Postcapitalism and Perpetual Motion Machines

by Larry Lohmann

first published 12 October 2017

In its never-ending struggles to get the upper hand over workers, business has often dreamed of perpetual motion machines: devices that could deliver work without workers or the fossil fuels needed to power the engines that discipline them. The dream can only ever be a dream, however. Not only are perpetual motion machines physically impossible. Even if they could be built, they would destroy capital itself. Business cannot do without the human and nonhuman activity that it coopts, degrades and exhausts in cycle after cycle, because it is the source of the value it seeks.

Recently, however, perpetual motion machines have become dream objects for anticapitalists, too, precisely because of their capital-destroying properties. Presenting historical and contemporary examples of imaginary perpetual motion machines, a Corner House powerpoint delivered to a 2017 workshop on postcapitalism at the University of Jena argues that anticapitalists must be wary of the temptations that they present to neglect the enduring capitalist realities of exploitation and appropriation. The powerpoint is available from The Corner House upon request.

For a related presentation, see