Saturday, August 25, 2007

why the revolution hasn't started

The concept of the general intellect is a utopian one in Marx (pages 690-711 of the Penguin edition of the Grundrisse): product of and produced by internal contradictions which he believed must ultimately lead to the collapse of capital. To argue for the increasing virtualisation of the general intellect is to argue that this utopian element is becoming more utopian, the more it is propelled by the increasing contradictions of capital's long, slow diminution of living labour as the universal producer and measure of value. If today it is hard to forecast a revolution, or to believe that a unified historical action can bring the downfall of capital, this is not exclusively because of capital's ability to cope with innovation. In the influential work of Lawrence Lessig (2004) and Yochai Benkler (2006), liberal proponents of 'régime change' in intellectual property law and economics respectively, the failure of capital to respond to the potential of user-generated innovation and the open nature of content creation can be healed through the adoption of new modes of regulation, and new business models. Similarly in the analysis of convergence between internet and telecommunications, it is becoming increasingly clear that the 'lock-in' business model of the telcos is incompatible with the open standards of the internet, and that the use of proprietary technical standards to retain customer loyalty is actively damaging the potential of the telcos to maximize revenues on their investment in bandwidth. More radical theorists of network cultures like Richard Barbrook (1998), Tiziana Terranova (2004) and Alex Galloway (2004) project more radical outcomes, though few of them look like revolution. The observation that capital failed to collapse according to classical Marxism must then be considered alongside analyses that suggest that it is constrained to change in ways which strategic sectors like telecommunications, pharmacology and media industries deeply dislike and distrust. Most importantly, the prediction of revolution, insofar as it is a prediction, is an attempt to control the nature of the emergent future. Commentators as politically opposed as Matthew Fuller (2003) and Eric von Hippel (2005) share a belief that the emergence of the radically new is dependent on maintaining the virtuality of the present, that is, its capacity to become in future other than it is now, a capacity which is deeply damaged by contemporary property laws, crucial instrument of the extraction of surplus value today; and equally by the processes of planning in which the regulation of the future by the present reduces its ability to be different As Ernst Bloch and Theodor Adorno once agreed, utopia can have no content (Bloch 1988). The processes through which the future emerges as different from the present, and thence any hope we might have for a better future, can only be stymied by prediction

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