The Soft-Totalitarian-State of Totalitarian-Capitalism

Introduction

Where am I, and what is this nonsense, this totally irrational socio-economic formation? The wool has been pulled over the eyes of the general-population and transformed their once vocal majority into a sea of docile sheep in service of the extraction and accumulation of capitalist profit, namely, monetary wealth. Nothing has been left to chance, the fragility and perpetuity of the so-called capitalist free-market is all that matters, always more important than the needs of any singular individual or population. Everyone must fend for him or herself or risk obsolescence, or worst, starvation in the cold dead streets of gigantic technocratic metropolises, sacred temples built to honour the new God, free-market capitalism, wherein all is highly-engineered to suck immaterial values from the souls and brains of the citizenry, the smart city. The fundamental maxim is forever the profit-imperative, the maximization of capitalist profits, by any means necessary, at the lowest financial cost as soon as possible and nothing besides.

According to Karl Marx, an inherent feature of the fundamental logic of capitalism is that it increasingly absorbs and encroaches on the living in its endless unquenchable thirst for more profit, that is, surplus value, due to the fact that “capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks”.1 As a result, Marx states, the logic of capitalism concerns itself with subsuming the sum of existence beneath the grinding wheel of its horrific logic. And, in the end, capital will stop at nothing until it totally and completely dominates and enslaves the sum of human existence to its rule. In short, capital has totalitarian aspirations. It is an inhuman non-human despot, radiating supreme control, callous immiseration, and total subsumption, in all directions, in all sorts of frightening forms.

Notwithstanding, capitalist totalitarianism has had a long process.  It did not come onto the scene instantaneously like a flash of lightening fully-formed.  To the contrary, totalitarian-capital progressed in stages, winning the hearts and minds of the general-population one convert at a time, one docile sheep at a time, until capital finally emerged upon the balcony of political power, dressed in the priestly garb of democratic rhetoric, pontificating the glory of the free-market, brought forth in stages via an endless procession of capitalist subsumption.

Formal Subsumption

(Stage One)

In the initial stage of capitalist subsumption, according to Marx, capital exercised a process of formal subsumption, wherefore, capital appropriated an industry or sphere of production as a whole but did not implement the capitalist mode of production. For Marx, “formal subsumption can be found in the absence of the specifically capitalist mode of production. The fact is that capital subsumes the labor process as it finds it, that is to say, it takes over an existing labor process, developed by different and more archaic modes of production”2, and it turns this archaic labor process into a rudimentary profit-making machine through the lengthening of the workday, yet, always without any of the intensive implementations and characteristics of real subsumption and a capitalist mode of production.  The process of formal subsumption does not change the character of the old labor process in the sense that the archaic production process continues as is, with the only difference being that the workday may be longer, an irregular wage-system may be in place, and finally, now it is capital; i.e., the capitalist, which is at the helm of the archaic labor process or industrial firm.

Formal subsumption is the starting point of a refinement process, begun by capital, whereupon a sphere of production is captured and slated to be increasingly intensified, expanded, and rationalized in an effort to accumulate and extract greater and greater sums of surplus value; i.e., capitalist profit and wealth. All of which begin to be solidified on the increasing exploitation of the workforce/population by capital via the initial stages of formal subsumption. That is, with formal subsumption, the workforce/population slowly begin to be increasingly locked into an inescapable relationship with capital; i.e., the capital-labor relationship, where workers are increasingly forced to sell their labor-power to the capitalists in order to live. In effect, formerly independent workers, with the means of production firmly in their control, are slowly separated from their essential means of production and their independence, and are slowly but surely transformed by capital into wage-earners, the result being, their increasing dependence on capital and capitalists for their survival.

Divorced from the means of production and their property, which guaranteed their independence from capital, workers are now forced to sell their labor-power to capitalists in return for a wage; i.e., a sum of money, so they can procure means of subsistence from the very capitalists which employ them. The capital-labor relation is a power-relation based on a ruler/ruled dichotomy, which is oppressive. The result of the installation of a capital-labor relationship is the perpetual bondage of the workforce to capital in the sense that capital slowly expands into an overwhelming force and power over and above the workforce, commanding its servitude. Notwithstanding, in the initial stage of formal subsumption, “there is no fixed political and social relationship of supremacy and subordination”3 as there is with the highly-organized process of capitalist real subsumption. Formal subsumption is more or less setting the stage for real subsumption by removing the barriers to unlimited capitalist production, unlimited capitalist accumulation and unlimited capitalist regimentation.

Real Subsumption

(Stage Two)

In the second stage of capitalist subsumption; i.e., real subsumption, capital begins to make fundamental changes to the old archaic labor process of an industry, capital “not only transforms the situations of the various agents of production, it also revolutionizes their actual mode of labor and the real nature of the labor process as a whole”4. In effect, the old archaic labor process is intensified, reorganized, and revolutionized in order to maximize the accumulation and extraction of surplus value. For the first-time, capital implements the capitalist mode of production within a specific industry. Although, this process begins in rudimentary form with capitalist formal subsumption, capitalist formal subsumption is still inadequate, sporadic and cumbersome. The stage of formal subsumption lacks the stability needed to fully-implement the capitalist mode of production. Formal subsumption can be characterized by the fact that capital appropriates an archaic labor process from the outside, ultimately, leaving the old process intact, while real subsumption can be characterized by the fact that capital makes fundamental changes to the archaic labor process from inside the very process, revolutionizing it and transforming it into a capitalist mode of production.

Only with the advent of real subsumption does “production for production’s sake—production as an end in itself….come [fully] on the scene”.5 Only with the advent of real subsumption is “the immediate purpose of production….to produce as much surplus-value as possible”.5 Real subsumption involves the total re-organization and revolutionization of an industry. It is the re-organization of everyday life in service of the capitalist mode of production. As Marx states, through real subsumption, capital “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the [capitalist] mode of production. In one word, it creates a world after its own image”.6

According to Marx, “with the real subsumption of labor under capital a complete (and constantly repeated) revolution takes place in the mode of production, in the productivity of the workers and in the relations between workers and capitalists”.7 Specifically, for Marx, real subsumption arises “when the individual capitalist is spurred on to seize the initiative by the fact that value = socially necessary labor-time objectified in the product…[whereupon] the entire real form of production is [soon] altered, [intensified] and a specifically capitalist form of production comes into being”8 in order to maximize capitalist profits. Meaning, the workday on top of being lengthened is now increasingly intensified as well. The labor process is intensified through more intensive “co-operation, division of labor…the use of machinery, and in general the transformation of production by the conscious use of the sciences, of mechanics, chemistry etc., and through the enormous increase of scale, [i.e., the advent of large-scale industry]”.8 Everything in and across society is increasingly marshalled in service of capitalist production, that is, in service of maximizing capitalist profit through maximum efficiency, proficiency, and potency, at all levels of socio-economic existence.

As Marx states, real subsumption arises when “capital…[increases] the value of its operations to the point where it assumes social dimensions and [becomes mass]…production…and [begins]…to take over all branches of industry”.9 Through real subsumption, the whole economy is increasingly integrated and begins to take on a global dimension. And, increasingly the “aim [of all capitalist industries becomes] that…individual product[s] should contain as much unpaid labor as possible. [All of which,] is achieved only by producing for the sake of production”.10 With real subsumption, the profit-imperative is galvanized and small economies increasingly become large-scale and dependent on machine technology, whereupon the introduction of machinery into one industry leads to its introduction into other industries and other branches of the same industry. Thus spinning machines led to power-looms in weaving; machinery in cotton spinning to machinery in the woolen, linen and silk… industries. The increased use of machinery …[leads to] the introduction of large-scale production.11

Consequently, with the advent of real subsumption, the capitalist mode of production elevates itself beyond older forms of production and begins to assert itself, both in and across everyday life and on a global level. As Marx states:

Modern industry has established the world-market…[and] put and end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations…and has left…no other nexus between man and man than…callous cash payment…and [the] unconscionable freedom–free trade”.12

For the first-time, with the advent of real subsumption “capital,…not merely at the level of ideas, but also in reality,…confronts the worker as something not merely alien, but [as something] hostile and antagonistic…to him”.8

Cognitive Subsumption

(Stage Three)

In the third stage of capitalist subsumption; i.e., cognitive subsumption, capital, on top of increasingly subsuming the physical existence of the workforce/population on a large-scale, begins to subsume the mental existence of the workforce/population in the micro-recesses of its everyday life on a large-scale. At this level of capitalist subsumption, quoting Guy Debord, capital becomes image, capital has “accumulated to the point where it becomes image”.13 And, as image, capital increasingly subsumes the cognitive processes of the workforce/population at the micro-level of socio-economic existence in order to maximize the extraction and accumulation of surplus value. In effect, capital cognitively subsumes the workforce/population by monopolizing the attention-span of the workforce/population, focusing social attention on mental commodities and personal information gathering services, namely, such things as social media etc.

Through cognitive subsumption, capital increasingly seeks to occupy and appropriate the ideas, thought processes and the leisure-time of the general-population, outside of production, in an effort to extract and accumulate greater sums of surplus-value, through immaterial unpaid production, namely, through information extraction processes, rent, and through the acquisition and consumption of mental commodities. Therefore, on top of being dominated and enslaved by capital in the production spheres, through formal and real subsumption, the workforce/population is increasingly now dominated and enslaved by capital in the consumption spheres and distribution spheres, cognitively, through the capture of free personal information, rent fees, and the extraction of free knowledge. This stage of capitalist subsumption is what Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt call the capitalist “phase of the productive organization of the general intellect…[or] the cognitive subsumption of society”.14

In essence, cognitive subsumption is characterized by the fact that “capital accumulates primarily through the capture and extraction of value that appears to be found…[free of charge in] the common, both the values of material buried in the earth and those embedded in society”15, specifically, freely-available information and freely-available natural resources. Moreover, at the stage of cognitive subsumption, rent becomes a primary source of profit and value accumulation since, the general-population increasingly has to pay for cognitive services like the internet, websites and social media etc. In effect, the general-population pays for access.

According to Negri and Hardt, despite the fact that formal and real subsumption have not disappeared from the playing-field of capitalism, these two forms of capitalist subsumption are increasingly taking a back seat to the mechanisms of cognitive subsumption. As they state, “the center of gravity of the capitalist mode of production is today becoming… the extraction of the common,…the common [becoming] an eminent productive power and the predominant form of value”.16 By the common, Hardt and Negri, mean society at large, that is, communal or public property such as any natural environment like public land or a public park etc. According to Hardt and Negri:

In the Fordist period capitalist production was structured by disciplinary regimes and accumulation was driven by profits generated in the planned cooperation of industrial labor, in post-fordism, as productive knowledges and social capacities of cooperation spread widely through society…value is generated in the form of rent.17

That is, value is generated through network rentals, the appropriation of free personal information, the selling of freely-available knowledge and the appropriation of natural resources, free of charge, all of which provide capital with a relatively cheap source of surplus value, value that requires little to no labor-expenditures for its production and accumulation. In contrast to formal and real subsumption, cognitive subsumption is an immaterial form of capitalist subsumption.  It is about making money and profit through immaterial goods and immaterial processes. Whether this is a movie, a book, a data-set, a website or an ideology etc., the point is that cognitive subsumption is predominantly a form of mental subsumption rather than physical subsumption which predominantly transpires through capitalist formal and real subsumption. Notwithstanding, the three stages of capitalist subsumption, formal, real, and cognitive, have laid the groundwork for the 4th and final stage of capitalist subsumption, namely, total subsumption, or more accurately, totalitarian-capitalism.

Total Subsumption

(Stage Four)

In the fourth and final stage of capitalist subsumption; i.e., total subsumption capital, on top of increasingly subsuming the physical existence of the workforce/population and the mental existence of the workforce/population, begins to integrate all the prior stages and forms of capitalist subsumption into a highly-organized symphony of variable and multiple applications of capitalist subsumption. That is, total subsumption is where all three types of capitalist subsumption, formal, real and cognitive, co-exist and function simultaneously side by side in and across the globe and in and across regions. In one region, formal subsumption may be the predominant form of capitalist subsumption while next door it may be the form of real subsumption or cognitive subsumption, which is predominant. In effect, at the level of the fourth and final stage of capitalist subsumption, the workforce/population is simultaneously subsumed by all three forms of capitalist subsumption; i.e., formal, real and cognitive, to various degrees and emphasis. All three forms of capitalist subsumption intermingle and interrelate at various levels of everyday life and in various degrees of application. Therefore, total subsumption is predominantly characterized by:

  1. The total integration of formal, real and cognitive subsumption;
  2. The constant amelioration and perfection of capitalist subsumption mechanisms;
  3. The implementation of increasingly soft and subtle insidious forms of capitalist subsumption; and,
  4. The realization of a totalitarian form of bourgeois-capitalism; i.e., totalitarian-capitalism.

The point of total subsumption is to construct a certain form of totalitarianism, namely, capitalist-totalitarianism. That is, an all-encompassing socio-economic framework, where the general-population is under complete surveillance, under a constant pressure to work and under constant pressure to maximize profit. Total subsumption involves a near complete subjugation of the workforce/population etc.

It is important to note that at the stage of total subsumption, subsumption is never ‘un fait accompli’.  It is always being improved upon by capital. It is constantly a work in progress. In effect, at the level of total subsumption, all mechanisms of capitalist subsumption and capitalist subsumption, in general, are always being refined, ameliorated and entrenched further into the micro-recesses of everyday life. The workforce/population is constantly being increasingly subsumed; meaning, the methods and mechanisms of formal, real, and cognitive subsumption are always being streamlined into more efficient, proficient, and potent mechanisms for subjugating the workforce/population and maximizing of capitalist profit. This process of ever-increasing refinement is most visible when capital enters the 4th and final stage of capitalist subsumption, namely, total subsumption.

In the fourth and final stage of capitalist subsumption, where, all forms of capitalist subsumption co-exist and operate simultaneously in unison and constantly upon the general-population, western democracies move beyond democracy into a new socio-economic formation, the framework of the soft-totalitarian-state, that is, bourgeois-capitalist-totalitarianism.

First and foremost, the term “soft-totalitarian-state” is designed to encapsulate the fact that this form of totalitarianism is based primarily on software; i.e., digital total surveillance, cognitive internet production, distribution and consumption, and finally, digital information gathering algorithms etc., meaning, technology, software and the global internet provide the socio-economic infrastructure in order to make bourgeois-capitalist-totalitarianism possible. Secondly, the term “soft-totalitarian-state”, is designed to encapsulate the multi-varied nuances of discipline and punishment being applied to the general-population by the proponents and agents of capital, meaning, the “soft-totalitarian-state” is akin to an all-encompassing military-industrial-complex, where, we as humans are not imprisoned, disciplined, and punished, like traditional hardline-totalitarian-states, but we are monitored and under surveillance akin to traditional hardline-totalitarian-states.

Like hardline-totalitarian-states, surveillance is total and continually seeks to refine its totality and its mechanisms of information gathering. Today, through the inter-connectedness of the state, its institutions, corporations, and para-state organizations, surveillance and discipline are total. However, contrary to hardline-totalitarian-states,  there is a litany of disciplinary, punitive and censorship mechanisms in effect which are soft and subtle in nature, capable of applying variable degrees of soft and hard punitive and disciplinary measures, depending on the situation, deviation and/or individual. What distinguishes the soft-totalitarian-state from the traditional conception of the hard-totalitarian-state is its ability to have nuances in its disciplinary measures and punitive measures. That is, the ability to be as hard and as inhuman towards dissent and disobedience as hardline-totalitarian-states, and coupled with an ability to be pliable, lax, and nuanced towards various degrees of dissent and disobedience. In effect, the soft-totalitarian-state has options. It has a toolbox of instruments designed to stifle any challenge to its rule. In contrast, hardline-totalitarian-states continuously exercise a hammer and sickle to outright eliminate all challenges. With the hardline-totalitarian-state, there is no nuance and there is no subtlety.  There is only the blatant exercise of blunt force and power.

All the same, both the soft-totalitarian-state and the hard-totalitarian-state are totalitarian forms of organization. Both utilize bourgeois-capitalist applications of total subsumption. The only difference is that in contrast to hardline-totalitarian-states, soft-totalitarian-states function and operate upon a more liberal morality; i.e., a military-industrial-morality, designed to expand and solidify the logic of capitalism, rather than extinguish individualism and creative uncontrolled economic and cultural manifestations. Hardline-totalitarian-states function and operate upon a more conservative morality, more or less, designed to extinguish individualism and creative uncontrolled economic and cultural manifestations.

Soft-totalitarian-states function and operate predominantly to maximize profit and expand market-capitalism while hardline-totalitarian-states function and operate predominantly to directly maintain a small aristocracy in power. Of course, soft-totalitarian-states are concerned with sustaining a state-finance-corporate-aristocracy in power, and, in the final analysis will do anything to keep this bourgeois-capitalist aristocracy in power, but predominantly soft-totalitarian-states concern themselves on a daily basis with safeguarding and expanding the capitalist marketplace. It is through fostering and supporting the market that soft-totalitarian-states indirectly maintain their bourgeois-capitalist aristocracy.

Ultimately, the point of the hard-totalitarian-state is absolute control, control for control’s sake, while the point of the soft-totalitarian-state, although concerned with maintaining absolute control, is more concerned with exercising a dictatorship so as to solidify, safeguard, and expand market-capitalism. That is, the point of the soft-totalitarian-states is to perpetuate the basic tenets of neo-liberalism across the globe, while, buttressing the continued existence and expansion of bourgeois-capitalism, including the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, which has grown out of the mechanics of market-capitalism. The premise of the soft-totalitarian-state is capitalism for capitalism’s sake, profit for profit’s sake, knowing that adhering to this maxim means the safeguard and maintenance of the capitalist, state-finance-corporate-aristocracy. The aim of the soft-totalitarian-state is not the satisfaction of needs, per se. The aim is first and foremost the accumulation of profit and capital without end. Within the confines of the soft-totalitarian-state specifically, the soft-totalitarian-state of bourgeois-state-capitalism people are free to work, according to the dictates of capitalism; free to consume, according to the dictates of capitalism; free to express themselves, according to the dictates of capitalism; free to relate, according to the dictates of capitalism. Because all thoughts and actions, seemingly free, are…regimented along the acceptable lines of the bourgeois-capitalist status quo.18

The soft-totalitarian-state of bourgeois-state-capitalism is totalitarian-capitalism. It is founded on total subsumption, an admixture of formal, real and cognitive subsumption, functioning and operating simultaneously upon various levels of socio-economic existence. Totalitarian-capitalism functions and operates to refine, ameliorate, and expand total subsumption. It is caught in an endless process of technological evolution, revolution and warfare so as to accumulate profit and capital at the expense of the global-population. As a result, totalitarian-capitalism concerns itself, first and foremost, with perpetuating neoliberalism and market-capitalism by any means necessary, including sustaining a state-finance-corporate-aristocracy, which has arisen out of market-capitalism on the backs of the workforce/population. Total subsumption is a by-product of this neoliberal fanaticism in order to perpetuate so-called free-market capitalism, ad infinitum. And finally, the price for this all-encompassing capitalist subsumption has been the curtailment of democracy and the installation of the soft-totalitarian-state of totalitarian-capitalism.

Conclusion

In sum, bourgeois-capitalism has become totalitarian in order to perpetuate itself. Its insatiable hunger for profit has forced capital to take full control of everyday life via the total subsumption of everyday life, formal, real and cognitive. Granted, capitalist-totalitarianism is predominantly soft and subtle in nature, but it is all-encompassing, nonetheless. It watches, indoctrinates, and disciplines at the level of ideas, bodies and populations, instructing these social elements to obey the logic of capitalism, the predominant way of thinking and of doing things without question. The prime importance is always placed upon the capitalist free-market, wherefore, nothing must get in the way unbridled free trade.

Ultimately, nothing is left to chance. The fragility and perpetuity of the so-called capitalist free-market is all that matters, thus, the advent of capitalist-totalitarianism. The sacred calf of the capitalist free-market must be preserved, worshipped and enshrined in gold and in law. The gilded trough of totalitarian-capital must be kept full and abundant indefinitely so as to sate the ravenous stomachs and exhausted coffers of the state-finance-corporate-aristocracy which, in the end, can never be satisfied and repleted. Consequently, the workforce/population is forever called upon and regimented to secrete endless surplus value in service of totalitarian-capital, totalitarianism personified. They must constantly submit to the dictates of capitalist total subsumption, without rancor or back-talk due to the fact, as George Orwell states:

The essence of [capitalist] oligarchical rule is… the persistence of a certain [totalitarian] world-view and a certain [capitalist] way of life. Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure [and the underlying mechanics of capitalism] remain always the same.19

Anarchism, Now! Anarchism, Forever! Anarchism, The Future!

  1. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes, (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990) p. 342. []
  2. Ibid, pp. 1019-1021. []
  3. Ibid, p. 1026. []
  4. Ibid, p. 1021. []
  5. Ibid, p. 1037. [] []
  6. Karl Marx, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) p. 477. []
  7. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes, (London, Eng.: Penguin, 1990) p. 1035. []
  8. Ibid, p. 1024. [] [] []
  9. Ibid, p. 1035. []
  10. Ibid, p. 1038. []
  11. Ibid, p. 1036. []
  12. Karl Marx, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”, The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) p. 475. []
  13. Guy Debord, The Society Of The Spectacle, Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, (New York: Zone Books, 1995) p. 24. []
  14. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Assembly, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) p. 41. []
  15. Ibid, p. 159. []
  16. Ibid, p. 162. []
  17. Ibid, p. 171. []
  18. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 28.a). []
  19. George Orwell, 1984, (United-Kingdom: Penguin Books, 1951) p. 122. []
Michel Luc Bellemare is the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism) Read other articles by Michel Luc.