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

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr
Mon Nov 9 15:49:14 UTC 2009

Hello Michael,

And thanks for this post, I was too busy last week to answer...

 > Are you sure that activists
> from the old waves are not too wedded to particular types of
> spectacular resistance? What I see for example is a huge constructive
> shift towards new forms of being that go beyond the commodity form,
> the building of commons of knowledge, software and design, and new
> infrastructures based on it. Struggles that are based on the old
> contradictions are not the only ones to look for, nor are purely
> antagonistic protest attitudes. Just as interesting is a profound
> shift in values, relationships, infrastructure building, and the
> creation of a new culture.

My position on this for years has been "and and". During the 90s and 
early years of this decade I became very interested in peer-to-peer 
theories and even more, practices. In addition to theorizing them in 
texts like "The Revenge of the Concept" I adopted free software myself 
and started to consciously work on cooperative cultural production 
outside the cash nexus, or with careful attention to understanding and 
relativizing the role of cash. Now I am getting increasingly involved 
with new forms of self-organized education and cultural production. So I 
agree with you on that, and indeed, I've always appreciated your work 
and the resources that you provide for others. It fits very much into 
what autonomous Marxism descibes as "exodus" from capitalist social 
relations (also beautifully described in André Gorz's late book Misere 
du present, richesses du possible). However at the same time I think 
that critical and resistant practice is essential these days, and it 
also appears necessary in order to avoid a very strange kind of 
utopianism which says that in fact, everything is fine, we are on our 
way to a new society. I would say this is a form of autonomist quietism! 
In my opinion Adam Arvidsson is today one of the chief representatives 
of this tendency. I have read his work and I criticized it, not 
superficially I think, in the introduction to my new book, in a text 
called "Recapturing Subversion."

The thing is, you see, some of us may indeed be on the way to a new kind 
of society, but time and again very reactionary forces block any 
widespread social transformation in this direction, and in my view it is 
a big mistake to pretend they are not there. After the re-election of 
Bush in 2004, as an American I had to invest the majority of my energy 
in critical projects, which I still carried on cooperatively of course. 
Indeed, all the political resistance and solidarity movements that have 
unfolded over the last fifteen years or so are based on a cooperative 
ethos, and cannot be developed any other way. So while there is always 
room to usefully critique the spectacular aspects that proliferate 
everywhere in society today, my experience is that most resistance 
movements are not of the "old wave" but really of the "new wave"! Which, 
again, is not to say there are not problems with the protest movements, 
of course there are many things to be usefully criticized; I just wanted 
to draw attention to the great importance of peer-to-peer style 
cooperative politics among networked resistance movements.

More recently, the journal Multitudes broke up over exactly this kind of 
debate. The other chief representative of autonomous quietism is the 
journal's "director" (who always insists on having this title for 
himself) Yann Moulier Boutang, who believes that the development of 
finance capitalism is only a misplaced indicator of the immaterial 
productivity of the multitudes! For this, see his text in Multitudes 32, 
particularly the concluding paragraphs. Whereas I see finance as the 
operational logic, or you might say the operating system, of the control 
society, and indeed of capitalist control over humanity and nature... 
The political consequences of this utopian quietist approach are pretty 
clear: it leads to a populist cooptation of people's desire for 
cooperative interaction, which can furnish a useful political rhetoric 
to corporations and political parties that need to improve their 
democratic image. This is another one of those spectacular aspects that 
should be resisted, in my opinion.

all the best,

looking forward to meet you in NYC!


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