies, the biological prison, through uploading our consciousness, achieving immortality, and being able to consider our bodies as mere ‘sleeves’ to be interchanged whenever we want or need to, what is really happening is that the bodies of the majority are being turned into literal prisons by the few who will actually benefit from advances in life extension and disease control, just as they do now (underfunded public health systems are routinely equipped with the oldest and cheapest technologies and for many, public health systems are not available at all). But these new transhumanist technologies are not intended to liberate everyone.
Despite the lies of the futurists the implantation of these technologies will widen the abyss between the included and the excluded. Citadels of power will be created, which are further away from the anger of the base population than ever before. And as the body becomes raw material for a new sector of bio-science, in a world where machines will do the majority of the labour, the human body itself will become another reservoir of Capital, in new forms of exploitation and industry. In fact, it is already taking place. With stem cell research, gene splicing, bio-enhancers, new pharmaceutical products, prosthetics, mass DNA and cellular analysis and databasing. The sovereign and private self will simply enter a new realm of valuation, commodification, adjustments and social division without end in the service of Capital, bio-surveillance, vanity and inequality. In 4IR, consumer society goes much deeper and darker than the purchases of things. The endgame of Industry 4.0 is to ‘decouple’ us from our bodies themselves and from our understanding of ourselves as part of biosphere and bio-rhythm, so that they too are viewed as something to purchase, upgrade and ‘fix’, an ever-manipulable, interchangeable set of mechanistic parts which can all be artificially manufactured and replaced at a cost, and promoted as possessing better qualities than the organic base. An artificialized being that, once it has entered the temple of technology is forever dependent and sustained by pharmaceuticals, surgeries, techno-psychiatries,“updates”, devices and corporations. The technological future of the human body may not be death (for those few who can afford to be immortal), but it will be the deathliness, the dark cold lifeless hungry morbidity of the plantation.
Meanwhile, the Earth is still dying and technological developments, far from providing the solutions they advertise, are destroying it at ever-increasing speed, hungry for materials, electricity and rare earths. The rare earths required for smartphones alone are causing untold damage to environments and human health.
Baotou, Inner Mongolia, is a primary centre for rare earth extraction and the mines are surrounded by toxic tailings (waste from mining), largely of radioactive thorium. In the Congo, the extraction of the rare earth mineral Coltan is well known to have devastated and caused immeasurable suffering to land, human communities and wildlife. The mining company Molycrop in California, likes to present itself as an ethical mining company but its extraction of neodymium for use as speaker magnets, europium for creating colour in iPhone screens and cerium which is used with solvent to polish screens is still pillage on an unsustainable scale of material which should be left in the Earth and requires whole tracts of nature to be laid waste for the creation of mines. At present, there is no escape from the basic reality: technology is dependent on the destruction of ecosystems, including the last wild animals and indigenous communities, with civilized human populations increasingly confined to technological “habitats” – “smart” megacities. There will be smaller cracks to live in, and our networks and our individual lives will be under far greater scrutiny with a more intimate invasion into our sovereignty and autonomy, but will it be any more or less terrible than it would be for a peasant to be forced off their land and into a factory in the new cities? Or the fight that indigenous people have fought and continue to wage around the world? We’re tasked with attempting to preserve what we can of the fragile and diminishing wilderness, whilst organizing and carrying out attacks that strike not only against infrastructure, but also against the symbols and representatives of the State, Technology and Capital. We need to think and prepare now, acquiring the skills and means that we and others will need to navigate this new world and reflecting on what it means to be anarchist. We have to try to limit the damage done by the predator civilizations, to keep combative memory alive and remember why it is that we are fighting and what we are fighting for. We are facing nothing less than the attempted erasure of wild undomesticated life, and the ending of entire ways of thinking and being through social conditioning, repression, coerced and voluntary participation. The structures will remain the same: unending inequality, enslavement, privilege and oppression, authoritarianism, destruction, mediation and alienation. There will be cracks in their systems, there always are. And so anarchy, the will to freedom and the will to sovereignty, will also still thrive, pushing up through every crack and fissure. Continuity of the struggle lies in the question of freedom, of personal autonomy, of slavery, of the control and surveillance of the many by the few according to their own agenda. These things do not change, no matter whether we are talking about a First Industrial Revolution or the Nth.
Research and Training Cell – N.T.
Published January 2021 in 325 #12