Machine Dreams #2 | Cybernetic Socialism and Its Discontents

Wednesday, 10 November 2021, 7.30 pm, diffrakt | centre for theoretical periphery

Conversation with
Aaron Benanav | Philipp Dapprich

Lately, discourse around economic planning has been revived through the rise of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and the logistics of multinational corporations such as Amazon or Walmart. Yet such a technical approach, which understands planning first and foremost as an optimization and forecasting problem expressed in algorithmic and computational terms, is nothing new. It has been around since Leonid Kantorovich’s The Mathematical Method of Production Planning and Organization (1939) and was further developed by Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell in Towards a New Socialism (1993). However, many theorists dealing with the question of economic planning who come from within the tradition of council communism (Devine, Albert, Saros) reject these approaches as undemocratic and see in them nothing but a return of a technocracy. Then again, their proposals based on direct interactions and administrative negotiations within councils are regarded as tedious, error-prone, and inflexible by the other camp.

Besides the introduction of the topic to the general audience, the event aims at clearing up misunderstandings and building bridges between the two traditions. We will discuss this inherent conflict between efficiency and participation with Aaron Benanav, who is an economic historian, social theorist, and longtime member of Endnotes, and Philipp Dapprich, who is a co-founder of the political organization Association for the Design of History and recently finished his PhD under Cockshott’s supervision on the further development of his model.

Pandemic: Since the event is an in-person event and the number of participants thus, in accordance with current COVID-19 regulations, strictly limited, anyone who would like to attend will need to register in advance with a short message to Following the 2G rule, masks will not be required, but all attendees will have to present either proof of vaccination or proof of recent recovery. The room is equipped with air filtration devices, but given the dynamic situation, we would also like to ask you, if possible, to test yourselves with a rapid test ahead of the event.

Machine Dreams is a series of events that explores the role of technology in the realization of a post-capitalist future. It begins this exploration from the premise that any emancipatory project aiming at a larger scope than the commune has to be mediated somehow technologically, as a strict rejection of abstraction and computation will bind any progressive movement within the local. Far from perishing in technological solutionism, these mediations constitute a necessity and should never be mistaken with a sufficiency: political struggle has to operate around and through them. This series is dedicated to their identification and critical examination, the disclosure of concrete utopias, from cybernetic socialism to crypto-mutualism, that allow us to reclaim a positive image of the future.

Organised by Max Grünberg.