Only connect!

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”
–E.M. Forster

While I undoubtedly appreciate Harvey’s argument for shifting the class struggle outside the factory and into urban space, I find his conception of a revolutionary class to largely be mired in that rusty bourgeoisie-proletariat duality. In his discussion of the production of urban space, he invokes construction workers, laborers that work in “maintenance, repairs, and replacements,” as well as those involved with transporting materials and products through space, and others constituting food systems, energy, and water infrastructures. There is no question that this “class” of workers is crucial to the production of cities, but I can’t help but see this conception of a revolutionary class as the contemporary incarnation of Marx’s factory workers, and therefore only a slice of a larger productive population of urban service and knowledge workers.

Referring to mining, steel fabrication, bridge construction, and truck driving, he writes:

“All of these activities (including spatial movement) are productive of value and of surplus value. If capitalism often recovers from crisis, as we saw earlier, by ‘building houses and filling them with things,’ then clearly everyone engaged in that urbanizing activity has a central role to play in the macroeconomic dynamics of capital accumulation.”

Thinking of Seattle in particular, where Amazon.com is “driving urbanization,” shouldn’t we be considering the labor constituting Amazon as well? This isn’t a new argument – we just read Virno discussing the melding of Arendtian Work and Action in the post-Fordist (“Virtuosity and Revolution: The Political Theory of Exodus”); Hardt and Negri discuss it at length in Multitude – and I’m not trying to detract from traditional labor. Instead, I’m thinking of increasing the number of connections amongst those who create “value and surplus value” through looking at the internal difference of the clunky categories that Harvey invokes.

Focusing on the three dependencies – work, consumption, debt – that Holland attributes to minor marxism (11), is a straightforward avenue by which we can envision how such knowledge workers can also become-revolutionary. Both the pipe-fitter and the computer programmer must sell their unique forms of labor-power to survive, both must pay the rent, and both likely have some sort of consumer or student debt. Rallying around these similarities, these points of connection, is – at least in my thinking – the most powerful way to create alternatives to contemporary social production. Only connect!

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6 thoughts on “Only connect!

  1. Reading Foucault yesterday, I was struck by a thought — typically of him, his texts imply more than they say — which explained why socialist solidarity is dissatisfying. Certainly, it corresponds to “that rusty bourgeoisie-proletariat duality” & you are right to say that ‘connection’ need not! Capitalism is a product of millennia of philosophies of caring for the Self, & it is through this avenue that a truly human (individualistic) connection & equality can be sought most satisfactorily. Thoughts?

    • Thanks for the comment. What you describe is exactly why I find the concept of the multitude to be so satisfying: rather than sorting people into transcendent groups from above, it understands collectivity as ephemeral and dynamic connections of nodes. if you haven’t read it, Virno has a really great description and the outset of Grammar of the Multitude that distinguishes between ‘people’ and ‘multitude’.

      And thinking about Foucault specifically, especially in the last two volumes of History of Sexuality: the attention he pays to cultivating the self is extraordinary, but I always try to read it against some else who prizes subsequent interconnection, like D&G or Ranciere. We read The Emancipated Spectator in my reading group a few years ago, and the idea that intersubjective connections can arise out of interaction corresponding to a shared object — the aesthetic experience of theater in his case — is really helpful for me. One works on one’s self by reading Foucault in the moonlight, but the most powerful interactions arise when multiple people who have been caring for themselves connect over something they are both looking at!

  2. Pingback: Lazzarato — The Making of the Indebted Man | My Desiring-Machines

  3. I can’t resist: in an essay on Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Foster Wallace dismisses, in a footnote (natch), “the humanistic syrup of Howard’s End’sOnly connect‘…”

  4. Pingback: Notes on multitude and the city | Nomad Scholarship

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