McKenzie Wark on the Rentier Vectoral Class

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Excerpted from McKenzie Wark:

"As I have argued elsewhere, we could imagine the commodity economy passing through three stages already: the enclosure of land, the mass production of the thing, and the commodification of information. Each stage is a distinct private property form, producing a successive polarization of classes, of owners and non-owners.

03. The transformative possibilities change with each stage of development of the property form. Land enclosure produced reactive and utopian peasant resistance. The mass production of the thing as commodity produced both the radical and reformist labor movements. The new forms of exploitation layered on top of these ongoing ones is producing new kinds of contestation and accommodation.

04. The new stage of commodification is less about extracting surplus value from labor as extracting surplus information from play. It extracts value by offering information for free, but extracting more information in return – surplus information.

05. But this new form of the commodity economy does not go unchallenged. The counter-currents it produces may not however be adequately captured by the category of ‘politics’. Maybe the struggle is, as Bogdanov would say, between commodification and the possibility of better forms of organization. The problem of organization is at once one of resources, techniques, human and inhuman forces, affect and information.

06. Is it not strange that so much of what was once forward-looking leftist discourse is now longing for the past? It wants its October a second time. Or: It wants a Christ-Lenin-messiah. It wants leaps and events. It wants an autonomous sphere of political action at a time when any such autonomous domain seems clearly not to exist. The problem of modes of organization must be posed again, and outside the domain of political theory.

07. Of course political theory is preferable to the apolitical theory that caved in to the language of ‘there is no alternative’. But our alternatives must be based on an analysis of current forms of commodity relation, not on ahistorical, philosophical understandings of eternal capitalism. We must restart what Castoriadis called the imaginary institution, by which organization finds the phase changes implied in its own form.

08. By their rhetoric you shall know them. The talk these days is of disruption, creation, destruction. The old language of the avant gardes and revolutionaries is now the province of Silicon valley publicists. So we need a careful analysis of that language – and we need a new avant garde. Its clear that this is a commodity economy busy cannibalizing its own means of subsistence. It has run out of ideas. The task of the neo-liberal state is to destroy the social so that it may be commodified, even though this will result in less efficient and effective forms of organization. So: let there be iPads in the charter schools! The result will be less effective, and more expensive, which is of course the goal.

09. The ruling class of our time is a rentier class. It is not actually innovative and disruptive. It is not accelerating anything. Technical innovation pushed commodification onto a new, more abstract plane, that of information. But the plan is mostly to rope off and sustain quasi-monopoly rent seeking behavior in those domains. The ruling class of our time – what I call the vectoral class – wants information to be a mode of organizational control, not really of ‘innovation.’

10. The challenge to this baroque order is entirely within its relation to its material conditions of existence, at the base of the stack. Negation always comes from below. There is no negation from above. There is no other domain of absolute alterity which will rend judgment against Gomorrah. There is no communism as avenging angel of pure universal equality. There is no absurdist leap into the unknown. What calls the vectoral class to account is the now systematic quality of its own disorganization. First but not last on the list: ever rising levels of atmospheric carbon. What will spark a disruption is a leap in food prices, not philosophy or art.

11. The commodity economy is not what Althusser called an ‘expressive totality’, infecting any and everything with its poison touch. It isn’t everything. It isn’t even all capitalism, but rather a heterogeneous mix of commodity and non-commodity organizational modes. The commodity forms themselves also differentiate into at least three historical forms, making land, capital and then information into forms of private property. Since capitalism is not a totality its negation is not total either. One needs a language of organization that is both more abstract and more specific, which articulates together heterogeneous forms and goals. In this respect at least the legacy of Laclau, Mouffe and Stuart Hall is still with us." (