« Unemployment tops 5.6 million | Main | Marriage and inequality »

October 15, 2009



There's a fallacy here. Marx was saying that society is revolutionised by particular technologies, not that all technologies necessarily revolutionise society. It's trivially true that not all technology revolutionises society - you can't use the fact that Twitter's been a bit over-sold as evidence against technologically determined social change.


I don't think Marx is right. Greater technological development was associated with some radical changes in Europe that didn't happen in China, because of different institutional and social frames. Sometimes the "fetters" holding back changes are simply strong enough to withstand them and can be maintained indefinitely. There is no single rock-bottom function driving social development.

Rob Spear

Well Marx *was* rabbitting on about meanses of production, whereas television and Twitter and so on are more means of bullshit.

Luis Enrique

assuming for the sake of argument there has been some sort of shift from a "manufactured goods" economy to some sort of service sector, "information" economy ... what does Marxism predict are the consequences of that?

The usefulness of knowing technology defines social relations is diminished, if you don't know in advance what technologies are likely to emerge nor what they will imply for social relations. Can Marxists to any better than supplying some narrative they find pleasing that relates information technology to social changes?


@ Pete - it's not the fact that Twitter's oversold that evidence against Marx. My point is rather that the totality of technical change over the last 100-odd years hasn't (yet) had radical political effects. Is this because the "fetters" are strong, as Nick says? Is it because all these technical changes aren't the sort that revolutionizes society? (And if they aren't, what sort would be?) Or what?

chris strange

If it was the mass manufacturing revolution of the early twentieth century that helped to end the culture of deference it took some time to kick in. We have only had ubiquitous, cheap, personal communications tools for a couple of decades. Perhaps we aren't seeing much social change, yet, because they take more time? Or maybe because they are there but so taken for granted we don't notice them, and more time is needed to get some historical perspective before we can tell what has changed compared to the past? Likewise if Marx was correct then we would expect to see the emergence of a new, conflicting, social classes to go along with this technological changes, so maybe that limits the rate of change to the rate at which the people shaped by the old class conflicts die off?


On the contrary side, rotten boroughs (which allowed the great and the powerful to control many MPs) were over the course of the 19th century replaced by universal suffrage, representation according to population and latterly a rigid party system vulnerable to the need to raise campaign funds and find plums for ambitious representatives and party leaders. This system allows the great and the powerful to control many MPs. Progress?

Paul Sagar

"Or was he? Here’s a puzzling thing. It’s hard to think of many other ways in which recent technological change has revolutionized social relations.
Of course, there are countless examples of how it’s changed economic relations"

If we are being proper Marxist historical materialists, then the second sentence is certain to have a significant bearing upon the first. It may just take time for the technological change, which is a product of economic change, to become incompatible with the modes of social intercourse between classes, and for revolution to follow as per the tempo of history.

You're asking your question too soon. Look back from the other side of the revolution, when classes have been shuffled and social productive relations re-cast, and then you will see.

Except that, of course, by then it will be pointless to ask, for it will have come to pass.

Paul Sagar

Obviously, there is some pretty daft backwards logic in my last comment, re relationship between economic and technical change.

Re-jig as appropriate.



Fair enough. Guess my point was just that the "social revolutions are technologically determined" argument is water-tight against any amount of technology. It really only works in hindsight.

The only way to prove it wrong would be to find a social revolution that wasn't technologically induced, or, as Nick does, find instances of a technology that was supposedly revolutionary in some contexts, but doesn't appear to be in others.

But that's pedantic and slightly off-topic from the "Is the information age over-sold?" question that you were actually getting at.


A very uncharacteristic remark of Marx. He is usually right and perceptive about the details, and perceptively wrong about the implications.

This time Marx is wrong about the details. Wind and water mills gave power to feudal lords because they were so much more efficient than hand mills. Everyone could have a hand mill, but the feudal lord could exercise a monopoly of the wind or water mill, and so enrich himself.

T%he technical change that destroyed the local milling monopoly was not steam, but cheaper transport.

However, the great technological change in productive relations in the last century has been the move to a predominantly service economy. That has produced a real, bubbling ferment of social change. The routes to riches are far more varied than they were. The scope for independent economic activity without a boss is ever widening, and the fight to defend vested interests concentrates more and more on intellectual property rights.

M.G. in Progress

Marx was right in many respect, but it is taking us over 150 years to realize it. Is there a change to come?

Tech Info

The initiative taken for the concern is very serious and need an attention of every one. This is the concern which exists in the society and needs to be eliminated from the society as soon as possible.

Tech Info

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Why S&M?

Blog powered by Typepad