by Gabriel Meier
Header Photo: Sigrid Hjertén “Harvesting Machines” (1915)
In September of 2020, Indonesian duo Senyawa announced that their then forthcoming Alkisah LP would be open to release on any independent record label that shared their “vision of the future.” In the accompanying statement, the intent behind the proposition was made clear: “the whole idea is about decentralizing the former hierarchical system of music distribution.” When Alkisah was released in February of 2021, it came via 44 different record labels across four continents, each version accompanied by unique artwork. The clever initiative allowed the record labels to bundle vinyl production, avoiding the high cost of small order runs, while simultaneously cutting shipping fees for consumers by spreading distribution across the globe. Both the artists and labels involved tend to see Alkisah as a potential model for a decentralized music industry future with Morphine Records owner Rabih Beaini going so far as to claim “it’s quite utopian.”
Senyawa aren’t the only ones ringing the alarm for the necessity of a decentralized culture industry. The album release sits comfortably alongside initiatives to move away from vinyl production, reliance on major streaming platforms and meagre, industry-wide payout rates. These projects, like Fis’ Saplings label, an initiative to plant trees in lieu of physical media production, and Massive Attack’s attempt to forge a path for sustainable touring, promise small-scale, but ecologically-minded alternatives to both vinyl production and globetrotting performance. From this perspective, decentralization and ecology are mutually reinforcing. On the other hand, the music industry’s institutional arm–led by independent labels and distributors like Beggars Group, Ninja Tune and the recently inaugurated Music Declares Emergency group–assure that sustainability is possible without a more substantial political economic restructuring.
Against the grain of Senyawa’s thoughtful collaborative exercise and the smattering of degrowth-minded initiatives, a number of projects have arisen that promise an innovative turn towards autonomy, decentralization, transparency and new models for music production, distribution and consumption. Blockchain-born streaming platforms, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) and cloud-based collaboration infrastructures are only a handful of the ventures to arise in recent years that promise to counter corporate hegemony and decenter the individual in cultural production. In their wake, a particular historical narrative has emerged that promises not only the convergence of human creative capacities with technology, but a new social, political and legal logic codified in the tools themselves.
Welcomed as a cultural and organizational avant-garde by much of Silicon Valley, as well as key sectors of the art, film and music worlds, the technologies ranged under web3 have undeniably influenced cultural production in recent years. Perhaps more importantly, they have been embraced by individuals and organizations across a broad ideological spectrum. While the glut of financial technology start-ups can be disregarded with ease, progressive applications of the technology warrant further investigation. Instead of a totalizing inventory of the theory and ideology behind blockchain technology, or a polemic against its neo-colonial, parasitic and speculative dimensions, the subsequent analysis charts a particular route through its intellectual forebears so as to elucidate the political unconscious of those who appear to engage in good faith with these new tools and infrastructures. In particular, this essay is an attempt to situate the technological discourse of today within the complicated historical relationship between labor, capitalist development and Marxian thought.
In what follows, web3 technologies are considered along four axes. First, I examine them in relation to existing political, social and technical formations in order to articulate the relation between web3 and the reproduction of capitalism, as well as between web3 and existing progressive intellectual currents. Second, I analyze web3 in the context of the historical left’s relation to technology. With the history of twentieth-century communism–as well as its underlying philosophical currents–in mind, web3 is placed in a lineage that includes scientific management, automation and social media. The reconstruction of these histories is not intended to deride prior movements for their missteps, but rather to enrich our historical present with the experiences of past comrades.
Third, the abstractions of the ‘general intellect’ that I argue implicitly undergird web3 imaginaries are excavated and posed against an intertextual reading of Marx’s Grundrisse and Capital. Framed within the history and present of capital’s processes of subsumption, the collectivities proposed by web3 are interrogated as intellectual abstractions produced by commodity exchange itself. Further, convergences of emancipation and technical development proferred by web3 ideologues are understood within the context of depressed worker power and renewed imperialism in our present conjuncture. Finally, the notion of distributed intellect developed by Marx in the Grundrisse’s ‘Fragment on machines’ is expanded by means of both a prehistory and a decentering of industrialized, Western economies. In this, we attempt to exhume the ‘general intellect’ for its radically heuristic potential, moving it away from its enmeshment with Silicon Valley.
Full Decentralization Now
So what are the material and ideological roots of web3? To start with, its expression in the culture industries has largely been in reaction to previous modes of production that center independence. As “indie” music and film has atrophied in conjunction with the rise of streaming, programmatic alternatives have been presented in order to build new markets, and new market shares, for artists, dealers and media entrepreneurs outside of the major label and film studio monopolies. Within the broader political economy, web3’s roots lie in a similar reaction to the consolidation of monopoly firms like Facebook and Google, while its romantically-inclined boosters have announced a return to the early days of a democratic, utopian Internet. It comes as no surprise that proponents of web3 understand themselves to be in conflict with an absolutist state; but importantly, they have also set their sights on an existing propertied class.
With this in mind, it is revealing to turn to former Clinton Administration advisor and New York University professor Nouriel Roubini, who has argued that “Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization.” Hardly an avatar for the counterculture or political subversion, Roubini’s denunciation points to the intra-capitalist schisms that have followed in the wake of web3’s rise to prominence. Posed in antagonism to a centralized financial structure that includes Wall Street and the Federal Reserve, venture capitalist and surveillance enthusiast Peter Theil has gone so far as to claim that cryptocurrency is explicitly libertarian, while booster and self-proclaimed philosopher Brady Dale has invoked cyberpunk aesthetics and Hayekian economics to argue for cryptocurrency as an anti-authoritarian “cheat code.”
That said, the financial establishment is clearly invested in both sides. Firms like Deloitte and Goldman Sachs have invested millions of dollars into blockchain infrastructure, while several nation-states have established special economic zones specifically for cryptocurrency. International capital has begun to invest in blockchain technology as a means of further disembedding itself from the dictates of popular will that the modern nation-state system, at least in theory, entails. As a result, disputes over the future of web3 can be understood as a factional struggle regarding the reproduction of capitalism itself, rather than an ideological battle over the role of the commons, market or state.
Situated within the longue durée of capitalist development, the discordance between blockchain technology’s emancipatory promise and prevailing tendencies towards underemployment, monopolization and rentierism are accentuated further. Cryptocurrencies and web3 infrastructures are not merely a means for the reproduction of existing financial structures, but a battleground for the “new means of abstract intellectual production.” Thus, web3 does not merely reflect existing capitalist abstractions–the market, money, private property, exchange value–but actively seeks to produce its own. So while the foremost thrust of blockchain technologies is the “reformulation and digitization of economic processes typical of our current modes of electronic capitalism,” it is crucial to also recognize investment from institutional financial actors as part of “the contest for [the] general intellect” within high-tech capitalism.
With this class dialectic in mind, we must look beyond the tech world’s atavistic and libertarian fundament, not to mention finance capital’s reproductive function, in order to explore the contradictions inherent in web3’s progressive and utopian dimensions. Blockchain technology has been embraced for a number of purposes, most prominent among them the development of democratic organizational forms and revitalization of a digital commons that web3’s decentralized capacities make possible. In particular, decentralized autonomous organizations , a technology premised on the Ethereum blockchain, have risen to prominence as an organizational form, while groups like Black Socialists in America and DisCO.coop have embraced distributed technologies as a means of integrating autonomous theory with practice.
DAOs present a unique case study for relations between humans, technology and value. As it is set out, a DAO is an autonomous entity with a set of internal protocols that automate the property-relations (“smart contracts”) between users. Its predetermined functionality is intended to remove user error and manipulation by hard-coding good faith rules of engagement into the organizational protocols. While often adopted as a replacement for corporate organizational structures, a number of progressive organizations have adopted DAOs for their own purpfoses. Thus, DAOs have been put to use for guild-based grant networks, women-only crypto exchanges and black-owned business incubators. Often redistributive in aim, these DAOs tend to operate in the space that Fernand Braudel dubbed the anti-market, simultaneously challenging and reinforcing market logics from the margins of the capitalist world-system.
Existing socialist applications of blockchain technology include social media platforms, collective banking, driver cooperatives and internet service provider alternatives. Speculative invocations about the blockchain’s inherent communalism are even more common. A 2016 United Nations Research Institute for Social Development report notes that the blockchain is “interesting because it has features that potentially allow for non-hierarchal self-organization and peer-to-peer collaboration within a communitarian network structure.” Left-minded web3 advocates have been described as “DIY rebels,” while the blockchain’s disintermediation function–the notion that the ledger of transactions can never be altered–has been premised as a revolutionary transformation of industrial relations and democracy.
In an analysis of the futuristic imaginaries advanced in the guise of decentralized technologies, researcher Caitlin Lustig notes the contradictions in perception between technology as a means of control and technology as freedom from control. Questions of power, surveillance and organization inevitably arise in these discussions, but so too does a positive political content. The non fungible token (NFT) phenomenon of early 2021 is instructive in this regard. Easily dismissed as one of many contemporary asset bubbles, it must be emphasized that decentralized technologies–even, or perhaps especially, in their many progressive guises–produce their own value-systems, as well as their own productive abstractions. No longer solely a means of circumventing traditional economy, governance, law and cultural production, web3 technologies both reflect capital’s hegemonic forms and embed non-capitalist modes of organization into the abstractions of the marketplace. This latter point is key, rendering relative knowledges interchangeable, while also subjecting non-market behaviors to mediation by the universal equivalent forms of money and private property. In order to unravel this imbrication of leftist politics with capital’s most powerful abstractions, we must turn to the historical left’s relationship with technology.
Utopia and Instrumental Reason
In a modern twist, much of this emergent ideology was prefigured in memes. While technophilic and post-scarcity politics aren’t exactly new, the spur of energy behind what has come to be known as “fully automated luxury communism” (FALC) has mutated from its context in leftist social media groups to a political programmatic that advocates have attempted to situate both in and against a long lineage of utopian socialism. Championed by the likes of Novara Media founder Aaron Bastani, #Accelerate Manifesto authors Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, and economist Paul Mason, a productivist, post-scarcity future undergirded by automation, a universal basic income, renewable energy and the reduction of the working day is not only posed as necessary, but as the only means forward for worker movements around the globe. In juxtaposition to the utopian socialisms of the past–Charles Fourier’s invocation of lemonade oceans and B.F. Skinner’s pedagogy-as-politics–Bastani instead writes that his treatise Fully Automated Luxury Communism is “not a manifesto for the starry-eyed poets'' but rather a book “about a present that goes unacknowledged.”
The prevailing assumption in these texts is that the left is mired in the past and is either unwilling or unable to build a new and better future. Srnicek and Williams attribute this to “folk politics,” a political common sense incapable of reckoning with contemporary power relations. Mason eschews socialism entirely, writing that the alter-globalization, Occupy and “movements for social justice” have “revelled in their incoherence for decades”. For its part, Bastani’s text is unflinchingly positive, proffering its own brand of utopian thinking in lieu of sweeping intra-left critique.
What ties the three together–along with recent provocations from Jodie Dean, McKenzie Wark and a range of post-operaismo thinkers–is the notion that information technology has transformed the capitalist mode of production. Mason writes that information has the “spontaneous tendency...to dissolve markets, destroy ownership and break down the relationship between work and wages,” while Bastani’s argument hinges on the notion that information will facilitate a dramatic reduction in the marginal cost of goods and services. The latter point, that development of information technology promises an autonomous deconstruction of market forms, is largely influenced by Jeremy Rifkin’s The Zero Marginal Cost Society, a text that has purportedly caught the ear of the European Central Bank, Charles Schumer and Xi Jinping. What is left unexamined in this oracular fever pitch is the disposition of workers, particularly those outside of the advanced industrial economies. In their fervor to divine the crises, cleavages and potentialities of the future, lessons drawn from the history of technical development regrettable recede from vision.
Yet, contrary to the moment of the Second International–when communist revolution was very much on the docket–or even the 1971 publication of Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism–when the modern Internet was still an abstraction–our contemporary relationship to technology, and specifically the history of capitalist technology, allows for a certain amount of circumspection that is often missing in the non-utopian utopianisms of the web3 and FALC set. Writing in 1963, Detroit auto worker and organic intellectual James Boggs noted the myriad ways that then-nascent automation and robotics technology decreases worker solidarity, creates a platform for union-management collaboration, and individualizes crises that were formerly reckoned with on a collective and socialized scale. What results from the technical development of productive capacity is a surplus labor population with nowhere to go and no way to make a living, a crisis that both the Black Panther Party, and later Ruth Wilson Gilmore, adeptly recognized as a core precursor to the explosion of the prison-industrial complex.
In a critique of Bukharin written forty years earlier, György Lukács analyzed the false ‘naturalism’ of the technophilia of his day. Lukács writes that “technique is a part, a moment, naturally of great importance, of the social productive forces, but it is neither simply identical with them, nor...the final or absolute moment of the changes in these forces” (p. 29). Disregarding the supposed “self-sufficiency” of what he calls technique, Lukács instead recognizes a dialectic wherein social relations and technological development mutually constitute each other. Both Boggs and Lukács recognize the manner in which technology influences the productive forces, but discard a telos that positions it as an autonomous force in and of itself. Rather than Bastani’s desire to “[build] on technologies whose development has been accelerating for decades,” we can instead understand the development of technology as part-and-parcel with capital’s objectification of social relations through exchange.
Unsurprisingly, there is much crossover between FALC and the proponents of web3. But more importantly, they share a resoundingly similar perspective on history, progress and technology. Both discursively pose technology as the equivalent of the productive forces, a neutral entity that may be developed under the capitalist mode of production, but later instrumentalized under the banner of a socialist, or otherwise, revolution. Further, contemporary technology is understood as the inevitable outcome of the relation between humans and nature, reifying the separation between the two and wrenching domination over nature from its historical context in the capitalist mode of production. Such a teleological reading of Marx repeatedly led worker movements to embrace disempowering technologies over the course of the twentieth-century, lessening institutional opposition to developments like scientific management and automation even as workers themselves bucked trade union management, asserting their own autonomy in acts of neo-Luddite resistance.
Today, struggle takes place across a number of scales and geographies in the global social factory, but the omnipresent assumption that progress will be carried on the wings of technology remains. Nearly 80 years after Walter Benjamin described the angel of history peering back at “a chain of events...which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet',' and in the midst of what has been described as a “techlash,” a critical perspective on progress and technology is still often lacking amongst left academics, critics and cultural producers. More insidiously, this embrace of web3 technologies tends to reify the bourgeois notion that human nature tends irrevocably towards the market. What is at risk, then, is not only the subsumption of work under increasingly alienating forms of technology and the reification of radical theory under the dominion of development, but also the overtaking of social relations by what Nancy Fraser has described as the ‘cunning of history’.
I argue that the ideological current that undergirds today’s decentralized technology can be understood through the context of a highly disputed Marxist text. The ‘Fragment on machines’ is a passage from Marx’s Grundrisse, a series of notebooks drafted in advance of the writing of Capital, yet left unpublished in the course of his life. The ‘Fragment’ was largely overlooked until the 1960s and 70s when it was brought into use by a heterogeneous group of thinkers including Herbert Marcuse, Raniero Panzieri and Gilles Deleuze. Marcuse’s usage, premised on the notion that “automation expresses the transformation, or rather transubstantiation of labor power, in which the latter, separated from the individual, becomes an independent producing object and thus a subject itself,” presaged decades of scholarly attempts to apply the ‘Fragment’ to emerging technologies.
Today, the ‘Fragment’ is an axiomatic text for a range of thinkers and is often associated with the operaismo and post-operaismo schools of thought. As noted by Matteo Pasquinelli in a historiography of the ‘Fragment’, the passage has bequeathed a number of concepts and historical tendencies including the ‘general intellect’, ‘collective worker’ and the notion that “social knowledge has become a direct force of production.” Regularly employed in analyses of what has variously been called cognitive, digital and informational capitalism, the ‘Fragment’ has also been posed as an emancipatory theory wherein the contradictions inherent in post-Fordist production will result in a ‘mass intellectuality’ that claims the means of production and negates the social relation of capital. Accordingly, we can identify two non-mutually exclusive currents in scholarship on the ‘Fragment’; first, as an analytic for mutations in the quality, intensity and form of work; and second, as a theory of capitalism’s overcoming.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the ‘Fragment’ has been put to use, in both its analytic and prophetic dimensions, for a number of contemporary purposes. As shown in the previous section, decentralized technologies can represent, often in circumscribed form, the ethos of ‘mass intellectuality’, and particularly the ‘general intellect’. The latter concept, described as a “co-operative social rationality which escapes the restrictive conception of human capital,” has transformative implications, negating Marx’s labor theory of value and presupposing “the increasingly collective nature of technical progress.” In other words, what had previously been understood as an ”abstract assemblage of workers’ simple gestures and micro-decisions” in the Fordist factory has now taken on an autonomous quality, breaking free of capital’s disciplinary function and auguring a new form of collective politics.
Theorists associated with the French journal Futur Antérieur–including Maurizio Lazzarato, Antonio Negri and Paulo Virno–have taken up the ‘general intellect’ with particular vigor, providing insightful studies into “this plural, multiform constantly mutating intelligence." Noting the dual development of “an automated system of machinery” and “the world market,” Marx’s original discussion of the objectification of social knowledge in industrial technologies of the mid-nineteenth century has been supplanted by a more wide-ranging discussion of high tech work, information, education and finance.
Dramatically, Virno has gone so far as to pose the ‘general intellect’ as a real abstraction beyond the commodity form:
In so far as it organises the production process and the ‘life-world’, the general intellect is certainly an abstraction, but a real abstraction with an operational materiality… Whilst money – precisely as the ‘universal equivalent’ – embodies in its independent existence the commensurability of products, labours and subjects, the general intellect establishes the analytical premises for any kind of praxis.
To put it another way, the ‘general intellect’, like money, is an abstraction that acts on the material world. Yet, unlike money which obfuscates the labor that goes into the production of commodities, the ‘general intellect’ is the abstract form that underlies social action under our present mode of production. Thus, from Virno’s perspective, the ‘general intellect’ is not merely collective intelligence embodied in machines, but a historicized process of abstraction that contains the potential for the negation of capital. However, we will see that the production of real abstractions in contemporary information technology is far more contingent and ambiguous than often posed in theory.
Today, one only has to look at the white papers and blog posts of web3 firms and their proselytizing agents to find echoes of the ‘general intellect’. The original Bitcoin white paper promised a “system for electronic transactions without relying on trust,” with a humanist, or traditional legal, conception of trust replaced by “nodes [that] work all at once with little coordination.” Ethereum’s white paper promises to upgrade existing peer-to-peer protocols by adding an “economic layer,” while also outlining the idea of DAOs that would codify the legal, financial and governmental functions of any business or organization onto the blockchain. Even more broadly, advocates of DAOs imagine a “world in which humans have more agency with regard to technology, not less, despite increased automation.”
The sphere of cultural production also incorporates its own echoes of the ‘general intellect’. Often, these arise through formal overlaps with blockchain technology (e.g. visual art sold as non-fungible tokens, blockchain-based streaming platforms like Audius, OPUS and Resonate), but the language of decentralization, distributed intelligence, and abstract collectivity also appears in culture industry-specific social media, music collaboration software, data extraction mechanisms and algorithm-based performance practices. References to artificial intelligence are also omnipresent in electronic music, while some have gone so far to argue that presets, both analog and digital, incorporate their own social and technical knowledge in automated and condensed machinic assemblages.
Real world applications range from the utilitarian to the openly utopian. Splice, a cloud-based interface, allows musicians to collaborate through their existing digital audio workstation (DAW), while gleaning tips on how to divide the labor of collaboration. web3 protocol Audius–perhaps the most successful of the streaming-alternatives with $10 million in funding from a crowd of crypto-centric hedge funds–promises artists, curators and fans the opportunity to “collectively share in the upside of the unstoppable streaming protocol of tomorrow.” Catalog is “reclaiming music ownership for artists,” and “reimagining how artists share, distribute, and capture the value around their music using single edition digital records.” The crowded space is filled out with names like Choon, Musicoin, Viberate and Uju, each possessed by its own value proposition and abstraction logic.
Zooming out, the disposition of the contemporary artist can be situated within transformations in the composition of labor recognized by operaismo researchers from the 1960s on. Successive stages of history posed the artist as a member of a royal court, a roving troubadour and a recipient of patronage from universities, theatres and museums. Today, the contemporary musician is defined by their isolation and their relation to technology. Music production itself is mediated through a set of digital abstractions, while its distribution, and the remuneration that artists receive is increasingly imbricated in changes emanating from Silicon Valley. French socialist turned neoliberal evangelist Jacques Attali recognized this process in the twentieth-century as the supplanting of material production by the exchange of signs, a decisively postmodern interpretation, but one that holds resonance for the digital precariat. Meanwhile, Juan Atkins noted an ontological turn towards technology in a 1991 interview, declaring “I'm probably more interested in Ford's robots than in Berry Gordy's music.” In this, Atkins and Attali recognized the manner in which technology–artificial intelligence, automation, robotics–had begun to colonize work and culture. Correspondingly, abstraction was central to each formulation; in Attali’s gesture towards immaterial exchange; and in Atkins’ lifelong project to constitute the factory in sound.
Intellectual Labor and Subsumption
It is clear that attempts to realize the ‘general intellect’ as an emancipatory modality predominate in cultural, technological and theoretical discourse today. Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley’s evangelists have lept at the chance to capitalize speculative ventures into web3 technology. This can be understood as one of many means by which industry attempts to invest overaccumulated capital, as well as Silicon Valley and Wall Street’s intra-industry attempts to reproduce themselves. Perhaps more surprising is support from the culture industries, intellectuals and technology critics. As already noted, a body of text has posed the inevitability of technical development against prior modes of worker organization. But what accounts for this teleological framing? And how does the theoretical ferment percolate into existing applications of web3?
Another way to frame this disjuncture between movement politics and segments of the contemporary, Western left is through the notion of subsumption. Subsumption, the massing of particulars under a universal in its original German Idealist formulation, becomes, for Marx, central to the capitalist social relation. In Capital Vol. 1, Marx details how formal subsumption leaves intact pre-capitalist modes of production–for example, a blacksmith working out of their home–but points to how it is disciplined by capital so as to extract surplus value. Real subsumption, or what Marx calls capitalist production proper, is “characteristic of the modern factory, with its constant revolution of production techniques and methods.” It follows from the dual development of the social forces of production and the application of science and technology, resulting in a specifically capitalist mode of production. Under real subsumption, the entire production process takes place on capital’s terms.
This distinction between different forms of subsumption becomes relevant in Marx’s discussion of fixed capital in the ‘Fragment’:
[O]nce adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery...set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.
Here, labor is not only mediated and transformed by capital, but becomes a component of the fixed technological apparatus itself. Thus, under real subsumption, the worker’s labor, including their intellectual labor, becomes a “mere abstraction of activity” and an appendage of the workings of machinery. No longer able to transmit any distinguishing characteristics into the object of their labor, the worker’s virtuosic skill and knowledge is thus subsumed into the functions of machinery.
But Marx goes further in articulating the factory’s effect on the worker. As labor is transfigured into a form adequate to capital:
The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production proper.
This is the process by which the collective’s intellectual power, the “general productive forces of the social brain,” is subsumed along with material labor. In the classical Marxist value formulation, wealth results from a number of inputs, but constant among those is the socially necessary labor time of workers. What follows in the ‘Fragment’, albeit in circumscribed sketch form, is a schema wherein abstracted and socialized human labor becomes ontologically indistinguishable from the technical implements of the production process.
Consequently, “labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself.” For researchers attuned to transformations in labor in the post-World War II era, this proposition should come as no surprise. The prominence of knowledge- and affect-based office and service work is widespread in economies both industrialized and not. Questions surrounding the value of data, the impact of artificial intelligence and the re-emergence of piece work (gig work in contemporary parlance) similarly call into question the solidity of traditional Marxian categories of socially necessary labor time and exchange value. But recognizing these transformations against the background of Marx’s ‘Fragment’ and truly grasping the crises inherent in contemporary capitalism are two different matters.
As noted, theorists like Carlo Vercellone and Virno have taken the outline articulated by Marx in the ‘Fragment’ beyond its speculative form, arguing that the prominence of intellectual labor, under the aegis of the ‘general intellect’, represents a third stage in subsumption. From this perspective, the reduction of working hours and the rise of publicly available education under real subsumption has produced renewed autonomy for workers in the labor process. Vercellone writes that the emergence of this third stage, out of the crises that followed from real subsumption, ”involves a tendential overcoming of the Smithian logic of the division of labour proper to industrial capitalism, and posits, in a new manner with respect to the other writings of Marx, the possibility of a direct transition to communism.” Rather than their total subsumption into capitalist machinery, the worker instead emerges with the requisite knowledge and autonomy to bring capitalism to its knees.
This “overcoming” is not only theoretical, but also historical, denoting the passage from one mode of production to another. Thus, the contradictions within real subsumption produce the forces and relations of production that result in both a new mode of subsumption and the emancipatory potential within it. Within this new mode, cognitive capitalism, knowledge supplants labor as the central productive force, while the ‘general intellect’ is posed as its overcoming. Vercellone articulates this historical progression, pointing to the moment when “intangible capital (R&D, education, health), incorporated essentially in people, exceeded that of material capital held in stock and became the principal factor of growth” as the turning point for cognitive capitalism. It follows that capitalists are no longer able to discipline knowledge, allowing for greater autonomy in the labor process and a fissure in capital’s ability to reproduce itself.
Mason has taken this latter thesis–that the convergence of the “social brain” and technical development will lead to communism, or at least something different–and run with it. In a Guardian editorial published in 2015, Mason makes an explicit connection between the ‘general intellect’ and web3 technologies, writing that “parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, and often as a direct result of the shattering of the old structures in the post-2008 crisis.” These developments are attributed to the ‘general intellect’, described by Mason as the “mind of everybody on Earth connected by social knowledge, in which every upgrade benefits everybody.” From Mason’s perspective, the ‘general intellect’ is already embodied in the decentralized network, while capitalism “will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours.”
Expounded on further in an otherwise meticulous economic history, Mason’s pollyannaish declarations miss the mark of even the most optimistic readings of the ‘Fragment’. Instead of prophesying a future foretold by Marx, the post-operaismo theorists associated with Futur Antérieur were instead attempting to reckon with the failure of twentieth-century revolutionary movements and the disjuncture between post-Fordism’s crisis tendencies and the apparent solidity of the capitalist world-system. But in their insistence on the total displacement of material labor by knowledge work, as well as the inflexibility of their historical schema, the Italian theorists also tend to invoke a dynamic of class struggle, wherein class and struggle are decidedly absent.
Yet, even on their own terms, theories of the ‘general intellect’ often miss vital context. In the years since the Grundrisse was first published in English, a number of critics have problematized the emphasis granted to Marx’s fragmentary manuscripts. German Marx scholar Michael Heinrich, noting that the Grundrisse must be read through the lens of the more mature Capital, argues that while the development of the “social brain” may unmoor value from socially necessary labor time, exchange value remains constant as a mediating relation due to the continuing production of surplus-value. Meanwhile, the historical schema of subsumption has been problematized by the Endnotes collective and others. Rather than a linear progression, wherein the ‘general intellect’ supplants ‘real’ subsumption, the various stages must be understood as co-constitutive across both space and time. Thus, while technology’s effects on the surplus value relation must be attended to, they cannot be granted mechanical supremacy over the rest of the production process. Similarly, the immediate effects of subsumption cannot be extrapolated to a linear historical progression.
As a result of these divergent readings, theorizations of ‘mass intellectuality’ have left us with a set of analytical tools for deciphering contemporary alienation, but also hinge on a theoretical and historical conception of emancipation that is at best indisposed to the moment, and at worst actively mystifies the aims of today’s worker movements. That intellectual mystification carries over, and is intensified, when applied to web3 technologies. Not only are the concepts of ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’ reified once taken out of history, they are abstracted once again when coded into the market mechanisms of the blockchain. The “blind natural force” and “inner law” of capital is thus formalized in the frameworks and protocols of web3. This double abstraction-subsumption process–wherein social activity and socially-held knowledge forms the practical basis for universal market exchange–can be understood as the core function of capital’s value form, mystifying accumulation for accumulation’s sake as the natural activity of humans.
(Pre)history and its Process
What, then, can we take from the continued relevance of the ‘general intellect’? If its emancipatory premise is negated in Marx’s own work; and its historical telos is negated by history itself; then what can we surmise from its direct invocation by the likes of Mason and Vercellone and its abstract presence in contemporary decentralized technologies? Further, how does the prominence of the ‘general intellect’, in both left intellectual circles and applied web3 form, relate to capital’s ability to reproduce itself? And can we still extract a radical, communizing potential from Marx’s unfinished theory? From the perspective of both cultural production and the critique of political economy, the ‘general intellect’ likely still has a lot to say about the relationship between social action, collective politics, culture and technology in our present conjuncture.
These questions cannot be answered with any finality in this text, but a rejoinder from the black radical and feminist traditions may lend a further valence to our understanding of the ‘general intellect’. In summary, post-operaismo theorists have posited the ‘general intellect’ as the material outcome of a political economy dominated by information technology. Some have gone so far as to argue that these developments contain the potential to overcome the capitalist mode of production with a new, cybernetic collective politics taking its place. In the present, decentralized technologies, particularly those under the banner of web3, have been seized on as a practical realization of that overcoming. Thus, the tricky problem of synthesizing the interests of the individual and the collective, not to mention the spectre of revolution itself, is solved by hard coding collective, redistributive politics into the blockchain.
Often employed to articulate the challenges faced by Fordist mass production in the years after World War II, the ‘Fragment’ also has resonances for pre- and peripheral-capitalist modes of production. Rather than automated assembly lines and white collar information sector work, we might instead look to the home and the plantation for instances of a radical, heterodox ‘general intellect’. With this in mind, Stefano Harney has argued that the ‘Fragment’ is prefigured by the history of slavery and colonialism. Against the conception of highly educated, yet precarious, immaterial labor in the West, Harney’s pre-history, drawing on the work of CLR James, points to the self-organizing virtuosity of slave labor in the West Indies:
They worked not only in the fields, but in the ports, with the sugar refining machinery, and in the houses of the slave-owners. They had to communicate in all the European languages of the colonial West Indies. They had to communicate across African languages. They had to manage the supply chain of commodities from Barbados to Liverpool, from Port of Prince to Paris, and often were involved in an even more complex set of international trade relationship that include enslaved humans, rum, guns, and West and East Asian spices, plants, and animals. To say nothing of currencies, precious stones, metals, and gold and silver.
Against the brutality and racism of chattel slavery, these “bundled affective and cognitive capacities were sufficient to produce the Haitian Revolution,” while the lineaments of this prehistory can be found today in the “allied art and expressions of the Global South and its Northern interpenetrations.”
Distributed intellect takes on a different quality here, neither the inevitable result of technical development nor something reserved for a discrete historical stage. Rather, it manifests from a particular material context, which often criss-crosses vast geographies, and the ingenuity of the laborers in antithesis to the precise form of exploitation within that context. Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, in 1972’s “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community,” arrive at a similar conclusion with regards to women’s work and supposed “female incapacity”:
It is this myth which has hidden, firstly, that to the degree that the working class has been able to organize mass struggles in the community, rent strikes, struggles against inflation generally, the basis has always been the unceasing informal organization of women there; secondly, that in struggles in the cycle of direct production women’s support and organization, formal and informal, has been decisive.
Members of the International Wages for Housework Campaign, Dalla Costa and James go beyond mechanical notions of social reproduction to argue that women have been central to extrapolating struggles beyond the factory walls.
Despite their “isolation in the home,” a distinct mode of knowledge production emerges from the attenuated social disposition of women in the traditional household. Further, “outdoor markets, dairies, and laundries, where working-class women gathered daily, were crucial information exchanges and sites of mobilization.” In a move away from the narrow, industrial production-centric focus that many of Marx’s interlocutors propagate, the role of non-traditional labouring entities–peasants, slaves, casualized workers, women–has been central to the dimensions of the ‘general intellect’ through both the pre-history and present of capitalist development.
Kodwo Eshun recognizes a similar conception of distributed intellectuality, unmoored from the factory, within the complexities and contradictions of cultural production. Drawing on Amos Tuotola’s 1958 novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and the breakbeat science of early hip hop production, Eshun depicts the “body [as] a distributed brain which flips from the sound of each intensity to the overlapping relations between intensities.” At another point, Eshun flips this on its head, arguing that the institutional organs that make up jazz have functioned as a “collective machine for forgetting the years ‘68-’75.” A dialectical interplay emerges, contraposing a distributed musicality that results in “the body stuttering on the edge of a future sound, teetering on the brink of new speech” and a machine that “resurrect[s] the premodern opposition in which the mind is bizarrely superior to the body.” This contradictory interplay–between alienation and emancipation–mirrors that which the operaismo researchers recognized decades earlier in the Fiat and Olivetti factories in Turin; but Eshun is also attuned to the manner in which culture, through both indefinable folk lineage and technology, embodies its own logics of ‘mass intellectuality’.
These pre-histories of the ‘general intellect’ adjoin another history of Marx's infamous formulation. This is the notion that the ‘general intellect’ is premised on the explicit development of the social forces of production. Matteo Pasquinelli cites its origins in early nineteenth-century campaigns for progress in literacy and technology, while its prominence in the post-World War II era is as much tied to the division of labor within modern education as it is information technology. Yet the social forces of production today are decidedly weak. Contrary to the period of strength that ensued from the Bolshevik Revolution through the mass movements of 1968, contemporary enthusiasm for ostensibly emancipatory technology cannot be untethered from a nadir in worker power. Endemic unemployment, decline in trade union influence, and the disciplinary weight of the prison-industrial complex are only a handful of the structural pressures that have empowered capital since the 1960s.
In the culture industries, interest in web3 technology comes at a moment of unprecedented consolidation among music, film and streaming firms, a pandemic-induced 18 month break from performance, and a rash of controversies surrounding elite manipulation of the philanthropic-art world. A handful of cities, namely Berlin, London, Los Angeles and New York, are home to the bulk of culture industry infrastructure, while entry into elite circles is increasingly reliant on either generational wealth or a willingness to take on six figure debt. This quasi-imperial core-periphery relation is buffeted by the mediation of virtually all art by technical forms that explicitly degrade their cultural, social and historical content. Even the notion of an idealized past when a self-sufficient artisan could carve out their own niche in the broader economy has receded into distant memory.
Amidst this confusion–which manifests as both degradation of traditional working class power and an incipient left energy–emerges the alternative techno-economies of web3. Particularly among the artists and workers who have been saddled with debt from extended education and training, and who now rely on precarious knowledge- and affect-based work, the notion of an emancipatory potential held within the existing mode of “immaterial” production is surely enticing. The intertwined utopian programmatic of web3 and FALC also flatters those in the so-called creative industries. Who better to form the vanguard of the quick fix, techno-socialist future than coders, graphic designers and musicians after all?
Hubris of the culture and technology sectors aside, these real abstractions pose difficulties for grappling with the political, technical and organizational questions of today. It is quite easy to find humor in blockchain entrepreneurs reproducing and reifying the abstractions and value-systems they, in the same breath, purport to be undermining. Perhaps more detrimental is the political festishism at play in progressive applications of web3 technology. Here, the traditional political fetishism of the nation is displaced by a fetishism of technology wherein “the definite social relation between men themselves assumes...the fantastic form of a relation between things.” In this, web3 represents the inverse of what Srnicek has called folk politics–the ”fetishisation of local spaces, immediate actions, transient gestures, and particularisms of all kinds”–replaced by a fetishization of supranational rules of engagement, bylaws and code.
Thus, the democratic-redistributive protocols of web3, posed as autonomous in their technical form, preclude any discussions of the thorny relationship between individual and collective. Furthermore, the organizational form, rather than the action facilitated by it, becomes the operative focus, evoking what Gramsci described as an “abstraction of the collective organism…[by-way-of] a kind of autonomous divinity.” In a prefiguring of Benjamin’s Mechanical Turk, Gramsci relates this inert political fetishism to a “deterministic and mechanical conception of history,” auguring nearly a century of the communist movement’s paradoxical relationship with technical development.
In the ‘Fragment’, Marx speculates about the “development of fixed capital” in relation to “general social knowledge.” This set of ideas, proposed in draft-form, nods to potential breaks and crises within capital’s laws of motion. But, as we have seen, the development of technology is uneven in both its geographic and temporal dimensions, while the generalization of social knowledge in the capitalist production process is more likely to lead to its subsumption than a reappearance in autonomous form. Of course, this does not mean that technology equals subsumption, or that technical development follows the same iron-clad laws as capitalist development. Instead, an analysis of our present conjuncture, wherein weakened worker power and a tenuously protected social commons is repeatedly exploited by a high tech sector that has taken on considerable economic and governance capacities, shows that the promissory convergence of worker power and technical development is at present an illusion.
Further, Harney, Dalla Costa and James demonstrate that there is another historico-theoretical current that undergirds our understanding of the ‘general intellect’. If framed as a technical, twentieth-century development, the transformation and subsumption of the “general social knowledge” may be read and acted on in the manner expressed by the theorists of post-capitalism. Alternately, the gendered and racialized prehistory of Marx’s ‘Fragment’, wherein social-technical knowledge is built and retained across both history and differential modes of production, stands the extant notion of emancipation on its head. From this replenished perspective, development within the higher education, tech and FIRE sectors in the West were never sites of primary contradiction. Rather, a non-teleological, non-idealist manifestation of the ‘general intellect’ can be recognized in the practices, knowledge, stories, songs and histories of the global working class. Likewise, it follows that the ‘general intellect’, rife with Eshun’s cultural dialectic–posed between body and mind, folk and technology, alienation and emancipation–resonates in the constitutive practices that make us human.
As Stuart Hall argues, Marx “recognise[d] that what was distinctive about human social action, as contrasted with that of animals, was that human action and behaviour was guided and informed by cultural models.” Rather than a model that poses market technology as the inevitable outcome of human labor’s encounter with nature, Marx understood the manner in which technical development is actively produced, and historically contingent, upon each mode of production. Thus, instead of throwing Marx’s speculative formulation into an abyss of floating signifiers, it can best be understood as a culturally-embedded frame–after all, “every social practice has cultural or discursive conditions of existence”–that helps to articulate the means by which human action is transformed into historical agency across time and space. In opposition to synthetic progression, haphazard attempts to constitute the real and justify history, this understanding nods to the radically heuristic potential of history and its process.
Instead of a distributed intellect effectively mystified as instrumental reason and horizontal market forms, the starting point for this essay–culture–lends a more instinctual understanding for how the ‘general intellect’ can inform a collective politics of the future. The question is no longer how to represent, and improve the lot of, the individual artist, but rather how their particular mode of knowledge production fits within, and against, the structures of feeling and modes of production that predominate today. Similarly, questions of the ‘general intellect’ cannot be reduced to a rote historical schema, nor the mechanics of crisis theory, but are rather an articulation of the co-constitutive meaning of social action, historical agency, collective intelligence and the antinomies of technical development.
- A. Azim Idriss, ‘Senyawa Issue Open Call to Labels Worldwide to Help “Co-Release” Their next Album’, NME, 21 September 2020 <https://www.nme.com/en_asia/news/music/senyawa-issue-open-call-to-labels-worldwide-to-help-co-release-their-next-album-2757599>. ↑
- Grayson Haver Currin, ‘One Album Released by 44 Labels. Is This the New Global Jukebox?’, New York Times, 18 February 2021 <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/arts/music/senyawa-alkisah.html>. ↑
- Vinyl production is criticized for its detrimental environmental effects (vinyl is a petroleum product), an uneven and bubble-prone market that privileges reissues and novelty colorways, and an increasingly overburdened production infrastructure prone to delays. The arguments against streaming are well known–meagre piece rates, high tech surveillance and data capture, and an incestuous relationship with the major labels–while a small-scale exodus from Apple Music, Spotify and Youtube has occurred in recent years. ↑
- Helen Pidd, ‘Massive Attack to Help Map Music Industry’s Carbon Footprint’, The Guardian, 2019 November 28 <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/nov/28/massive-attack-to-help-map-music-industrys-carbon-footprint>. ↑
- Adam Corner, ‘Time to Shake Things up’: Music Industry Confronts Climate Crisis as Gigs Resume’, The Guardian, 2021 April 27 <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/apr/27/music-industry-confronts-climate-crisis-gigs-resume>. ↑
- web3 refers specifically to the apps that run on the Ethereum blockchain, but will be used for the remainder of this essay to refer to decentralized technologies in a general sense. ↑
- Jacob Kastrenakes, ‘Beeple Sold an NFT for $69 Million’, The Verge, 2021 March 11 <https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/11/22325054/beeple-christies-nft-sale-cost-everydays-69-million>; Micah Singleton, ‘The Major Label NFT Strategy Will Focus on Long-Term Revenue’, Billboard, 2021 April 7 <https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/tech/9552980/major-label-nft-strategy-long-term-revenue/>; Ernesto Van der Sar, ‘Disney Patents Blockchain-Based Movie Distribution System to Stop Pirates’, Torrentfreak, 2021 May 12, <https://torrentfreak.com/disney-patents-blockchain-based-movie-distribution-system-to-stop-pirates-210512/> Famed auction house Christie’s sold its first non-fungible token in March 2021; Disney patented a blockchain-based media distribution system in May 2021; and the major record labels have reluctantly begun to invest in non-fungible token and other blockchain investment opportunities. ↑
- Taylor Locke, ‘Mark Cuban on Blockchain: ‘It’s like the Early Days of the Internet’ When ‘a Lot of People Thought We Were Crazy’, CNBC, 2021 February 12, <https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/12/mark-cuban-compares-blockchain-crypto-to-early-days-of-the-internet.html>. ↑
- Nouriel Roubini, ‘The Big Blockchain Lie’, Project Syndicate, 2018 October 15, <https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/blockchain-big-lie-by-nouriel-roubini-2018-10>. ↑
- Brady Dale, ‘Crypto Is the Libertarian Cheat Code in the Final Battle Over State Coercion’, Coindesk, 2021 February 4, <https://www.coindesk.com/crypto-is-the-libertarian-cheat-code-in-the-final-battle-over-state-coercion>; Sonya Mann, ‘Peter Thiel Says, ‘Crypto Is Libertarian, A.I. Is Communist.’ What the Heck Does That Mean?’ Inc., 2018 February 1, <https://www.inc.com/sonya-mann/thiel-ai-cryptocurrency.html>. ↑
- Ian Allison, ‘Deloitte Is Delving into Ethereum, Eris and Ripple’, International Business Times, 2015 August 16, <https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/deloitte-delving-into-ethereum-eris-ripple-1515494>; Stephen O’Neal, ‘Safe Space: A Guide to Special Economic Zones for Crypto, From China to Switzerland’ Yahoo!, 2019 June 13, <https://www.yahoo.com/now/safe-space-guide-special-economic-061900387.html>; Jack Smith IV, ‘It’s Happening: Goldman Sachs Just Dropped $50 Million Into a Bitcoin Startup’, Observer, 2015 April 30, <http://observer.com/2015/04/its-happening-goldman-sachs-just-dropped-50-million-into-a-bitcoin-startup/>. ↑
- Robert Herian, ‘Blockchain and the Distributed Reproduction of Capitalist Class Power’, MoneyLab Reader, no. 2 (2018), pp. 43–51. ↑
- Joe Blankenship, ‘Forging Blockchains Spatial Production and Political Economy of Decentralized Cryptocurrency Code/Spaces’ (University of South Florida, 2017), p. 32. ↑
- Blankenship, pp. 118,120. ↑
- Nick Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), pp. 4, 219. ↑
- ‘If I Only Had a Heart: A DisCO Manifesto’, DisCO.coop, n.d. <https://disco.coop/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/DisCO_Manifesto-v.1.pdf>; Black Socialists in America, Twitter post, 2019 July, <https://twitter.com/BlackSocialists/status/1152246741946785793>; DisCO.coop’s manifesto touts “Value Sovereignty, Care Work, Commons and Distributed Cooperative Organizations,” while Black Socialists in America have sought to integrate decentralized autonomous organization technology into their Dual Power application. ↑
- Moloch DAO, <https://www.molochdao.com>; ZebPay, <https://zebpay.com/>; The Black DAO, <https://docs.blk.finance/>. ↑
- Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘Braudel on Capitalism, or Everything Upside Down’, The Journal of Modern History 63, no. 2 (June 1991), pp. 354–61; Wallerstein evokes the spirit of Braudelian historiography, pointing to the French historian’s description of the antimarket as the zone “where the great predators roam and the law of the jungle operates." ↑
- The Blockchain Socialist, n.d. <https://theblockchainsocialist.com/>; The Blockchain Socialist podcast and blog is a resource for existing, left wing applications of blockchain technology. ↑
- Brett Scott, ‘How Can Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Technology Play a Role in Building Social and Solidarity Finance?’ (Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, 2016). ↑
- John Harris, ‘The Punk Rock Internet – How DIY Rebels Are Working to Replace the Tech Giants’, The Guardian, 2018 February 1, <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/feb/01/punk-rock-internet-diy-rebels-working-replace-tech-giants-snoopers-charter>. ↑
- Caitlin Lustig, ‘Intersecting Imaginaries: Visions of Decentralized Autonomous Systems’, Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 3, no. CSCW (2019), pp. 1–27. ↑
- Aaron Bastani, Fully Automated Luxury Communism: A Manifesto. (London ; New York: Verso, 2019), p. 243. ↑
- Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World without Work. (London ; New York: Verso, 2015), p. 10. ↑
- Paul Mason, PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. (London: Allen Lane, 2015), p. 5. ↑
- Jodi Dean, ‘Communism or Neo-Feudalism?’, New Political Science 42, no. 1 (2020), pp. 1–17; Javier Moreno Zacarés, ‘Euphoria of the Rentier?’, New Left Review, no. 129 (2021), pp. 47–67; McKenzie Wark, Capital Is Dead (London ; New York: Verso, 2019). ↑
- Mason, PostCapitalism, p. 7. ↑
- This phrase is apt due to the contradictory relationship between utopia and politics in FALC texts. Srnicek and Williams dispense of “folk” politics in favor of a concrete, full automation technological program; Bastani derides the “starry-eyed poets” in favor of an unflinching view of the “present”; Mason refers to today’s elites as utopian, while claiming that the utopian socialists of the nineteenth-century failed only due to the lack of technical development at their historical conjuncture. Conspicuously lacking from these texts is any serious consideration of class struggle . ↑
- Gavin Mueller, Breaking Things at Work (London; New York: Verso Books, 2021), pp. 36-41; Mueller expertly dissects the relationship between the Karl Kautsky-led Social Democratic Party of Germany and scientific management, as well as later attempts to revive a mechanical relationship between technical development and revolution. ↑
- James Boggs, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1963), pp. 33-35. ↑
- Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Huey Newton, ‘Revolutionary Intercommunalism’, lecture, Boston College, November 18, 1970 <https://libcom.org/library/huey-newton-introduces-revolutionary-intercommunalism-boston-college-november-18-1970>. ↑
- György Lukács, ‘Technology and Social Relations’ New Left Review, no. 39 (1966), p. 29. ↑
- Aaron Bastani, ‘The World Is a Mess. We Need Fully Automated Luxury Communism’, New York Times, 2019 July 11 <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/opinion/fully-automated-luxury-communism.html>. ↑
- Jasper Bernes, ‘Logistics, Counterlogistics and the Communist Prospect’, Endnotes, no. 3 (2013) <https://endnotes.org.uk/issues/3/en/jasper-bernes-logistics-counterlogistics-and-the-communist-prospect>; Alberto Toscano, ‘Lineaments of the Logistical State’ Viewpoint Magazine, 2014 September 28,. <https://viewpointmag.com/2014/09/28/lineaments-of-the-logistical-state/>; the debate between Bernes and Toscano is a fantastic primer on the strategic role of technology in a post-capitalist transition. ↑
- See Neil Smith, Uneven Development: Nature, Capital, and the Production of Space (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984) for more on bourgeois and Marxist conceptions of nature. ↑
- Mueller, Breaking Things at Work, pp. 105-112. ↑
- Walter Benjamin, Illuminations. (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), p. 257; Darrell M. West, ‘Techlash Continues to Batter Technology Sector’, Brookings, 2021 April 2, <https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2021/04/02/techlash-continues-to-batter-technology-sector/>. ↑
- Nancy Fraser, ‘Feminism, Capitalism and the Cunning of History’, New Left Review, no. 56 (2009) <https://newleftreview.org/issues/ii56/articles/nancy-fraser-feminism-capitalism-and-the-cunning-of-history>; Fraser’s analysis is restricted to Second Wave Feminism, but the four-part historical schema is readily adaptable to other intellectual movements. ↑
- Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (London: Penguin Books, 1993), pp. 690-712; the Grundrisse was first published in Moscow in 1939 and Berlin in 1953. The English translation would not arrive until 1973. ↑
- Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. (London: Routledge, 1964), p. 40. ↑
- Matteo Pasquinelli, ‘On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect’, Radical Philosophy 06, no. 2 (2019), pp. 43–56; Paolo Virno, ‘General Intellect’, Historical Materialism 15, no. 3 (2007), p. 6. ↑
- Carlo Vercellone, ‘From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect: Elements for a Marxist Reading of the Thesis of Cognitive Capitalism’, Historical Materialism 15, no. 1 (2007), pp. 31-32. ↑
- Pasquinelli, ‘On the Origins of Marx’s General Intellect’, p. 54. ↑
- Jean-Marie Vincent, ‘Les Automatismes sociaux et le ‘general intellect’, Futur Antérieur 16 (1993), p. 121, quoted in Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 222. ↑
- Virno, ‘General Intellect’, p. 4. ↑
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works 38: Letters 1844-51. (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1982), p. 100; Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (London: Macmillan, 1978), p. 69; Marx never actually used the phrase “real abstraction,” but his most concise application of the concept is in an 1846 letter to Pavel Annenkov. Sohn-Rethel articulates its basis in exchange as follows: “The real abstraction arises in exchange from the reciprocal relationship between two commodity-owners and it applies only to this interrelationship. Nothing that a single commodity-owner might undertake on his own could give rise to this abstraction, no more than a hammock could play its part when attached to one pole only. It is purely owing to the interlocking of the exchanging agents in the reciprocity of their claims - their 'do ut des' -- (I give that you may give) - that the act of exchange assumes its abstract nature and that this abstraction endows exchange with its socially synthetic function.” ↑
- Satoshi Nakamoto, The White Paper. (London: Ignota, 2019). ↑
- Vitalik Buterin, ‘Ethereum Whitepaper’, 2013 < https://ethereum.org/en/whitepaper/>. ↑
- Lustig, “Intersecting Imaginaries,” p. 15. ↑
- Richard B. Keys, ‘The Preset, the Generic, and an Ambivalent Politics of Non-Production’, Plates, no. 2 (2020) <https://platesjournal.com/the-preset-the-generic>. ↑
- Shannon Byrne, ‘How to Build a Creative Ecosystem as a Musician’, Splice Blog, 2021 March 1 <https://splice.com/blog/creative-ecosystem-musician/>. ↑
- Roneil Rumburg, Sid Sethi, and Hareesh Nagaraj, ‘Audius: A Decentralized Protocol for Audio Content’, 2020< https://whitepaper.audius.co/AudiusWhitepaper.pdf>. ↑
- Catalog, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’, 2021 <https://beta.catalog.works/faq>. ↑
- See Michael Terren, ‘Plug-in Capitalism’ in this issue. ↑
- Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 4. ↑
- Juan Atkins, Retro Techno/Detroit Definitive/Emotions Electric, Nettwork, 1991. Liner Notes. ↑
- Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. V. 1. (London ; New York: Penguin Classics, 1981), p. 645; Marx describes formal subsumption as the process by which “handicraftsmen who previously worked on their own account, or as apprentices of a master, should become wage labourers under the direct control of a capitalist.” ↑
- Marx, Capital V.1, p. 944. ↑
- Fixed capital is a term drawn from classical political economy and generally refers to the means of production that are not consumed during a single cycle of production. Marx also refers to constant capital, contrasted with variable capital, to refer to fixed assets. ↑
- Marx, Grundrisse, p. 692. ↑
- Marx, Grundrisse, p. 693. ↑
- Marx, Grundrisse, p. 694. ↑
- Marx, Grundrisse, p. 705. ↑
- Vercellone, ‘From Formal Subsumption to General Intellect’, p. 15. ↑
- Carlo Vercellone, ‘Cognitive Capitalism and Models for the Regulation of Wages’, in Towards a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, the Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2009), p. 120. ↑
- Paul Mason, ‘The End of Capitalism Has Begun’, The Guardian, 2015 July 15 <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun>. ↑
- Mason, PostCapitalism. ↑
- Michael Heinrich, ‘The ‘Fragment on Machines’: A Marxian Misconception in the Grundrisse and its Overcoming in Capital’, in In Marx’s Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse,” eds. Bellofiore, Riccardo, Guido Starosta, and Peter D. Thomas (BRILL, 2013), p. 211. ↑
- ‘The History of Subsumption’, Endnotes, no. 2 (2010) <https://endnotes.org.uk/issues/2/en/endnotes-the-history-of-subsumption>. ↑
- Karl Marx, Capital. V.3, (London ; New York, N.Y: Penguin Classics, 1993), p. 1020. ↑
- Stefano Harney, ‘Abolition and the General Intellect’ Generation Online, n.d. <https://www.generation-online.org/c/fc_rent13.htm>. ↑
- Harney. ↑
- Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, eds. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. (Bristol: Falling Wall Press Ltd, 1975), p. 13. ↑
- Mike Davis, Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory. (London ; New York: Verso, 2018), p. 87. ↑
- Marx and Engels, Collected Works 38: Letters 1844-51, pp. 101-102; typically, Marxists have done the old man a disservice by overlooking the co-constitutive role of different modes of production, including slavery, as capitalism emerged from feudalism: “Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Consequently, prior to the slave trade, the colonies sent very few products to the Old World, and did not noticeably change the face of the world. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance. Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would he transformed into a patriarchal country. Only wipe North America off the map and you will get anarchy, the complete decay of trade and modern civilisation. But to do away with slavery would be to wipe America off the map.” ↑
- Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. (London: Quartet Books, 1998), pp. 21-22. ↑
- Eshun, p. 1. ↑
- Eshun, p. 22. ↑
- Margaux MacColl, ‘A Crypto Social Club That Costs $8,000 to Join Just Got a $100 Million Valuation from Andreessen Horowitz and Other Top VCs. Here’s Why’, Business Insider, 2021 September 9 <https://www.businessinsider.com/crypto-social-club-got-millions-from-top-vcs-andreessen-horowitz-2021-9>; the entry fee for Friends with Benefits ($FWB), a Discord server and DAO with funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Spark Capital, and Pace Capital, topped $14,0000 earlier this year. Founded by Cooper Turley (of Audius) and Trevor McFedries (creator of ‘virtual influencer’ Lil Miquela), $FWB now has a valuation of over $100 million. ↑
- Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. (London ; New York: Verso, 1991), p. 54; Balibar and Wallerstein argue that nationalism is a fetishism of the nation, describing it as a “force for uniformity and rationalization.” ↑
- Marx, Capital V.1, p. 165. ↑
- Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks. (London: ElecBook, 1999), pp. 413-415; see also Michael Denning, ‘Everyone a Legislator’, New Left Review 129 (2021), pp. 40-42. ↑
- Marx, Grundrisse, p. 705. ↑
- Stuart Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), p. 329; see also Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works. 25: Frederick Engels: Anti-Dühring. Dialectics of Nature (New York: International Publishers, 1987), p. 461; Engels, in Dialectics of Nature, wrote, “Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” ↑
- Hall, Selected Writings on Marxism, p. 332. ↑
- Jean-Paul Sartre, Search for a Method (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1963), p. 133; Marx, Capital V.1, p. 367. ↑