Traditional anti-capitalism focused on the ownership of the means of production, yet the modern capitalist doesn’t even want to own the means of production, they want to own the very right to produce. To control the ideas required to produce and simply charge rents for these ideas.
This short text by Dmytri Kleiner was originally published in his mailing list back in 2011. It’s still as relevant now as it was back then.
Dmytri Kleiner: In the meantime, I’d like to reflect a little on Evgeny Morozov’s keynote at #28c3 this morning.
The topic was Surveillance Enabling Technologies. Long story short, Telecoms, Tech Firms, and Governments are developing and deploying systems to control and monitor their citizens online communications, and even selling this technology to governments that are widely considered to be authoritarian. It’s this last bit that I want to expand upon a little.
As Evgeny mentioned, as did others asking questions from the audience, this can not be understood as a few unscrupulous firms making sinister deals with foreign powers to profit from the suppression of dissidents and activists. For this most part these firms are not designing and building surveillance technologies at the behest of the likes of Iran and Syria, but as result driven by law enforcement in western states. And what’s more, they are required by laws passed by western states to build-in the very backdoors and interception features that surveillance systems depend on. It’s hard to blame the companies for building in features that the law requires them to build in.
Expressing outrage that enemies of the US and it’s allies are using the technology being developed by the west also seems misplaced, and rests on regressive exceptionalist view that privileges western states as being somehow noble enough to be trusted with the ability to survey their citizens, but not sinister foreign powers.
Though certain firms are clearly beyond the pale in their eagerness to promote their freedom-denying technology. This overall view that these firms or some foreign powers are to blame was largely rejected by Morozov and by the commentators from the #28c3 audience. The blame for increased interception of communications and technological surveillance is best place at the feet of western governments, whose laws, law enforcement agencies and military-industrial corporate lobbies are the real movers and shakers pushing for more and more control and monitoring of civilian populations.
Promotors of such mass surveillance systems claim to be defending civilization itself, from the usual array of boogeymen, including terrorists, and child pornographers, but make no mistake, their real target is freedom itself.
These systems are part of the process of destroying peer-to-peer communications, to eliminate the mesh topologies from modern communication platforms and restructure them as star topologies, and the major reason for this is not to hunt deviants or insurgents, but rather to control the consumer, and protect Capitalist privilege and profits.
In The Telekommunist Manifesto, as well as other texts, I discuss that fact that Capitalism and Peer-to-peer systems are not compatible, that Capitalism depends on the ability of platform owners to control user data and interaction, in order to monetize it. Such control is a prerequisite of receiving financial capital from investors, who understand very well that there are no profits, or more accurately rents, to be had from free networks, and thus insist on control to ensure a return their investments.
The Internet, as it exists now, is an existential threat to capitalist regimes, not only does it allow individual users and groups to collectively share information that reveals the cosy relationship between governments and rent seeking corporate lobbies, more importantly it allows new forms of commerce that blur the distinction of producer and consumer, and allow users to produce and share in new ways, such fluidity of interactions puts downward pressure of profits as people share amongst themselves and “cut out the middleman,” as commerce becomes disintermediated.
This threat is of particular concern with regard to intellectual property, which can be digitized and sent across computer networks. This is bad news for western economies who more and more aim to make their profits by owning ideas and designs, while letting others actually make things. Traditional anti-capitalism focused on the ownership of the means of production, yet the modern capitalist doesn’t even want to own the means of production, they want to own the very right to produce. To control the ideas required to produce and simply charge rents for these ideas.
Capitalism thus depends on the elimination of peer-to-peer systems by replacing, freedom-enabling mesh topologies, with freedom-denying star topologies. Recent communication history illustrates this quite clearly, with Venture Capital funding Web 2.0s capture of all communications, replacing earlier and far more scalable p2p applications, and the military-industrial fueled enclosure of cyberspace is just another part of this.
Evgeny Morozov suggests that we act and get the media and our political representatives to take notice and lead an outcry against this rapidly increasing lock-down of our online platforms, yet this requires that our media and our politicians will rally against capitalism, since it’s not just a few rogue firms or states driving this development, but rather the requirements of our class structure.
At the bottom of it, Capitalism, as a system based on hierarchy, privilege and exploitation, can not create a free network, anymore than it can create a free society. If there is a way out this, it’s unlikely to be governments and popular news organisations that help us. Our only chance is to develop new ways of producing and sharing, and find ways to build communication platforms that do not depend on capitalist finance.
If we do not find ways to replace capitalist finance it is not only the internet as we know it that we will lose, but the chance the remake society in its image.