Hardly noticed in Europe and by the Left worldwide, a new social movement emerged in the US a couple of years ago. It globalizes itself quickly. New is not its programme, but the way it attracts people. I am talking about Zeitgeist, which receives a growing attention mainly due to the movies made by Peter Joseph. His newest is online now: Moving forward is its title. The message of Moving forward is quite simple: no money, no exchange, no capital, no state. To put it in one word: Communism.
Isn’t that quite astonishing? Amidst the terminal crisis of capitalism and the upcoming reorganization of elites to prolong their domination, without any visible movement that tries to reach beyond, people suddenly begin a debate on how to end “this shit” (Jacques Fresco) by abolishing the absurd and deadly system of markets and states.
The movie ends with pictures of a world revolution, with people throwing away their money, confronting the force of the state in peaceful demonstrations, and a political and economic elitethat simply capitulates. To good to be true, but good indeed it is.
The truth of the movie does not lie so much in the way it describes an alternative, but in its radical and relentless critique of capitalist life. The best moments of the three hour opus magnum of Peter Joseph are where he unmasks the unbelieveble absurdities of commodity production and consumption, of products, that are sold and are only produced to be sold – at a profit. This is done with ease and irony.
When Joseph exposes the irrationality of what he calls the “monetary system” and which mainly consists in the movement of interest-bearing capital – the “most externalised and most fetish-like form“ of capital (Marx) – the monetary system appears as what it is: not the culprit of the misery of our times, but simply an extension of the deadly absurdity that consists in exchange. The conclusion: it’s the system, stupid. This is also the clearest possible demarcation against any kind of conspirancy theory and its almost inevitable allusions to antisemitism. Allusions that are an increasing danger for any liberating social movement as the crisis deepens and people cling to the status quo of market, wage labour, state intervention and capital.
Certainly, what appears so outrageously new to many did not fall from heaven but has roots in history. The new Zeitgeist-movie propagates a communism in its best sense, and without even mentioning Marx – be it because of tactical reasons, be it because of a kind of narrow-mindedness (which does not hurt as long as the message stays clear). Besides the mindset of the Cold War and the repression of communist movements in the US, experiences, which are still vivid, it is to blame on so-called communists who only promote variants of the existing society and deem radical to call for a nationalization of banks or full employment, that evident alliances have not yet been forged.
“Infantile disorders” of Zeitgeist
The weaknesses of the Zeitgeist approach are firstly the blindness towards production and secondly its dangerous affirmation of science as a mere reflection of an allegedly objective reality.
That people are not only consumers, but also workers at home, in the factory, at the office, that they are jobless or peasants producing their subsistence is not part of the story the movie tells. This does not only fit quite well into the bourgeois view of the world, that only knows consumers and households, and which is deconstructed so ruthlessly in many other parts of Moving forward, but it also blocks an explanation of how people can really transcend capitalism. An alternative is not created on the desktop of engineers, but in the hearts of people and above all in a concrete transformation of social relations: at the workplace, at home and in the streets, i.e. in the production and reproduction of society. On this issue Zeitgeist has not much to say- thus the peculiar gap between Frescos circular cities, that remind us of Stanislaw Lems city landscape in Transfer or a scenery in Star Trek on the one hand, and the lucid (although market-fixed) critique of capital.
In an interview section in Moving forward, Jacques Fresco says that all people are “victims of culture“. Yes, we are all victims in some sort or theother. Yet, we are not bound to be victims, but interpret and reproduce orchange our social interactions constantly. This is done mainly in constant social struggles on all levels, from the household to the office. Demonstrations are only a minor part of all those struggles – and even a rather superficial and often quite helpless one. So, we are not only victims, but at the same time people that resist domination, fight back and create spaces of freedom. Otherwise it would be a complete mystery why people such as Peter Joseph or Jacques Fresco can ever escape the position of a victim.
The patriarchal authority of science
The blindness on the eye of production leads Moving forward also to a nearly complete ignorance towards the relation between genders and the importance of feminized work at the household and in “mothering” (a term Genevieve Vaughan has coined) for the market system. This fits all to well into an affirmative view of science that seems to hold the solution to all problems. A view, that the movie itself embodies, since practically all people that are interviewed have academic titles – and are all male (with one exception) and seemingly endowed with some sort of superior knowledge. It is as much astonishing as dangerous to think that anything like absolute and universal truth exists “out there” and that this truth is the business of people called “experts” and “scientists”.
While it is true, that technical problems of how to organize production are not to be solved in political terms – there is indeed no republican or liberal car – it is quite false to think of one solution for all and to imagine any technology as being neutral. This isn’t true for atomic bombs, and it isn’t true for computers. It seems that Zeitgeist wants to replace the absolutist authority of the state – which it correctly critizes – with another absolutist authority: that of science, the domination of an allegedly universal, neutral, and objective reason, mediated by similarly neutral, objective and – of course – well-meaning scientists.
In the realist view, that Zeitgeist regrettably promotes, science is seen as a reflection of reality – this is certainly false. Reality is a construction, and this construction is done by different means, including everyday language and culture, modern and traditional, Western and Eastern science.
While it is clear that oil is finite and we can’t run through a wall, the terms in which we explain this peculiar resistance of the “outer world” to our goals are variable, flexible, depend on cultural predispositions and assumptions – they are anything else than absolute. We cannot even say, why the simplest solution to any scientific problem (as the commonly accepted principle of “Occam’s Razor” requires) is also the “true solution”, has more to do with “external reality” as a more complicated explanation. And to give universal and transhistorical criteria for what is “simple” in a scientific sense will also prove to be hardly feasible.
The praise of science makes one chilling, when some of the interviewees shortly speak about the question of population and an assumed collusion with a so called carrying capacity. As a matter of fact, world population will most probably peak at 9 billion around 2050. And it is subject to – yes, what a surprise – scientific controversy and ideological battles as a part of class struggle, wether 9 billion people can lead a good life or billions are expected to vanish by way of catastrophes due to some sort of an alleged overshoot.
The false promises of technology
Hence it seems that Zeitgeist rescues the original idea of communism – “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” (Marx) – while perpetuating one of its great mistakes: that the organization of production and distribution is a mere technical question for which a universal scientific solution exists. This mistake had its heyday in the interwar period. And it is not by chance that there also are the historical roots of the Zeitgeist-movement, which is an offspring of the so called technocratic movement that took (and takes) Frederick Engels saying that if suffices to replace the domination of people over people by the administration of things at face value.
The final, visionary part of the movie makes clear, that the satisfaction of human needs does not fail due to a lack of technological means (indeed, this was probably never the case in human history, since needs are shaped by technology as well as the other way round). This is certainly true. Yet it is false to promoting the one universal solution of a utopia of technophile administrators, consisting of a global system of managementof resources, of production, and distribution. The fact that human needs are to some extent universal does not imply that the ways these needs are satisfied, interpreted and deployed converge on one and the same global path of societal development.
Global cooperation might be useful, even partly necessary. But it cannot and should not rely on people functioning like machines, obeying the allegedly natural constraint of resource management which might be enforced by a scientific steering comitee – the movie interestingly enough is completely silent on such things as decision making and control of decision making institutions.
Jacques Frescos vision of a perfectly “clean and efficient” way of living and producing in circular cities dangerously resembles what James Scott called “high-modernist schemes“, which, according to his book Seeing likea state, “failed to improve the human condition“. At this point, Fresco appears to be an anachronist variant of Le Corbusier. While Le Corbusier loved right angles, Fresco adores the circle. Well, a matter of taste, not of emancipation, isn’t it. As long as the Corbusiers and Frescos of this world do not compel anyone to adopt their visions and suffer their consequences, this might be okay. (Brasilía, which was built according to Corbusiers ideology turned out to be a very unfriendly place that exists only because itis supported by informal life and unplanned outskirts.) Yet, to make the great solution out of it is simply wrong and potentially authoritarian.
The real movement
These critiqual remarks should not diminish the great achievement of themovie: to be the first formulation of a truly communist programme in termsthat are accessible to a broad audience. Yet we must hope that thisaudience stops being an audience and begins to make, what communism ismeant to be: “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state ofthings. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (Marx/Engels).
What those premises precisely are, we should clearly take a much closer and much more controversial look at than the movie does.