Darwinian Marxism

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Johan Soderbergh:

"The paper on Darwinian Marxism proposes a thought experiment in which the output of a self-printing 3D printer is compared with an injection moulding machine, a standard industrial tool for the mass production of consumer goods. In the long run, and provided that the question of exhaustible resources is ignored, self-replication will numerically overtake mass production. This will happen by the same process as exponential growth outdoes linear growth. A quick reality check reveals that, of the estimated 80,000 desktop 3D printers sold globally in 2013 (Stratasys, 2013), the overwhelming majority were of the Rep-strap sort. Indeed, even acknowledging the exceptional growth of the Rep-rap community over the years, the growth curve did not take off until the introduction of some centralisation in the design and distribution of key components (Higgs, 2011-11-03). These caveats aside, what must be granted to Bowyer is that there now exists a theoretical answer to the question that has shipwrecked innumerable socialist and anarchist dreams: How can an alternative economy be coordinated in which goods are delivered as efficiently as in the current centralised and industrialised market economy? Furthermore, if the raw numerical advantage claimed for decentralisation fails to convince the reader, another line of argument points to the superior dynamics of an open innovation process. This idea originates in open source-guru Eric Raymond’s iconic catch-phrase: ‘add more eyeballs and all bugs are shallow’. In other words, innovation will accelerate faster the more people get involved in the process of discovery. This ensures a maximum diversity of perspectives, thereby increasing the chances of finding novel solutions to old problems. Starting from this observation, Raymond inferred that an open and decentralised development process will win out over a closed and/or centralised development process (Raymond, 1998). The hobbyist-engineers in the Rep-rap project have incorporated this idea into the narrative on evolutionary biology. Diversity is a prerequisite for natural selection, and natural selection ensures that the best technical option will prevail over faulty designs. When the design is walled up behind intellectual property claims, diversity is stifled and the engineering project runs into an evolutionary dead-end (Prusa, 2011-09-19).


The aggregation of spontaneous choices does not, naturally as it were, point to a self-reproducing machine. Someone must first rig the game, and keep it rigged, for the right kind of evolution to occur, starting with the choice of licensing regime. In this respect, the observation on mechanical determinism by Antonio Gramsci seems relevant. He warned that it leads to ‘passive and idiotic self-sufficiency’ in a movement, especially in rank-and-file attitudes to the party leadership. But he also admitted that it brought fortitude in hard times (Gramsci, 1999, p.646ff). It is this last remark by Gramsci, I believe, that explains the strong support amongst devotees for Bowyer’s response, and the copying and favourable references to his text on numerous other forums. The underlying message is that evolutionary game-theory makes both actions by hobbyist-engineers and counter-actions by vested interests equally irrelevant. Given that the playing field is heavily tilted in favour of the latter, as exemplified by law and money in the quote above, the appeal to an extra-social, higher authority becomes very attractive (Söderberg, 2013a). It follows that grand-scale social change can be had without direct confrontation with the powers-that-be, which is to say, without a messy and dangerous revolution. In fact, hobbyist-engineers have stumbled on a recipe for social change that has waxed and waned in leftist thinking over the last 200 years, namely the idea that the System can be changed by withdrawing from it. A first wave of withdrawal was attempted by the followers of Fourier, Cabet and Saint-Simon in the aftermath of the miscarried French Revolution (Corcoran, 1986). In his Eighteenth brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx succinctly described those experiments as attempts to seek salvation “behind society’s back” (1937, p.9), a proposition that Marx considered an absurdity. In his view, it was society, or, to be more precise, social relations, which acted behind the backs of individuals. Darwinian Marxism is a programme for rigging the laws of evolution in order to smuggle social change behind the backs of society and individuals alike. It seeks to transcend capitalism through the ‘cunning of instrumental reason’." (http://peerproduction.net/issues/issue-4-value-and-currency/peer-reviewed-articles/reproducing-wealth-without-money/)