[OPE-L] George N. Dafermos, Five Theses on Informational-Cognitive Capitalism

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Nov 28 2005 - 08:45:03 EST

From Interactivist Info Exchange

                  Five Theses on Informational-Cognitive Capitalism
                  George N. Dafermos

                  Recession is here, everywhere. Whether recession is
artificial and thus compatible with the axiomatic of
capitalism (that is, the tendency toward a world
market), or forced and thus a threat to capitalism is
still debated.

                  From the perspective of Capital, what is more important
is that the historic magnification, which has been
defining capitalism since the 15th century, is not
likely to maintain its pace or character. There are no
more barbarians to civilise, no more virgin lands to
conquer and colonise. The new barbarians are refined,
the new virgin lands are not defined by geographical
parameters. Primitive accummulation has been completed;
explosion now gives way to implosion.

           It was reckoned that a myth central to capitalism came full
circle in three generations: I would start from scratch with
empty hands and empty pockets, slowly but gradually accummulate
rights and money, then build a house, find a wife with whom I
would make a family, then have a
son and raise him, and, sooner or later, die. My son would repeat the
process once more, but his son - my grandson - would inherit more than my
son did, say three times more. In the elapsed space of three generations,
total wealth would have multiplied by nine times. This myth starts to shun
all relevance: the historic magnification of capitalism, based on
long-established materialist notions of value, is no longer feasible. In
all probability, my grandson will not inherit three houses.
                  And here comes the reversal of perspective of Capital:
as the concept of the Spectale is conceived to its full radicality, as a
process of generalised social abstraction, the commodity-form implodes to
encompass and invest all of shared lived experience. The commodity-form
has gone well beyond the romantic stage of fetishism: while there is no
doubt that both the use- and exchange value of a product now largely stem
from intangible characteristics, such as perceived sex-appeal, "coolness",
and ephemeral trendiness - a reality of contemporary commerce which
compels us to rethink value along the lines of what Jean Baudrillard calls
sign value - commodification does not stop at the twilight of shopfronts
and commodity shelves, that is, the sphere of materiality, but it extends
beyond them to encompass all of the immaterial. The leverage and
diffussion of commodification has been so overwhelming that goods long
considered public, such as century-old knowledges pertaining to medical
treatments and the cultivation of the land have been appropriated.[1]

                  In the age of universality of the spectale, the ultimate
commodity is the time of our own lives, that is, the
relationships and experiences that give meaning to its
space. "The spectacle is the moment when the commodity
has attained the total occupation of social life".[2]
In effect, nothing escapes vulgar commodification. Even some of the most
subversive and anti-commercial manifestations of shared lived experience
have capitulated. Indicatively, in the space of the last fifteen years,
rave has metamorphosed from an anti-commercial, underground social
movement and cultural phenomenon into a lucrative industry of cool. With
the notable exception of freeraves in England, the commodification of the
pulse of rave is ensured by the increasing centrality of the figure of the
Star-DJ (and the ephemeral trendiness of the Club) to the packaged
experience. The associated process of social formation during a rave is
accomplished by reference to the sign value of fluorescent Adidas trainers
and ornament-ised Ecstasy. Rave is now about paying to dance to the beats
of a cultureindustry professsional, rather than realising temporary
autonomous zones through an intensive process of cross-fertilisation
between underground sub-cultures based on the free sharing of

                  Presently, rave's claim to "hack reality" has given way
to spectacular pomp. Far from becoming a universal
anti-systemic movement, as it once aspired, rave,
blessed by the high priests of the culture industry,
became an industry of cool. Now, more that ever before,
the utterance "the poverty of everyday life" attains a
whole new meaning. It
no longer refers to the near-complete lack of authentic excitement and
stimulation in shared lived experience, that is, an ontological condition
predicated on esoteric misery and social boredom; now, it comes to signify
the centrality of the commodity-form to the satisfaction and saturation of
all of our socio-cultural needs and wants.


                  Would-be information-technology (IT) workers are
reckoned to be privileged because it is assumed that IT
students are in the rare position of needing none and
nothing, except for plenty of time perhaps, in order to
acquire those skills and competencies that will later
guarantee them a job in the epicentre of the most
lucrative labour market.

                  But this is yet another popular myth, in spite of its
having been perpetuated by a plethora of computer
scientists. In a time when the tools of the trade are
not free (libre) and certainly not free of charge, free
time does not suffice. This becomes obvious when we take
a look at the person who is constantly craving for fresh
knowledge, in particular for knowledge that has been put
to the service of capital by means of intensifying and
imploding the wealth bondage that keeps unpaid-for
labour hostage.

                  The cost of the investment in time required to pick up a
new skill aside, what is left to the inquiring mind who
desires to internalise an external domain of knowledge,
but has no money to pay for it? Suppose I have no
problem spending lots of time getting myself up to speed
with Adobe Pagemaker, Logic, Cubase, AutoCAD or any
other piece of software made possible by incredible
programming ingenuity, but I cannot afford to buy them.
Do I abstain from using them as the result of my
inadequate funding? Or do I resort to programming a real
alternative (ie. The GIMP Vs. Adobe Photoshop), hoping
that in time this knowledge will compensate for the loss
of familiarity in the use of the mainstream tool which
is the one valued by the market according to the
particulars of the jobs currently advertised?

                  From this vantage point, free software developers, as
well as illegitimate vendors of software, and people who
crack software programs are located in the vanguard of
the modern knowledge revolution. Although they rarely
understand the actual effect of their actions,
illegitimate vendors of software contribute a strong
blow to the world of commodified knowledge. For their
clientele consists not only of intermediaries who intend
to copy the software they have bought a thousand times
and re-sell it, but also of people who have a genuine
interest in acquiring the knowledge embedded in the
software. Not that long ago, I happened to stand right
next to a deal. The site was the famous agora of
Monastiraki in Athens, Greece, located at the foot of
the rock of Acropolis, where hundreds of small-time
dealers set up shop every Sunday. The buyer had picked
two or three CDs, one of which was a copy of Avid,
and was negotiating the price for that software. In order to raise the
price, I assumed for this is the only satisfactory explanation I can come
up with, the dealer cunningly offered that this deal was illegal. To which
the buyer replied: "I am doing nothing illegal here. I am not interested
in re-selling this software. I only want it for the knowledge in it. And
no one will stop me from acquiring knowledge." The dealer, dazed a bit for
it seemed he had not been given that particular reply on that day, nodded
and agreed on the price the buyer had suggested. The deal took place, and
in a moment's time the buyer had dissappeared again into the crowd.

                  The conscious realisation of the social effect of
knowledge acquisition through illegitimate and
clandestine channels, as exemplified by the
determination shown by the above buyer to acquire the
coveted knowledge by all means, even through his
participation in a deal, seals the reversal of
perspective: the perspective of power through the
technique of indoctrination it employs with the help of
mass media has
come into such a fierce and cruel conflict with the imperatives of
knowledge acquisition that the genuinely inquiring mind will assert its
right to claim knowledge even in the obscene case that this process of
knowledge acquisition has been criminalised.

                  The primacy to establish foundations for the advancement
of illegal knowledge can only be grasped on this plane:
piracy is incorporated into the radical project of libre
knowledge insofar as the pirates are seeking to extend
their body of knowledge. As regards to crackers, they
have been consistently portrayed by mass media as
juvenile delinquents on the brink of a terminal mental
collapse, whose kindest motivation can be explained by
their vanity to demonstrate their skills to others. But
this conceptualisation, though it illustrates the
underlying motivation of some crackers, is far from
adequate to explain the actions
of all crackers. The practice of cracking envisages the most radical
aspect of the project of libre knowledge: cracking does not stop at the
boundary of illegal distribution - it goes much further than that.
Crackers devote their time and skills to supplying the realm of illegal
distribution with technology artifacts, and, not to forget, there is
hardly ever any money for them. In effect, this critical aspect alone
highlights the radicalisation of the cracker as a computer scientist put
to the service of liberating knowledge from constraints imposed upon it by


                  Free as in free beer... The possibility that productive
cooperation and the enactment of production in social
networks no longer require the mediation of the
capitalist in order to be effectuated - a presupposition
of post-industrial capitalism that some theorists refer
to as the Communism of Capital - is compelling enough to
tremble the earth.

                  A real-world demonstration of this phenomenon is
provided by the development and organisational model at work in several
large free-software and open-source projects, such as the Linux operating

                  In fact, many look into networks of collaborative free
software and open source development for a practical
demonstration of how the new emancipated society will be

                  There are several issues to be stressed here. First, the
absence of exchange value: free software, as a
technology product, is given away for free, and this is,
partly, why free software is radical. However, this fact
may lead to wrong conclusions, for software is, by and
large, a service-based industry, and, thus, there is
money to be made by capitalising on free software.
Indeed, corporate behemoths, such as IBM, are doing
exactly this: they sell services (ie. consulting,
training, implementation, maintenance and support, etc.)
tied to specific FS/OSS products. Paradoxically, the
absence of exchange value does not negate the presence
of market value. Further, not all FS/OSS development
takes place outside a system of economic incentives; as
a matter of fact, free software is often developed in
direct response to market forces.[4]

                  On the other hand, it is common to underestimate the
effect of such a paradigm of (im)material production on
consciousness and subjectivity. In editing Wikipedia or
hacking the Linux kernel, for instance, people are,
consciously or not, educating themselves in what
creative, collaborative work really consists. The realm
of such networks
of cooperative development is underpinned by the pleasure principle:
people re-discover that products of unparalleled social and technical
ingenuity can result from a production process that is founded on
volunteer contributions; they re-discover the joy and personal fulfilment
that accompanies creative work.

                  On this plane, collective subjectivity is impregnated
with the sperm of radicality, as people are suddently
becoming aware of the reversal of perspective that lies
in the shadows: a production setting in which people are
using the tools that they have themselves built to
create situations they individually desire is always
bound to outperform in efficiency and expose the poverty
of production effectuated for the sake of profit. A
direct confrontation stretching from the terrain of
ideas to the very institutional nucleus of capitalist
society is underway.

                  On the one side stands the beast of living labour
organised independently of the capitalist demand, and,
the imaginary of intellectual property law, on the
other. Whereas the beast of living labour seeks to gain
its freedom by demolishing a world shaped by forced
labour, the object of intellectual property law is the
regulation of immaterial labour (rather than the
creation of artificial scarcity, as so many critics of
intellectual property claim).[5]

                  The imaginary of intellectual property law is, first and
foremost, designed to control people through control of
the producion process, regardless of whether this
production takes place within the factory or outside it.
Indicatively, IBM has a patent on how to employ and
retain FS/OSS developers, which means that in an insane
world anyone who has ever written a single line of HTML
would have to get IBM's permission to work at any
company other than IBM.[6]

                  Therein emerges a contradiction that FS/OSS is incapable
of dodging, at least for the time being: given that the
time is ripe for the systematic exploitation of
immaterial labour, and draconian intellectual property
regimes orchestrate the production process in accordance
with the exclusive interest of massive intellectual
property holders, the idea that radical subjectivity is
being produced in networks of collaborative FS/OSS
development is thrown into insignificance.

                  Said otherwise: the global intellectual property law
apparatus has both the power to operationalise FS/OSS
for the benefit of its master - the culturalindustrial
complex, and, most crucially, to render it illegal lest
such a course of action is deemed necessary. In the
latter case, in which FS/OSS developers are
marginalised, and networks of collaborative FS/OSS
development are effectively forced into the computer
underground, there is a good possibility that the
subversive character of FS/OSS will re-surface, but
nobody can tell with any degree of certainty whether its
subversive motors are sufficiently equipped to deal with
a world pompously indoctrinated to the advantages of a
draconian intellectual property regime.


                  The capitulation of volunteer labour... Free (gratis,
unwaged) labour is a requirement of the current
configuration of cognitive-informational capitalism.
There has never been a similar disruption in the number,
and in the composition, of the unemployed population.
Nowadays, hordes of university graduates and PhDs, that
is, knowledge workers, are joining the boundaryless
'industrial reserve army' that sustains the delicate
balance that, in turn, restrains the contradictions of
capitalism from exhausting capitalism itself.

                  It is to the credit of thinkers like Antonio Negri to
have formulated the theory of the internal margin, of
how internal ghettos are installed within over-developed
regions and post-industrial metropoles in exactly the
same time that under-developed, and developing countries
in the periphery are undergoing a process of heavy
industrialisation in agriculture and commodity

                  The structural violence produced by capitalism has run
amok, giving rise to such a dislocation in the
labour-force that no expansion in any sector of the
economy will be able to absorb. And it is not likely
that the historic magnification of capitalism will
maintain its pace, or character, in order to offset the
systemic shock triggered by the aggravation of the army
of the unemployed. No previous generation faced
the problem of unemployment to the extent that the current generation will
be compelled to experience. It should not come as a surprise when the
"tag" of insanity will be bestowed upon those who are or remain jobless. A
number of pertinent questions arise: is this surge in the number of the
unemployed, and the similarly pertinent shift in its composition toward
increasingly more knowledge workers, likely to bring capitalism to a halt?
Is this class revolutionary or counter-revolutionary?

                  To a certain extent, the unemployed constitute a
singularity deeply embedded in the revolutionary
subject. Yet, against
this pressure, the system - apparently - does not break down. One could
argue that the system feeds on the fragile circumstances of the
unemployed, seizing whatever opportunity there is to utilise volunteer
labour for spectracular goals by turning it into forced labour: tens of
thousands of volunteers were the human motor behind the 2004 Olympic
Games, which took place in Athens, Greece. Whereas some of those thousands
of people surely volunteered because they wanted to volunteer - and there
is absolutely nothing reprehensible in altruistic volunteer work - ,
others though volunteered in hope that once the Olympic Games were over,
as it was implied, they would find employment as personnel for the
maintenance and operation of the sites that hosted the Olympic Games.[8]

                  This volunteer labour is conditioned by the structural
violence of late capitalism. Said otherwise: the
unemployed (and under-employed) are forced to volunteer
their labour if they wish to stand a chance of escaping


                  A new class has arisen that is rapidly amassing
increasingly more power through its ability to veto on
the vectors of information which it controls, and which
both knowledge workers and the industrial capitalists

                  This is the terrain of history where class struggle is
being re-written. The capitalist, as John Kenneth
Galbraith observed long ago, has been a dwindling figure
in the economy. His hegemonic position has gradually
been taken over by committess manned by technocrats that
Galbraith termed the technostructure, and that we,
today, would be more inclined to refer to as the class
of knowledge workers.[10]

                  The emergence of the technostructure, argued Galbraith,
was conditioned primarily by the imperatives of
sophisticated technology production. This still holds
today: semi-autonomous knowledge workers are
a requirement of late capitalism, without whom the transition from
industrial manufacturing to information feudalism could not have been
feasible. Yet, it is misleading to assume that capitalism had, or has, a
hard time adapting to this reconfiguration: the constant presence of
friction is not important, since frinctionless capitalism, as well as
static capitalism, is an oxymoron. On the contrary, the capitalist system
not only required the formation of this class, but also incorporated it
into its very operational logic.

                  With the rise of this new class, which McKenzie Wark
terms the 'vectoralist class', and, which, it should be
noted, has its roots in the hacker universe, yet has
chosen to dissassociate itself from the interests of the
'digital proletariat', we witness the final stage of the
transformation of information into property. This
transformation, and the ensuing reconfiguration of class
struggle that comes with it, are conditioned by the
inability of capitalism to maintain its pace and
character of historic magnification. For capitalism to
elude the spectre
of the falling rate of profit and to extend its degree of accummulation,
capital has to turn into an image, and information, shared lived
experience, and the commons be transformed into commodities -
commodification turns inward.

                  The internal need for continuous magnification, rather
than ideology or class struggle, has led the convulsive
reconfiguration of the convoluted mesh of power
relations and the associated relations of production
that are manifested as an intellectual property right.
The organic composition of capital may well have
undregone dramatic change, but the social worker of the
present remains subordinated to a regime of spectacular
oppression; a regime that substitutes one class for
another, yet still maintains its class-based dichotomic
character; a regime that by Marx's definition may be
seen as noncapitalistic, yet it is still epitomised by
the axiomatics of capitalism.

                  To this day, the regime of signs founded on the
emancipatory tendency of the "general intellect" negates
the old regime of subordination and work done in
factories and businesses, but it does so without
negating its own Self. Consequently, although fueled by
a desiring machine predicated on social ejaculation, it
remains a regime of signs, rather than a concrete
situation experienced in the urban territory.


                  [1] For example, farmers and indigenous people in many
regions have painfully discovered that recipes,
knowledges, and techniques that had been in common use
for medical or agricultural purposes for centuries have
now passed into the ownership of the global
pharmaceutical complex in the institutionalised form of

                  [2] Debord, Guy. 1983. The Society of the Spectacle.
Translated by Fredy Perlman et al., Detroit: Black &
Red, #42, here.

                  [3] On rave as an underground socio-cultural phenomenon
whose roots are inextricably linked to the computer
underground and the hacker culture, and for a
captivating account, placed in a historical context, of
how rave started, see Rushkoff, Douglas. 1999.
The True Cyber Culture, here ; and Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of
Hyperspace (1994, Flamingo) by the same author.

                  [4] For two treatises on the issue of motivation in
FS/OSS development, which link developers' motivation
directly to market forces and economic incentives, see
Lancashire, David. 2001. "The Fading Altruism of Open
Source Development," First Monday, volume 6, number 12,
December here; and Lerner, Josh and Tirole, Jean. 2000.
"The simple economics of Open Source", National Bureau
of Economic Research, Working Paper, number 7600
(March), Journal of Hyper(+)drome.Manifestation, Issue
1, September, here.

                  [6] Ibid., endnote #38, here .

                  [7] Negri, Antonio. 1984. Marx Beyond Marx: Lessons on
the Grundrisse, ed. Jim Fleming, translated by Harry
Cleaver, Michael Ryan and Maurizio Viano, South Hadley,
Mass.: Bergin and Garvey.

                  [8] As of the time of writing, no official statement has
been issued (by the government, the state commission
charged with the organisation and supervision of the
Olympic Games, or the commercial entities involved)
regarding how many of the volunteers have been employed
at the sites that accommodated the 2004 Olympic Games.
However, based on anecdotal evidence (that is, from
accounts of volunteers who remain unemployed), this
implicit promise has not yet materialised, and it
remains uncertain if it ever will.

                  [9] Wark, McKenzie. 2004. A Hacker Manifesto. Harvard
University Press, and here .

                  [10] Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1974. The New Industrial
State. Penguin Books.

                  Publication Notes

                  This text was prepared for the Proceedings of the 22nd
Chaos Communication Congress (22C3: Private
Investigations - here), scheduled to take place in
Berlin, Germany, in December 2005. It is largely based
on G. Dafermos, The Critical Delusion of Immaterial
Labour (October 2005, unpublished manuscript), several
parts of which have been reproduced here.

                  About the Author

                  George N. Dafermos is an independent researcher and
author based in Crete, Greece. He is a blogger at home
here and can be contacted via email at dafermos [at]
datahost [dot] gr.

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