What would Marxists make of contemporary luddism, technophobia, etc.?

In 1867, Karl Marx wrote that it would be some time before workers were able to distinguish between the machines and "the form of society which utilizes these instruments" and their ideas. "The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the workman himself."

So, technology is not the issue. And, a lot of his analysis can be packaged up to be about the expansion of the productive forces, as if that were necessarily a good thing. Indeed, the Marxist Grossman, like others, seems to suggest that Das Kapital is a proof of the necessity of communism based on capitalism being unable to always expand the productive forces.

At a certain point in its historical development capitalism fails to encourage the expansion of the productive forces any further. From this point on the downfall of capitalism becomes economically inevitable. To provide an exact description of this process and to grasp its causes through a scientific analysis of capitalism was the real task Marx posed for himself in Capital.

However, the German Ideology suggests that the expansion of the productive forces is not always a good thing:

from the conception of history we have sketched we obtain these further conclusions: (1) In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution

  • To Marx, technology only becomes a problem due to perverse social organization under capitalism, "Machinery... operates only by means of associated labour, or labour in common", see Marx's Capital: the Machine. I do not understand the "however" between the last two quotes. They are saying the same thing, basically, capitalism reaches a bifurcation point where it fails to accommodate the expanding production forces. Which then become destructive and induce a proletarian revolution that restructures the society.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 0:28
  • Although Marx certainly acted as an advocate for communism in more polemical works like the manifesto, in his more analytical work like Capital he tended to avoid any value judgments about what was "good" or "bad", especially avoiding criticizing capitalism on moral grounds (see this piece for a good summary). One of the main arguments of the later Marx was that capitalism was internally unstable due to ever-increasing automation causing a long-term decline in profits ('tendency of the rate of profit to fall').
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 11, 2020 at 22:11

1 Answer 1


For Marxism, industrialization, technological development, and innovation is a good thing because it lays the foundations for socialism. See my answer here.

In fact, it says it right there in the Manifesto.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

How would one "increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible" unless the embrace industrialization, technology, and innovation? Industrialization is, as explained in that other answer, essential towards socialism even existing as industry is necessary to socialize labor and to increase its efficiency.

When did China industrialize? From Wikipedia, Chinese industrialization,

Chinese industrialization refers to the process of China undergoing various stages of industrialization with a focus on the period after the establishment of the People's Republic of China where China experienced its most notable growths in industrialization.

Also take a look at the Wikipedia article, Industrialization in the Soviet Union,

Industrialization in the Soviet Union was a process of accelerated building-up of the industrial potential of the Soviet Union to reduce the economy's lag behind the developed capitalist states, which was carried out from May 1929 to June 1941.

The point is, it was Marxists who brought industry, technology, and innovation to China and eastern Europe specifically based on Marxian economic theory that lifted them out of decades of poverty and transformed them into world superpowers. Marxism is not incompatible with technology, but technological and industrial development is absolutely essential.

That is not to say every piece of technology is useful. Capitalism produces commodities solely for the purpose of selling them on a market and to realize their exchange-values, it does not care about their use-values.

An obvious example would be copyright protection. Capitalism inherently requires scarcity to exist. How can you sell something if it is already freely available to all? Information inherently has no scarcity to it in the Information Age, you can copy and paste it indefinitely for free. So capitalist businesses spend enormous amounts of research and development into new technologies to prevent the piracy of their software.

Criticizing technology like this is not "technophobia". You cannot be a technophobe and be a Marxist, since primitivism is the exact opposite of "increasing the productive forces as fast as possible". And from a Marxist analysis, a communist society would not even be possible without productive forces. Only a primitive communist society, which is entirely different, and not what Marxists advocate.

That's not to say that Marxists have never been technophobes. The ideological conflict between the east and the west during the Cold War lead to the Soviets viewing technology that originated in the west as inherently "western", thus rejecting to implement it.

From the Wikipedia article, Cybernetics in the Soviet Union,

Initially, from 1950–54, the reception of cybernetics, in the Soviet Union, was exclusively negative. The Soviet Department for Agitation and Propaganda had called for anti-Americanism to be intensified in Soviet media, and in an attempt to fill the Department's quotas, Soviet journalists latched on to cybernetics as an American "reactionary pseudoscience" to denounce and mock.

This was not a universal opinion of Marxists, however, as Che Guevara stated,

For a long time cybernetics was considered a reactionary science or pseudo-science...it is a branch of science that exists and should be used.

Later you had Marxist Salvador Allende who tried to actually develop a cybernetic socialist economy in Chile.

While there may be Marxists who are technophobes, technophobia, or, primitivism, the desire to return to less technologically developed times, or the fear of furthering technology, is inherently opposed to a Marxist analysis.

Usually Marxists who are technophobes are pulling their technophobia from something other than Marxism, like many Soviets basing their technophobia on "anti-westernism".

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