[iDC] Class and the Internet, New Capitalism, and (True New) Socialism for the 21st Century

Christian Fuchs christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Sun Jun 21 12:41:53 UTC 2009

Dear list members,

Trebor asked me to open a new thread and post some comments on the issue 
of class & the Internet.

I find the following questions quite important: What is the role of the 
notion of class for analyzing Internet-related labour? Which notion of 
class do we need in this context? A Weberian-inspired or a 
Marxian-inspired concept? How do we have to conceive class exploitation 
in 21st century capitalism? Which critical concepts from class theory 
are needed in this respect? How is the notion of class related to 
knowledge labour and the Inernet? Answering these questions requires 
social theory, class is a rather tricky issue in social theory.

The current capitalist crisis is not just a return of the economy, it is 
also a return of Marxian thinking. Therefore it makes sense to take a 
look at Marx's notion of class and the past 20 years of the Marxist 
debate on classes.

In chapter 7.3. of my book "Internet and Society" 
(http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/i&s.html), I have tried to work out a model 
of class as exploitation that is based on Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Erik 
Olin Wright, the Marxist Feminist-Bielefeld approach, Hardt/Negri, and 
Bourdieu, that at the same time goes beyond these thinkers by allowing 
to draw conclusions for new media and knowledge labour. The basic idea 
is that class exploitation in contemporary capitalism not only 
appropriates surplus value directly from wage labour, but also 
indirectly from unpaid workers that produce the commons of society. The 
conclusion is that you are being exploited by just existing in 
contemporary capitalism, that Internet users are exploited by Internet 
corporations, and that as long as corporations exist a first step for a 
socialist politics is the introduction of a guaranteed basic income for 
all that is financed by taxing corporations. If you want to grasp this 
idea in theoretical terms, then you have to transform Erik Olin Wright's 
class model that is conceiving the proletariat purely in terms of wage 
labour, which is a mistake in my opinion. The underlying political idea 
is a tax paid by corporations for the exploitation of the commons that 
is used for financing a basic income that has a redistributive character 
(redistribution from corporations to lower classes). This does not 
suffice, because of course you must stop exploitation once and for all, 
but it can only be done step by step, and this might be one of a couple 
of first steps in a Western socialist techno-politics of the 21st century.

In a couple of recently published papers 
(http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/ICTS_EJC.pdf ,  
http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/SNS_Surveillance_Fuchs.pdf ) I have used 
these insights from the class model for arguing that the most important 
quality of what is now termed "Web 2.0", "Social Software", as well as 
of "social network(ing) sites" is the class exploitation of Internet 
labour that can best be analyzed with Dallas Smythe's category of the 
"audience commodity" - the Internet "audience" is commodified and its 
labour exploited through targeted advertising, electronic surveillance 
is needed as supporting mechanism. It is better to speak of "prosumer 
commodity" or "produsers commodity" in relation to the Internet. These 
categories are sublations (Aufhebungen in Hegel's sense) of the category 
of the audience commodity. My summary of these ideas and an explication 
of how this can exactly be related to Marx's circuit of capital (that he 
explicated in the three volumes of "Capital") is forthcoming under the 
title "Class, Knowledge, and New Media" in: Media, Culture & Society, 
Vol. 31 (2010), No. 1.

I am wondering if others think that the Marxian notion of class makes 
sense in relation to the Internet or not? And if so, how? If not, why 
better not use Marxian class theory?

Best, Christian

- - -
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
Associate Professor
Unified Theory of Information Research Group
University of Salzburg
Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
5020 Salzburg
christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Phone +43 662 8044 4823
Editor of tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access 
Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the 
Information Age. New York: Routledge. http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/i&s.html

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