Mobilizing vs. organizing around health care

Jacobin Magazine recently published a series of essays, written by members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), about whether or not socialists should plan a national march for “Medicare For All”.  First, Dustin Guastella wrote an essay calling for socialists to lead this national march in Washington D.C.; then Michael Kinnucan responded, arguing that socialists need to do more organizing and less mobilizing, and that a march would not be a good use of time/energy; then Guastella wrote back, affirming and clarifying the usefulness of planning a big march, and was joined by Ethan Young who also wrote an essay arguing the potential benefits of a Medicare for All rally.

Guastella’s first essay argues that socialists (particularly the DSA) need to recognize the widespread popularity of the idea of “Medicare For All”, and use it to not only shore up their brand, but to connect with health care workers, who are currently among the most radical of American organized labor.  It acknowledges that oftentimes marches and rallies and protests tend to be rather boring and useless, but argue that if done correctly, a “Medicare For All” march organizing effort can lead to concrete connections being made between dispersed constituencies and segments of the working class, and socialists in general.  It also pre-empts the argument that socialists should do more local organizing around health-care, pointing out that health care is something extremely difficult to do on a local or state level, and a national “Medicare For All” platform has the least contradictions and obstacles.  Its nice that this article acknowledges the routine pitfalls and habits that affect marches and rallies today; even as somebody who tends to stay away from demonstrations, I’m willing to buy the idea of using a march as a way to build and plan and network between the DSA and health care workers.

Michael Kinnucan’s response is pessimistic on the usefulness of a nationally coordinated health care protest.  It argues that the DSA is not in much position to influence Washington or organize a large rally, especially compared with those that have already been organized this year by other organizations and networks, and that organizing a march without organizing locally first is putting the cart before the horse.  It also points out that the nurses union, which Guastella wants to organize a march with, has shied away from these kinds of actions, and has done much more locally, especially electorally.  Which is related to another problem, that organizing a “Medicare For All” march risks rolling up the DSA into the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and doesn’t allow for the development of an actual anti-capitalist socialist alternative to the Democrats’ welfare capitalism.  Citing Jane McAlevey’s arguments about organizing vs. mobilizing, Kinnucan argues for locally-rooted struggle around not just health care, but also housing, so that the DSA can reach out to new constituencies, rather than simply mobilizing their existing and relatively small base to travel across the country for a protest.  I think a lot of this makes sense, particularly the point about whether the nurses’ union would even be down for organizing a big rally in the capital.

Guastella’s defense of a “Medicare for All” mobilization against Kinnucan’s critiques goes into more detail about the underlying logic, but oddly enough it seems to move away from what I thought were the more persuasive points, in favor of a somewhat vague and undeveloped argument about the importance of national demands and national coordination.  A crux of this second essay is that the socialists absolutely need some kind of national campaign, otherwise they’ll remain fragmented and localized.  Buts its never made clear why a campaign focusing on a march in D.C. will help build a base in the localities where most DSA chapters will be doing day-to-day work.  There is also an argument made about how large organizations like the AFL-CIO can ignore small, local actions, but can’t afford to ignore big nationally-coordinated actions, but its not clear why the DSA needs to care about whether these big establishment organizations are participating.

The clarification on the most persuasive points in the original essay, around using a big rally as a means to an end of building connections and networks, should probably have been focused on more.  This clarification revolves around acknowledging how most big demonstrations do, in fact, lead to nothing (i.e. the Womens’ March and the March for Science), but if the DSA takes these lessons in stride, a “Medicare For All” march can be different, and focus more on networking for the longer-term political campaign over the march itself.  But this raises an important concern: what if there is something inherent to organizing marches and rallies and other symbolic demonstrations that stifles the ability for longer-term campaigns and coalitions to emerge?  Its easy to say that liberals will of course hold useless demonstrations, but without a deeper dive into the actual mechanics of why these demonstrations fail to build longer-term campaigns, its not clear why a socialist-organized mass demonstration will be able to avoid the same outcome.

Ethan Young’s essay was particularly unpersuasive.  It argues that a “Medicare For All” march could launch a protracted, national movement around health-care in the same way that the 1965 anti-war march organized by the SDS allegedly pushed the radical left into the forefront of US politics and launched a militant anti-war movement.  But this narrative ignores the fact that day-to-day, local organizing had been going on for many years prior, during the Civil Rights Movement, and it was out of this infrastructure that the SDS and other leftist groups grew.  The 1965 march emerged out of a long period of quieter, local organizing, which formed the basis for the highly publicized demonstrations lead by MLK and others, and subsequent movements relied on this localized network as well.  The real question should be, do socialist groups like the DSA have the pre-existing infrastructure and connections that the SDS had in ’65?  I’m not convinced that’s the case.

If you ask me, I’d say that organizing for big demonstrations should take a secondary position to consolidating local projects that bring immediate, concrete benefits.  R.L. Stephens made a very similar point in a recent essay in Jacobin.  Socialists can’t just bear witness to the horrors of capitalism and shout about the benefits of socialism and related programs — they have to actually act, in the here and now.  Organizing around immediate problems — wages, rent, police violence, food access, etc. — can connect with a much larger base than can organizing around showing up for a rally that may or may not get the attention of politicians (let alone actual societal or political reforms).

And in the context of health care, why not actually strategize around actually bringing class struggle into the mix?  The nurses are already among the most militant segments of the modern US working class.  If there is a capitalist industry that is ripe for collectivization, its health care.  Instead of planning for a rally in D.C. to beg scraps from politicians who have no interest in listening, why not connect with local health care workers and plan out how to get to a point where workers are occupying the hospitals and drug factories, and are destroying the functionality of the health insurance companies?


Analysis of class composition, high-tech workers, and education by US student leftists in the 1960s

In 1967, a group of militants within the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) wrote an essay called Toward a Theory of Social Change: The ‘Port Authority’ Statement, which put forward a Marxist analysis of classes in the US, and what radical left strategy ought to look like in light of ongoing changes.  Its method of class analysis was very similar to the framework of class composition that was developed by Marxists in Italy in the same time period, which analyzed the way the restructuring of capitalism (typically driven by technological change) also restructures the nature of the working class.

Like some of the more innovative class analysis happening in Western countries at the time, the Port Authority statement hypothesized about the potential radicalism of a “new working class” being created from technological advancements.  This new sub-class was divided into three more categories: technicians & engineers, skilled industrial workers, and social service workers.  What united these categories was the fact that they were at the heart of contemporary capitalism: technicians, engineers, and skilled industrial workers were at the center of production, the economic core of capitalist society, while social service workers were at the center of a growing welfare state that was necessary for capital as a stabilizing force against militant dissent.  An important unifying trend was that these workers in these categories typically passed through college campuses, where they could potentially undergo a process of radicalization.

The essay also made comments about the relationship between technology and class consciousness.  It was thought that since the “new working class” was relatively educated and skilled and at the center of production, but also lacked any real control over the overall system, they would be more prone to radicalization than other segments of the working class.  This idea was supported by the fact that at the same time, the SDS was observing such radical currents emerging among technicians, engineers, and skilled industrial workers in the United Kingdom, France, and West Germany (the fact that such radical currents weren’t observed in the US were attributed to the weakness of local student leftists).  Indeed, the subsequent decade saw vigorous debates among French Marxists about the class position of engineers, which echoed the SDS faction’s ideas, albeit in a much more developed and contested way.

The observed connection between universities and the “new working class” was also taken up in another essay written shortly after, called The Multiversity: Crucible of the New Working Class.  The essay focused on the alienation felt by students in American universities and how this alienation was linked with how capitalism turned universities into “knowledge factories”, which produced workers with the necessary education and skill to labor in an increasingly technological economy.  More interestingly, the essay put forward the idea that the optimal strategy for student leftists was to reach out to people studying science, engineering, and education (instead of, say, art), and to organize on community college and technical college campuses instead of the elite Ivies.

One proposed tactic to reach these students was to connect the criminal actions of certain corporations, like Dow Chemical’s production of napalm for use in South-East Asia, with the fact that engineers and scientists who work for such companies have no power over choosing the direction and content of their work.  This, of course, tied back to the arguments in Toward a Theory of Social Change, about how the “new working class” was prone to radicalization because of the contradiction between their high level of education and skill, and their lack of real control in their positions as workers subordinated to the hierarchies of state and capital.

And today, it may be time to recover these lines of analysis and figure out how to update and apply them to today.  Software is at the center of contemporary capitalism.  Those segments of the working class who are required to run the sprawling infrastructure of information technologies, data analytics, and artificial intelligence, are not only becoming increasingly politicized, but are becoming outright radical and asserting their class position as workers.  The old observation from the ’60s on the role of universities as “factories” for skilled workers echoes what we are arguably seeing today, where education at all levels has been undergoing a steady and seemingly inexorable recomposition in order to produce workers who are more in-tune with the software-heavy modern economy.  Radical leftists, particularly those of us who ourselves work as programmers and engineers, could have a big impact if we can recover and build off previous efforts to analyze high-tech industries and organize techno-scientific workers.

Chavismo’s oily roots

In a recent essay in London Review of Books, Greg Grandin analyzes the ideological roots of Hugo Chavez and “chavismo”, and how important oil has always been for Venezeulan political economy.  The most interesting plank of his analysis is the way chavismo’s material dependence on oil, and its ideology, is traced back to efforts by Third World nationalists in the ’60s and ’70s to create the conditions for state-lead socio-economic development.  Chavez came of age in this era, when in Venezuela, profits from the oil industry were used to both consolidate a rigid two-party political system, a social-democratic system of welfare and patronage, and an unexpected commitment to anti-imperialist politics.

In 1974, the Venezuelan Congress extended ‘special powers’ to President Pérez, giving him complete discretion to legislate and spend. He nationalised industries, limited foreign influence in banking and commerce, and launched a massive programme of state-controlled industrialisation. Money flowed lavishly and unaccountably to projects that were often wishful, wasteful and venal. ‘Anyone who had the tiniest bit of power began stealing shamelessly,’ Chávez tells Ramonet. Pérez, he says, ‘presided over the greatest wave of corruption in living memory… The rich got even richer and amassed colossal fortunes, while the poor received mere crumbs from the oil money table.’ At the same time, however, Pérez was pledging to put Venezuela’s oil at the ‘service of Latin America, at the service of humanity’, in order to wipe out the ‘last traces of colonialism’ and turn socialism into a ‘planetary reality’. Venezuela’s foreign policy during these boom years called for debt relief, nuclear disarmament, an end to the arms race, access to the sea for landlocked Bolivia, lifting the US embargo on Cuba, and the creation of a Latin American Economic System that would function free of Washington’s interference. Pérez proposed using Opec as an ‘instrument of negotiation for the construction of the New International Economic Order’.

These political efforts were made by possible by the high oil prices of the ’70s and early ’80s.  But the subsequent crash unraveled Perez’s project, leading to intense social unrest and destabilizing events like the Caracazo and Chavez’s coup attempts.  After Chavez was brought into power, the major thrust of his program was apparently to reinvigorate OPEC, get oil prices back up, and fuel the Bolivarian Revolution.

Chávez knew that the best way to gain control over oil revenue was to restore the effectiveness of Opec. In early 2001, his first oil minister, Alí Rodríguez Araque, became Opec’s general secretary, and he managed to achieve a level of unity among oil-exporting nations not seen since the early 1970s. Opec nations not only agreed to a production cut, but agreed to give Rodríguez unprecedented authority to decide targets for future output as he deemed necessary, without having to consult the organisation as a whole. Mexico, not a member of Opec, committed to adhering to Opec quotas too. Oil prices began to rise, helping Chávez take control of PDVSA and beat back efforts to oust him.

Prices rose over the next decade and a half, as did the various social and economic indicators in Venezuela that the chavistas were pouring oil profits into.  And the various international projects that Chavez developed looked quite like those advocated by Perez, even beyond the central role of OPEC: a regional economic bloc autonomous from the US, oil subsidies for poorer nations, etc.  But like the Perez era, the vast wealth of oil also created and consolidated mechanisms for corruption.  It also allowed for the chavista state to avoid dealing with the harsh realities of class conflict: as Grandin notes, the accumulation of wealth by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie continued relatively unhindered throughout the Chavez years, despite the simultaneous explosion in grassroots organizing by the masses.

Now, several years into a new era of low oil prices, the Bolivarian Revolution is falling apart — again, not unlike what happened in the final years of the Perez era.  The rollback of the victories of chavismo, by the inexorable logic of basic material constraints, is apparently the price paid for not freeing the Bolivarian Revolution from its material dependence on oil.

Supply-lines for Salafi-jihadist rebel groups in Syria

In a recent episode of Radio War Nerd, the interviewee Elijah Magnier pointed out that there is a massive and ongoing logistical operation to supply Syrian rebels (most of whom are ultra-conservative sectarian Salafi militias).  In order to emphasize the scale of the operation, he pointed out that during the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, the US had to carry out an emergency re-supply to Israeli military forces after less than two weeks; compare that to the fact that Syria has seen what is more or less a full-blown conventional war effort between standing armies for the last 6 years, with seemingly no limitations on weapons or ammo.  It is relatively clear that Iran and Russia are supplying massive and consistent arms shipments to the Assad regime’s coalition, but what must be an equally massive and consistent military logistics operation on the rebel side is barely discussed at all in the mainstream Western media.

This article published recently in The American Conservative (which, despite its name and supposed political leaning, regularly publishes fantastic critical analysis of US foreign policy) somewhat fills the void, by digging into the details of arms supply operations by the US and its regional allies in the early years of the war, and how these operations were obviously and blatantly boosting up the power of al-Qaeda and other Salafi-jihadist groups.

The level of detail drawn from what appears to be public record is quite striking.  Here is an excerpt on weapons shipments in the summer of 2012, that involved the CIA trafficking weapons from Libyan arms caches:

A declassified October 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report revealed that the shipment in late August 2012 had included 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG (rocket propelled grenade launchers) along with 300 RPG rounds and 400 howitzers. Each arms shipment encompassed as many as ten shipping containers, it reported, each of which held about 48,000 pounds of cargo. That suggests a total payload of up to 250 tons of weapons per shipment.

And here is an excerpt detailing part of the massive arms corridor between the Balkans and Syria that was established in early 2013, financed by Saudi Arabia and coordinated by the CIA:

One U.S. official called the new level of arms deliveries to Syrian rebels a “cataract of weaponry.” And a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that the Saudis were intent on building up a powerful conventional army in Syria. The “end-use certificate” for weapons purchased from an arms company in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2013 includes 500 Soviet-designed PG-7VR rocket launchers that can penetrate even heavily-armored tanks, along with two million rounds; 50 Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers and 500 missiles, 50 anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, 10,000 fragmentation rounds for OG-7 rocket launchers capable of piercing heavy body armor; four truck-mounted BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers, each of which fires 40 rockets at a time with a range of 12 to 19 miles, along with 20,000 GRAD rockets.

And here is an excerpt on the connect between the war in Syria and US-Saudi arms deals:

By far the most consequential single Saudi arms purchase was not from the Balkans, however, but from the United States. It was the December 2013 U.S. sale of 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis at a cost of about $1 billion—the result of Obama’s decision earlier that year to reverse his ban on lethal assistance to anti-Assad armed groups. The Saudis had agreed, moreover, that those anti-tank missiles would be doled out to Syrian groups only at U.S. discretion. The TOW missiles began to arrive in Syria in 2014 and soon had a major impact on the military balance.

The entire article is excellent and worth spending time on.  Its perhaps the clearest and most well-sourced article I’ve seen on the exact nature of NATO-GCC supply lines to their local proxies.

Activism and working-class realities in Ferguson

Mainstream liberal-progressive activism suffers from a number of strategic deficits, such as the focus on one-off theatrics run by non-profits and NGOs, and the emphasis on media attention.  These deficits tend to be inherent to liberal politics, insofar as liberalism seeks to reform capitalism, rather than mobilize the working class to overthrow it. Thus liberal political cadres tend to be middle-class activists who have the time, energy, and money to plan and participate in mobilizations aimed primarily at lobbying, raising awareness, etc.  But these strategies typically don’t build power in the communities and populations that they claim to speak and act for.

The limitations of liberalism became especially clear in Ferguson, in the aftermath of the protests and riots in August 2014, as seen in an essay on the struggles of local working-class activists published in Politico a year later. These activists struggled to balance their commitment to fight racist exploitative policing with their day-to-day financial needs.

Ferguson began as a movement led by the people who had lost. Protesters took to the streets not only to rail against racism and police brutality, but also to decry decades of deeper divides: in housing, education, jobs and the court system. But as the months wore on, the media frenzy built up and the money rolled in, Ferguson turned into something else. A struggling suburb without a prominent industry suddenly had one: Ferguson Inc., a national protest movement.

Unsurprisingly for a cause that overnight became an international drama, donation money from both individuals and large non-profit foundations (such as the George Soros’ Open Society Foundations) began hunting for good investments in Ferguson and the surrounding area.  This in turn drove local activists to orient themselves and their strategies around these sources of funding.

As the interviewees for the article state, some of their most important activities as local activists involved taking care of basic day-to-day needs, with mutual aid playing a large role.  People helped each other buy food, pay off phone bills, and find housing.  The initial waves of protests had a traumatic impact on people’s lives, with many facing job losses and evictions.  Many faced downward mobility, grappling with hunger and homelessness even as they continued to valiantly strove to keep the larger movement simmering.

Some of the money sloshing around managed to find its way into the pockets of those who needed it the most.  But a lot of it didn’t.  Another unsurprising trend, given the class character of who tends to be able to best capitalize media attention and solicit funding from non-profits and NGOs.  Some donations funded tourist-esque trips for outsiders to take buses to Ferguson so that they could take selfies in front of burned-down gas stations; other donations funded national NGOs who called one-off protests so that they could write a press release and snap some photos of locals to put into their next round of grant requests; yet others funded panels for middle-class activists to tweet and blog about.

As the protest movement goes national, Ferguson has been reduced to “where it began.” But the economic hardship that both predated and predicated the protests has only been exacerbated. Most activists who entered the movement in poverty remain in poverty. Some who entered with means have lost them, while a tiny fraction has found money and opportunity. For St. Louis’ impoverished youth, it is the same old story, with an audience that diminishes each day.

All of this confirms my own suspicions that all sustainable working-class movements put money in people’s pockets.  In the context of Ferguson, protests sort of did that, but only indirectly, and in a way that forced locals to depend on a fickle and amorphous blob of media attention and Internet chatter — and only a minority of locals, at that.  Politics became co-opted by the interests of the nonprofit-industrial complex.  And what material help this funding did achieve might very well be undermined by the fact that it escalated competition between people who are precisely those who should be working together.

The most sustainable venture in Ferguson that came out of the rebellions seems to be a non-profit called Operation Help Or Hush, which was founded for the explicit purpose of helping protesters and activists deal with day-to-day needs, helping secure people everything from food to housing to jobs.  Hardly a radical venture, but its tactics are an indispensable part of any aspiring proletarian mass movement.

There are lot of lessons in Ferguson.  And a clear one is that mainstream liberal-progressive activism is utterly unsuitable for the actual needs of the working classes.  Contrast the protests-turned-photo-ops with the directly material nature of the Black Panther Party’s self-defense squads of the ’60s.  The former sucks up energy while bringing little concrete benefit to locals, except perhaps a sense of recognition; the latter could directly intervene against the police robbing residents.  We need to bring this kind of materialist strategy to the forefront, and put it at the center of our theories and practices.

Revolutionary internationalism in Greece

This recent story in Al-Jazeera about an Afghan migrant who joins up with anti-capitalist and anti-fascist forces in Greece is a prime example of what revolutionary internationalism can look like today.  Masoud Qahar was formerly a logistical officer for NATO in Afghanistan, a position he held for five years.  The Taliban, unsurprisingly, targeted him and his family, killing his younger sister in 2012.  NATO refused to help him or his family, so he ditched his job and began a journey via land routes to Greece in 2015.

Qahar soon linked up with local anarchist groups who were helping run refugee camps and organize demonstrations.  Now he helps them translate and joins them in anti-fascist protests, and plays a larger role in leveraging his extensive local network in the camps to help connect Greek anarchists and his fellow migrants and refugees.  Along the way, he also seems to have developed an extreme disdain for his former employers, which is no doubt pleasing to his radical friends:

He describes both NATO and the Taliban as “houses of fascism”, before adding proudly: “Now I’m an anti-fascist.”

This connection showcases the Greek anarchist movement’s larger strategy of mutual aid and dual power.  As reported in this favorable New York Times article on the matter, the sprawling complex of service centers run by anarchists across Greece includes 15 squats in Athens that house 3,000 migrants, run cooperatively and collectively, independent from state and capital.

“Refugees and solidarity activists have been protesting together against the far-right and EU policies” [Kelly Lynn Lunde/Al Jazeera]

This is absolutely the right direction for radical leftists in the West to go, insofar as revolutionary internationalism is concerned.  People caught up in the violent churn of global capitalism and imperialism continue to flee their homelands, and are forming new transnational communities.  Qahar’s journey from Afghanistan to Greece is part of a larger trend that seen over 250,000 Afghans making the same journey since early 2015.

Connecting with these communities is how internationalism can be advanced from being superficial statements of solidarity that have no impact on anything, to being a genuine material force that engages in actual, tangible organizing across borders.  And it is particularly interesting to consider how these forms of radical transnationalism can intervene in the trend where anti-imperialist politics is coopted in the Greater Middle East region by far-right religious fundamentalists.  Qahar has clearly broken from the NATO vs. Taliban dualism that afflicts mainstream media discourse about politics in Afghanistan, but in a way that has lead toward radical leftist politics as the alternative, rather than political apathy as is usually the case.  If Western radicals and new diaspora communities from the Greater Middle East continue to network and merge, there is real potential for solidarity politics to evolve into outright transnational revolutionary struggle against all “houses of fascism”, be they Western or local.

Bonus: Video from just a couple of days ago of working-class youth violently clashing with police in Nuremberg, Germany, who are attempting to detain and deport their Afghan classmate.  (Article)

Data and AI, the core of contemporary capitalism

Last week’s Economist had an excellent report on the data economy and its growing importance to contemporary capitalism.  Data is now the most valuable commodity in the world, ahead of oil, and the five most valuable firms in the world are all technology companies: Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

It is generally understood that all the free online websites we use aren’t actually “free”, but rather are paid for via data collection on our activities on these sites, which are used for targeted advertisement.  Less understood is the fact that increasingly, the real value is not in data and advertising, but in using the data to improve artificial intelligence programs that are much more valuable and create much more complex services, like language translation and self-driving vehicle algorithms.  Hence, why Tesla is valued so high, despite selling so few cars relative to companies like Ford: the real value is in their massive pool of data that they collect from Tesla drivers, and their increasingly proficient self-driving vehicle AI.

Data-collection and AI has spread across the entire economy, beyond just what we think of as “tech”. Transportation is the obvious sector that is fusing with data/AI, but less obvious sectors include the health care industry, and traditional sectors in manufacturing and industrial processing.

GE, for instance, has developed an “operating system for the industrial internet”, called Predix, to help customers control their machinery. Predix is also a data-collection system: it pools data from devices it is connected to, mixes these with other data, and then trains algorithms that can help improve the operations of a power plant, when to maintain a jet engine before it breaks down and the like.

Of course, creating a system for data acquisition and monitoring is hardly new for plants, its not like you can run a modern plant without some kind of control system; what is actually new here is the application of AI to analyze plant data and suggest improvements that plant operators might not realize could be done.

The finance-data intersection is also important to grasp.  A primary point of discussion in the Economist report was around data markets — specifically, the lack of one.  Despite data being so valuable, there exists no real market for companies to trade data-sets and data-streams; instead, they simply buy up the whole company so that they can silo off data for themselves.  There doesn’t appear to be much enthusiasm from tech companies to create such a market; on the other hand, one would imagine that Wall St. is watering at the mouth at the prospect of financializing data, in the same way that manufactured commodities were in the ’80s and ’90s.  Wall St. already makes use of financial data and AI, to the point where engineers and programmers seem more important than traditional traders, but to bring the data itself into the realm of trading and financial speculation is whole other story.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the issue of the amount of control that we average schmucks have over our data.  The report discusses many ideas around how to give us back control, such as tools and regulations that allow us to view and control all the data that is out there about ourselves, and even get compensation for its use.  Amusingly, the report’s final section is titled “Data workers of the world, unite!” and discusses arguments for a “digital labor movement” by those of us (which is basically all of us) whose data is being fed into increasingly powerful AIs, and monopolized by massive and unaccountable corporations.  References are made to Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future?, and the way immense amounts of value is being spun out of day-to-day activities– mostly online, but increasingly offline as well.

This idea is a callback to the Marxist analysis of machines and labor, where technology is said to be “dead labor” insofar as it is a mechanized interpretation of what living labor (the human worker) does.  The power loom took the labor of weavers and interpreted it through a machine, locking in the knowledge and skills of the workers into a system controlled by capitalists.  Machine-tool automation did the same for machinists and metal-workers.  Today, we can imagine this trend reaching toward its logical conclusion, where capital soaks up human knowledge and skill in general and uses it to build AI that could perhaps for people entirely — and beyond.

All of this should emphasize the importance of organizing within the tech industry.  All of these data and AI-centered processes are not driving themselves.  They are dependent on armies of engineers, programmers, scientists, and all the other workers within the tech industry.  They are also increasingly political, even radical.  Contemporary movements to overthrow capitalism will necessarily have to synthesize the workers who are laboring at its core.