I am a big fan of Dale Carrico’s blog Amor Mundi, who has recently posted an extensive analysis of a essay by Zizek, deploring the new liberal communist ideology exemplified at Davos, and which claims that the market is compatible with widespread participatory practices.
The Zizek essay is here, and Carrico’s analysis here. In my opinion, Zizek is a sharp, provocative, but also often a confused thinker who puts many different things in the same basket, but he is nevertheless always worth listening to. He is part of those set of thinkers which in my opinion have taken on a little too much the mantle of the spectacle. Anticipating the manner in which things will be taken up by distorting media, they play the distorters themselves. I’m thinking of the likes of Jean Baudrillard, Virilio, and others. They manufacture concepts that are to be played with, not taken at face value.
In any case, I posted the following comment, a response to Dale’s description and comment of Zizek’s ideas:
Dale: thanks for this extensive analysis. I wonder if a little class analysis would not be helpful.
In my own analysis at the P2P Foundation, I distinguish between the cognitive capitalists, those that depend on monopoly rents from the protection of the information core of their products, like Bill Gates. They are certainly not ‘liberal communists’, and want to appropriate the digital commons; MacKenzie Warks speaks of the vectoralist class, those who own the vectors of information, say the mass media: Murdoch, Maxwell. Also a reactionary crowd who thrives on the control and manipulation of information. But the post-media internet undermines these powers, as open source undermines private appropriation of information, and the distribution of media undermines mass media based control strategies. But a new force is arising, which I call the netarchical capitalists. They enable but exploit the new participatory platforms: the ebays, the amazons, the googles. They thrive on the wisdom of crowds, and live from it. Their position is dual: they have to support the new participatory practices, but are also striving for world domination as private for profit companies. I think that the kind of liberal communist ideas that Zizek deplores fits with this latter group. It can be explained by their dual and contradictory interests. They are for participation, and ‘not doing evil’, but can only see the capitalist market as the context for this.
In my own work, I think that peer production, peer governance and new peer property regimes can be the basis of a new progressive politics: that p2p social processes can form the core of a new commons-based political economy: it can co-exist with a non-capitalist market subject to peer arbitrage (capitalist markets, which destroy the biosphere, simply cannot survive more than a few decades).
By the way, there is a real liberal communist tradition, exemplified by the french author Dominique Pelbois, an original utopian thinkers which wants to create a system where the factories are co-owned both by producers and consumers, and can exist without capital. In this vision, the market is internalized in the enterprises, through consumer-ownership, that’s the liberal part, since it embeds liberal efficiency within what is essentially a communist system, hence liberal communism.