#28c3 Susa Balateo, Robin Upton, Class Struggle Among Cyborgs.

Peer networks, such as the internet, and all the material and immaterial inputs that keep them running, serve as a common stock that is used independently by many people. Free software, whose production and distribution frequently depends on peer networks,is a common stock available to all. Free software is produced by diverse and distributed producers who contribute to it because they gain greater value in using the software in their own production, than the value of their individual contributions to the software. Popular attacks on the royalties and fees (rents) captured by the recording and movie industries by users of file sharing technologies show us the difficulties faced by those whose incomes depend on controlling reproduction. Mass transportation and international migration have created distributed communities who maintain ongoing interpersonal and often informal economic relationships across national borders.

All of these are examples of new productive relationships that transcend current property-based relations and point to a potential way forward. Developments in telecommunications, notably the emergence of peer networks such as the internet, along with international transportation and migration, create broad revolutionary possibilities as dispersed communities become able to interact instantly on a global scale. Our lives and relationships no longer need to be confined to territorially bounded nation states. Though coercive elements in the political and corporate hierarchy impose ever more draconian controls in an attempt to prevent our resistance to, and evasion of, such confinement, we can place our revolutionary hopes in the possibility that the scale of change is simply so large that they can never fully succeed.

In The Telekommunist Manifesto, quoted above, our revolutionary hopes are placed in the idea that the emergence of  communities unbound by territory can be a radically transformative development.

This hope is also expressed by Susa Baleato in his 28c3 talk “Towards A Single Secure European Cyberspace?” In his talk, Baleato gives a timeline of NATO and European Parliamentary initiatives towards the militarization of cyberspace against cybercrime. Opening up what Baleato calls the 5th theatre of war, after land, air, sea and space.

Drawing on Donna Haraway’s concept of the cyborg, Susa Baleato develops a concept of deterritorialized contest among geographically distributed communities, that are closely socially clustered on the global network. Referring to these clusters as Cyborgs, Baleato looks at data from the european fight against software patents. Susa looks at data visualization, inferring that the outcome is determined by the size and density of the contesting communities.

Surprisingly, Susa Baleato describes this as a process of social deliberation, and emphatically states that he is against thinking of this process as a conflict, or even using the language of conflict and struggle. This is especially inexplicable, as not only does Baleato introduce several dialectic tensions with regard to the relations between nation states and networked communities, but the early part of his talk expressly chronicles online militarization, and preparation for general cyberwar against civilian net users.

It is not clear what the point is of imagining we are not in a conflict, but part of deliberation, when the other side of the deliberation is openly antagonistic, and ready to push through the processes and instruments to further lock-down internet users by any means necessary.

On 28c3 day 2, Robin Upton gave a talk on the development of Plutocracy. Upton’s talk began with a fairly uncontroversial anthropology of wealth. Egalitarian nomadic communities developed class and hierarchy when they became settled and developed agriculture, a professional class of soldiers leads to power, conflict and, of course taxes and money. So far, so good. Then, Bang! Central Banks appeared and society was forevermore shackled by the pernicious entangling schemes of evil, evil bankers. Hello Plutocracy! The End. What’s the solution? Don’t Use Money! Huzzah!

Sadly, this simplistic and ultimately unhelpful analysis creeps into Baleato’s talk as well. Using data showing the relationships around wealth management, Susa shows the financial industry “cyborg.” A powerful social cluster on the network, dominated by a few major nodes, having familiar names like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, etc. Hello Plutocracy! What’s the solution? Become Cyborg! Baleato’s thesis is that this financial industry “Cyborg” is being opposed (in a “deliberation” not a “conflict,” of course), by the “democracy” Cyborg, illustrated by phenomena surrounding the occupy movement and hacker movement.

Without even Upton’s somewhat quaint, but at least prescriptive, directive to not use money, Baleato’s call is to  join with the democracy cyborg and deliberate as hard as you can and go cyborg on their ass. Just dont call it conflict. I guess.

Yet both Upton’s and Balateo views are ultimately unconvincing. Upton’s direct identification of Banker’s control over the money supply as being a source of plutocracy seems a bit conspiratorial. Simply eliminating the banking system, or even the powers of the central bank would not put an end to plutocracy. The roots of accumulation and class stratification in a capitalist economy derive from the profit motive, which directs investment towards preventing competition. The Money supply is not nearly as important as Capital formation. Even if one is to take up Upton’s call to stop using money, where would investment come from? How would factories and housing and train tracks and hospitals be built?

Money, in the end, is only able to buy that which is available on the market for sale.

To bring goods and services for sale requires the application of  real labour and real material wealth, and that is not something central bankers can create byway of lending. As always, real power in the economy comes from control of productive assets. Simply “not using money” will not give us control over the productive assets we need to live and produce, such as our residences and places of work and, our schools and our hospitals.

Yet, it is exactly the ability to control the things other people need to live that creates inequality, the root of plutocracy is the institution of property, and concentration of wealth is an inevitable consequence of wage labour and private productive property, regardless of how or by whom the money supply is managed. History has show that workers can be enslaved by whips as well as notes, and productive assets can be commanded by guns as well as deeds, thus an overfocus on money can easily cause one to mistake symptom and cause. Especially when, in the end, the notes and assets are ultimately underwritten with guns.

As Upton’s analysis seems to suggest that we can exit plutocracy and enter some kind of neutral, egalitarian society by not using the plutocrat’s money, Balateo’s pacifist concept of Cyborgian contestation on a networked deliberative field assumes that there is some sort of neutral process of deliberation, where if, somehow, the Democracy Cyborg can out-mass the Plutocracy Cyborg, some kind of deliberation engine will produce a victory for democracy and a defeat for plutocracy. As if the net created some kind of defacto condercet voting platform and all world parliaments would instantly enact it’s computed collective decisions. Yet, that is obviously not the case.

There should be no doubt that the kind of distributed communities that Balateo calls Cyborgs do represent an emerging transnational dimension of class struggle that has not exactly existed before, and this new form has tremendous potential to make social gains against plutocracy. Yet, it’s tremendously unhelpful to characterize this as some sort of collective deliberation instead of a real conflict.

In the end the war between these two “cyborgs” is a real war, as is being waged as one. Clearly on by the plutocratic side, which has no qualms of using violence, legal repression and technical suppression to promote its side, as Balateo’s own slides illustrate.

Equally as dangerous, as Becky Hogge pointed out during the questions, is the idea that being an active cell of the democracy cyborg may draw energy and focus into the online deliberation and away from critical social issues such as local rights of assembly and material concerns such as wages, housing, etc and yet these issues are clearly strongly joined.

It is not the size or mesh density of these “cyborgs” that will ultimately determine the outcome of these “deliberations,” but the capacity of the resources they can mobilize towards achieving their goals, the level of this capacity for most people is very much determined by people’s existing social conditions; Wages, housing, education, levels of  precarity, civic rights, etc.

Ultimately, the struggle for democracy online is connected with the struggle for social justice in general. The struggle against copyrights and patents is the same struggle as the one against rents and profits and the exploitation of labour and the exploitation of the environment too.

So long as we have an economic system that allows an owner/lender class to exploit a worker/borrower class, we will have communications systems and social institutions that are controlled of the owner/lender classes and structured in their interests, and against the interestes of the worker/borrower class, for the simply reason that since the owner/lender classe will aways be able to retain earnings and accumulate while the worker/borrower class can only earn enough to service their bills and debt.

If we are to create a society where we produce and share as peers, where direct unmediated communications and commerce allows peer producers in informal, translocal communities to throw off the chains of Monopolist and Rentier, then we must resurrect the language of resistance, of class struggle, and acknowledge the fact that no privileged class will give up it’s advantage gladly, that bottom up revolution will always face top-down repression.

We are not engaged in a polite discussions about how society should be best managed. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Now, as much as ever before. Don’t be afraid to call a fight a fight.


Leave a Reply