P2P Theory: The contradictions in the communism of capital

Excerpted from Rachel O’Dwyer:

“There are irreconcilable elements inherent to the communism of capital. These are sometimes presented as a contradiction between the productive nature of the capitalist, as a generator of new forms of wealth, and the parasitic character of the rentier. By exploring the communism of capital through the lens of spectrum regulation, however, it would appear that this condition is more nuanced. Hardt and Negri frame the centrality of the commons to capital as a metastable condition that will eventually exceed its boundaries and give way to the productive multitude, arguing that ‘the freedom required for biopolitical production also includes the power to construct social relationships and create autonomous social institutions’ (2009: 310). Here, the hegemony of the digital commons constitutes the provision of social tools and critical faculties required to mobilise the labour force. This perspective is echoed by advocates of free culture such as Benkler (2006), who understands the economic importance of cultural production as an emancipatory force and Rheingold (2002), who views pervasive media as a vital tool for political mobilisation. However, without a common infrastructure including an open physical layer, an open logical layer and an open content layer, such social and intellectual activity is still open to extraction. It is therefore worth looking beyond the ways in which the centrality of the digital commons cultivates social and cooperative capacities to how the hegemony of the commons inflects the property relations that underpin the substrate of the network. It is here that we encounter various structural antagonisms at operation in the expropriation of the digital commons. This is where the circulation of immaterial products – those ‘freely reproducible’ outputs of the digital commons – show their material and energetic expenditure. This is reflected not only in the productive power of minds and bodies, but in the storage and processing power, electricity, cooling resources and bandwidth required to support an immaterial economy of goods and services.

We are witnessing attempts to integrate an ‘immaterial’ surplus not easily subjected to proprietary logic into a progressive growth dynamic established on the forms of enclosure that conditioned accumulation in industrial capitalism. This produces antagonisms where the necessary openness of the digital commons intersects with attempts to establish economic barriers over the infrastructure that facilitates its production. In other words, where openness and fluidity are a necessary condition of the communism of capital, the ‘old’ property rights represent a structural impasse.”

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