BACKGROUND: There are a great many texts1 that talk about how, even by simple presence in a city, a sense of freedom is produced.2 This freedom comes in two components: first, the freedom from the basic violence of nature. Second, the freedom from the oppressive family structure, invasive community organization, and violence of traditional farm life.3

The first and second points are perhaps underlying the creative vibrancy of cities. Freed from the grueling demands of agriculture, and the geographical isolation of rural community, cities have consistently been powerful sites of technical and cultural innovation.

The third point, perhaps less obvious and less obviously derived, is the freedom from rural conformity. To have different sexual preferences, to look different, to act or talk different - are all things that have traditionally been very dangerous in rural areas - and to an extent, in certain periods, possible in the city.

This cosmopolitanism is a kind of weak perennial, that is frequently suppressed, but sporadically reappears - providing a kind of counterbalance to the nationalism and chauvinism which are, traditionally, the European mainstream.

The dark shadow of this cosmopolitanism is the city’s endless hunger for exotic goods, and more importantly, exotic markets. It is this insane drive that has led, historically, to the mass depopulation of rural areas, a process that began in the 16th century, and continues today.4

The major product of the simultaneous desire for luxury goods, and the connected5 desire for export markets, is colonialism. It’s easy to see how cosmopolitanism both enables, and is produced by, colonial relations - even though it, to some extent, undermines them6. The ‘citizen of the cosmos’ is rootless in a sense that is entirely necessary for functionaries of a global colonial project.


Suminagashi is a japanese technique of paper marbling, where inks are dropped on mucilaginous sizing, and spread to create swirling patterns.

The technique: “seems to have come to Europe by means of Turkey and then to Holland and eventually to England in the 17th century. Apparently marble papers imported from the continent were taxed”-7

but also, apparently, prized. In any case, european manufacture seems to have started more or less as cheap reproductions of an expensive import.

““An account having been laid before the Society of the great quantity of paper, commonly called Marbled Paper, imported into this kingdom from foreign countries, the Society came to a resolution to offer a Premium of fifty pounds to the candidate who should produce forty reams of the best and nearest in quality to foreign Marbled Paper; and a premium of twentyfive pounds to the candidate who should produce twenty reams of ditto, manufactured in England.”“8

As such, the marbling technique represents a microcosm of the problem shadow of cosmopolitanism. City desire leads to demand. Insufficient demand is solved by mass manufacture. Mass manufacture leads to the impoverishment (and replacement) of the original traditions. Mass manufactured products are no longer exotic, and so also disappear.

(This progression goes some way to explain the paradoxical combination of cultural fecundity, and cultural emptiness, of many capitalist societies.)


Until the invention of CNC systems, and arguably even with CNC, automation does not change the basic dynamic of manufacture. Mass manufacture pre-existed the first recognizable forms of automation by about two centuries, and existed first as a social form (the workhouse9).

(I’m counting the first forms of automation as stuff like the self-acting lathe, or even Watt’s steam engine).

Two social problems around automation has remained constant from the very beginning - the degree of automation is inversely proportional to the number of work-hours required to produce a given quantity of products. An innovation in a particular industry therefore inevitably reduces the employment in that industry unless: -the demand for that product is increased in the existing market.10 -a new market is discovered.

The first problem is this constant churn in employment, where it is not possible to remain in one place and expect to always find employment there, but rather is necessary to live life as a perpetual economic migrant, moving between industries, cites, and states.

The second is the ‘discovery of new markets’, which, at worst, drives the use of violence to ‘open markets’- the archetypal colonial move.

Automation in capitalism therefore drives a constant state of mass unemployment, universal diaspora, and invasion.


Many, including Marx, observed that the problems with automation only pertain under capitalism, and that in another society, they would provide the conditions for a society that, in previous eras, would be unimaginable.

CNC, robotics, and neural nets have the promise of a world where almost no work must be done by humans. (Provided that we’re willing to hand over child-rearing to machines. Which I think is a more or less good idea).

The problem is, of course, under capitalism they promise to condemn everybody to a state memorably described by Charlie Brooker as a future where “practical vocations such as water-cannon operator, wasteland scavenger, penguin coffin logger, Thunderdome umpire, dissident strangler, henchperson and pie ingredient” are the only forms of employment available.

COSMOPOLITANISM has an equally ambiguous history. Communists, from the very name of the First International on, have typically opposed nationalism, chauvinism, and racism - seeing internationalism as both: -a predicament in capitalism. -a means by which to oppose capitalism.