Summer-School-2020

Summer School Report

All six talks can be heard via the following link – Summer School audio.

Plans for this year’s Summer School sadly ground to a halt earlier in the year, as the lockdown came into effect and our usual venue – Fircroft College – had to temporarily close. 2020’s Summer School looked like it would be the one that never was. But when Discord came along we realised this could be the way to hold the event after all, much as it’s come to the rescue for other talks and meetings. Appropriately, given that Summer School’s theme is Technology, the internet and social media enabled us to go ahead. A bonus was that this meant it would be a shorter journey to a computer screen than to Birmingham, especially for people outside Britain.

Summer School was held on the 7– 9 August, with over 30 people joining in. The weekend’s agenda was more-or-less the same as if it had been at Fircroft, with six sessions discussing technological progress and its application in the past, present and future. 

Adam Buick opened the weekend by raising the question of whether Marxism is technological determinism, and reminding us that class struggle also drives change.

Next, Bill Martin’s talk considered how the way we think is a form of technology, as the ideas behind inventions come from social relations. Mike Foster’s talk about philosopher Gunther Anders’ views opened up an interesting discussion about many people’s often-wary attitudes around scientific developments.

More optimistically, Leon Rozanov explored the potential of digital technology for streamlining distribution and democracy in a socialist society. And Paddy Shannon closed the weekend with his talk about what new tech is around the corner and how we can get ready.

Paddy also hosted a discussion session about more effective ways we can engage with others online, whether through memes, messaging boards or podcasts, with many useful suggestions for us to work on. Summer School isn’t just about the talks, it’s also an enjoyable opportunity to share ideas and catch up with like-minded comrades and friends around the globe.

There was also time for a fun quiz on Saturday evening, a first for ourselves on Discord.

For anyone who wants to revisit the event, transcripts of talks and links to related articles have been uploaded to the site, and recordings of the sessions will be added to the party’s website soon.

Thanks go to everyone who gave talks, chaired discussions and tuned in. Preparations for Summer School 2021 will soon be underway, so keep an eye out for an announcement later in the year.

The Socialist Party’s 2020 Summer School looks at technological progress and its application in the past, present and future. This weekend of talks and discussion is an exciting opportunity to share and explore revolutionary ideas with others, through the SPGB’s Discord server.


The Socialist Party’s 2020 Summer School looked at technological progress and its application in the past, present and future. The Socialist Party’s 2020 Summer School

This weekend of talks and discussion was an exciting opportunity to share and explore revolutionary ideas with others, through the SPGB’s Discord server.

From the development of the first tools and the wheel through to the invention of the printing press, the steam engine, the microprocessor and beyond, technology has always shaped how we live.

Scientific developments take place in the context of the social and economic conditions of the time.

In capitalism, technological progress and how technology is used are driven by what is profitable and cost effective more than by what is really needed and wanted.

This means that technology is often used in ways which go against our best interests, whether through environmental damage, the development of ever-more destructive weapons or the misuse of data gathered online and through social media.

In a future socialist society based on common ownership and democratic organisation of industries and services, technology could really be used to benefit us, in harmony with the environment. To join in or for further information, e-mail spgbschool@yahoo.co.uk.

Friday 7th August 19:30

Adam Buick

Is Marxism technological determinism?

“In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”

(Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847)

“It is the development of tools, of these technical aids which men direct, which is the main cause, the propelling force of all social development. It is self-understood that the people are ever trying to improve these tools so that their labour be easier and more productive, and the practice they acquire in using these tools, leads their thoughts upon further improvements. Owing to this development, a slow or quick progress of technique takes place, which at the same time changes the social forms of labour. This leads to new class relations, new social institutions and new classes.”

(Anton Pannekoek, Marxism and Darwinism, 1912)

To what extent, if at all, is this a theory of technological determinism? How do changes in technology lead to a change of society?

Saturday 8th August 10:00

Jake AWOFA

How the Socialist Party can use technology better

Socialist Party sympathiser Jake AWOFA’s site ‘A World of Free Access’ has a following of 17,000 on Facebook, and he joins us from Western Australia to open a discussion on ideas about how the Socialist Party can make better use of technology. How can our online and social media presence be improved? Can technology help us be (even) more democratic? What are our views on Discord?

14:00 Bill Martin

Ideology as technology

This talk looks at how the way we think is a form of technology. Starting with mundane objects, like a bicycle, it looks at how the ideas behind inventions are not the outcomes of lone geniuses and inspiration, but are connected to social relations and practices. It discounts the idea that history is driven by simple technological changes, and looks back to the age of conquest to show it was how technology was applied, rather than the possession of technology itself, that was behind the establishment of the European empires. It concludes by looking at the implications for socialism and how a future society might use technology.

16:00 Mike Foster

How we feel about technology – the views of Günther Anders and beyond

‘Philosophical anthropologist’ Günther Anders’ theories about our attitudes towards technology were formed in the middle of the last century, when television and the nuclear bomb represented the latest in human achievements. He argued that technology makes us feel ashamed, not because of the impact of the mass media or the threat of nuclear war, but because we have become inferior to the technology we have created. Since Anders’ time, technological progress has given us smartphones, artificial intelligence and the world wide web, feats which he would argue further humanity’s obsolescence. This talk gives a Marxist perspective on Anders’ theories and their implications in today’s hi-tech world.

18:00

Quiz night

19:00

Social

Sunday 9th August 10:00

Leon Rozanov

Digital technologies as a core of social organisation of the future

Direct democracy may have worked well in ancient Greek city-states with thousands of decision-makers. Now with most modern states having millions of citizens, the most widespread form of democracy is representative, and it is easily hijacked by the interests of capital owners or political figures who serve them. Even if socialist ideas were to become more widespread, it remains a question, how exactly would democratic principles that we all consider indispensable be put to work for a socialist society to function efficiently?

 One of the earliest markers of human societies differentiating themselves from other animals was language, and later its written form, text. We have learned to pass knowledge on to future generations, and the earliest texts are almost exclusively collections of rules and laws that helped organise societies according to their commonly shared values and beliefs. If we want to create a successful future society based on socialist principles, we need to cement these principles in the text of modern technologies – software code – that will have principles of equality, fairness and resource- and need-based economy built into the digital technologies specifically designed to help run this society.

11:30

Paddy Shannon

The 4th Industrial Revolution, what it is, what it means, what capitalism is doing with it, and what socialism could do with it

Just as people didn’t stop using stone as a material when they learned to use bronze, then iron, and then plastic, industrial revolutions have also overlapped, with first-generation steam turbines still producing second-generation electrical power, controlled by third-generation digital computer interfaces.

Now a tsunami of new acronyms including AI, IoT and VR is breaking over the top of all that, the so-called 4th industrial revolution. If you’re still having trouble figuring out how to do online shopping on your home computer, you’d really better strap in and hold onto your hat, because capitalism is about to go to warp speed.

 

From the development of the first tools and the wheel through to the invention of the printing press, the steam engine, the microprocessor and beyond, technology has always shaped how we live. Scientific developments take place in the context of the social and economic conditions of the time. In capitalism, technological progress and how technology is used are driven by what is profitable and cost effective more than by what is really needed and wanted. This means that technology is often used in ways which go against our best interests, whether through environmental damage, the development of ever-more destructive weapons or the misuse of data gathered online and through social media. In a future socialist society based on common ownership and democratic organisation of industries and services, technology could really be used to benefit us, in harmony with the environment.

To join in or for further information, e-mail spgbschool@yahoo.co.uk. Details of sessions will be announced soon.