Technology for Socialist Civilization

Increased social mixing through globalization can be welcomed for its positive impact on global society and its erosion of the many communication barriers corresponding with huge power inequalities among nations. This article posits important links between the potentials of emerging technologies, increased Internet use, and the world’s transition to a socialist world system predicted by American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein.

It has been remarked that so-called “globalization”, a term considered redundant in the theories of Immanuel Wallerstein, has brought about increased social interconnectedness and raised global consciousness. Considering ease of travel and ease of communication, it is easy to say that borders are becoming porous and we are all already neighbors, as a result of what has been called time-space compression. This “global village” has given us much greater global awareness and cross-cultural understanding, even if people have continued to omit their global awareness from much of their long-term political thinking. It is only reasonable to expect even more social change with the inevitable universal spread of communication technology, expansion of the Internet, and the proliferation and convergence of yet unrevealed liberating technologies in the coming decades.

When I heard him speaking in a 2012 International Relations talk at Lancaster University, former UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke listed increased communication media awareness of the huge wealth disparities in the world, among several other things, as a source of “threat” in the future of global security. This comment relates directly to the North-South divide and the inherent class struggle expressed in that divide, which Immanuel Wallerstein considers to be the exclusive defining struggle in the throes of our transition to a future socialist world order.

But the communication “global village”, while giving us much of the global awareness and cross-cultural understanding that many have hoped for, has unfortunately also resulted in new forms of resentment, cultural and social protectionism, parochialism and militant ignorance throughout the world. We only have to consider evangelical religious and rightist advocacy of ignorance and hatred through the Internet, despite this technology being destined to bring humanity closer together than anything else in recorded history. It would have been great if we became freer and more tolerant across the world as a result of this unprecedented gift, but unfortunately the road to transition is always dark and filled with reaction. We should all continue to hope for better contact and better understanding among people from different cultures as a result of greater communication and social contact through technology.

One area in which more effort should be encouraged is the development of reliable and fluent translation software anyone can access. The very best in this kind of software should be freely available to anyone through the Internet. Translation technology should be advanced and spread universally to prevent differences of tongue from eliminating the mixing of humanity. Teams of interpreters from all the world’s nations should gather to develop a way of truly “translating the Internet” and rebuilding the Internet so that, by default, everyone understands each other and all language barriers break down online. This would truly be an excellent way to strengthen everyone’s consciousness that they are one species on one planet. It would represent an unprecedented awakening and a blow to all sectarianism and parochialism in the world. It would also allow for greater consciousness of the class struggle of the “underdeveloped” parts of the world versus “developed” parts, which would take us closer to resolutions and the transition to the next world order described by Wallerstein.

Some scholars have remarked that the Internet is a pivotal historical invention akin to the printing press, which is suggested to have been a factor in causing the Protestant Reformation, but they may be underestimating the massive strides in all other areas of technology that emerged in the Twentieth Century. Flight and space travel were far more unprecedented than a simple spread of communication technology, but communication technology is the key being recognized for its liberating and empowering political effects today. It is reasonable to speculate that advances in fields not yet attracting popular enthusiasm will also yield massive liberating political effects in decades to come. Consider nanotechnology or biotechnology. Will it one day be possible to contain an entire factory within a single household?

For those who follow science and technology reports to keep track of innovations, it seems entirely possible that a true democratization of technology will indeed materialize and bring as great an effect on the world economy as personal computing had on media and politics. Whatever the effect, the greater miniaturization and automation of technology actually strikes at the heart of the current mode of production – which relies on strict controls over who produces what, how the supply chain works, and who the top participants are in the world market. Anything contrary to the profit-maximizing game rules, which offer only partial freedom of the factors of production under the banner of the “free market,” would approximate Wallerstein’s “socialist mode of production.” As a result, it can be theorized that runaway technological developments are acting as a battering ram of progress, assembling the socialist world order before us even as the capitalist system is desperately trying to extract endless profits.

Let us go to the extreme of dreaming how this alternate socialist world economy with total freedom might really work if it came true, just for the sake of argument. Let us propose the Internet as a model for simulating a socialist world system with complete freedom of participation. It can be argued that the most successful web companies, powerful and profit-oriented as they are, act as little more than providers supporting user-generated content and user-posted products. Imagine if everything worked that way, and the entire world economy ran through a single website or similarly organized service with every individual in the world registered at it? If major websites fulfill only a provider role for their users, it is conceivable that in the socialist mode of production there will need to be only one central bureaucracy acting as the provider and everyone else will operate as a single individual in the totally free market protected by the provider. The resulting system would involve a market populated only by equal individuals selling goods to one another directly through a communication and logistics network generated and maintained by the single provider, i.e. a central world state. This world state would ensure that the minimum technology for participation is shipped to each citizen worldwide. No corporations would exist, and competition would never reach hostile levels in this system. Terrible fates would not be looming in the competition, as each person would always be supplied with a personal technology kit and the world state’s constant assistance to participate equally in the market. Isn’t this the only system that might be maximally free, with no state interference, monopoly or oligopoly of any kind?

This kind of system most seems to match up with a Wallersteinian socialist world system, and it seems that such a world system could only really be realized upon some kind of near-future technological singularity. The singularity might rest mainly with nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology or a convergence of these together and other advancements. Despite lack of credibility in the meditations of the above paragraph, we can at least infer that the current capitalist cornerstone of an “axial division of labor” between high-tech and low-tech regions of the world cannot disappear without radical technological liberation and redistribution occurring.

In sum, our hope for social change should concentrate on undoing all the affronts to the free flow of humans, information and technology. We want these affronts to humanity’s freedom and potential to go, so they can give way to the formation of a socialist civilization. It is clear, from any comprehension of the current dominant winds of change in the world, that suffocating forces like protectionism, monopoly, oligopoly and tyranny are all reaching their dead ends. The future of world economics and politics is set to move naturally in a more democratic direction corrosive to all authority. The result, most preferably, will move us in the direction of a socialist civilization. We can maximize the likelihood of this outcome, by promoting an effort to free up all the factors of production, promoting the dissolution of old identities like the nation-state, and subverting monopoly and oligopoly in the most scientifically advanced centers of production. We, as enthusiasts for change away from a corrupt world economy, must monitor emerging technologies closely. We must be ready to take any opportunity to test their socialist possibilities and unlock their gifts to mankind.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist blogger who has been a contributor at a number of think tanks including the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies since 2013. His work at Press TV and the multi-faith Beliefnet website has gained increasing attention and praise, including in the international media. Commentaries on political and ethical controversies by Bentham have been published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, H+ Magazine, Dissident Voice and numerous other publications. He edits The Blog. Read other articles by Harry.