25 Feb CAPITALISM IS DYING BUT CAPITAL IS STRONGER THAN EVER – HUH?
Every exploitative socio-economic system is predicated on what the minority running it can make the rest do for them (“who does what to whom” as Lenin famously put it). Money and the state are epiphenomena of this system. To believe that you can fix money, or that you can fix ‘the state’, is to demonstrate a devastating innocence regarding the larger exploitative system with which they are integrated. Technology, with all its potential for liberating the workers from lives given over to toil, will always be wielded by the ruling class first.
Lately we hear a lot about cryptocurrencies and blockchains and smart contracts as means to free the citizen of governments and rigged legal systems. This isn’t realistic. Government and its rigged legal system will get to the crypto blockchain first. It would be naive to hope smart contracts can, for example, subvert the labour contracts that underpin society’s layered patterns of exploitation. Locking down labour continues to be an ongoing struggle – as it has been for centuries – and the hard won freedoms and rights vouchsafed us today exist only by the sacrifice of generations past.
Workers in large capitalist oligopolistic firms (like Ford, Exxon-Mobil, or General Electric) received approximately 80% of the company’s income. Big Tech’s workers do not even collect 1% of their employer’s revenues.
Capital is getting stronger but capitalism is dying.
A new system is taking over in which a new ruling class owns and runs both the state money that lubricates it (instead of profits) and the new non-market realms in which the very, very few make the many work on their behalf.
Capitalist profits (in the sense of the entrepreneurial profits as understood by Adam Smith and Marx) are disappearing, while new forms of rent are accumulating in the accounts of the new techno-lords in control of both the state and the digital fiefs, in which unwaged or precarious work is performed by the masses – who begin to resemble techno-peasants. The massive investment produces a new form of capital: command capital
- Standard capital is produced means of production. These means can be industrial, technological, intellectual property, etc. Standard capital allows big capitalists (i.e. Saudi royal family, industrialists, real estate magnates) to amass surplus exchange value.
- Command capital is produced means of organising, centralizing and regulating the sources of standard capital. Command capital allows techno-lords (i.e. Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, et al) to amass surplus command value.
Technologies like the internet and accelerating financialisation of the post-2008 world economy have converged on command capital, recognizing the potential to amplify its power as a means to de facto monopoly through privately owned network/platform ecosystems.
Command capitalists can extract huge new value without owning any of the means of production e.g. merely by owning the privatised informational networks that control nexus points of production supply and demand, like the Panama Canal or Amazon. Corporations like Amazon or Google have a unique potential to command not only the producers and suppliers but also the buyers themselves.
The calculus of command capital is different to the old models. Labour became delocalised thanks to the neoliberal deregulation of the 1990s but in the internet/tech platform ecosystems Labour becomes automated out of their calculus entirely (e.g. posting stuff on Facebook is a form of labour de-commodification). What’s more, increasingly effective algorithms direct consumption patterns – dominating supply and demand in an unprecedented way – elevating or marginalising standard capital sources in ways that subordinate them to the command capitalists, directly manufacturing even more command capital on behalf of ecosystem owners.
COMMAND VALUE AND TECHNO-AUTHORITARIANISM
Any digital commodity has command value to the extent that its buyer can use it to convert expressive everyday human activity into the capacity to train an algorithm to do two things:
- (A) make us buy stuff
- (B) make us produce command capital for free and for their benefit
In the language of Marx’s political economy, the magnitude of command value contained in any digital commodity is determined by the sum of: the surplus value of the commodities it makes us buy (see A above) + the labour time socially/technically necessary for us to produce a unit of command capital (under B above), to be appropriated instantly by the techno-lords and the military industrial congressional monarchy.
What Bezos, Musk, Gates, Zuckerberg, et al have been accomplishing through their massive investments – and what governments in the US/UK govt and military (and China, Russia too) are rapidly taking over by exploiting control of money supply and power over market regulation – cannot be understood in terms of either feudal oligarchy or Adam Smith capitalism.
- Feudalism was based on the direct extraction of experiential/use value from peasants.
- Capitalism was based on the extraction of surplus labour from waged labour.
- State techno-feudalism is a new system in which those who control the technologies at base layer are extracting a new power to make the rest of us do things on their behalf.
The power of state techno-authoritarianism is expressed through “investment” in a new form of capital (command capital) that allows them to amass a new type of value (command value) which, in turn, grants them the opportunity to extract surplus value from (i) vassal-capitalists, (ii) the precariat, and (iii) everyone using their platforms to produce on their behalf, unconsciously, even more command capital.
By continuing simply to call this new environment “capitalism” misses the opportunity to appreciate radically different – and new – processes determining our lives in the here and now. If there isn’t widespread recognition, there won’t be any attempt to regulate these forces until it’s too late to stop the construction of a command capital monopoly.
Innocuous words perhaps. But the reality of command capital monopoly wedded to its inevitable techno-authoritarian regulatory infrastructure will be a brave new carceral world for the likes of you and I.