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Re: <nettime> The Precariat and Climate Justice
Felix Stalder on Sat, 7 Nov 2009 12:51:44 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Precariat and Climate Justice

Hi Alex,

what a great text. I took me a while to absorb it, since there is so
much in there.

On a theoretical level, I think there are some points deserve to
be spelled out in a bit more detail. Most importantly, it makes
sense to come back to an old Marxist distinction between the "mode
of production" and the "mode of development". Despite a number of
problems with these concepts [1], I think it's vital, as you do, to
distinguish between the "technical relationships of production",
basically the techno-scientific state-of-the- art of doing things,
and the social relationships of production, that is, the social goals
towards which this state-of-the-art is employed. The relationship
between the two is fairly open.

Industrialism and informationalism refer to the mode of development.
Fordism, Soviet-style socialism and more cooperative-oriented
approaches (like Yugoslavia) where industrialism embodied in different
political projects. To me, the most convincing explanation for
the demise of the Soviet-block was its inability to move from
industrialism -- which has reached an internal impasse (threshold of
complexity) at the end of the 1960s -- to a more advanced mode of
development, informationalism.

But also informationalism can be embodied in competing political
projects. So far, we know two. One is informational capitalism,
the other is "commons-based peer production." Now, the type of
competition between these modes of production is very different from
the competition between statism and capitalism, but still, these are
systems of social relationships oriented towards different goals.
Informational capitalism, like all forms of capitalism, is oriented
towards private appropriation of surplus in the hands of the owners
of capital, based on private property and competition between market
participants. Commons-based peer production is oriented towards
use-value and cooperation between participants (competition is on the
level of attention and reputation).

If you take software production, it makes no sense to say anymore that
software production is capitalist. Sure, there are very significant
capitalist actors in it, but they no longer control the field and
the further development of the field is no longer fully-dependent
on them. In other words, there are co-existing modes of production
which together -- in mutual interdependence -- make up the "software
industry". The competition between the two modes of production is
regarding their relative weight within the field as a whole.

I think we have a comparable situation in terms of the greening of the
economy. On the level of the mode of development, there can be only
one direction: forward. We must do things much more intelligently,
and this will require more advanced technologies and more science.
Everything else is a cynical fantasy. Telling the poor to be more
frugal is not an option.

Thus, in terms of the mode of development, I don't think we are
anyway near a next paradigm, and even informational capitalism is
not particularly in crisis. The deep crisis is with the industrial
paradigm and its focus on what now appears as primitive forms of
property (copyright) and primitive ways of energy production (linear
extraction of carbon-rich, finite resources). The greening of the
economy, in my view, is an expansion of informationalism, since, as
Brian pointed out, even genetic engineering basically views DNA as
information system susceptible to the same forms of manipulation like
digital information systems. Meaningless bits -- 4 rather than 2,
though -- to be rearranged into complex networks capable of producing
any meaning. Every cell is now a Turing machine.

The deep question is whether we can establish other modes of          
production which can mobilize the state-of-the-art towards other      
goals. I guess commons-based peer production, or more generally,      
the commons, is the best conceptual and practical basis for such a    
project we have right now. So, the underlying question becomes how    
much "green capitalism" do we need to advance an ecological commons.  
I'm convinced that part of that ecological commons is also a social   
and a informational commons, and the demands of the developing        
countries that green technologies should me made freely available --  
rather than expensively licensed to them -- shows that.               

Green capitalism cannot produce an ecological commons, since
capitalism, geared towards private appropriation, cannot think in
these terms. However, if the commons becomes the dominant framework
on which the existence also capitalist actors depends in an immediate
way, it will seek ways to appropriate surplus that do not destroy the
commons. Put crudely, the GPL forced IBM to advance the free software
commons in the pursuit of private profit. But software is also a
misleading example because of the particular force of the GPL. For the
ecological commons, regulation and supply-side subsidies will make all
the difference.

However, as Alex points out more clearly than I can, as pointed out,
the necessary pressure cannot come from capitalist actors and also not
from the state which is largely captured by these actors. The pressure
must come from these sectors where practice of the commons are already
(or still) established.

A crucial arena in this struggle, as Brian Holmes pointed out, are
current fights of the university and knowledge as a commons. If only
because this seems to be one of the fights that's actually winnable.
Not the least because there is the potential to build large coalitions
around it. On the one hand, universal eduction is a project that is
at the very core of enlightenment, thus it's a deeply felt, positive
value of the enlightened bourgeoisie. On the other hand, it the
contemporary university is a site of precarization. Plus, it's a
genuinely inter-generational concern (students worry about themselves,
parents worry about their kids and remembering the very different
conditions of their own education, at least in EU-land).

The breath of the possible coalition around free universities can
currently be witnessed in Austria, of all places [2]. A wild-cat
occupation of the lecture halls at universities in Vienna has spread
across the country and waves of solidarity are simply amazing,
including unions and pensioner's associations (which are very powerful
in this gerontocratic country). The disappointment with the current
political system is very deep producing a lot of energy. This is
usually harnessed by the extreme right here. Not this time, and not
around this issue. Others will follow.


[1] The main problem is the general economism of Marxism so that this
differentiation is made only in terms of the economy, and assumes that
the state-of-the-art exist primarily there whereas the social live is
assumed to be more or less free of technology and is not seen as a
source of techno-scientific innovation.

[2] http://unsereuni.at

--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------------- out now:
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions.Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 

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