From Worker to Partisan – Part II

Drawing upon Jünger, Schmitt, and Heidegger, Eugene Montsalvat describes how we are moving away from a civilization dominated by labor and into one in which wars between technological networks will prevail, and in which the vast majority of people will have no useful function.

Part I

The figure that will dominate the technological world in a revolutionary fashion is that of the worker. The mechanized violence of the First World War heralded the advent of the new age of the worker, one that would consign all the liberal shibboleths of the nineteenth century, such as “peace and order,” “national community,” “pacifism,” “economic peace,” and “understanding” to the dustbin of history. The worker would replace the bourgeois. The business suit of the office drone would be shed for the uniform of the worker, uniformed just as is the soldier of the technological era. Where the old individual persisted, he would be destroyed by the new archetype represented by the union of mass machines with mass-mobilized men. Uniformity trumps the individual. The idea of power, on a titanic scale, is closely linked with the figure of the worker. He is a tool in the mass mobilization of elemental powers awakened by the force of technology:

In the history of geographical and astronomical discoveries, in those inventions whose secret meaning reveals a furious will to omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience, to a most audacious Eritis-sicut-Deus (ye will be as God) , the spirit rushes ahead of itself, as it were, to amass a material which awaits order and the penetration of power. Thus a chaos comes into being, a chaos of facts, of instruments of power and of possibilities of movement, which lies ready as apparatus for dominion on a grand scale. (p. 47)1

In short, to Jünger, power through technology is the essence of the revolutionary worker:

Power within the world of work can therefore be nothing other than the representation of the form of the worker. Here lies the legitimation of a new and special will to power. One recognizes this will by the fact that it is the master of its means and weapons of attack, and in the fact that it does not possess a derivative, but a substantial relationship to them. Such weapons do not need to be new; an original force is characterized precisely by the fact that it discovers unsuspected reserves in what was thought to be well-known.

A power legitimated by the form of the worker must, insofar as it appears as language, encounter the worker as a completely different class from those which can be understood through the categories of the Nineteenth Century. It must encounter that humanity which understands its claim to freedom as a claim to work and which already possesses a sense for a new language of command. The mere presence of such a race, the mere use of such a language, are already more threatening to the liberal state than the whole play of the social apparatus which will never eliminate liberalism simply because it belongs to its inventions. (ibid., p. 49)

In dealing with this elemental power, the worker himself risks pain and even death. He is a mere object within the process of the mechanized destruction of the bourgeois world. He is a political soldier of technology. In his book On Pain,2 Jünger characterizes the ability to endure suffering and hardship as a necessity for the new type of man, even predicting that man will merge with machines of death in kamikaze missions. Disregard for life would become a fundamental principle of this new world.

However, the obliteration of bourgeois liberal norms by the figure of the worker imbued with the power of technology did not come to pass. Rather than making mass self-sacrifice an everyday occurrence, technology seems to have made life more comfortable. Instead of mass mechanical soldiers of work, the industrialization of society brought about the comfortable bourgeois world typified by American sitcoms where every family owns a car, a refrigerator, and a prefab home with a nice, white, mass-produced picket fence. Liberal reforms and technological improvement seem to have pushed the elements of danger and pain to the side, or else we have medicated whatever pains we now feel with painkillers and anti-depressants. The new man of Jünger’s imagination, who was capable of enduring the most extreme pain and suffering, has been replaced by the over-medicated, overly-comfortable modern man who is completely insulated from pain. Indeed, for many years now, it seems that technology has triumphantly strengthened the bourgeois system. The states that made a cult of the worker as the political soldier of the new revolutionary world, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, were unequivocally defeated. Jünger himself abandoned the revolutionary struggle and wrote a novel critical of technology, The Glass Bees.3 Does this mean that the tiger of technology has been de-fanged and turned into the house-cat of capitalist society?

Certainly not. This period of calm does not represent the taming of technology. The nature of technology has changed, it is true. At the start of the technological age we saw the mass mobilization of men in factories, where they risked death and destruction every day. We look back to the early days of industrialization, to the “dark, satanic mills,” which marked the first eruption of this titanic power upon the face of the Earth. In this world, the work of Jünger’s worker, the idea that technology would come to represent something revolutionary seemed very likely. Indeed, in a sense the Soviet Union represented a state based upon the mobilized worker which was equivalent to Jünger’s vision of the “worker state” in many ways, while at least officially paying lip service to Marxist theory and the happy utopia of the worker’s paradise. Jünger himself recognized this on a trip to the USSR in 1932 under the auspices of the Association for the Study of Russian Planned Economy (ARPLAN) with fellow Conservative Revolutionaries and National Revolutionaries, Friedrich Hielscher and Ernst Niekisch. However, as technology developed, the grim factory which mobilized thousands of men at the blow of the morning whistle was rendered obsolete. Automation caused the demands for manpower and the risks to the worker to diminish. Instead of technological mobilization, the arc of technical progress has led to technological demobilization. However, will the result of such a demobilization be a utopia?

If you want to see the “utopia” offered by demobilization in the technological era, you could visit the Rust Belt in the United States: empty factories and rampant unemployment. Or, for a more extreme example, see the Russia that has followed upon the fall of the Soviet Union. There has been a fundamental change in man’s relationship with technology. In the first phase of the technological era, man was an object of technology; he was used by technology to accomplish tasks. This required his self-sacrifice even to the point of death. The essence of such changes lent itself to the ideological developments of Jünger’s Worker. With the advent of mass automation, by which we mean machines replacing men to perform work in factories, the relationship between man and technology has changed once again. Where technology once used man as an object, man is now discarded altogether as superfluous. A machine can do his job. Where the first phase of the technological era ushered in the possibility of mass mobilization and a new era of danger and pain, standing directly against concerns for safety and the comfort of the bourgeoisie, culminating in the archetype of the Worker (in Jünger’s sense) and the Arbeiterstaat (best approximated by the Eastern Bloc Communists), the second phase seems to have directly repudiated the first. It has eliminated the need for many workers, and danger and pain have been turned over to machines, or else outsourced to workers in parts of the world that are kept out of sight and mind. In contrast to the orderly, clockwork nature of the first, the second is chaotic; job security and social relationships all become fleeting. Where technology solidified order in the first, it now dissolves it. Industrial humanity has been demobilized and left in a state of uncertainty.

However, this represents an even more dramatic anti-humanism than the first phase. Humanity has been completely negated by machines in many trades, and the trend will only increase as technology improves. This is ushering in an age of even stronger destructive nihilism than that which was wrought in the era of tanks, poison gas, and trench warfare.

The techno-utopians who promise that automation will free all men to pursue such things as art and spiritual development are quite foolish. Technology is an anti-humanist force, leaving little room for the man it made redundant to become some sort of Gandhi-Da Vinci hybrid. Instead, a new age of nihilism will develop, a nihilism of demobilized troops, abandoned veterans of the war technology is waging on the world. It has both active and passive forms. The passive form is the one most familiar to us: the common slacker living at home in his mother’s basement, insulated from the world and living on his parents’ increasingly meager share of bread in the failing liberal capitalist society. The active form is something far more foreign and dangerous: the partisan, who breaks his ennui with a thirst for violent action.

Regarding the figure of the partisan, one should consult Carl Schmitt for its definition. In his book, The Theory of the Partisan,4 Schmitt lays out some basic characteristics of the partisan, dating back to his emergence among the Spanish guerrillas who hampered Napoleon’s Peninsula Campaign. The partisan is an irregular fighter. He lies outside the ordinary scope of martial jurisprudence. He can fight for the state, but he is not accorded the protections offered to soldiers when he is captured. He can be shot on sight if he surrenders. He can wear civilian clothes and then kill a passing officer using a hidden gun, and then disappear back into the crowd. This gives him a certain advantage over the uniformed soldier, who is marked as a target by his mere appearance. This explains why the captured partisan is often treated with such cruelty.

Another essential facet of the partisan is his politicization. He doesn’t fight because the state compels or pays him, but because he believes in a cause. He adheres to a “party line” and totally integrates himself into a revolutionary organization, abandoning all individual attachments — in short, what we would call a political soldier. Schmitt also distinguishes between the tactics of the partisan and the regular soldier: “Agility, speed, and the sudden change of surprise attack and retreat — increased mobility, in a word — are even today a hallmark of the partisan, and this has only increased with mechanization and motorization.” (ibid., p. 11) The partisan strikes suddenly and then disappears, in contrast to the lumbering regular army. Technology only enhances this capability, which is why the National Revolutionary archetype of the partisan is suitable for the age of automation. Yet, Schmitt notes a fundamentally “tellurian” character in the partisan as well: he is rooted in the earth. The guerrilla knows his terrain because it is his indigenous land. However, with modern technology, the partisan can even be mobilized overseas if need be, as Schmitt writes:

However, even the autochthonous partisan of agrarian origin is drawn into the force-field of irresistible technical-industrial progress. His mobility is so enhanced by motorization that he runs the risk of complete dislocation. In Cold War situations, he becomes the technician of an invisible battle, a saboteur, and a spy. Already in World War II there were saboteurs with partisan training. A motorized partisan loses his tellurian character. All that’s left is a transportable, replaceable cog in the wheel of a powerful world-political machine [Weltpolitik treibenden Zentrale] that puts him in the open or invisible war and then, depending on how things are developing, switches him off again [abschaltet].This too belongs to his present day existence and cannot be neglected in a theory of the partisan. (ibid., p.14)

Like the worker, the technological partisan is reduced to a cog in some great plan, to be sacrificed if necessary. However, he is fitter for the age of automation. Unlike the worker, who was trained to do one specific task in a factory and who operated on a clockwork schedule, the partisan works irregularly. He strikes when necessary and then returns to banal tasks. Unlike the regular soldier and the worker, the partisan is a “jack of all trades”: he can make a bomb, operate a rifle, or sabotage infrastructure. Like the computer programmer in the age of automation, he must know how to use multiple languages to achieve his task and be ready to adapt new ones as they arise. Indeed, Schmitt speaks of the “industrial partisan”:

But what if the human type that went into the partisan adapted to its new technical-industrial environment, learned how to make use of the new means, and developed a new, adapted form of the partisan—let’s call him the industrial partisan? Is there any guarantee that modern means of destruction always fall into the right hands, and that an irregular combat would be inconceivable? At the other extreme of the optimistic belief in progress, there remains a larger field than is usually imagined for the pessimistic view of progress and its technological fantasies. In the shadow of the current atomic equilibrium between the world powers, beneath the glass cover, so to speak, of their vast means of destruction, room for limited and contained war conducted with conventional weapons and even weapons of mass destruction could be de-limited [ausgrenzen]. While the great powers could unite publicly or silently on the matter of degree, it would produce a war in the way of a dogfight [English in the original] controlled by these world powers. It would be an apparently harmless game of a precisely controlled irregularity, a sort of “ideal disorder,” ideal insofar as it could be manipulated by the great powers. (ibid., p. 56)

The technical age demands a new spatial order, one inhabited by the partisan, and with new legal norms. The rise of interconnected technological networks had made one less free than when the idea of individual rights was first formulated, as Schmitt writes:

The proposition that “a man’s home is inviolable” effectuates a quite different form of containment today, in the age of incandescent light, natural gas lines, telephone, radio, and television, than it did in the age of King John and the Magna Carta of 1215, when the lord of the castle could lift his drawbridge at will. Entire systems of legal norms crumble, as nineteenth-century maritime law did, faced with the technical growth of human efficiency. (ibid., p. 48)

Indeed, the age of the partisan now brings about new legal norms. The terrorist, a partisan par excellence, alters the political landscape. Unlike the regular soldier, the terrorist can hold an entire nation hostage through the fear he induces. The old norms of the liberal state give way to the security state that is designed to combat it, even if the new security state still pays lip service to the old liberal ideals. Yet this liberal hybrid security state, which operates according to the old rules of policing and conventional military operations, is insufficient and antiquated. Even if technology is deployed to identify and monitor enemies, the state still deploys uniformed police and soldiers to deal with the threat. These bungled attempts to counter the partisan through increasingly illiberal measures which have been adopted by the liberal states only serve to further de-legitimize their own ideology and bolster the power of their opponents, who can point to its fundamental hypocrisy. The United States launched two conventional wars in response to a terrorist attack, only to see its forces bogged down and harassed by unconventional partisan warfare. Instead of creating its own partisan to battle the partisan it ideologically opposed, the United States simply increased its military-industrial complex within the confines of the liberal state and conventional warfare. Conventional nations have yet to recognize the political and military transformation which was brought about by the age of the technological partisan.

Technology changes the nature of the political consideration of the world itself. In the past, we spoke of land appropriation and sea appropriation, where the great powers seized control of regions of land and sea. Today, with the Heideggerian technological Enframing of the world, the world is reduced to a network of infrastructures for the extraction and use of natural resources. The new order of the world, a new nomos to utilize a term beloved by Schmitt, must arise. The new paradigm of political struggle will be the struggle for the control of this global network of technology. Where we once spoke of land and sea appropriation,we will now speak of network appropriation. Here we can talk of hijacking and the sabotage of transportation, and the hacking of computer networks, as well as attacks on satellites, oil pipelines, and shipping lanes. In this world, the partisan will be the agent of the state who seizes control of a rival’s technological network. Indeed, we can consider the partisan himself as a part of this technological network, since he is plugged into the technological system and has no function outside of it. The controllers of the state in the technological era can wire him funds and information, and he can be resupplied across vast distances via globalised shipping lanes. Outside of the network, he is stripped of power; he is nothing more than an isolated fighter behind enemy lines whose destruction is seemingly assured. The operation of the partisan must take on the networked character of the ethos of this age. The partisan operates in concert with all his comrades, each partisan being a node in the network of a coordinated assault against the enemy. As military operations take on the character of the network, so does the state.

The new state will consist of an assemblage of a highly automated technological core and its partisans, who will be distributed throughout the global network, working to seize control of the technological cores of rival states. This technological core will arm and direct them, giving them marching orders, so to speak, in regard to what actions they will take against the enemy. In regard to the economics of the state, capitalism will be destroyed. The fact that automation will reduce the mass of society to unemployment is essential here. The consumer mechanism that keeps the population docile will no longer function as people no longer have the money to purchase consumer goods and pursue idle pleasures. Even if the state begins to impose some genetic engineering regime in order to crush rebellious traits, it seems likely that such an attempt would cause mass revolt. Moreover, even if the majority of the population could be engineered to ensure submission, that state will still require a core of daredevils who will need to be maintained for military purposes. In an age of mass unemployment, with nothing better to do, these aimless young men brimming with martial fire will become prime targets for recruitment into partisan forces.

To be continued


  1. Jünger, Ernst, The Worker, translated by Bogdan Costea and Laurence P. Hemming (unpublished manuscript, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press).
  2. Jünger, Ernst, On Pain, translated by David C. Durst (New York: Telos Press, 2008).
  3. Jünger, Ernst, The Glass Bees, translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Mayer (New York: Noonday Press, 1960).
  4. Schmitt, Carl, The Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political, translated by G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Press, 2007).

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