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Is Anonymous a New Form of Luddism?: a Comparative Analysis of Industrial Machine Breaking, Computer Hacking, and Related Rhetorical Strategies

DOI: 10.1215/01636545-2210437

Deseriis, M. “Is Anonymous a New Form of Luddism?: a Comparative Analysis of Industrial Machine Breaking, Computer Hacking, and Related Rhetorical Strategies.” Radical History Review 2013.117 (2013): 33–48. Web.

p.33: At a first sight, the Luddites and Anonymous belong to entirely different worlds. While the English machine breakers of the early nineteenth century went down in history as the technophobic movement par excellence, in the contemporary imagination the hacker network Anonymous is associated with technical dexterity and an unconditional love for information technology. In this article I argue that, in spite of this striking contrast, Anonymous and the Luddites share at least three remarkable features. First, both movements target machines of a specific kind —labor-saving machines in the case of the Luddites and machines that restrict access to information and information technology in the case of Anonymous. Second, both Anonymous and Ned Ludd (the eponymous leader of the Luddites) function as collective pseudonyms or “multiple-use names” that anyone can borrow to claim individual and collective actions. Third, while the openness of shared pseudonyms enables unpredictable appropriations, I maintain that such names bring seemingly unrelated struggles within a common discursive space. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.34: Both the Luddites and Anonymous emerge at critical historic junctures — namely, the onsets of the Industrial Revolution and the information society, respectively. In both circumstances, technological innovation sets in motion a radical restructuring of the relations of production. And in both cases, these movements resist the private accumulation of wealth and the expropriation of knowledge enabled by the introduction of new machinery in the sphere of production. In this respect, it is no accident that both the Luddites and Anonymous target machines of a specific kind. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.36: In Capital, volume 1, Marx describes the expropriation of the workers’ skills as a process of desubjectivation: “In manufacture, it is the workers who, either singly or in groups, must carry on each peculiar process with their manual implements. The worker has been appropriated by the process; but the process had previously to be adapted to the worker. This subjective principle of division of labor no longer exists in production by machinery. Here the total process is examined objectively, viewed in and for itself, and analyzed into its constitutive phases.” -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.36: the Luddites not only smashed the machines that threatened their livelihood but also wiped out the customary norms that had regulated for centuries the mode of disposition and usage of knitting tools, the system of apprenticeship, and the division of labor in multiple branches of the woolen trades. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.36: First, because the new industrial machines reduced capital’s reliance on manual labor, machine breaking was a form of resistance to the expropriation of the workers’ knowledge that had been perpetuated through automation and technological innovation. Second, by destroying the new industrial machines the Luddites attacked the new technical and organic composition of capital that was emerging with the Industrial Revolution -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.36: Luddism was a hybrid movement, which simultaneously looked backward, at the protection of a traditional political economy, and forward, toward modern forms of class struggle. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.37: The rise of networked computing as the central technology of informational capitalism entails instead a different process of subjectivation since the worker is no longer subjected to the machine but integrated within its apparatus. As Deleuze and Guattari note in A Thousand Plateaus, while the factory worker is subjected to a machine that is extrinsic to his or her body, the cybernetic worker is enslaved by a machine of which he or she has become an internal component. This is because with cybernetics “the relation between human and machine is based on internal, mutual communication, and no longer on usage or action.” -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.39: Such operations have both a political and an economic function. On a political level, they express an organized response of Internet users against all forms of restriction on the free circulation of information. Furthermore, by taking offline symbolic targets such as the official websites of state institutions and hacking security firms, they expose the vulnerability of the corporate and state apparatus of control. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014

p.44: As Gabriella Coleman notes, in IRC a great deal of power is concentrated in the hands of the administrators who install, configure, and maintain the server.30 Furthermore, while in 4chan the rhetoric of Anonymous as an undifferentiated swarm is supported by a software that enforces an almost complete anonymity, IRC enables pseudonymous personae to acquire a distinctive status within a network. This has led to the formation of tight-knit hacking teams that have affected and changed the course of specific operations behind closed doors. Put differently, while the ethos of Anonymous remains strongly egalitarian and anticelebrity, the technical skills of some individuals such as IRC administrators, botmasters, or skilled hackers make them more powerful than others within the network. -- Highlighted mar 18, 2014