Information and the capitalists (first draft)

1. Let’s start by defining what we’re interested in. Information in these notes is any product of human labour which can be infinitely replicated. A book, a movie, a song, a program can all be transmitted electronically an infinite number of times. Intellectual property is ownership of information. Information labour is the production of information and an information producer is someone who engages in such labour.

2. Historically radicals have not much cared about the information economy because its producers are often either petit-bourgeoisie (that is to say self-employed) or relatively privileged members of the working class.

 3. As information production and sale becomes a larger section of the economy though, this is likely to change. For capitalism to continue as is, information workers must be thoroughly proletarianized.

4. This is difficult though because information labour is extremely difficult to quantify and survey. The drive to dominate the information worker and the drive to efficiency are at daggers. This is to say nothing of quality, or even less, of real social value.

 5. In historical materialist terms we might say that the relations of production (capitalism in this case) have begun to come into tension with the growth of the productive forces (the total forces of production in society). The information worker needs freedom, capitalism needs domination, and the rift will only expand as the sector expands.

 6. These contradictions are handled in various ways. For example, many firms are openly rentiers, simply buying up the works of others in a process not unlike a more obviously parasitic version of the putting out system of early capitalism. Others grapple with trying to measure the processes of creativity, often strangling the goose that laid the golden egg.

 7. Just as information workers have not yet been thoroughly proletarianized, their products have not yet been thoroughly enclosed for private ownership. Violations of intellectual property laws are so common as to render them almost a dead letter in certain circumstances.

 8. You’ve seen the softer attempts to enclose information if you’ve watched a movie anytime in the last decade. We’re faced with a deluge of ads telling us that movie piracy is the moral equivalent of car theft.

9. But this is just the benign end of a far larger process of enclosure and commodification including criminalisation, surveillance and prosecution. The history of past enclosures, such as the English land enclosures, shows us that this will not be a pleasant process.

 10. If the forces striving for the enclosure and commodification of the information commons are substantial, so are the forces arrayed against this. Strong protest movements against bills like SOPA are conjoined with illegalist currents that continually expropriate intellectual property.

 11. Much of the rhetoric of these movements is liberal in orientation. Remember though that very radical currents are often initially expressed within the dominant language of the time. Currently these issues disproportionately affect the relatively well to do (both proletarian and otherwise). This won’t always be the case.

 12. The information sector of capitalism is thus in tension both at the end of production and at the end of consumption.

13. The movement against the enclosure of the information commons and for the rights of information workers is becoming more visible. The role of radicals of all sorts in this process is the support and de-liberalisation of the movement.

14. Because the information economy is still largely populated with relatively well to do workers (and petit bourgeois) its rhetoric and practice is still largely liberal, and is rarely connected with a broader critique of the present state of things (capitalism). This will change as the struggle increases, but we can play a role in its de-liberalisation as well, bringing forward ideas and critiques, and linking the various issues and the movements as a whole to the struggle against capitalism.

 15. One potentially useful suggestion is that we should attempt to link the struggles of increasingly proletarianised information workers, with the struggle of information consumers.

16. If we are bold, we might even A) Whether a world in which most labour time is used in information production is possible or probable and B) Whether such a world can even be capitalist.

17. Perhaps then we can finally give some material content to the lovely slogan “All power to the imagination.”

(It’s probably worth acknowledging that these ideas were developed in part through a mutilated-beyond-recognition reading of Hardt and Negri.)


About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
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