Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Marx Beyond Marx": incongruous marxisms and the liberatory potential of technology

Dyer-Witheford's book was a breath of fresh air, simultaneously granting me identification with someone who is interesting in articulating clear, finite "demands" and alternatives to capitalism whilst still challenging my present conceptualizations of various Marxisms, revolutions, and political strategies. In particular, I've come to take for granted the centrality of worker struggle and the wage-labor relation to criticisms of the status quo, and by this I mean that I tend to assume that leftist intellectuals are already in some form of agreement as to capitalism's role as the primary antagonist of leftist intellectuals and its threat to our collective survival. As the author points out, a great aspect of identifying oneself as a Marxist is that you aren't (necessarily) subordinated to a totalizing structure or body of understanding - rather, Marxism connects (but does unify) many seemingly disparate criticisms of capitalism whose commonality is their location in Marx's oeuvre. I think the point I'm trying to make is that this realization that I've "taken for granted" the importance of identifying capitalism as the central problem facing politics is that, in so doing, I've demanded a totalized, ideologically pure commitment to anti-capitalism. This is the over-coding of Marx, etc. (insert D&G) and fractures communities that, otherwise, could unify in their "immiseration" beneath the structure of production. Communities need to be bridged, not atomized through delineation and categorization. As the author explains, capital needs to "decompose" unions and fracture alliances in order to expose individuals to the processes of labor-value and commodity. Furthermore, inconsistency and contradiction are present within every system of thought - to demand congruity and consistency of Marxism would deny its flexibility and potentiality to embark on new lines flight that could bring about the liberation so desired by leftist thinkers.

The particular solutions offered by Dyer-Witheford (guaranteed annual income, public ownership of satellite networks, etc.) are not of particular interest for the purposes of this post but are incredibly important and must be reckoned with; however, I am interested in his arguments concerning the relevance of Marx in our day. In particular, I'm interested in the relevance of Marx to our class and its focus on technology.

As the author points out, Marx was not optimistic about technology, but rather saw it as an essential sustaining force behind capital's wage-labor relation and the attendant impoverishment of workers. Dyer-Witheford, however, sees the potential for technology to disrupt the circuit of capital and introduce breaks that allow for alternatives to be realized. In particular, the author sees the potential for technology to break the "moment" of exchange that is essential to the cycle of commodification - the instantaneous speed of communication provided by digital technology and the internet makes the commodity process untenable. Goods are not "consumable" in the sense that they are infinitely replicateable via digital mediums (computers, etc.) and, consequently, cannot be reduced to a value.

I find this point to be effectively illustrated today by the availability of "pirated" media and software via bittorrent and other peer-to-peer networks. While these modes of disseminating goods outside of the market have not gone unchallenged by public and corporate institutions, the fact that they have endured and remain viable today is indicative, to me, of the potential for technologies to short-circuit the commodity cycle and "free" the products of labor from its subordinated status as commodity.

I also find compelling the implicit point raised by the author's optimism about technology, more specifically that technology offers some hope for creating sites of resistance to capital instead of being necessarily constitutive of the commodity cycle and its impoverishment of workers. The Occupy Wall Street protests hold promise, however not as the result of technology's liberatory potential, but rather the onslaught of capitalism that has left so many without work and income that they are forced to the streets in protest. I'm a bit torn, however; how does one realize change with Marx's criticism of the state in the back of your mind; more specifically, should we demand of the state changes within the structure of our economy even though, as Marx says, the state is the instrument of the bourgeoisie (as the bailouts have proved)? Should our demands be clear and finite, or infinite and abstracted?

1 comment:

  1. great post, mike. i also read dyer-witheford as a breath of fresh air.

    i was inspired to read technologies as ideological and as designed largely in service of capital, but with opportunities for rupturing the efficient flow of capital.

    i was also taken by the revolutionary idea that instead of reading the laborer as a universal representation of the oppressed class, we could read her as a disruptive, disobedient agent of micro-transformation.