In Marx’s view, abstract knowledge will ultimately be the most important force of production. He claims that, due to “autonomy from production, abstract knowledge of the society is in the process of becoming nothing less than the main force of production and will eventually replace the repetitive labor force, that is, industrial labor and society based on the division of labor in its traditional form.” The outcome of transformation of production and of wealth is no longer the direct physical labor the workers perform, nor the time invested in carrying out those task, but rather the enhancement of the of two interrelated factors: the technological expertise (scientific labor), and the social combination..
What is critical here is the knowledge objectified in fixed capital and embodied in the automated system of machinery. Marx makes use of an evocative metaphor to refer to the set of knowledges that make up the focal-point of social production and determine all areas of life; he calls it the ‘general intellect.’ This concept is introduced in Grundrisse’s Fragment on Machine. In this work, Marx diverts his emphasis on the discourse of the role of work in delivering surpluses for the social enhancement. Rather, he stresses that the development of capital will depend on modern technologies and the society. Therefore, to improve productivity it will surely depend on the improvement of general powers of human brain, societal knowledge.
Marx’s main argument for the general intellect is highly on the increasing importance of machinery in social setting:
“Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc. These are products of human industry: natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand: the power of knowledge, objectified. The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and have been transformed in accordance with it.”
The concept of general intellect by Marx, could refer to the general social knowledge or collective intelligence of a given society. The term focuses on the ensemble of abstract knowledge consisting the new center of social production and organizing its important dimensions of reasoning. It is on those abilities and tendencies which are needed in any act of production. General intellect and those general means characterizing it organize the production process directly but they also organize the process of life. Fixed capital (intelligent machines) can entail the term general intellect as well as human beings. Just as collective force is needed to accomplish various task of production, so as the collective intellectual power is invested directly in production process. According to Nick Dyer-Witheford, as information technologies and cybernetic machines have become the driver and means of production, general intellect has gone beyond level of direct force and becomes the primary force of social production.
Marx outlines two forms of technology as he points out capitalism’s mobilization of general intellect. First, it is the development of the production process with the support of the “automatic system of machinery” that operates by itself “…consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.” The other is the network of transportation and communication that is connecting the world of business.
The development of automated systems are eliminating human employment by the day hence a single machine could perform five times or more work than a human beings can execute in a shortest possible time. The advancement in labor means into machinery has denotes the level at with general intellect has successfully assemble and incorporated by business, and “… accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive force of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labor, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital.”
Moreover, Marx argues that, it is not the working class rather it is the development of the capital itself that will bring about the collapse of capitalism. Marx’s analysis of general intellect is understood as the demon that existed in the very tool that capitalist considered their utopia. In short, the combination of scientific knowledge with social cooperation, by the capitalist, is a way of creating self-destruction mechanism. For a better explanation, an example could be drawn from a wooden house that is constructed over a tree; it will just be a matter of time before the tress grows to destroy the house with its branches.
This work uses Marx’s concept of general intellect to drive us to the question of political economy in the context of the new post-Fordist production processes, that is, what creates value in communicative economy, and how? What are the sources and forces in the production of new value? And on what term should its distribution be organized?
In post-Fordist, the expectation put forward by Marx came true but surprising with no revolutionary or even conflictual repercussions. In post-Fordist production the roles of knowledge cannot be reduced to machinery system or automation, but becomes rather articulated in linguistic cooperation and communication, in relationship with networks and aptitudes.
The central focus in this new work is human resources and tacit knowledge, a modes of behavior and ways of thinking that cannot be separated from concrete interaction and given a simple object form. They begin to operate as productive machines without ever materializing into electronic devices. And it is this division between general intellect and fixed capital that constitute the basic of the conflict.
Based on Raymond Williams’s work, one can argue that Marx’s concept of general intellect is highly applicable in today’s post-industrial, digital economy. The focus of Williams’s text “Means of communication as means of production” argues that communication is a form of work and for that, media and means of production are inseparable. Communication (media), which is the powerhouse of post-industrial era, is built on language.
William addresses this issue by pointing out that “language and communication are forms of social production.” For example, people with different viewpoints put their ideas together and build sophisticated techniques that are used in agricultural to produce sufficient output for the need of man. In this process human physical labor are not exhausted rather human brains intertwine their ideas with the use of societal product (language), and build technological products that get work done in today’s world of business.
Finally, “Marx considered nature as one possible object of work that occurs in agricultural work and mining. This implies that also fabricated nature can be the object of work. Agricultural and extractive work takes nature as the object, industrial work takes fabricated nature as the object, information work takes ideas and human subjectivity as the object.” Marx supported the latter in his work “Grundrisse’s “Fragment on Machines” “but have neglected the question if communication is work.”