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<nettime> re: joxe's empire of disorder (etc)
Brian Holmes on Mon, 9 Dec 2002 22:15:35 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> re: joxe's empire of disorder (etc)

McKenzie Wark writes:

  the abstraction of property has proceeded through three rough phases. 1.
The astraction of land as property... 2. The abstraction of the thing from
the land... 3. The abstraction of information from the thing...

Ken, concerning your three phases of abstraction, I'm just an amateur
economist, but what seems to be missing from your elegant theory is that
one very particular kind of abstraction - the money-form, in its various
expressions as directive capital and as wages - accompanies and even
guides the whole process of abstraction from its very outset (at least as
soon as laborers were paid money to work the land of wealthier peasants,
in the 14th-15th centuries). In the current bout of intellectual-property
creation, which I would agree is a new way to separate the producer from
use of the product, money continues to play its leading role. It was very
interesting to see how Felix Stalder dates the technological emergence of
a "space of flows" in the contemporary sense from the period when
financial operations began to be extensively networked, in the early
eighties. In that respect, it appears that the demands of that ancient
category of "immaterial" property, i.e. money, have largely structured the
development and even the infrastructure of the new immaterial property
regime. This observation doesn't invalidate your entire argument, but as
you don't take it into account, you tend to give a leading role to the
specific forms of copyrighted or patented intellectual property. I would
argue that the possession of a share of stock, a bond, an option or any of
a host of such promissory contracts is an operative and directive model
for the evolution of the current forms of intellectual property, and
shouldn't be ignored.  I think you would find that the demands of
speculative capital have also restructured the forms of wages in general,
which is another issue that can't be explained by IP alone (for the simple
reason that "man does not reproduce by IP alone").

After that, the argument below is quite good:
>Negri's concept of the 'general intellect' comes from Marx. It's not 
>quite the case that the Negrists and the neoliberals are agreed that 
>knowledge is capital. The Negrist position is Marx's: knowledge may 
>be capital, but capital is labor. Marx's critique of liberal 
>economic theory applies just as readily to the neoliberal. In 
>treating only the space of exchange, not the space of production, 
>(neo)liberalism erases the space of exploitation, where property is 
>at work not as trade among its possessors, but as (unequal) exchange 
>between its possessors and those it has dispossessed.
>Knowledge is labor. But labor is dispossessed of its capacity to 
>utilise the value of what it 'knows'. It has to sell what it knows 
>to those who possess the means of realising its value.

Knowledge, as an effectice force in social relations today, cannot be
separated from the labor of its production. And the "space of exchange"
for knowledge-products is most often the transnational space regulated to
meet the demands of finance capital. I agree. But I would say this
rule-governed game holds sway over "nature"  generally, and not just over
the nature of knowledge. That's why I find that the argument gets a bit
tendentious here:

>Knowledge, however, is very slippery stuff. As information, it has 
>no particular material expression. And so it is quite difficult -- 
>and contrary to nature -- to make it a commodity, where its value 
>rests on its unique attachment to a material form which can in turn 
>be commodified. ...
>Property intervenes as an *artificial* scarcity. It extends 
>commodity logic where it need not belong. Unlimited wants do not 
>confront scarce resources, where information is concerned.

I believe that "artificial" scarcity is generally the result of a 
logic of accumulation, articulated as the imperative to possess and 
control large quantities of monetary instruments. This imperative 
lies at the foundation of the drive toward commercial monopoly and 
its practical result, oligopoly (where global markets for everything 
are typically shared between three huge competitors). Price-fixing 
oligopolies artificially create material as well as immaterial 
scarcities, as they always have. And these days the "material" 
commodity is just as much a product of knowledge (i.e. industrial 
transformation by new technology) as the immaterial ones.

It is for these reasons that labor (in the largest sense, including but
not limited to "immaterial labor") must confront capital, and cannot
simply exploit networked knowledge on its "free time," or merely through a
movement of "exodus" and "desertion." Because the imperative of financial
accumulation is always putting fences around every kind of usable commons,
including most recently the communicational one, not to stave off the
tragic overuse of the commons (that real problem can be dealt with in
verious different ways), but primarily to make it possible to impose
scarcity and to pursue exploitation. In other words, labor must confront
capital when it discovers that even "free time" is getting a price tag put
on it.  Who sets the abusive price? Investors who want a 15% return on
their speculative directives.

Finally, I would agree that the confrontation between labor and capital is
expanding to new scales, and occupying new arenas at new rhythms. Finance
capital is global and determines global patterns of industrial
development, as well as patterns of networked collaboration (outsourcing
forms, freelance professional teams, etc).  Transnational state capitalism
has extended to large blocs (NAFTA, EU, ASEAN+China) and is imposing
regulations on the labor-capital relationship (mostly in favor of
capital). The directive "vector" for this transformation of scales - world
financial markets - was first tried out at the end of the nineteenth
century. Its current expansion and intensification through the development
of networked communications tends, in effect, to partially displace the
conflict from the factory floor and the industrial district to one of the
new sites of productivity: the collaborative networks of production, which
are inseparably electronic, mediated, global, and affective, proximate,
urban, cultural. A quick look at the state of the electronic networks, and
also of the center cities, will reveal that in this combat, capital has
the upper hand: it is setting the majority rules, and developing the
majority of urban forms, including forms of sociability, sexuality,
aesthetic display, debate, leisure, etc.

Nonetheless, our theme here - disorder - is definitely beginning to creep
into the financial empire. Whether the nascent disorder can become a
political conflict with positive results on the structure of this
rule-governed game has yet to be seen. My opinion is that the kind of
people specifically concerned with IP (call them "the hacker class") will
not, in themselves, be numerous enough to make their conflict political
within the rather narrow frame sketched by a theoretical focus on that
form of property. The important debate and conflict over IP will remain a
subset of the larger conflict between finance capital (directive monetary
instruments) and labor (productive human activity). This larger conflict
has to be explained in several different ways, according to the different
ways it is met by real, living humans. It was, after all, a general
weakness of Marxism to promote a "politics of one class" (or even worse, a
"teleology of one class"). Such is the critique I would offer of your
overall thesis. What's important for the immaterial laborers to do is
communicate with the many other kinds of laborers, without claiming to
exclusively set the terms of the exchange. Isn't communication supposed to
be their strong suit anyway?

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