[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value (2)

pat kane playethical at gmail.com
Mon Nov 2 12:45:30 UTC 2009

Been traversing the awesome conceptual catacombs of this list for the  
last few weeks, in prep for conference... But I am moved to pipe up  
(briefly), after reading your fabulously stern post, Brian.

Is the "tawdry narcissism of networked environments organized to  
promote the delusion of transparency and community" part of what  
Immanuel Wallerstein called the DiLampudesa strategy - the power  
elites of globalised capital "changing everything, so that nothing  
changes"? https://lists.thing.net/pipermail/idc/2007-August/ 
002736.html You tend to think so, Brian. But Wallerstein says clearly  
that it's democratisation, over the pass of the last two centuries,  
which has been instrumental in re-addressing basic allocations of  
wealth and accumulation of capital.

I do value your hands-on accounts of avant-garde network activisms  
which are prefigurative of a future society (David Graeber) and are  
'expressively' democratic, in Negri's terms. That countervailing  
pressure is required. But like Michel Bauwens, I do despair of the  
panoptical trance that you and other critical theorists on this list  
get into when looking at corporate social-media networks.

Can't we be a bit more capacious than that? Can't we BOTH support the  
field of autonomous system-and-tools-making that Michel so  
brilliantly maps out, AND use the passions and commitment of hacker  
values to keep a civic pressure on extremely user-sensitive  
commercial networks? And maybe deploy them, as far as one can take  
them, to keep up that democratic pressure Wallerstein talks about?  
You can argue for better libraries, AND leech off the coffee-driven  
commons on your local Borders to read and take notes on your latest  
political tomes: I do it all the time. Isn't it the enduring power of  
the public sphere that shapes both these private and public  
enterprises? And doesn't that map over to social media?

As I go about my daily wage/rent-labours, I'm standing in the ruins  
of two industries - news journalism and the music business - and am  
utterly aware of how intrinsically decommodifying open digital  
networks are. Music will take care of itself: like play, it's an  
anthropological constant. But now disconnected from its classified- 
ads scam by our good friend Craig Newmark, the funding of a newsroom  
- which could help us maintain a beady eye on those victims and  
perpetrators of neo-liberal economics - is a really moot issue. This  
is not to say that journalism was perfect - too much of it was PR- 
driven automatism, it needs a Coaseian organisational shake-out and a  
return to its best professional ethics, as Clay Shirky says.

But the net-driven crisis of journalism is an example of how we need  
transitional as well as radical strategies to make the most of the  
new societal ontology of networks. What comes after the net destroyed  
the newsroom isn't just a moment for anarchistic fecundity - though  
it should be - but there should also be space for thinking about how  
a revenue stream might fund future 'afflictions of the comfortable,  
and comforting of the afflicted'. Seymour Hersh brought us the Abu  
Ghraib pictures - Western power's enduring semiotic wound - out of  
the bowels of Conde Nast, via the New Yorker. Future tricky  
alignments of capital and ethics - around philanthropy, tax breaks,  
company law - will be necessary to maintain that kind of journalistic  
process. I can't, and won't, eschew them because they have a  
corporate locus.

In order to multiply and ramify that democratisation process  
Wallerstein talks about, we should be confident enough in our  
analysis (and consciousness) to use any tool necessary - however  
tainted by data-tracking or commercial behaviourism (which, as  
Goldhaber correctly says, is often hubristic and presumptious in the  
extreme). Yes, we have to encourage those roving posse comitatus,  
Brian - the times are too fluid and open to constitutive power for  
creative activism not to flourish. But on the same savannah, some of  
us would like to use existing institutions/organisations to get  
towards new institutions/organisations. And in any case, one has to  
praise a space like iDC for demonstrating that conversations can  
happen between avant-garde and reformist elements in a movement.

best, pk

Pat Kane
Mob: +44 (0)7718 588497
Twitter: http://twitter.com/theplayethic




All mail to: playethical at gmail.com

The idea is all there is. Trust me.
- Ornette Coleman http://bit.ly/2VDLPI

> I should stress that the critique in my previous post is not
> specifically directed at Christian Fuchs (whose knowledge of the  
> Marxist
> tradition I quite admire) nor is it a rejection of Marx himself (still
> the most important philosopher of social existence in my view). But  
> I do
> think there is a lot of time wasted trying to apply Marx's ideas
> verbatim to vastly changed situations.
> It's a matter of layers, and there is always a next layer. Thus, the
> ontological status of human labor as the source and measure of  
> value in
> capitalist societies continues to justify the hyper-exploitation of
> factory workers and sweatshop laborers all over the planet, and
> therefore, to govern important aspects of the economic relations  
> between
> classes, as well as the geo-economic relations between core and
> peripheral states. But at the same time, at least two further types of
> social relations that Marx did not directly observe are layered onto
> that. The first layer came in the 1930s and reached maturity in the
> 1950s: it is the welfare state, which created large tracts of  
> socialized
> capital (public facilities of all kinds, redistribution mechanisms for
> retirement, health care, education etc). This has been described
> extensively by David Harvey as the "secondary circuit of capital"  
> and it
> has made a huge change in the way capitalism works within the core
> states where it was applied, creating a new mediator class between
> bourgeoisie and proletariat which is commonly and perhaps rightfully
> described as the "middle class." One important consequence of this for
> Marxist thought was the realization that the "socially necessary labor
> time" required for the reproduction of the labor force was itself a
> function of the standards that apply in any given society at any given
> time, a fact to which Marx does allude at one point, but whose full
> implications only became visible with the rise of the welfare state.
> Today, some theorists including Harvey speak not of the labor  
> theory of
> value but rather of the "value theory of labor," stressing that it is
> the agency of the working classes, gained through conflict and  
> struggle,
> that determines what the standard wage and the minimum acceptable
> standard of living will be. For this, see an excellent short piece by
> Bob Jessop:
> http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/papers/jessop-limits-to- 
> capital.pdf
> So that's one important layer, and Marx did not theorize it because he
> did not live to the 1930s. Another important layer is added from the
> 1980s onward, and that is neoliberal finance. Of course, Marx has lots
> of things to say about finance capital; but as he did not foresee the
> vast expansion of the secondary circuit and therefore, the partial
> socialization of the capitalist state, nor perforce the rise of the
> "middle classes" as the mediators between what he thought was the
> essential and inevitable conflict between the proletariat and the
> bourgeoisie, he obviously did not foresee the emergence of a kind of
> finance that would prey upon the vast amounts of capital won by  
> working
> class agency. Yet this is what has happened in our time: under the  
> logic
> of neoliberalism, much of what used to be welfare state  
> entitlements has
> been transformed into fungible private assets (health insurance
> policies, 401k accounts, private suburban homes, etc) and delivered  
> over
> to the nominal control of individuals or relatively small and  
> localized
> groups. These individuals and groups then find themselves at the mercy
> of large, sophisticated, rapacious financial operators who offer them
> further market schemes encouraging them to speculate on their tiny  
> stake
> of capital, in order to expropriate some generous percentage of their
> assets as we have just seen done so blatantly in the course of the
> recent housing bubble. I think Marx can be used pretty successfully to
> describe a lot of this, but just repeating his concepts adds nothing:
> you have to get into the materiality of the social relations that have
> emerged since the 1980s. For that there is a really excellent book by
> James K. Galbraith, who interestingly enough is the son of the great
> theorist of the welfare-warfare state, John Kenneth Galbraith. I  
> really
> recommend this short and well-written book to everyone: it is called
> "The Predator State."
> OK, all that takes us far from the Internet and it's another long,
> soaring post which any uninterested person has already, I trust,  
> stopped
> reading. The point remains that treating Facebook users as the
> nineteenth-century working class is not only absurd; it also distracts
> from the enormous changes that are going on before our eyes. Adam
> Arvidsson says we are moving into an "ethical economy" and he expects
> that the reputation-ranking functions of social media will create a  
> new
> breed of what you might call "clean and serene" corporations, to  
> replace
> the old "lean and mean" ones. I would submit instead that while
> intellectuals waste their time pandering to people who are  
> fascinated by
> the tawdry narcissism of networked environments organized to  
> promote the
> delusion of transparency and community, the major predators are
> organizing the last great suicidal development of the capitalist
> economy, in which a newly concentrated and now truly global banking
> sector will systematize and intensify the chaotic trends of the three
> preceding decades, in order to promote and realize an extreme  
> version of
> neoliberal development unencumbered by any organized resistance
> whatsoever. This new social order will continue to depend on large
> consumer and prosumer classes to manage surplus and to waste lots  
> of it,
> while laying waste to the environment at the same time; so I am afraid
> you will still not have the simple face-off between bourgeoisie and
> proletariat that Marx predicted. But the new social order, if it is  
> left
> to establish itself without resistance as is presently being done,  
> will
> also require all the trappings of an extreme security state, in  
> order to
> ward off the attacks of great percentages of the population thrown  
> into
> poverty even in the core states, and also great numbers of people,
> initially in the underdeveloped world, whose cities will be underwater
> and who will be migrating towards the golden towers. Under these
> conditions, those who labor, and do not speculate on their assets or
> human capital as most middle-class Internet users do -- nor much less
> have access to venture capital, as was just described in the  
> interesting
> post by Christopher Kelty -- will see their capacities for resistance
> and agency reduced to nil, and both the "labor theory of value" and  
> the
> "value theory of labor" will finally be obsolete. What's left in the
> absence of organized resistance is just one thing: capital as  
> power, the
> power to create social relations and impose an order upon them.  
> This is
> subject of Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan's new book, Capital as
> Power: A Study of Order and Creorder, which among many other things
> contains a specific refutation of the labor theory of value.
> I actually don't think we are there yet -- that is, I think there is
> still some organized resistance left in the world, from the working
> classes, from peasant classes unwilling to be entirely expropriated of
> their traditional relations to the land, and also among middle classes
> who know how to protect and develop their relative political autonomy
> won over the course of centuries -- but nonetheless, I do highly
> recommend reading Bichler and Nitzan if you want to understand how
> corporate power is expressing itself right now, and how far we are  
> from
> the social-democratic pipe dream of an "ethical economy." The first
> chapter of their book can be downloaded from their archive, as can an
> earlier essay including similar references to the subject of our
> conversation here, the famous labor theory of value:
> http://tinyurl.com/capital-as-power
> http://tinyurl.com/dominant-capital
> For the next layer of capitalist power to be fully installed -- and  
> for
> the economy to "recover" from its present state of uncertainty and  
> flux
> -- I think the developed societies need a perfected system of 
> second-order cybernetic control over the consciousness of their middle
> classes, exactly the kind of world-creating and attention-channeling
> system that is discussed by Greg Elmer and his co-authors in their
> excellent article. The initial basis of this system is contemporary
> social media in its dominant corporate 2.0 forms. It really has to be
> explored a little more seriously, within the existing social relations
> and not in terms borrowed from the past. But that kind of exploration
> remains very rare, leaving media theory in a realm of fantasy. So  
> in my
> opinion, friends, we can talk all we want about the marvelous freedoms
> of playlabor, or on the contrary, about the horrifying  
> expropriation of
> our proletarian toil by Facebook or Orkut: so doing, we'll be shooting
> the breeze, no autonomy will be won and the processes underway will  
> run
> their course.
> Here's hoping for a better future,
> Brian
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