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

Martin Lucas mlucas at igc.org
Sat Jun 27 18:50:49 UTC 2009

Peak Biopower

Today the standing-reserve is not just the unconscious material  
world. It includes the human – as population, as biomass, as  
mechanism of aggregate consumption. Sean C.

I am trying to relate Sean’s thoughts to insights I’ve gained  
engaged  with video and mobile media activism in Africa.  One reality  
that Africans confront is the end of a global peasantry, one that  
historically existed outside of the economic system of capital in  
certain ways, as subsistence farmers.  Basically, peasant farmers  
cannot compete, even at the most severe levels of self-exploitation,  
with a system that combines global agribusiness with the  
subsidization of agriculture in the industrialized nations.

About two years ago the planet crossed a point where peasants are no  
longer the largest part of the population. Put another way, more  
people live in cities now than in the countryside.  So as a reserve  
in the ‘reserve army’ sense and in the sense of being part of a world  
that is a buffer for capitalism, in the sense of ‘nature’ or  
‘standing-reserve’, we’re talking about a shrinking resource.

Saul Ostrow points out most people with computer access are middle  
class by some definition.  But people with mobile access are a vastly  
broader group, one that includes large numbers of subsistence  
farmers.  Currently tens of millions of Africans are investing in  
mobile devices and infrastructure in a way that allows them in a  
certain way to occupy what Hegel called ‘the stage of history.’  They  
can at least potentially be considered ‘players’ in a way that the  
Iranian people are at the moment for instance.  Put another way, the  
human part of the standing-reserve is now a ‘mechanism of aggregate  
production’, at least in potential.  That would be where class  
consciousness emerges, and it is not a classic ‘working’ class or  
middle class, but a class that is emerging and defining itself in  
action, putting itself past the worker/middle class split that is so  
effectively exploited here in the US (and clearly delineated in this  

Africans pay a high price for globalization both in terms of  
environment and economics, both in the  destruction of non-commodity  
agriculture and in having it replaced with the most egregious forms  
of industrial (and cultural) exploitation.  Their desire to embrace  
modernity in the form of communications tools bears thinking about.

As a media activist I have always believed that access to  
communication tools offers a liberatory potential, and acted on that  
belief.    Clearly, what you do with the tools is part of the deal.   
If an Iranian woman sends a post from a demo in Teheran, that can be  
a political act, a ‘production of truth’ in Badiou’s sense. In a  
similar vein, a 13 year old girl in rural Africa posting an SMS  
question about sexuality and AIDS is inserting herself into a global  
discussion and enlarging the public sphere in a way previously  

The question that hit me, in the context that Sean Cubitt frames,  
is:  Haven’t we reached a point where that biopower reserve is  
starting shrink?  What might that mean?  Could it be the end of a  
system of exploitation that depends on both cultural consciousness  
reserves and on natural reserves?

As Christian points out we’re in a moment that is the least communist  
from a point of control, and a most communist from a point of the  
potential for real politics/economics.  To go back to Marx, the  
notion of capitalism’s chaos means that as more and more of  
everything gets incorporated into a capitalist system, the more  
things will tend to hugely chaotic moments, something that Sean  
refers to. The response from a class that definitely does exist ‘for  
itself,’ the ruling class, is visible around us.  But if we are  
increasingly all plugged in, as I suggest, then there is no turning  

Marty Lucas

On Jun 27, 2009, at 12:35 AM, Sean Cubitt wrote:

> Slowly mulling the class-consciousness thing, and also reminded  
> otherwise of Roy Ascott’s facsination with consciousness in another  
> sense, I began to wonder whether there is mileage in the rather  
> passé but still geologically presumed heideggerian thesis of the  
> standing –reserve (no, I’m not a heideggerian, on the contrary –  
> but the idea has constantly to be struggled with in history of  
> media/technology)
> Today the standing-reserve is not just the unconscious material  
> world. It includes the human – as population, as biomass, as  
> mechanism of aggregate consumption. The question about  
> conscdiousness is whether (to use another heiddegger word)  
> ‘thinking’  is already party to this conversion of humanity into  
> standing-reserve, either when, as in de Landa’s case, we popularise  
> the idea of humanity as biomass etc; or when by refusing to self- 
> publish the self-censor the virtuality (capacity to create the new)  
> of new thinking? Ie, again, damned if we do and damned if we don’t
> If we understand the standing-reserve as biopolitical and  
> commodifying, we can add some terms: it concerns averages, and it  
> concerns whole-number enumeration. It thus misses both the  
> specificity and the ‘starting’ micro-conditions and so opens itself  
> up to cascading chaotic and emergent structures in spite of itself.  
> This is one way of thinking the schiz as a political consciousness  
> which is nonetheless neither unified nor pleasant to experience.  
> The periodic return to order from such chaotic episodes (as I think  
> happened in the disciplining and monetarisation of the pre-dot-bomb  
> web) may then be predictable but nonetheless not without influence  
> (see also post-countercultural hip capitalism)
> Sorry to blip in and out of existence like this: I appear to be  
> powered by an improbability drive
> Prof Sean Cubitt
> scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
> Director
> Media and Communications Program
> Faculty of Arts
> Room 127 John Medley East
> The University of Melbourne
> Parkville VIC 3010
> Australia
> Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
> Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
> M: 0448 304 004
> Skype: seancubitt
> http://www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/media-communications/
> http://www.digital-light.net.au/
> http://homepage.mac.com/waikatoscreen/
> http://seancubitt.blogspot.com/
> http://del.icio.us/seancubitt
> Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series
> http://leonardo.info
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