The flawed circuits of value in the lulz economy

Neither free software, nor crowd funding will save us from capitalism. We can’t overthrow capitalism by undertaking work merely for the Lulz, we need to create new value circuits that allow is to build new means of survival for the planet, and only then can we do away with capitalism.

Excerpted from Dmytri Kleiner:

“Free Software as well as the goods financed by Kickstarter and similar sites seem like production, after all stuff is produced. One can use free software, just like one can consume a movie, book, album or novelty gadget funded by Kickstarter.

Yet, the way the creation of these goods is financed can not reproduce its inputs.

In the creation of free software and in the funding of Kickstarter projects, money to sustain the inputs comes from donation, either actual donation of money in the case of crowd funding, or in-kind in the form of free labour in the case of some free software. These donations and in-kind contributions are done voluntarily. Yet such voluntarist production is different from capitalist production.

Thus, like capitalists, voluntary producers, come to market twice. Fist time as buyers, the second time for the lulz. However, unlike capitalists their circuit is not completed, because the lulz do not enable them to be buyers again, do not allow for them to acquire the inputs they need to repeat such production.

Yes, in the case of Free Software, major corporations do provide funding, lots of it. This is when the Capitalist is coming to market as a buyer, not a seller. Thus it is capitalist consumption, they don’t need to make a profit from Free Software directly, they use it in their production process and make money when they return to the market with the resulting product, which is distributed for more money, not lulz.

The source of this money is not a new mode of production, but capitalism. It’s simply part of the investment capital must make in its means of production, it is consumption not production.

And yes, recipients of Kickstarter financing can use such financing to make money, but such income does not flow back to those that donated the funds in the first place. The donors, for the most part, need to go back to work to get another paycheck before donating again. Thus the money comes from their Capitalist employers and is spent out of their “disposable income,” in other words, once again it is consumption, not production.

Both free software and crowd funding are simply novel forms of distribution within the capitalist mode of production, and therefor not a new mode of production that could potentially disrupt capitalism.

In order to transform these practices into genuinely revolutionary forms, we must collectively own the means of production so created, so not only must the software be free, but we must collectively own the wealth that results form using the software in production. We must collectively own the products produced by crowd funding, so that we can use the wealth created to reproduce the cycle, again, and again.

So long as our free labour earns only lulz in return, Capitalism has the last laugh.”

2 Comments The flawed circuits of value in the lulz economy

  1. AvatarPatrick S

    As usual an interesting and provocative post by Dmitri.

    I guess several times on this blog we’ve discussed what it would take for FOSS to be come a full-fledged mode of production, like peer production license and other appropriate institutions to share/protect earnings for commons participants.

    On the other hand I think FOSS can certainly “disrupt capitalism” as is, even if not as a full mode, by undermining the scarcity needed as part of a successful commodification process. Of course one way this is employed is by different strains of capital in the info-tech ecosystem trying to disrupt each other’s business model, as Joel Kropotkin argued rather perceptively in his Strategy Letter V ( (Although he talks about a strategy to ‘commoditizing your complements’, when in the case of FOSS it might be better described as ‘common-ize your complements’).

    I was thinking along the lines of how FOSS arguably also supports small producers and service providers by being a commons means-of-production allowing them to sell services more competitively with larger capital-intensive companies with a business model based on proprietary IP. I.E. akin to a move back to a more idealised form of 19th C market capitalism :- where firms have to compete much more directly on their ability to implement a solution more quickly and cheaply than others starting from a level playing field, rather than using market power based on size, or aiming to use/develop proprietary IP to establish monopolistic positions and thus rent-seek etc.

    But then under capitalism, perhaps the interesting thing here is the built-in-limits to this process :- as if the underlying commons software of FOSS is _too_ good (in particular: too user-friendly and simple to set up for the non-expert), it would seem likely to increasingly reduce the market demand for these consultant’s services – clients would just do the job themselves. Yet the FOSS software has to be capable enough that it helps potential clients believe the service provider can implement a good solution with the platform.

  2. AvatarNo one, no one at all

    recipients of Kickstarter financing can use such financing to make money, but such income does not flow back to those that donated the funds in the first place.

    It very well could, either directly or indirectly. Imagine this: A crowdfunds project X which B works on, B uses a portion of their income to crowdfund project Y which C works on, C uses a portion of their income to crowdfund project Z which A works on, A uses a portion of their income to crowdfund project X which B works on. The circle is now closed. There is no reason the money can’t come full circle; if everything was crowdfunded it inevitably would.

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