Blockchain as Ultracapitalist Enclosure

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Great 2-part analysis of the blockchain by Robert Herian:




Part One

Robert Herian:

"Should we still take seriously the possibility that blockchain might still evolve into something other than capitalism’s latest technological fetish? Perhaps not. Blockchain is, after all, arguably a product of the capitalist imagination, albeit a marginal and anarchic species of capitalism outside the mainstream. And yet, within the origin myth of blockchain captured by Satoshi is the clear sense that the technology does not exist exclusively for the advantage of capitalism.

Accordingly, what is at stake here is political and ideological. Blockchain is the opening of a new contestable horizon in the cyber-social field, which is largely informed by the proliferation of enclosed blockchains (private permissioned ledgers), interpreted here as the latest (re)enactment of an imposition of capitalist property definitions on common cyber-space.4 By definition enclosed blockchains reject the concept of a permission-less, open and public blockchain, and thus erode the potential for radical transparency through blockchain-as-commons. The answer is to resist to this trend by using the capabilities and promise of the technology itself to counter enclosure.


Blockchain as we presently find it, and based on where it appears to be heading given all the signals at the time of writing, is a mere a tackle in the game of capitalism; it is capital playing with capital and all other social concerns are essentially excluded. Blockchain, in that sense, is not radical but just another technological fetish, a play-thing in the hands of capital. Arguably, Satoshi tried to invent rugby (although that is not entirely clear and certainly open to debate – with or without the sports metaphor). But what we are now seeing is a resurgent premier league of global financial institutions intent on ensuring that blockchain remains a part of their game, whether as a substitute bit player or a key striker.

Having, I feel, well and truly exhausted the football metaphor, hopefully the point is clear. Disruption, so-called and preached by many of the major global banks, to the extent that IBM are now claiming that more than half of those banks will be using the technology in the next three years, is anything but disruption because it leaves unchanged the conditions (norms and expectations) in which it occurs, namely those in which global financial capital has exclusive dominion over the social.


Libertarian perspectives certainly seem a good fit for the blockchain envisaged by Satoshi. Therefore, as a site for the implementation of (crypto)-currency exchange, the avowedly transparent public blockchain created by Bitcoin is an example of ultra-capitalism, not anti-capitalism, and indeed that general tenor is plain to see in blockchain development trends. Blockchain in that regard is the stuff of high-libertarian and anarcho-capitalist fantasies, and a long way from being the source of or basis for any entirely new post-capitalist games along egalitarian lines."