Information Revolution as the Third Compression of Time and Space

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Kees van der Pijl:

“The Information Revolution, understood as the process ultimately leading to the universal, real-time interconnectedness of the entire population of Planet Earth, can be understood as the third great space/time compression in human history, comparable to the Industrial Revolution and further back, the Neolithic Revolution. One common element of the three qualitative leaps in how human communities occupy space, and the ensuing revolutions in the development of the productive forces, was that for obvious reasons, the initial advantages arising from them bolstered the existing ruling classes first. However, the consolidation of a mode of production and a mode of foreign relations within the newly established ‘limits of the possible’ then also generated possibilities for subaltern forces. Initially these emerged on the outside, externally, as trade advantages and/or war-making capacities, but an inner tension was created as well, eventually revolutionising the geopolitical economy as a whole.

If we confine ourselves to the comparison between the Industrial and the Information Revolutions, we can identify the key differences between the two socialisms I distinguish: what I call labour socialism, and digital, or Big Data eco-socialism.

The Industrial Revolution had its epicentre in Britain, mobilising the resources of its empire, human and material alike. In the Atlantic West arising from this mutation, capitalism emerged as the new mode of production. It spread through the geopolitical economy by way of contender states resisting liberal, Anglophone supremacy, beginning with absolutist France. Labour socialism was the internal subaltern force arising in the course of the century following the Industrial Revolution, when capitalism provoked the development of a mass workers’ movement inspired by Marx and Engels and the First International they founded. Eventually, Soviet-style state socialism, which after the failure to ignite a world revolution in 1917, relapsed into the external contender posture facing the liberal capitalist heartland, replicated the Industrial Revolution, but ultimately failed to hold its own—although it came a long way.

Today we are in the midst of another world-historic transformation, the Information Revolution. Externally, it pits the declining West, led by the United States and its ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence group made up of Britain and the original Anglophone settler countries, against a loose, in fact involuntary contender bloc. Labelled the BRICS or otherwise, these are states such as China and Russia, in which capitalist restoration and/or neoliberal restructuring was followed by the discovery that they were not supposed to defend their sovereignty any longer and instead had to submit to Western global governance. The Five Eyes maintain a sophisticated surveillance system covering the entire planet, spying on allies and enemies alike. Systems not accessible to Five Eyes spying, such as those run by the Chinese IT giant Huawei, are attacked by all means available, from boycotts to hostage-taking, to keep this monopoly intact. Internally, the achievements of the Information Revolution are put to use for class oppression and heightened exploitation. Facial recognition coupled to round-the-clock observation of people in school, at work, and in the street give rise to totalitarian control; in every segment of the wealth scale, ‘impersonal systems of discipline and control produce certain knowledge of human behaviour independent of consent’.” (