[iDC] The New Socialism

Scott Ries smries at buffalo.edu
Sun Jun 21 06:45:09 UTC 2009

>>I recognize that the word socialism is bound to make many readers twitch.
It carries tremendous cultural baggage, as do the related terms communal,
communitarian, and collective. I use socialism because technically it is
the best word to indicate a range of technologies that rely for their
power on social interactions. 

Which readers will twitch?  What's the baggage socialism carries, as opposed to, say, Stalinism or Fascism?  Some of us relish "community" and "collectivity."  Kelly knows that the technical definition of socialism is a convenient spin: its actually existing conditions notwithstanding, the term appeals to those of us who can still see a utopia.  It's directed as much at us, maybe more so, as it is to the capitalists: it's the well-known style of a capitalist cultural/political appropriation of a term that "sells" like a brand/commodity all the more so because it refers to an ethics.  The message is to spread the "New Socialism" as a justifying rhetoric to absolutely opposed parties: on the one hand, an ostensible recourse against capitalism, and on the other, a rhetorical "compromise" to integrate what once one would have called the enemy.

>>Broadly, collective action is what Web sites
and Net-connected apps generate when they harness input from the global
audience. Of course, there's rhetorical danger in lumping so many types of
organization under such an inflammatory heading. But there are no unsoiled
terms available, so we might as well redeem this one.

The use-value of the network is the exchange-value of the network.  As its ability to generate "communication" grows, so too does it increase capital.  As always, Naomi Klein's thoughts on branding and directed marketing are valuable: neither "collective action" nor "socialism" are so in opposition to the interest of the autonomous capitalist entity that relates itself to the network as to be immune from its capture.  It's all the better for capital that a "global audience" (the latter itself always an economic term) get lumped under "an inflammatory heading": the impulse to identify with that rhetoric of opposition can work just as well as can brand identification.


 On Sat 06/20/09  7:09 AM , trebor at thing.net sent:
> Hi all,
> Kevin Kelly recently argued that the culture around new social media
> amounts to a new form of digital socialism. Having grown up under real
> existing socialism I'd say that he may be missing a thing or two but
> youtell me...
> best,
> Trebor
> http://www.wired.com/print/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-0
> 6/nep_newsocialism
> The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online
> By Kevin Kelly Email 05.22.09
> Bill Gates once derided open source advocates with the worst epithet a
> capitalist can muster. These folks, he said, were a "new modern-day
> sortof communists," a malevolent force bent on destroying the
> monopolisticincentive that helps support the American dream. Gates was wrong: Open
> source zealots are more likely to be libertarians than commie pinkos.
> Yetthere is some truth to his allegation. The frantic global rush to
> connecteveryone to everyone, all the time, is quietly giving rise to a revised
> version of socialism.
> Communal aspects of digital culture run deep and wide. Wikipedia is
> justone remarkable example of an emerging collectivism�and not just
> Wikipediabut wikiness at large. Ward Cunningham, who invented the first
> collaborative Web page in 1994, tracks nearly 150 wiki engines today,
> eachpowering myriad sites. Wetpaint, launched just three years ago, hosts
> morethan 1 million communal efforts. Widespread adoption of the
> share-friendlyCreative Commons alternative copyright license and the rise of
> ubiquitousfile-sharing are two more steps in this shift. Mushrooming
> collaborativesites like Digg, StumbleUpon, the Hype Machine, and Twine have added
> weight to this great upheaval. Nearly every day another startup proudly
> heralds a new way to harness community action. These developments
> suggesta steady move toward a sort of socialism uniquely tuned for a networked
> world.
> We're not talking about your grandfather's socialism. In fact, there is
> along list of past movements this new socialism is not. It is not class
> warfare. It is not anti-American; indeed, digital socialism may be the
> newest American innovation. While old-school socialism was an arm of
> thestate, digital socialism is socialism without the state. This new brand
> ofsocialism currently operates in the realm of culture and economics,
> ratherthan government�for now.
> The type of communism with which Gates hoped to tar the creators of
> Linuxwas born in an era of enforced borders, centralized communications, and
> top-heavy industrial processes. Those constraints gave rise to a type
> ofcollective ownership that replaced the brilliant chaos of a free market
> with scientific five-year plans devised by an all-powerful politburo.
> Thispolitical operating system failed, to put it mildly. However, unlike
> thoseolder strains of red-flag socialism, the new socialism runs over a
> borderless Internet, through a tightly integrated global economy. It is
> designed to heighten individual autonomy and thwart centralization. It
> isdecentralization extreme.
> Instead of gathering on collective farms, we gather in collective
> worlds.Instead of state factories, we have desktop factories connected to
> virtualco-ops. Instead of sharing drill bits, picks, and shovels, we share
> apps,scripts, and APIs. Instead of faceless politburos, we have faceless
> meritocracies, where the only thing that matters is getting things
> done.Instead of national production, we have peer production. Instead of
> government rations and subsidies, we have a bounty of free goods.
> I recognize that the word socialism is bound to make many readers
> twitch.It carries tremendous cultural baggage, as do the related terms
> communal,communitarian, and collective. I use socialism because technically it
> isthe best word to indicate a range of technologies that rely for their
> power on social interactions. Broadly, collective action is what Web
> sitesand Net-connected apps generate when they harness input from the global
> audience. Of course, there's rhetorical danger in lumping so many types
> oforganization under such an inflammatory heading. But there are no
> unsoiledterms available, so we might as well redeem this one.
> When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a
> commongoal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor
> without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not
> unreasonableto call that socialism.
> In the late '90s, activist, provocateur, and aging hippy John Barlow
> begancalling this drift, somewhat tongue in cheek, "dot-communism." He
> definedit as a "workforce composed entirely of free agents," a
> decentralized giftor barter economy where there is no property and where technological
> architecture defines the political space. He was right on the virtual
> money. But there is one way in which socialism is the wrong word for
> whatis happening: It is not an ideology. It demands no rigid creed. Rather,
> itis a spectrum of attitudes, techniques, and tools that promote
> collaboration, sharing, aggregation, coordination, ad hocracy, and a
> hostof other newly enabled types of social cooperation. It is a design
> frontier and a particularly fertile space for innovation.
> Socialism:
> A History
> 1516
> Thomas More's Utopia
> 1794
> Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason
> 1825
> First US commune
> 1848
> Marx & Engels' The Communist Manifesto
> 1864
> International Workingmen's Association
> 1903
> Bolshevik Party elects Lenin
> 1917
> Russian Revolution
> 1922
> Stalin consolidates power
> 1946
> State-run health care in Saskatchewan
> 1959
> Cuban Revolution
> 1967
> Che Guevara executed
> 1973
> Salvador Allende deposed
> 1980
> Usenet
> 1985
> Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost
> 1991
> Soviet Union dissolves
> 1994
> Linux 1.0
> 1998
> Venezuela elects Hugo Chavez
> 1999
> Blogger.com
> 2000
> Google: 1 billion indexed pages
> 2001
> Wikipedia
> 2002
> Brazil elects Lula da Silva
> 2003
> Public Library of Science
> 2004
> Digg
> 2005
> Amazon's Mechanical Turk
> 2006
> Twitter
> 2008
> Facebook: 100 million users
> 2008
> US allocates $700 billion for troubled mortgage assets
> 2009
> YouTube: 100 million monthly US users
> In his 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody, media theorist Clay Shirky
> suggests a useful hierarchy for sorting through these new social
> arrangements. Groups of people start off simply sharing and then
> progressto cooperation, collaboration, and finally collectivism. At each step,
> theamount of coordination increases. A survey of the online landscape
> revealsample evidence of this phenomenon.
> The online masses have an incredible willingness to share. The number
> ofpersonal photos posted on Facebook and MySpace is astronomical, but it's
> asafe bet that the overwhelming majority of photos taken with a digital
> camera are shared in some fashion. Then there are status updates, map
> locations, half-thoughts posted online. Add to this the 6 billion
> videosserved by YouTube each month in the US alone and the millions of
> fan-created stories deposited on fanfic sites. The list of sharing
> organizations is almost endless: Yelp for reviews, Loopt for locations,
> Delicious for bookmarks.
> Sharing is the mildest form of socialism, but it serves as the
> foundationfor higher levels of communal engagement.
> When individuals work together toward a large-scale goal, it produces
> results that emerge at the group level. Not only have amateurs shared
> morethan 3 billion photos on Flickr, but they have tagged them with
> categories, labels, and keywords. Others in the community cull the
> pictures into sets. The popularity of Creative Commons licensing means
> that communally, if not outright communistically, your picture is my
> picture. Anyone can use a photo, just as a communard might use the
> community wheelbarrow. I don't have to shoot yet another photo of the
> Eiffel Tower, since the community can provide a better one than I can
> takemyself.
> Thousands of aggregator sites employ the same social dynamic for
> threefoldbenefit. First, the technology aids users directly, letting them tag,
> bookmark, rank, and archive for their own use. Second, other users
> benefitfrom an individual's tags, bookmarks, and so on. And this, in turn,
> oftencreates additional value that can come only from the group as a whole.
> Forinstance, tagged snapshots of the same scene from different angles can
> beassembled into a stunning 3-D rendering of the location. (Check out
> Microsoft's Photosynth.) In a curious way, this proposition exceeds the
> socialist promise of "from each according to his ability, to each
> according to his needs" because it betters what you contribute and
> delivers more than you need.
> Community aggregators can unleash astonishing power. Sites like Digg
> andReddit, which let users vote on the Web links they display most
> prominently, can steer public conversation as much as newspapers or TV
> networks. (Full disclosure: Reddit is owned by Wired's parent company,
> Condé Nast.) Serious contributors to these sites put in far
> more energythan they could ever get in return, but they keep contributing in part
> because of the cultural power these instruments wield. A contributor's
> influence extends way beyond a lone vote, and the community's
> collectiveinfluence can be far out of proportion to the number of contributors.
> Thatis the whole point of social institutions�the sum outperforms the
> parts.Traditional socialism aimed to ramp up this dynamic via the state. Now,
> decoupled from government and hooked into the global digital matrix,
> thiselusive force operates at a larger scale than ever before.
> Organized collaboration can produce results beyond the achievements of
> adhoc cooperation. Just look at any of hundreds of open source software
> projects, such as the Apache Web server. In these endeavors, finely
> tunedcommunal tools generate high-quality products from the coordinated work
> ofthousands or tens of thousands of members. In contrast to casual
> cooperation, collaboration on large, complex projects tends to bring
> theparticipants only indirect benefits, since each member of the group
> interacts with only a small part of the end product. An enthusiast may
> spend months writing code for a subroutine when the program's full
> utilityis several years away. In fact, the work-reward ratio is so out of
> kilterfrom a free-market perspective�the workers do immense amounts of
> high-market-value work without being paid�that these collaborative
> effortsmake no sense within capitalism.
> Adding to the economic dissonance, we've become accustomed to enjoying
> theproducts of these collaborations free of charge. Instead of money, the
> peer producers who create the stuff gain credit, status, reputation,
> enjoyment, satisfaction, and experience. Not only is the product free,
> itcan be copied freely and used as the basis for new products.
> Alternativeschemes for managing intellectual property, including Creative Commons
> andthe GNU licenses, were invented to ensure these "frees."
> Of course, there's nothing particularly socialistic about collaboration
> per se. But the tools of online collaboration support a communal style
> ofproduction that shuns capitalistic investors and keeps ownership in the
> hands of the workers, and to some extent those of the consuming masses.
> The Old
> Socialism
> The New
> Socialism
> Authority centralized among elite officials
> Power distributed among ad hoc participants
> Limited resources dispensed by the state
> Unlimited, free cloud computing
> Forced labor in government factories
> Volunteer group work a la Wikipedia
> Property owned in common
> Sharing protected by Creative Commons
> Government- controlled information
> Real-time Twitter and RSS feeds
> Harsh penalties for criticizing leaders
> Passionate opinions on the Huffington Post
> While cooperation can write an encyclopedia, no one is held responsible
> ifthe community fails to reach consensus, and lack of agreement doesn't
> endanger the enterprise as a whole. The aim of a collective, however,
> isto engineer a system where self-directed peers take responsibility for
> critical processes and where difficult decisions, such as sorting out
> priorities, are decided by all participants. Throughout history,
> hundredsof small-scale collectivist groups have tried this operating system.
> Theresults have not been encouraging, even setting aside Jim Jones and the
> Manson family.
> Indeed, a close examination of the governing kernel of, say, Wikipedia,
> Linux, or OpenOffice shows that these efforts are further from the
> collectivist ideal than appears from the outside. While millions of
> writers contribute to Wikipedia, a smaller number of editors (around
> 1,500) are responsible for the majority of the editing. Ditto for
> collectives that write code. A vast army of contributions is managed by
> amuch smaller group of coordinators. As Mitch Kapor, founding chair of
> theMozilla open source code factory, observed, "Inside every working
> anarchy,there's an old-boy network."
> This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some types of collectives benefit
> fromhierarchy while others are hurt by it. Platforms like the Internet and
> Facebook, or democracy�which are intended to serve as a substrate
> forproducing goods and delivering services�benefit from being as
> nonhierarchical as possible, minimizing barriers to entry and
> distributingrights and responsibilities equally. When powerful actors appear, the
> entire fabric suffers. On the other hand, organizations built to create
> products often need strong leaders and hierarchies arranged around time
> scales: One level focuses on hourly needs, another on the next five
> years.
> In the past, constructing an organization that exploited hierarchy yet
> maximized collectivism was nearly impossible. Now digital networking
> provides the necessary infrastructure. The Net empowers product-focused
> organizations to function collectively while keeping the hierarchy from
> fully taking over. The organization behind MySQL, an open source
> database,is not romantically nonhierarchical, but it is far more collectivist
> thanOracle. Likewise, Wikipedia is not a bastion of equality, but it is
> vastlymore collectivist than the Encyclopædia Britannica. The
> elite core we findat the heart of online collectives is actually a sign that stateless
> socialism can work on a grand scale.
> Most people in the West, including myself, were indoctrinated with the
> notion that extending the power of individuals necessarily diminishes
> thepower of the state, and vice versa. In practice, though, most polities
> socialize some resources and individualize others. Most free-market
> economies have socialized education, and even extremely socialized
> societies allow some private property.
> Rather than viewing technological socialism as one side of a zero-sum
> trade-off between free-market individualism and centralized authority,
> itcan be seen as a cultural OS that elevates both the individual and the
> group at once. The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood
> goalof communitarian technology is this: to maximize both individual
> autonomyand the power of people working together. Thus, digital socialism can
> beviewed as a third way that renders irrelevant the old debates.
> The notion of a third way is echoed by Yochai Benkler, author of The
> Wealth of Networks, who has probably thought more than anyone else
> aboutthe politics of networks. "I see the emergence of social production
> andpeer production as an alternative to both state-based and market-based
> closed, proprietary systems," he says, noting that these activities
> "canenhance creativity, productivity, and freedom." The new OS is neither
> theclassic communism of centralized planning without private property nor
> theundiluted chaos of a free market. Instead, it is an emerging design
> spacein which decentralized public coordination can solve problems and
> createthings that neither pure communism nor pure capitalism can.
> Hybrid systems that blend market and nonmarket mechanisms are not new.
> Fordecades, researchers have studied the decentralized, socialized
> productionmethods of northern Italian and Basque industrial co-ops, in which
> employees are owners, selecting management and limiting profit
> distribution, independent of state control. But only since the arrival
> oflow-cost, instantaneous, ubiquitous collaboration has it been possible
> tomigrate the core of those ideas into diverse new realms, like writing
> enterprise software or reference books.
> The dream is to scale up this third way beyond local experiments. How
> large? Ohloh, a company that tracks the open source industry, lists
> roughly 250,000 people working on an amazing 275,000 projects. That's
> almost the size of General Motors' workforce. That is an awful lot of
> people working for free, even if they're not full-time. Imagine if all
> theemployees of GM weren't paid yet continued to produce automobiles!
> So far, the biggest efforts are open source projects, and the largest
> ofthem, such as Apache, manage several hundred contributors�about the
> sizeof a village. One study estimates that 60,000 man-years of work have
> poured into last year's release of Fedora Linux 9, so we have proof
> thatself-assembly and the dynamics of sharing can govern a project on the
> scale of a decentralized town or village.
> Of course, the total census of participants in online collective work
> isfar greater. YouTube claims some 350 million monthly visitors. Nearly
> 10million registered users have contributed to Wikipedia, 160,000 of whom
> are designated active. More than 35 million folks have posted and
> taggedmore than 3 billion photos and videos on Flickr. Yahoo hosts 7.8
> milliongroups focused on every possible subject. Google has 3.9 million.
> These numbers still fall short of a nation. They may not even cross the
> threshold of mainstream (although if YouTube isn't mainstream, what
> is?).But clearly the population that lives with socialized media is
> significant. The number of people who make things for free, share
> thingsfor free, use things for free, belong to collective software farms,
> workon projects that require communal decisions, or experience the benefits
> ofdecentralized socialism has reached millions and counting. Revolutions
> have grown out of much smaller numbers.
> On the face of it, one might expect a lot of political posturing from
> folks who are constructing an alternative to capitalism and
> corporatism.But the coders, hackers, and programmers who design sharing tools don't
> think of themselves as revolutionaries. No new political party is being
> organized in conference rooms�at least, not in the US. (In Sweden,
> thePirate Party formed on a platform of file-sharing. It won a paltry 0.63
> percent of votes in the 2006 national election.)
> Indeed, the leaders of the new socialism are extremely pragmatic. A
> surveyof 2,784 open source developers explored their motivations. The most
> common was "to learn and develop new skills." That's practical.
> Oneacademic put it this way (paraphrasing): The major reason for working
> onfree stuff is to improve my own damn software. Basically, overt
> politicsis not practical enough.
> But the rest of us may not be politically immune to the rising tide of
> sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism. For the first
> timein years, the s-word is being uttered by TV pundits and in national
> newsmagazines as a force in US politics. Obviously, the trend toward
> nationalizing hunks of industry, instituting national health care, and
> jump-starting job creation with tax money isn't wholly due to
> techno-socialism. But the last election demonstrated the power of a
> decentralized, webified base with digital collaboration at its core.
> Themore we benefit from such collaboration, the more open we become to
> socialist institutions in government. The coercive, soul-smashing
> systemof North Korea is dead; the future is a hybrid that takes cues from
> bothWikipedia and the moderate socialism of Sweden.
> How close to a noncapitalistic, open source, peer-production society
> canthis movement take us? Every time that question has been asked, the
> answerhas been: closer than we thought. Consider craigslist. Just classified
> ads, right? But the site amplified the handy community swap board to
> reacha regional audience, enhanced it with pictures and real-time updates,
> andsuddenly became a national treasure. Operating without state funding or
> control, connecting citizens directly to citizens, this mostly free
> marketplace achieves social good at an efficiency that would stagger
> anygovernment or traditional corporation. Sure, it undermines the business
> model of newspapers, but at the same time it makes an indisputable case
> that the sharing model is a viable alternative to both profit-seeking
> corporations and tax-supported civic institutions.
> Who would have believed that poor farmers could secure $100 loans from
> perfect strangers on the other side of the planet�and pay them back?
> Thatis what Kiva does with peer-to-peer lending. Every public health care
> expert declared confidently that sharing was fine for photos, but no
> onewould share their medical records. But PatientsLikeMe, where patients
> poolresults of treatments to better their own care, prove that collective
> action can trump both doctors and privacy scares. The increasingly
> commonhabit of sharing what you're thinking (Twitter), what you're reading
> (StumbleUpon), your finances (Wesabe), your everything (the Web) is
> becoming a foundation of our culture. Doing it while collaboratively
> building encyclopedias, news agencies, video archives, and software in
> groups that span continents, with people you don't know and whose class
> isirrelevant�that makes political socialism seem like the logical next
> step.
> A similar thing happened with free markets over the past century. Every
> day, someone asked: What can't markets do? We took a long list of
> problemsthat seemed to require rational planning or paternal government and
> instead applied marketplace logic. In most cases, the market solution
> worked significantly better. Much of the prosperity in recent decades
> wasgained by unleashing market forces on social problems.
> Now we're trying the same trick with collaborative social technology,
> applying digital socialism to a growing list of wishes�and
> occasionally toproblems that the free market couldn't solve�to see if it works. So
> far,the results have been startling. At nearly every turn, the power of
> sharing, cooperation, collaboration, openness, free pricing, and
> transparency has proven to be more practical than we capitalists
> thoughtpossible. Each time we try it, we find that the power of the new
> socialismis bigger than we imagined.
> We underestimate the power of our tools to reshape our minds. Did we
> really believe we could collaboratively build and inhabit virtual
> worldsall day, every day, and not have it affect our perspective? The force
> ofonline socialism is growing. Its dynamic is spreading beyond
> electrons�perhaps into elections.
> Senior maverick Kevin Kelly (kk at kk.org)
> wrote about correspondencesbetween the Internet and the human brain in issue 16.07.
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