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Notes of “The Digital Economy Conference” held in Berlin on 11th & 12th December 2015

11 December 2015

First Presentation

 

NB: An anonymized version of this presentation in PDF format is available here:

http://www.knowledgecommons.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Dropbox-First-Presentation.pdf

Karl Marx. Chapter 33 of Capital, Volume 1. Story of Mr. Peel and Swan River in Australia.

Capital is not a thing but a set of social relations rooted in the instrumentality of things.

Capitalists cannot be capitalists without workers.

Instrumentality of things [1], “means of exploitation [2] and subjection of labor [3].”

Systemic colonization as a means of transforming an open sphere into capital.

Interesting analogy for the Internet.

Public funds created the Internet before it was commercialized and eventually dominated by centralized platforms.

Early Internet was like Swan River in Chapter 33 of Capital, Volume 1.

Instrumentality is different from value.

Subjection is the instrumentalization of people.

Technology: Machinery (producing surplus value) v Media.

Definition of Machinery in Chapter 15 of Capital (increasing part of working day in which the worker creates surplus value for the capitalist).

Machinery is a means to increase surplus value extraction. Decrease the portion of the day the worker needs to reproduce themselves to increase the portion of the work they give to the capitalist.

Internet is mass marketing.

Surplus value comes from the workers in the mines, fields, and factories who produce the goods advertised in mass-marketing platforms.

Distribution of Surplus Profits extracted

Surplus value has already been extracted. Now Internet enters to extract surplus profits from other spheres of production.

Media monopolies emerge after the creation of surplus value by other sectors.

Media profits are captured at the expense of other workers.

Definition of surplus profits in profit Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 10. Commonly referred as “rent.”

Rent is extracted from surplus profits from other spheres of production.

Battle among ownership class over division of surplus profits.

Business of the media is surveillance and control in order to sell the audience as a commodity by grade and measure (quality and volume of this commodity). Income, credit rating, age, gender, employment, location.

Given this, existing Internet needs to be abolished and replaced with end-to-end platforms.

We should not expect capital to build free end-to-end platforms.

Decentralized media will not in itself free the exploited workers who create surplus value.

Respondent

Telecom monopoly existed before the Internet. Communication is a public utility and it is the role of the state to provide it.

At some point those public utilities became monopolies and started to behave like monopolies. Overcharged and quashed innovation.

The alternative is common ownership. Certain things can’t be decentralized. There is some need for common infrastructure.

Some internet functionality is machinery and produces value.

“Free is a lie.” Free services such as Dropbox and Google are not free. The data you give them is worth more than the services they provide you.

Value of combined data.

Presenter

I think audience is being subjected and instrumentalized — not exploited.

Respondent

Is the presentation based on labor theory of value?

Are there other sources of value? Extractive industries.

Or can algorithms create value? Can biospheric extraction contribute to value?

Respondent

In a book, who creates value? Only the people who printed it? What about the author?

Presenter

All value comes from labor (human effort).

The trick is to identify socially necessary labor.

Capitalism is a human economy. Labor is doing work that someone else doesn’t do. It eventually come backs to power and control over other people.

Respondent

Fetishism: idea that Internet is creating value. Creating surplus out of algorithms or thin air.

Competition between capital creates averages rates of profit.

I am focused on monopoly aspect of rent.

Is this a new stage of capital?

Or a new form of circulation of capital?

A new mechanism of distribution?

Rate of exploitation in tech sector can be misunderstood when looking at overvaluation of Uber, for example.

Stratification of labor in tech center.

What are the possible forms of resistance in these sectors?

Respondent

This discussion is clarifying.

Capital goods sector. Internet data centers are capital goods. We improve that by adding our searches? There is a user labor. Not the main component but it is there.

Respondent

Distinction between surplus value production and surplus value.

But machinery does not produce value. Labor produces value. Machinery accelerates the speed by which human labor can be exploited.

Machinery incorporates labor.

But unlike other forms of realization of profits.

Google is engaged in theft of data. They sell information about our behavior.

Privatization of communication over last thirty or forty years. Not simply capital appropriating communications technology but an outcome of the rise of neoliberalism and the financialization of capital.

Not dealing with national capital formations but transnational formations. Internet critical to that.

Respondent

Valorization is in the financialization process.

Realization is not just in advertising alone but through the banks backing these companies.

A lot of infrastructure is actual services, another wage relation.

We are missing what is happening. Not just media companies but a combination of energy, logistics, finance, insurance, automation. We have to redefine what these companies are about.

Respondent

Means of production are defined by how they are used.

Internet as a means of production differs by practical use.

Can you create use values that are not commodities? It’s not entering circulation as an exchange value.

Respondent

Notion that Google and Facebook will continue being central intermediaries assumes advertising is the main driver.

Problematic assumptions.

You can capture that data differently, including free and decentralized platforms.

Users can sell their own data.

New data trading markets.

We have to go beyond advertising. Why does this data have value?

There are other values to that data.

Media-centric analysis has limits.

Respondent

Automation trend is not unique. It’s a historical pattern.

Following Thomas Piketty, mass violence is only way to resolve settlement of balance of class forces. Current social democracy emerges from French Revolution of 1789 and the European revolutions of 1830s and 1840s.

 

Second Presentation

Prognosis is about current situation.

Marx would say that the media presents itself in two forms: it appears differently to the commodity user.

Yes, they have a commodity form. But their economic value comes from commodifying the audience.

There is some value in creating the value form. But it’s not the basis of the valuation of Google or Uber, for instance.

Their position as a monopoly is what creates their high valuations.

The results of the elections in Argentina and Venezuela compels us to reckon where we are today.

Uprising in Tunisia was the last of its kind in this period.

How can we use our insights about capital to help the working class?

We are seeing the last of the Comintern-type organizations.

Social movements are in crisis and beset by internal contradictions.

The bourgeoisie have penetrated social movements.

We see rampant NGOization of social movements.

In Brazil, they frame popular movements as opposition to capital.

Contemporary social movements started as opposition to neoliberalism.

We need to work on what can be an alternative to capitalism.

Our job is to support activities, not to convince everyone of a dark future.

What have we missed historically?

Is there something new in technology that gives capital another reprieve?

Neocolonialism gave capital a reprieve

You see in Brazil and South Africa a process of deindustrialization. In Brazil, you have a decline of industrial production from 50% to under 10% of GDP.

There are 350 million industrial workers in China.

But this is still a small proportion of all the people on the planet.

What is the nature of the working class today?

Deindustrialization of Detroit was an early warning sign.

The same thing is happening in Sao Paulo, in South Africa.

Is financialization a new form of the production of value?

I am in first presenter’s camp: financialization is just redistribution [of profit generated elsewhere through exploitation of workers].

Google is part of Department I.

Creating profits at the expense of Department II.

Very complicated forms of the expression of where surplus profits are created.

In South America, we see the isolation of Venezuela.

National development policies are facing difficult conditions.

The Worker’s Party in Brazil (PT) is in a difficult place.

Where are the cracks in capital?

Is it true that the bourgeoisie has factions?

My hypothesis is that the capitalist class is even more international than Marx and Lenin could have imagined.

We are in a super-imperialist stage of capitalism today.

For example, look at the economic interdependence of the Five Eyes countries and Israel.

In New York, the tallest residential buildings, occupancy will only be 10%.

This is speculation, not productive capital.

The strategy of building so-called Smart Cities could offer a reprieve for capital.

The social crisis in Brazil is profound. The need for working-class housing is not being fulfilled.

South Africa is even worse.

Even for the “middle classes,” the percentage of university grads who can find jobs is drastically diminishing.

This appears to be an unresolvable problem.

Consider transportation. The average person commutes two hours a day.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labor Party in the UK and Bernie Sanders campaign for president in the United States are positive developments.

When Bernie entered the race, about 43% had a positive view of both socialism and capitalism. But in more recent pills, in some sectors [younger voters], the positive view of socialism is now 49% and support for capitalism has declined to 35%.

The current environmental crises we see globally are impacting the working class more than middle class.

Where does this leave us going forward?

Where are we at? Is it the case that opposition goes in waves? Are we at beginning of an upsurge?

I suspect we are at the beginning of the end of a long period of drought.

Will popular movements arise?

Our enemy is deeply connected and global — and at the same time we have weak connections between opposition movements internationally.

We have to build international links of resistance, rising popular movements.

Only the working class and popular movements make revolution — not intellectuals.

We need to put our ideas in service of those engaged in struggle.

I think we are in a period similar to that of the First International. We need to return to Marx’s definition of a communist in The Communist Manifesto in supporting working class struggle. [“The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.”]

We need to take advantage of every break in capital, contrary to ultra leftism of Patrick Bond – who argues that the BRICS have been captured by national bourgeoisies. I am not in that camp.

The global bank of the south is a positive development.

We must intellectually support all activities of working-class resistance.

We need to challenge the ideological work of convincing the working class it is “middle class.”

Most Communist parties today are weak. Trade unions are weak. How are we going to create new social organizations that build collective consciousness and change class consciousness?

Greater privatization of culture is key part of capital’s offensive today.

Cultural work vital.

Technology is in both base and superstructure/ideology.

We have to attack the ideological hegemony of this sector of society.

Respondent

Key tool of opposition is the withdrawal of labor.

Violence is exercised against those who withdraw their labor. We need to build new networks of solidarity with those who take that risk.

Respondent

Technology driving down wages and creating problems of realization.

Capital usually resolves such crisis my undertaking new investment, generating new demand. But ability to generate new demand is diminished.

In India, in the last ten years, we created a huge amount of infrastructure but that has done very little economically.

Government spending on labor created the value.

We are in for a prolonged crisis.

Respondent

While we have to consider the ways global capitalism has evolved, and be sober about the balance of class forces in the current period, the term “super-imperialism” is problematic.

We should consider the limits of analysis of super-imperialism of Hilferding and its political conclusions, particularly those of Kautsky.

Imperialism is not a thing of the past. We still need to built anti-imperialist movements today.

US partly compensates for aspects of relative economic decline, in historical terms, with greater military spending and projection of its power. Economic conflict still produces military conflicts.

Respondent

Mao’s analysis of power emerging out of the power of a gun still applies.

Why do we have such a strong US imperialism?

The US spends as much on military as rest of the world combined.

The US is still military hegemonic. It has more power than any previous empire ever did.

Respondent

If you take Russia and China as capitalists states, there is still contradiction that we have to address.

Contradiction within capitalism.

Weak imperial powers.

We need a new analysis, not Hilferding.

Military conflicts in Syria express contradictions within capitalism.

Respondent

Three questions.

The Internet a product of the Cold War. Technology was driven by policy, unlike earlier waves of technological change in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Economic development came later. Suggests we need to look differently at this technological wave than Marx did at their ones he writes about in the 19th century.

Second question is about secular stagnation. Industries underperforming.

Third. Changes in the nature of labor. We are facing the excess of work. Producing information without a market. This is a challenge for capitalism. How to appropriate these free forms of work and subordinate it to the main objective, which is profit?

Respondent

BRICS will create a viable opposition because the US doesn’t have a coherent strategy for integrating them.

US actions will produce greater cooperation among BRICS.

Russia initially sought to integrate Ukraine into Europe and then that led to unforeseen consequences.

Russia is leading the way on technological sovereignty because of the provocation of Ukraine.

China is in conflict with other Asian countries.

Respondent

They should have brought Russia into NATO.

Respondent

Over the last 15 years, we have grappled with the question of financialization.

Detroit is an example of how destructive this process has been.

Analyses of Henry C. K. Liu and Michael Hudson instructive. My opinion closer to Liu and David McNally.

Liu writes about notional or independent value and how profits can be decoupled from labor.

Valueless wealth is created by fiat currency economies.

In Detroit, we had 50 car factories, employing 1.5 million people. Now the city has only four car factories

Capitalism has hit a barrier that is impossible to get past.

Marx said that when a society adopts new forms of production, old social formations come to an end.

The era of the microchips is a new period, distinct from the industrial phase of capitalism.

Computers and machines built up based on the microchip are inherently different — qualitatively different as technology regime — from the law system of electro-mechanical productive forces. The empirical proof is both technology regimes resulted in qualitatively different social organizations of labor.

This issue needs to be unfolded and fleshed out in detail.

What determines purpose and behaviour of technology?

Crisis is internal to capitalism. But the new technology regime is a crisis external to the system.

People are taking over parts of city because they need a place to live.

Detroit is an anomaly.

We elected Marxists to public office in the 1970s.

Michael Hudson’s discussion of super-imperialism is instructive.

Respondent

We need to look at financialization in terms of class struggle.

The working class has become an indebted and precarious class.

We have excessive free labor via the knowledge economy and the welfare state has been dismantled.

This value has been recouped by technocapital.

Distinctions between the middle and working class have dissolved.

We have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the public sector to creditors.

We don’t know how to fight back.

We are in cycle defined by the progressive social left trying to create an alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

NAFTA and other free-trade regimes are part of an entire framework that is enslaving all of us.

Popular moments are protesting against the privatization of natural resources.

We saw some successes because of the Mercosur regional block, which wasn’t completely non-capitalist or non-neoliberal.

We are having a civil war.

Consider the disenfranchised youth in the center of Paris and the migrant crisis in Europe.

We have to hold on to the possibility of turning the state into something progressive, such as the communal state (Hugo Chavez), where popular movements are building the public policies and services — not a surveillance, neoliberal state.

Where is the space for multi-polar political action today?

Respondent

How we are positioning financialization? Is it not real profit?

Presenter

I would distinguish between the electronic revolution and the Internet revolution

The Internet is tied to the military industrial complex.

Mark Weisbrot has shown how capitalism isn’t creating jobs.

How are robotization and nanotechnology impacting employment?

Despite the growth of the service economy, new technology is not creating jobs.

There are contradictions in Russia and China.

The US still views Russia as its primary opponent.

The renunciation of the US promise not to encircle Russia (most recently intervening in Ukraine) creates tension.

We need a new word to describe the period — not just neoliberalism. Maybe super-imperialism is not the right word, though.

In Brazil, the bourgeoisie is much more international today than it was 50 years ago.

You have the phenomenon of wealthy Chinese buying US citizenship.

We see changes in the constitution of the global elite and their allegiance to global capital.

The children of people who we once viewed as the “comprador bourgeoisie” are going to Harvard and Stanford.

The global managerial class is very happy to live in Sao Paulo, Berlin, all over the globe.

 

Third Presentation

NB: An anonymized version of this presentation in PDF format is available here:

http://www.knowledgecommons.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Third-Presentation.pdf

Capital yesterday:

  • Fordist paradigm
  • economies of scale
  • vertical integration
  • large workforce and unions (like those in Detroit)

Capital today:

  • intellectual property
  • control over knowledge
  • branding and control over the market

Cost of the iPhone: Of $900 dollars, $340 goes to Apple (despite not having produced the phone)

Growth of intangible assets in the last 40 years.

Capital today is more diverse.

Top 20 companies ranked by revenue ( oil and and gas and mining still dominant) versus top 20 ranked by market capitalization (tech and pharma are dominant, not production, except for oil, which is based on rent)

We need to look at profits as a percentage of stockholder equity.

TECHNOLOGY AND REPRODUCTION OF CULTURAL ARTEFACTS

Moves from labor-intensive work of copying books by hand to

  • machine automation
  • books as dvds
  • machinery (computer) physical copies don’t exist anymore

Perfect copies of cultural artefacts are possible now.

Copies as information are enclosed by copyright.

How do copies use labor?

Free labor is part of the story. But not all.

How can we unite cultural producers and cultural consumers?

Corporations create scarcity through copyright, because others can copy endlessly.

What labor is it?

Part of it is consumption/consumer labor/user labor.

What happens to the people producing the first copy? Mostly they get nothing

In books today, 10% of authors get 90% of the income, but everybody dreams of creating a blockbuster.

Giving a newspaper away for free or below its production costs means that the audience is the commodity: how do you get eyeballs and sell to advertisers?

We need to consider the role of labor in user-generated content.

Google search engine is strengthened by our searches.

We need to unbundle different components of labor.

We see digital colonialism in the dominance of global north over the global south.

We also see revenue moving from existing media companies to Google.

Mass media is going to change. Local media will soon be extinct or piggyback on Google.

We are in an era of the expansion of capital, as well as a crisis of capital.

We still see a large public sector, rails, energy, in many countries (other than the US, which is more privatized).

All of this is still absorbed in the capitalist system. But this is a process of enclosure rather than accumulation.

Things that are not commodities being brought into the capitalist system represents an expansion of capitalism into new spheres that it did not exist in before.

The digital economy has grown under neoliberal expansion.

Is neoliberalism the same as financialization? The neolib paradigm seems to imply that.

We have to see knowledge as a terrain of struggle.

We should be harnessing knowledge workers for

  • new descaled tech
  • peer-to-peer platforms
  • directly linking up with consumers

All this requires political power. Linking the local and global cannot be done without politics.

Respondent

We should be looking at open-source pharma, hardware, software, agriculture (including seeds)

Respondent

Do cultural practitioners see themselves as workers? Can we organise groups or artists and writers?

Can we then build alliance of artists and consumers?

Respondent

How to organize under such conditions as the global outsourcing by companies such as Apple? How do we characterize their capitalization? Can it be fought on the factory floor?

Another challenge is the self-identification of artists, who say, “I’m not exploited because I love my work.”

Respondent

How useful is the distinction between tangible and intangible assets? How does this distinction shape our mode of resistance ?

Respondent

The US tries to defuse social protest by making everyone believe they are capitalists themselves.

We see growing number of people who are self-employed and self-exploited.

We have to examine the growth of Uber and the so-called sharing economy, as well as paying to be published or publishing for free.

Respondent

The overall state of the service industry has to be understood in order to understand Uber and companies like it.

Respondent

Perhaps we’re at risk looking at digital economy only from the perspective of how value is created.

We lost a commonly understood and enticing language of struggle. The old words and phrases don’t mean anything or have been hijacked.

Presenter

Key is working out a political way of struggle. How can we reach and align knowledge workers? This is a key task.

There are different streams of exploitation: Intellectual property and selling of data. Both involve the redistribution of surplus.

How and whom do you organize to cut out Apple? Can we have collectives of producers?

In addition to organizing knowledge workers, we need to organize consumers.

We need co-ops to produce goods.

How to bring this together is our task — and it requires political will. And we can only do this by imagining what a better future will be like.

Respondent

The debate around precarious work, recognition of the social condition.

Given the limits to sectorial organizing we have to go beyond specific legal fights (such as suing Uber).

Our goal should be generalizing, fighting capitalism at the core, linking unions, students, precarious workers in common struggle.

Precarious workers and students have been overlooked by unions, and excluded.

Historically — In Europe — arts, culture, education were state-funded, via taxation. It’s the only way it works.

Maybe Google is the new church.

Respondent

Information has a commodifying power (for example, as in patents).

The history of computing is a history of labor and exploitation.

Innovation is a way of concealing work.

Big data purports to be more efficient but is a way of getting rid of labor altogether.

Respondent

What about the totally disenfranchised? How do we even get to those people, including what some would call the lumpenproletariat?

The left has no idea of what to do with the permanent unemployed.

Respondent

In Brazil, the MST is successful because it is involved in production, not just resistance.

Look at 3D printers. In 10 to 15 years, there will be more intangibles. Media is only a subset, which is why patents are a tax of Department I on Department II.

We have to look at the question of consumerism and identity politics. We to deal with it all without staying stuck on it.

We are above the threshold of daily existence. Globally there is enough for everyone’s necessities to be covered. In this circumstance, what is scarcity, labor, happiness?

Respondent

More of working class is made up of precarious workers (job for life is not how it works anymore).

We need to look at labor in a different way, i think we’re dealing with a new phenomenon.

Presenter

Commodification is not new, it just plays a bigger role today.

We have to reckon with the fetishization of knowledge.

Knowledge is inherent in technology.

Today knowledge can be sold as property — and it has become a big part of the redistribution of the surplus.

Is the precariat a revolutionary force?

It could be, but there needs to be a connection with politics.

 

Fourth Presentation

NB: An anonymized version of this presentation in PDF format is available here:

http://www.knowledgecommons.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Fourth-Presentation.pdf

Natural commons already exist. The digital commons has to be built. It requires labor.

There is abundance in digital commons. The so-called tragedy of commons does not apply.

The problem of commons is not with governance but with labor.

What is the political economy of the digital commons?

It is not a gift economy. It’s an economy of one-sided contributions.

The concept of mutuality does not really exist in the digital commons. This makes it hard to sustain the digital commons.

When people refer to digital commons, they usually refer to Wikipedia and open source software.

Knowledge commons have been built unevenly.

Problem is wage labor, not free labor.

People may not be paid for writing for Wikipedia or creating open source software but are being paid from other sources (academic institutions, technology institutions).

Who can afford to do this labor? Who can’t do this (because they have other work obligations)?

The digital commons is not an autonomous political economy but a sea surrounded by capitalism and shaped by it.

The digital commons seems to be stagnating.

Wage labor produces the possibility to contribute to the digital commons, but there is also a crisis of wage labor.

Auto industry is a sign of future and how automation will replace wage labor in other industries.

Marxist tendency of the rate of profit to fall still appears to be operating.

Global basic income scheme needed but currently not a realistic option.

Jeremy Corbyn’s chief economist introduced the idea of Quantitative Easing for the people, rather than the banks. Rebuilding public infrastructure, health education, public transport.

Some of that public money should go to the Internet as infrastructure. How would we use $1 billion for this purpose if we had that money?

Need to build strategy.

There is an activist turn in academia, especially in information studies. Reaching out to wider publics. Goal to influence and change things. Anti-capitalist.

Can we organize these activist academic projects? Platform cooperatives.

We can see educational commons cropping up in the UK.

How can we fund and strengthen the commons?

I was inspired by the book Inventing the Future, which has a chapter on the history of neoliberal thought. They argue that Marxists say that neoliberalism is inevitable within logic of capitalism. But it’s not.

The neoliberals had to build a network to influence politicians and overcome ridicule by the Keynesianism.

This is what we should do. We need to develop strategies of what we can do.

One of these strategies I am excited about is how to get state or UN funding.

Respondent

Is it true that open source developers are getting paid? Isn’t it being done in spare time in initial period or financed by people having enough money from other sources?

The shift in the arbitrage of labor is changing the global division of labor.

There are infrastructure projects already, but they are funded by corporations. What would we do if the money came from government rather than corporations?

Respondent

We should replicate China and have government funding of the Internet.

But people resist that idea.

Non-technical and political economy issues need to drive technology.

Respondent

Who else could be part of this conversation? Maybe the Critical Geographers. They had a conference in Palestine last summer.

In Turkey, people skeptical of government involvement not for libertarian reasons.

Looking for points of commonality across different kinds of activism.

Networks of dispossession.

Respondent

A lot of open source code written under corporate sponsorship.

Well paid laborer in the Global North has surplus time.

Average annual income of a blogger that has more than 1,000 views is over $100,000.

Editors of Wikipedia are relatively well-off and based in the Global North.

70 percent of Nigerians believe Facebook and Internet are the same thing.

There are divisions. Google and IBM support open source.

Software as a service versus software as an artefact changes economics of it.

Our models need to be changed.

Respondent

Lack of time and energy is coming up as a key theme in new media studies.

How do we relate to the exhaustion of energy?

Italian hacker collective developing idea of new digital defense against digital vampires.

Communist isolationism. Leads to burnout.

Investment linked to control. Bureaucratization.

How can you socialize financing?

How can we make peer-to-peer a real alternative?

How do we construct a new type of human being?

Respondent

Are there other kinds of resistance beyond looking at the commons?

Tangible versus intangible.

Natural commons is not just there. There is work that needs to happen.

Presenter

This is complicated.

The state is tied to capital. That is correct. I am aware of that.

I wish there would be another way forward but I can’t see it.

Contributors reaching a wall, so we have to overcome that by finding a way to allow other people who want to contribute to contribute, as much as I don’t like this solution.

State is now in hands of capital entirely.

China model does not get rid of enclosure and intellectual property.

Presenter

We should rephrase the argument.

China may bypass US in certain sectors but not even China can compete with massive impact of US in global digital economy.

That opens a tactical and strategic debate at level of BRICS and their governments.

Russia and Brazil have new laws on protecting data of citizens.

Is a progressive alliance with BRICS to de-monopolize the Internet possible?

Global Internet governance would have to change but even in Latin America this is happening now.

Instead we see a monopolistic and capitalist approach.

Respondent

Open hardware going backward.

Global solidarity is important, but what we have now as a global commons is flawed.

Wikipedia is full of hidden biases. Wikipedia could be more harmful than not to the Global South.

Question of global solidarity is very hard.

Too many peer-to-peer and activist projects based on privilege and surplus time of whites in Global North.

Respondent

Making observations as an anthropologist and from my own personal experience.

Is this a guerrilla strategy? A war of position?

Coming from other countries, such as China, what is shared via digital commons is often problematic.

Needs to be linked to more radical social movements,

The information when it travels from the North to South has different implications.

In China, last year, 70 new restaurants opened that offer food for free to whoever comes to eat. This year it’s 400. The condition of eating is not wasting anything and listening to a presentation. The restaurants are run by volunteer labor. Rent is free. This is mushrooming.

After Chinese Revolution, there was not money to pay teachers, so families had to take turns each night to host and fed teachers. Decommodified labor. Ways to find decommodified labor rather than state and corporate controlled labor.

Respondent

China challenging Google for protectionist reasons.

Should European Union protect European market?

Tactical reasons of bourgeoisie. But what is it for us?

The Global South is not one entity.

Do I build my own market, join with others, or join the US bandwagon?

Presenter

I see digital commons as a non-commodified space. That is why it is a commons.

Because the technologies are everywhere, it can have much more impact.

An important question is: how we can undermine the property regimes that we have at the moment?

I don’t mean a technological infrastructure but a public or common space. Like libraries or galleries.

 

Fifth Presentation

We shouldn’t be deceived to thinking by Silicon Valley that we are in a post-capitalist era and everything is different today.

The reason Silicon Valley–style capitalism looks better than the other forms is its philanthropic allure.

People don’t think about Google the way they think about Goldman Sachs.

Instead of the Washington Consensus, we now have the Palo Alto consensus.

The narrative of Silicon Valley is curious: it is based on the rhetoric of the Left.

It is very important to understand this narrative. “We have transcended capitalism.”

Silicon Valley is interested in that kind of a narrative statement

The narrative:

  • privatized provision of social mobility
  • no corruption
  • increased security
  • Better proposition for people on the receiving end.

In this narrative, Silicon Valley can accelerate economic growth.

You have to come on board as a government, or else you will be left behind.

Government does not need to do anything — just open the door to Silicon Valley companies.

But the model of Silicon Valley as a provider of temporary fixes and patches for problems generated by capitalism is not sustainable).

Silicon Valley incapable of welfare provision, improving genuine mobility, or real social inclusion.

IT companies position themselves as a leaner, more efficient version of the welfare state, taking over from the government.

They talk about what they provide free for customers and consumers.

How they will replace the otherwise crumbling infrastructure.

When people on the left complain that if we privatise everything, it would all become prohibitively expensive, this is incorrect.

For example, the postal system has not become more expensive.

Google wants to do is poor people have what upper class already have. They will have this with complete automation of their life.

The more parts of your life you allowed them to be monitored, the greater the benefits, they argue.

Companies like Google want to become the backbone of our digital lives.

Google Fibre and initiatives like Internet.org aim to get more people online to use Google and Faceook.

Google says it is building a leaner, agile Welfare State.

Uber says “Let us to monopolize. We will be able to optimize the provision of services at lower costs. We are the vehicle of progress in society, because we are lowering prices for necessary services.”

They hope to eliminate any alternative model.

Companies are relying more and more on predictive profiling, using big data “points.”

So, you have to become empowered to take control of your health (through Fitbit and other self-monitoring and data-sharing programs) or else your insurability suffers.

Neoliberals say you can’t combat obesity through normal liberalism.

Deregulate industry, regulate the individual.

Why should we pay higher fees for a dysfunctional workforce?

In Russia, officials use their own open source software.

If you want an alternative system on the scale of Google, we need to make it.

We need to question the status of data as property.

For Google, their monopoly status is precisely that which allows them to produce their services.

The alternative that Silicon Valley pushes is to create data walls, so we can sell our own data on other data markets.

We see more and more the financialization of everyday life.

Silicon Valley wants convince people that they can actually make a living selling their data.

We see people trading credits for the right to pollute.

We have to contest the Silicon Valley narrative.

The fight to be fought will not be led by people on Wikipedia or writing software.

It needs to be level of banking and finance.

The services Silicon Valley provides are valuable — and their narrative is attractive for that reason.

For example, many cities at the core of the Smart Cities debate don’t have many resources to begin with. Then they get a great offer from IBM: we will help to save your money with resources, help you control unruly populations.

These cities have already been captured by neoliberalism.

Some critics have suggested the way to contest this is epistemic — not political: the people who make smart cities are arrogant planners, cities are complex.

But this is not the right level analysis of smart cities. You need to link the critique to the greater web of financialization.

Respondent

TED Talks are part of forging the Silicon Valley consensus.

India is somewhere in between. They want a free internet, but they have problems and are not sharing information.

Smart Cities are designed to exclude the poor

Respondent

Smart Cities are designed specifically to exclude the vast majority. The only subaltern people they let in are the servants.

 

Sixth Presentation

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Why are we here, what can we as leftists do?

How can we organize socioeconomic and political alternatives?

What are the key struggles today?

We cannot change the situation from the top down.

We lost this, which is why we can’t figure out what to do.

How does technology transform labor and struggle?

Marxist discussion on these topics is rare. Especially with the weakening of the working class, we have not seen what financialization and technology mean for the working class and the left.

Are high-tech financial capitalism or global jihad the only options? We are unable to articulate any alternative.

Jihad can have a big appeal to the disenfranchised.

Academic debate isn’t necessary and useful, but it does not manage to translate into changing public policies.

The focus on privacy and surveillance has been divorced from bridging these with issues of financialization, resource grabbing, etc.

How does technology transform the state? Technologists are are not really taking part in this debate

Power has shifted to the central banks.

We don’t even know where democratic institutions are located anymore.

In Italy, we went from a government led by Silvio Berlusconi to one headed by a technocrat chosen by the central bank, without an election, because he had connections to the central bank.

Financial capital is dictating the politics (despite Silicon Valley). They were able to change the constitution of Italy without being elected.

Financialization is completely decoupled from investment in the real economy.

Silicon Valley is guided by this global financial casino.

The current wave of technological progress did not produce the wealth that people predicted.

The current wave of technological progress is slowing down.

What is the modern innovation that would make life better for everybody?

In the era of Ford and the automobile, it took about 40 years to create the financial golden era of job creation and wealth for some (a growing middle class).

Marxists might say, this is part of the capitalism’s cyclical crises.

Silicon Valley attack on the welfare state, coupled with austerity and financialization, is an effort to seize the state.

The state becomes an outsourced entity, a financialized entity, which is easier for Silicon Valley to attack.

When there is a withdrawal of the state, Silicon Valley can come in and pitch a solution.

In the US, this narrative is easier to shape because they didn’t have a welfare state to begin with.

Europe has a more universal welfare state, even in the south.

In the US and UK, the education system does not work anymore. You can only study when you are rich. And if you are not rich, you have to go into debt.

Data is a commodity.

We have to gather analytical evidence that the current system isn’t working and create the possibility of a public welfare system (on top of which we can build great innovation).

What is at stake?

How do we understand the proliferation of electronic money?

We see efforts to build a currency and money outside of public taxation.

Ecuador took over its central bank, created public money, and will hopefully de-dollarize their currency.

Citizenship was the other thing the state could offer. This is now being capitalized.

Everything is being pushed back to the individual.

Everything is being watched and recorded.

Russia and China left the SWIFT system.

I am not giving up on the European welfare state.

We need to encourage investment into real infrastructure.

What does it mean to the real labor, if the state is just controlled by the elite?

Today even reformist intervention into the economy is seen as very radical.

According to the new consensus, capital controls are impossible, we can’t tax corporations, we can’t do anything about state cuts to social programs.

Free cash in the hands of corporations. Apple, Google, Amazon have more cash in reserve than some countries.

What do we have to do to democratize the monetary system?

The question of the state. Everything else has been colonized by the corporations.

What does it mean? What can the modern state do?

Neoliberals have think tanks, schools. We’re left with very little.

Greece can’t do it alone, Ecuador can’t do it alone. We need some regional blocks in connection popular movements.

Respondent

The World Social Forum did fight against globalization, but they lost out to Silicon Valley.

We think of Silicon Valley in terms of individualism, but the narrative is catching up,

Why do people go to the church in Brazil or join militant Muslim groups in the US and elsewhere? They both have better narratives that go against those of Silicon Valley.

We are seeing more and more privatization of the state, including the privatization of the military.

We need regional alternatives. But companies such as Apple have cash reserves greater than some states.

All of this goes back to the failure of the UN and other global groups.

If google was only a monopoly in one country, it’s power would have been curtailed.

But monopolies are now global. This is different. They have no viable predator.

Anarchists have been successful locally. But how do make VW, Apple, and so on global enemies?

Under new trade agreements, companies can sue governments for losses and hindrances. This is sucking the last bit of power out of the state.

Respondent

It is not only global jihad. We have Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen.

We saw the formation of of the EU block, but that is not enough. Now no European country can function independently. It was a financial union more than a political one. The Indian Union is a political union.

We don’t understand money properly. If the EU does not want government deficits, it’s because of the needs of the financial institutions. Is the EU an adjunct to the finance sector?

We have to understand the privatization of the state. Milton Friedman is the father of the Chilean economy, the withdrawal of the state. This dynamic goes back to Chile and then to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Respondent

Should we really be weeping over Europe?

Africa has seen 40 or 50 years of these dynamics.

I am surprised by the lack of knowledge about what happens beyond Europe.

We’re confronting a global transnational bourgeoisie, which emerged during neoliberalization.

Where does resistance today come from?

Young people are being radicalized.

There is an immense discontent about the failure of governments to face climate crisis. The implications of global climate change are huge.

We saw world leaders at COP21 in Paris telling off indigenous movements.

The next wave of battles about privatization will be around soil.

We on the left have to be ready to speak to the more radicalized people.

The beast has been named. We have to take the opportunity to seize the moment. Otherwise, we’ll miss another opportunity.

The last opportunity to radicalize people on his scale was 1968, during the Vietnam War.

Respondent

Our enemies don’t listen to reason.

However, it is possible to take power. Look at Ecuador as an example.

Respondent

We need strong narratives to capture people’s attention.

The liberals are very good at using TV to spin their narratives.

The left is isolated Most narratives in activist circles are negative.

We’re not clear enough in what kind of human beings we want to become.

Respondent

How to art and artists fit into this process?

Respondent

We don’t need our enemies to be listen to rational arguments. We need our comrades to listen.

Ecuador’s currency is a bad example. The difficulties in Ecuador are now playing into the hands of the right, with negative effects for the region.

The electronic currency in Ecuador is not a currency at all. It is not based on commodities but is really just a sneaky way to stay ahead of the right.

Bitcoin and blockchain deeply flawed.

Gnunet is working on an anonymous payment scheme in which the person paying is anonymous, but the person getting the money is not, insuring the possibility of taxation.

Respondent

A lot of people biased and activists at the same time. We have to think of radical truism.

The conversation is very humanistic, and secular, because the state is receding.

Silicon Valley is stepping into providing services: they make cars, but not public transportation.

Their “solutions” are always individualistic.

What are they actually replacing?

Respondent

The problem is not having enough states that are challenging the neoliberal consensus. States have been co-opted by corporations.

Our narrative has to be: it’s just not working.

Inequality is rising to astronomical levels everywhere.The prison population in the US is enormous.

Internet governance is not working, and we need to call that out.

Respondent

The narratives of the neoliberals is that state does not work because it doesn’t adapt to change.

We have to understand why this story may be appealing to some.

They can point to inadequate zoning restrictions and then claim that Airbnb can fix this immediately.

Silicon Valley is disrupting the social democratic consensus/agreement between the state and the market.

This is an attack on the idea of solidarity. Their argument is: Why subsidize your neighbor, if he eats poorly? Why should we pay more if a blind person wants to take a cab?

Presenter

When we talk about the welfare state, we mean the provision of health care, schooling, and so on. Google will never pay for your social reproduction.

We have to study how the financial sector is joined to the technology sector.

How is surplus value extracted?

What are the big companies doing to move toward full automation?

What happens when 1 million workers are suddenly out of work and not needed anymore because of automation?

Is automation really reshaping the global commodity chain?

Is capitalism extracting more value through Smart Cities and the Internet of Things?

We have to talk about the politics of data in the global IT system.

Decentralization is necessary to counter the convergence that is happening now.

It’s very unhealthy that the US has such a huge monopoly of IT infrastructure.

Creating alternatives requires us to be serious about investing in public infrastructure to create indigenous alternatives.

And these decisions need to be public.

Data is central.

We can challenge the myth that markets do it better.

We have to reexamine planning. What does planning mean? How can we sustain a population for a long time?

If data gets seized and locked in corporate abyss, we can’t get the welfare state we need.

So, we have to de-monopolize and break up these systems.

Bottom-up movements can create options for democratization.

 

Seventh Presentation

Debates in China today are focused on socialism versus state capitalism versus neoliberalism

Elsewhere debate largely about state capitalism versus neoliberalism — and socialism is not on agenda.

Young people in China today are confused about what socialism is because of how the textbooks define socialism.

The debate in China is about which socialism.

Post-1966 (Cultural Revolution), state socialism and the authority of the party were called into question. This was a period of heavy politicization.

The Deng Xiaoping era (market socialism) was defined as an era of the improvement of socialism. That lasts until 1992.

After 1992, China starts to open up. That ushers in the period of neoliberalism.

A dimension of state capitalism exists throughout these periods.

Today, the Chinese government is pushing state enterprises to go on the stock market, which will dilute state ownership.

How much socialism do we still have today?

If you ask workers, people at grassroots, what they want, it can be articulated through the socialism of the Mao period.

Many feel that in the Mao period, we didn’t have enough to eat, but officials were better and society was better.

Students and young people are confused. They are experiencing proletarianization of mental labor. They live in conditions much like migrant laborers do. This is a new development.

How can we make radical ideas appeal to the psychology, aspirations, and desires of young people?

The Chinese government now pushing Internet as an engine of growth. They speak about the “Internet Plus.”

Big Internet companies now moving into Chinese countryside, which they see as a growth area. What does this mean? Is the countryside being transformed? Is the land issue being further transformed? Is this changing how collective village assets are being changed (being marketized)?

Commoditization and capitalization will lead to GDP growth, but what does that mean for the 200 million migrant laborers? What does that mean for countryside?

These are important questions to investigate.

I don’t think a war of position is possible in China today, but some sort of guerrilla Internet resistance is possible.

We have thousands of collective villages in China. Some publicly claim to be communist. Can these be new bases of radical politics? That is an open question.

The Chinese Communist Party is different than the Democratic Party in the US. It is a mass party, the largest party in world, with 80 million members. It is not an electoral party.

Within the Chinese Communist Party, some cadres still believe in socialism, even if many just follow the leadership.

At the top, some believe in socialism, but a number are supporting state capitalism.

The current party secretary is second-generation Communist. Among the second generation, some are very much pushing for state capitalism and others are for ushering in neoliberalism.

There are high-level linkages between the investment sector and pro-neoliberal sectors of the Communist Party.

Which stream is stronger is up for debate.

China is constrained by its commitment to the World Trade Organization.

Which way China will go is a subject of ferocious debate on the Internet.

Despite control and censorship of Internet in China, the voice of the left has been strong on the Internet. You can create the equivalent of the old Big Posters (as in Cultural Revolution).

Print is more regulated than electronic media.

The cost of labor in Chinese countryside, including agricultural labor, is increasing. Wages earned in the cities had been subsidizing the villages.

Rural reform 1978 to 1984 led to most villages of China being collectivized. Now only thousands are collectivized (which is relatively small).

Some are now industrializing, and so migrant labor is now coming to these villages.

They call themselves round from outside, square within. They are in the sea of the market economy, but inside they try to use socialist principles.

Respondent

Some children raised in party (“princelings”) have immense privileges. Which factions are strongest?

Presenter

A section of left thinks the main threat is mostly coming from outside, so they want to strengthen state capitalism vis-à-vis the global order. They would describe China as semicolonial vis-à-vis the US.

Another section of the left would say the primary issue is internal between capital and workers in China, not between Chinese state capital and the world market.

To some extent, the state does not know how to deal with the new languages coming up, so it is responding with censorship, which is not smart and is creating a lot of discontent.

Respondent

Are most of Chinese leaders engineers?

Presenter

That was the case but the current party leader is not.

The current leader was an urban youth sent to countryside to govern and moved from bottom up.

Respondent

What is the discussion of Smart Cities like in China?

What is the current five-year plan? China has a much more orchestrated approach for the future.

Does China have a colonial approach to Africa and Latin America or are they providing an alternative to what US is offering?

It is still a dependency approach.

Respondent

How do we understand neocolonialism in this context?

Presenter

Chinese policy is “one globe, one belt.”

In terms of China’s relationship to developing countries, it is aware of the critiques it has been receiving over the past ten years.

China is partly taking advantage of the IMF and World Bank, and mostly taking advantage of neoliberal doctrine, but sometimes China can behave differently.

In Zambia, in 2008, during the world financial crisis, most factories laid off workers or closed. But China had a policy not to lay off workers, not to cut back, not to slow down production. It stabilized the situation in Zambia.

Most people understand colonialism as a trade relationship, but that is wrong.

Respondent

There is a mythology about China in Africa. India is a bigger player than China there, but India is laughing because the critical discourse is about China not India.

China came to the party late. They are dancing with who is left.

In terms of infrastructure, China is smart. IMF and World Bank are saying no to large infrastructure investments these days, but we will say yes. Don’t pay us back in cash, pay us back in trade.

It’s a different relationship.

US Africom (African Command) troops are based right across the oil belt of central Africa. The strategy is meant to keep China from accessing that oil.

But the reality is China’s role is tiny.

China is able to do what it is doing in Sudan because US oil companies pulled out.

In Nigeria, China represents less than 5 percent of foreign direct investment.

China got into Angola because the World Bank and IMF didn’t allow infrastructure investment.

Chinese foreign direct investment in Africa is one-eighth that of the UK.

Order of foreign direct investment in Africa is UK, followed by the United States, followed by France, followed by Canada, Germany, and only then the Asian Tigers.

China are small players still.

***

 

12 December 2015

Eighth Presentation

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We are in a postcolonial era but colonial borders still present, as in Africa.

The former colonies are not allowed to develop industrial capacity.

Holisms:

body = mind

nature = culture

genius = society

masterpiece = servitude

functionality = error and waste

convenience = control

Domestication = mechanization

Antikythera — oldest computer, Winch.

Scientific standardization.

We have to “purify” material to make it reliable. “Science is not interested in how things are.”

People at the lowest form of the production chain suffer the most amount of disciplining.

You cannot separate the emergance of Western science from the scramble for Africa. They are part of the same project, the technological project that continues today. Not postcolonial, but pre-colonial.

Message to Africans: Don’t be a Muammar Gaddafi. He tried to start an African communications company.

Why is technology not liberating / emancipating us? Because it is inherently hierarchical, just like we are.

Technologies produced under unfair conditions are records of those conditions and replicate those same conditions.

Were we to significantly improve or transform human relationality at the base of the production chain, we would no longer be able to produce the same technologies. We would produce other technologies.

But for us to engage with the real factual conditions of exploitative global production, we first need to determine that this is important to do so for a socially just society.

Like genetic material, technology replicates itself in society.

Respondent

Technology is not inherently hierarchical.

Some solutions are liberating, while others are not.

Technology does not produce social structures. But technology accentuates what already is.

Is solar liberating, as opposed to nuclear power?

Fordism — industrial machinery, based on certain model. Transfer bar, gear, use petroleum byproducts. Microchip is a new technology that is qualitatively different. There are no mechanical levers no transfer bars. Old factory bars. We are not facing a simple repetitive thing.

Machinery has changed qualitatively.

European colonialism was a specific configuration. Subjugation still exists means something specific in a neocolonial world.

Early humanity, we had handicraft. Individuals used ploughs and levers. But tools that we deploy have qualitatively changed.

 

Ninth Presentation

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Software in general has the capacity to be copied very easily. Marginal cost of production is zero.

Software is hard to commoditize because it is infinitely copyable. Guard labor is a major factor in monetizing. It is everything from actual police to lawyers.

Rights management.

In the rental model for software, you keep the information on the server. There is no risk of things being copied. Facebook could be open source. It would not matter because it still works on massive server farms.

Nikolai Bukharin’s critique of Rosa Luxemburg.

B2B is Department I. Production of means of production.

If you are producing for other capitalists, it is different from producing for consumers.

Department 1 don’t want their competitors to infringe. So they keep it enclosed.

Open Source Software.

GNU — At first, Richard Stallman was asking corporations to give money.

Myth of the Open Source hobbyist. Most coders writing open source software are doing so for a wage, working for corporations or universities.

It takes lot of human labor. Hence people tend to be paid.

Lot of corporations hiring people to develop open source software.

Linux did not start in academia. It started through a academic project and then it became hobbyist for a while.

Exvestment in the past, for example, trains.

Exvestment now: HP, Huawei, Oracle, BM, Phillips, Capgemini, the Platinum members of Open Group.

Producing consortia to produce things. Why not the State?

Capitalism and the state are deeply intertwined. Lot of the software began with DARPA projects. State does actually produce investment.

Siri was originally a state-funded project.

Corporations have retreated from research and development.

“Proper management of the commons” doesn’t really properly apply to software.

“Adapted to local conditions” doesn’t make sense for software.

“Participate in the decision-making process” also doesn’t make sense for software. And it’s not really happening.

What can we do in the future?

It’s very hard to stop people from freeloading. Why would the state invest in the production of software? What is the advantage?

How do we administer the payments? How do we participate in global structures?

We can do more infrastructural production for the state. State spending on guard labor. Circle outside, square inside.

Seizing the state. We don’t really have the control of the state. The state is rolling back welfare.

We have to capture the commanding heights, but what are the commanding heights today? If you capture the state, what do yo have?

Because capitalism is deeply intertwined in the state. The state is dependent on finance. For example, Petro states did not arise by accident.

How do you have common production of software? Who owns the means of production? How is production organized?

Tactical retreat. If you lose state power in spite of coming to power, you are in trouble: for example, as in Venezuela.

So, in the case of software, we have to have to create some sort of semi-autonomous network or federation,

Respondent

The term commons is being overused.

Software has a culture bias. We need a better language.

“The commons” reflects a cultural bias that privileges the Global North.

Why aren’t we using the language of imperialism?

The reason China was able to defeat Yahoo chat. Young teenagers were able to use emoticons.

Is the rental model a form of enclosure?

 

Tenth Presentation

My aim is to speak about the social struggles involved in technological changes.

I would like to present a long-term perspective.

Authors such as Daniel Bell in The End of Ideology (1973) and Domenico De Masi have offered optimistic perspectives on technological development.

In this scenario, technological development would bring about a reduction of work time.

Social struggles are a part of the human trajectory and are different in different periods of technological development: agrarian society, the era of the steam engine, and so on.

The exploitation of workers by the capitalist system was countered through small professional unions and mutual aid associations that sought to buffer such problems as death and illness.

These unions were important, but they represented less than 10 percent of the workers.

Only rich men and literate people were allowed to vote. Only 7 percent of people were participating in the electoral process. The state was dominated by the rich.

This minimal state covered only three functions:

  • the monopoly of violence
  • the monopoly of issuing money
  • a fiscal monopoly

The state was led by fewer than 10 percent of the elites of each country.

This situation changed near the end of the nineteenth century, with the new technological revolution and the extension of the combustion engine to day-to-day life.

This heralds the arrival of large-scale capitalist enterprise, mass workers, and intensification of work.

Unions cannot respond to the demands of the working class, which are growing.

We need a new type of organization of the workers, a new union movement, in which unions represent all workers — not only those in particular professions.

The model has been: leaving the political struggle for parties and leaving economic struggle to the unions, whose goal was to get better pay and getting some rights, such as reduction of the working day.

Whereas the political party is based of the defence of universal democracy and the extension of the vote, not only for the white literate man but also women, the poor, the illiterate.

Political parties identify themselves with the work through different ideologies.

Politics will be subordinated to economy.

Enterprises were forced to reduce working hours and pay more wages, as well as to pay more taxes to fund the state.

Now I will move on to a third transition: from the industrial society to a service-oriented society, brought on by the IT revolution.

In this era, we see the rise of even bigger supranational or transnational companies.

Some 500 major corporations dominate global capitalism.

We find monopolist process on a scale never seen before but identified by Karl Marx already in the nineteenth century.

Some of these major corporations are bigger than countries.

Brazil was recently considered the world’s seventh biggest economy. But the the top four global corporations are bigger than Brazil’s economy.

The major corporations intervene more and more in policies. They finance political parties. They influence the decisions of judges. They have representatives in the government who are never elected.

More and more politics becomes irrelevant and the economy has the upper hand over politics.

The work carried out by the representatives of the workers in political parties is growing because workers’ interests are not manifested in legislation.

There is the homogenization of the policies because the government is consolidating market interests, not those of the voters.

There is a split emerging between the institutions which are meant to represent the workers and the workers themselves.

Are we facing a problem which is caused by the lack of success of these unions and parties? Or are unions and parties not compatible with the society we have today?

A similar problem arose in the nineteenth century. The unions could not represent the workers properly after the technological revolution.

A genuine solution to this problem would allow us to build a better society

Technology gives new perspectives

People can now live to 100.

We could all be working twelve hours a week and not be beholden to an employer.

Respondent

What you call the turn of the century unions, we call “craft unions.”

I am an anarcho-syndicalist.

We ran into a wall in the 1970s and 1980s. We could not overthrow capitalism.

We are not looking at the formulation such as a twelve-hour work week. Our concept today is human beings should not need to work. And they should not be surveilled and monitored

Communism requires robotics.

Respondent

Who are the workers today?

If you ask workers in Hong Kong, they don’t think they are laborers. We need to help people identify as laborers.

Perhaps we need another form of worker organization — not the classical proletariat in and out of wage labour, including the self-employed.

Classes of laborers various forms of transient labour today

The problem of that term de-privileges the proletariat.

The industrial workers are no longer privileged today.

When Marx was writing his initial formulations about the industrial proletariat, most of the world was agrarian. The industrial worker was only just emerging.

Today almost everybody is working in a commodified sector.

Do we need a new term to capture this identity? Should we still expect industrial workers take a leadership role politically?

In China, too, we have a different system. Yet the unions cannot represent many contemporary forms of labor, especially migrant laborers.

How to we remap the identity of laborers?

Respondent

When Marx was writing, the type of work led workers to collective consciousness.

Today work is alienated and precarious. This makes the question of how to attract them more complicated.

In the United States, some have developed the concept of workers’ centers. They are not based in the workplace.

In india, it is not possible to organize in the factories themselves. We have already had to retreat to other forms of organization.

These are unresolved questions. Political party, trade unions, social movement. Are those three concepts also obsolete now?

NUMSA is grappling with this question in South Africa. They know there needs to be a new political formation. What is the new political project?

Respondent

Today people don’t Identify as workers. We failed.

At one point, the Left controlled the propaganda, what the workers would read, and created workers’ propaganda.

Now we have propaganda everywhere, most of which is designed to dispel class consciousness.

Despite qualitative changes, parties are even more relevant now.

Socialist have had a hard time getting surplus for their project. There used to be primitive socials accumulation and surpluses from federation of cooperatives.

How are we going to produce organs of propaganda?

Respondent

Social struggles are central.

1. The crisis of legitimacy of social struggles and movements.

Is this part of the greater crisis of technological change? Or the incapacity of political entities to change and the inability to represent their constituencies?

2. European perspectives

We have seen deregulation and the emergence of labor neoliberalism.

We have lost the capacity to reach collective contracts. This is lost forever.

We see the increasing precaritization of labour and growing reliance on short-term contracts.

We are increasingly in an era of private law contracts, such as with Uber, private law rather than public law.

3. Alain Soupir writes about “the contractualization of society.”

4. Young people are becoming entrepreneurs.

There is no more work for life. Full employment is gone, so what are we going to do?

The Left has no response.

5. Silicon Valley is increasing the accumulation and concentration of wealth.

6. What are the big social movements today?

They are not coming from the factories (at least in Brazil).

We see people demanding greater access to public transportation.

In Spain, we see struggles for housing.

Respondent

We had a funny differentiation in which “democracy” was only assigned to the state, but for the realm of economics, democracy was not on the table.

In economics, democracy would mean shared ownership.

Union representation has ended in defeat.

We need to raise the political demand to integrate democratic principles in the workplace, not only in the public sphere.

Respondent

We need to break away from the sociologists defining classical proletarianization by where you stand in the mode of production.

People have always moved in and out of production.

Do you exit the working class when you are unemployed?

People talk about a peasantry in Africa. I am not convinced one exists. They are agricultural workers who, even if the own part of their land, are only able to survive if they engage in certain labor practices.

There is a whole proletarian class around industrial work which had interests in these problems.

Lenin wrote about “parliamentary cretinism.” If you are going to engage in electoral politics, you need money

But maybe that is not necessary.

Consier the work of Amilcar Cabral Guinea-Bissau.

You cannot just look at the lumpen proletariat or the declasse, as distinct from the more criminal elements.

On the left, we need to find our who are our class allies in the process of proletarianization that is taking place.

Respondent

If Uber is the future of the workplace, then we need to understand ways that workers articulate highly individualistic claims.

Many workers in the new economy believe that their reputation will serve as a buffer against whatever precarity will hit them in the future.

The ratings that they accumulate will reflect their value to society at large.Based on that reputation, they will be able to get another job.

Who controls data accumulated about workers?

Workers have been told you don’t need to engage in collective effort. As long as you work hard, you will get a good reputation.

Respondent

Can you talk about knowledge workers and dead labor?

Presenter

I would like to take up three themes:

1. The lack of the awareness of workers about the process of percaritization.

Finance plays a bigger role in economics and leads to short-term thinking.

This process is undermining workers’ rights, not only of this generation but also of the next.

This is why the idea that you need flexible working conditions is being accepted by workers.

Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello call this The New Spirit of Capitalism. In this book, they demonstrate that the movement of 1968 to 1969 were for a more flexible working conditions, which were supported by the workers themselves.

The idea that you would start work at sixteen and work for thirty-five years did not offer the workers a better perspective.

Capitalist forces took this desire and used it to their benefit.

2. Regarding unions, parties, and the workers:

Parties and labor unions mediate the workers’ interests in the world.

New technology changes this. Theoretically the worker can have direct contact to the boss and does not need the union the same way.

Theoretically the workers can have direct access to the state without needing a party to mediate that relationship.

So you no longer need the traditional structures. The impact of that has not been investigated sufficiently.

3. The rights of workers as enshrined in the law and collective bargaining agreements.

These right were established when you needed a special place to organize work. An autoworker could not work at home, for example. He or she could only work in the factory.

All these labour rights were conceived in the sense that they could only be provided at the venue of production.

With digital technology today, you have a portable way of working and many workers are not working in a pre-established place.

And the consequence, the worker is plugged into work twenty-four hours a day.

We dreams of work and are always connected to work. Research shows that due to IT, you no longer have a five-day work week. The worker works at his workplace and also takes work home, extending the workday.

The consequence is that we have different hazards, such as depression and burnout, which were not taken into account by unions in the past.

We lack a revolutionary agenda, which we had at the end of the nineteenth century.

 

Eleventh Presentation

Post-Marxism of the 1970s in Italy represented key questions.

We need to reinterpret social conditions and what we mean by surplus value.

You have new forms of productive labor. Knowledge, reproductive labor.

Italian autonomists said, “we are moving into an anthropogenic era.” General intellect is embodied in human beings not machines.

Social reproduction.

Reading of Antonio Negri. This is good for the working class. Moving out of the factories in to social factories. Means of production are diffused.

Tech capacity of Google and big data centre, locked into a capitalist control and command of capitalists.

Another important Marxist category is the life theory of value, not just the labor theory of value.

What happened after fall of the wall in Germany? Before there were borders and we could not move. Now we don’t have the money to move.

I want to think with you about how to design new systems.

Sociality. Conceptions of the social.

Uber workers. Features change constantly. Location information changes.

Collapse of identity, disrupting social spheres.

Counter platforms?

Social through the lens of competition. What is the social in social networks?

Monadic form of the social. More on the side of compassion than collaboration.

 

Twelfth Presentation

Cognitive Capital.

Question of Enclosures. The idea of conflict between Capitalist growth and social production.

New forms of capitalism.

Digital or intangible goods. Some characteristics of knowledge goods are difficult to pin down.

Enclosing production.

Material scarcities are driving new kinds of property relations. This produces space for new exploitations.

Digital goods — viotech, open source, new kinds of desktop manufacturing, Open source ecologies.

Smart Property — smart contracts.

Crypto currencies like Bitcoin.

Block chains. Two innovations in Bitcoin white paper.

1) How you are sending value over digital network? 2) What is a trustless database?

Instead of public central bank, a distributed system. In digital currency, the act of circulation is also act of copying.

Central intermediary. But in Bitcoin this is managed through decentralized database, a distributed ledger.

Proof of work: computationally expensive work that proves a transaction.

Implications extend beyond cryptocurrency.

Block Chain 2.0.

Money to contract. Not only monetary transaction but for smart contracts, land registration, name registries.

Distributed consensus — voting.

Atherium has expanded the scope of Bitcoin.

Implications?

Peer to Peer Foundation for example are excited about smart contracts as ways of managing free riding. Write in conditions like if you are a corporation and extracting value from commons, then you have to compensate the commons.

MyCelia is offering musicians fine-grain contracts.

Distributed Dropbox kind of model. In reality, most successful applications have nothing to do with that.

For example, Everledger. Keeping track on the prevalence of diamonds on the block chains.

Big Data on Global South. Automatic credit clearing between banks. Making contracts more flexible to cut down slack or juridical complications. NASDAQ with chain.

Digital rights management. Comprise, MyCelia, or Kalu. DRM but with distributed ledger. Empower publishers.

Smart contracts for trading radio spectrum. Sharing more transient trading licenses.

Implications on future of property?

History of Contracts is the place to start. Contracts that are self-executing. Rights are produced through law or markets. Here the laws are algorithmically encoded. Contracts have recourse built into them.

Potential to overcome some of the problems or tensions in conventional ideas of property.

Rights to use, benefit, speculate but also rights to exclude others. Seeing a transformation from historical bourgeois rights to access becoming important.

We are changing from social juridical property to distributed contracts. Does it produce some new form of rent or private property?

Property rights are not static. Control exercised over space. Property versus debt.

Respondent

Dream of mathematical way of enforcing contract.

Establishing contract without proof of work like proof carrying algorithm. All your work in proof.

Why do we want distributed system? Reaction to centralism? The real alternative is democratic centralism.

Respondent

These are not trustless systems. These are systems of distributed trust.

Trust is based on proof of work. properties of Blockchain are different from these.

Cryptocurrencies are very easy to figure out.

Respondent

Whitespacing. Distributed frequency allocation. Unused allocated frequency. Lot of frequency spectrum is unused. We should find ways to use this and build a centralized database that monitors used frequencies.

Respondent

What is the role of nation states states today?

Respondent

Neoliberalism argues for self-regulation.

Respondent

Inability of companies to do identification without government. Open Government Data. Then use governments to provide ID. Identity Management is still a big headache.

Money 2020 conference was about authentication and identification. Authentication systems will be used by governments.

UID India. Did not come into implementation. Estonia, Finland got it much better. US/UK model. Identity management is left to big banks. In Estonia, at least you get some services.

 

Thirteenth Presentation

NB: An anonymized version of this presentation in PDF format is available here:

http://www.knowledgecommons.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Thirteenth-Presentation.pdf

ICT.

http://www.ietf.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Society

ICANN 2.5 M

Cartel of ISPs.

http://www.open-root.eu/?lang=en

Shawn Powers.

European standards for allocation of numbers for telecoms.

Electricity bill for NSA data center in Utah.

Microchip Revolution.

“Third Wave of Labour”

***

 

Notes on Workshop Results

Group 1

How do we use social platforms for common production?

The Third Wave of Labour (craft, industry, social unionism).

How do we impact technology creation now?

Do we have an impact on social currency design?

How to react to financialization?

Beyond marketing and media.

How do we deal with the human algorhythmic system?

How do we deal with the commons?

Group 2

How to generate a counter narrative?

Where to get the money?

Counter politics (everything is wonderful … no, it isn’t).

Bourgeois revolutions happened within the state and coopted it from within. Let’s do the same.

Tech disobedience.

How do we finance critical mass communication?

***

 

Takeaways

First response

1. About Internet commons: I appreciate the thought of global solidarity as raised by some speakers, but I want to caution that what’s produced in the commons by the north-dominated global civil [society] might be intentional or unintentional hegemonic ideological constructs. Their transfer to the south and the consequences may thus be problematic. While I support in principle the idea of Internet commons, I think construction of such commons should be linked with alternative social movements and the construction of commons should particularly facilitate (because the relative lack of access) the views from the peripheries and should consciously remain open to debates.

2. How the left should engage (mapping, theorizing and innovating on ways of organizing) new forms of labor? Marx theorized at a time when most of humanity lived in agrarian conditions and the industrial worker is the new kind of subject created by capitalism. Today we live in the context of generalized commodity production. In this context, humanity is experiencing a wide range of forms of proletarianization. Yet ironically many who are in new forms of labor have trouble identifying themselves as “workers.” On the one hand, we face the task of sociological mapping of various forms of labor (a good part is referred to as “the informal sector”); Henry Bernstein, agrarian political economist, has used the term “classes of labor.” On the other hand, we also face the challenge of political theorization of agency. The implication of “classes of labor” is it has deprivileged the classical proletariat— (male) industrial workers—as the primary agent. This opens up the question of how we should theorize agency and then find new forms of organizing labor. How do we have a new language that encourages identity? This task is made more urgent by the fact that labor unions have been unable to engage new forms of labor.

Second response

My main thoughts are that if we accept that current technological infrastructures are designed to consolidate the interests of powerful hegemonic actors, what kind of computer science, engineering, and development practice do we have to develop to produce a counter-hegemonic change?

Answering this question requires:

  • rethinking current technological infrastructures: these are often discussed as centralized, software platforms, or service oriented architectures. How do these work to consolidate power, and what are potential ways in which we can subvert/disrupt them?
  • If future movements are going to work with technologists, what should be the division of labor between the greater labor to produce and reproduce these movements and the labor to create the technologies for these movements? Should they just rely on existing infrastructures until we develop alternatives?
  • We need user studies with people whose work conditions are reflective of the current exploitation and control structures. It is not only in studying technological infrastructures, but in understanding how these constitute everyday life that we can understand how to build alternatives. In other words, the Uber drivers, the seasonal farm workers, the Foxconn workers are the experts of labor from whom we can learn to rethink technology.

Third response

Five notes for the critical consensus

1. Method of totalizing approach of reality to the break of neoliberal short term perspectives and postmodern perspectives of knowledge specialization and fragmentation;

2. Update of Marxist analytical keys to understand the digital capitalism and its contemporary contradictions;

3. Discuss/understand the workers’ strangeness and resistance in face of the transition from state capitalism to the new state of capitalism, based on controlling power of global value chains by transnational corporations;

4. Theorize/explain/analyze the distinct topics of demands and struggles agenda resulting from the predominance of immaterial labor, ever less exercised in one particular location;

5. Dialectical analysis of the dynamics of secular stagnation of capitalism in industrial age and the progression of capitalism in digital age.

Fourth response

Regarding Hilferding and Super Imperialism: Following up on X, while it is true that the inter-imperialist contradictions have disappeared between the old imperialists — France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States — there are contradictions within capital. The contradiction between the Western powers and the BRICS, particularly China and Russia, is an example of such contradictions within capitalism. I am not identifying BRICS nations as imperialist, but they are certainly in various stages of capitalist development. We must use such cracks within capitalism, so global capital is not become an unified and homogeneous entity as would be characterised by Rudolf Hilferding.

Fifth response

While Silicon Valley is advancing its agenda of replacing the state of its “greater efficiency” and “you control” rhetoric, its arguments for the Smart City is built on exclusion of the poor from such cities. The IT industry has exclusion built into its Smart City model. It is promising a Smart City for the Indian elite, who are already seceding from India with gated communities, segregated spaces, etc.

The argument that technology is like genetic material and will replicate the society it is built would mean that social relations are hard-coded into technology. It also assumes that a technology is quite plastic and a specific technological solution has a number of possible solutions, the final solution chosen based on class needs and class relations. Neither is technology so deterministic, nor is technology so plastic. It may have a multiple solutions, but there are few. Yes, technology is not class neutral but neither is society so technologically deterministic.

How do you see the knowledge worker and dead labor in how you see the new labor relations arising in society?

Sixth response

Definition of proletarian has been misinterpreted by the Left as being equivalent to the industrial worker, which fails to take account of the processes that lead to proletarianization — it is not static, and includes large sectors of populations being part of that class. The issue is how we organize them as a class. Not enough recognition of the heterogeneity of the lumpen proletariat. Amilcar Cabral talks about the “les déclassés” and the criminal elements of the lumpen class, an important distinction, the former being part of the proletariat.

Too great a tendency for the debate to be focused on the conditions in the North. Inadequate discussion of the processes in the Global South, especially where Internet and new technologies have not penetrated significantly — for example, in Africa.

Technology as a reflection of social relations rather than as things. Tendency to forget this.

Austerity / neoliberal dismantling of the role of the state in social welfare — inadequate understanding of the processes that have taken place over the last forty years in Latin America and Africa.

The state that we have been talking about is a capitalist state: it isn’t simply that capital has “become integrated” into it. The reality is that the social democratic state was the outcome of class struggles and the current reversal from social provision is a reflection of class struggles.

Relationship between imperialism and the third world should not be reduced to being merely the same over the last 200 or so years. Need to a more careful analysis of the evolution of imperialism over that time and to understand more clearly its present nature and its relationship with the use of technologies. Too little said about war and the use of technologies for control.

Machinery and technologies as means for accelerating the rate not only of the production of surplus value but also the rate of realization of the value incorporated into commodities. Labor has been involved not only in the production process but also on the process of realization. In the context of overproduction, realization becomes critically important.

We are dealing no longer with national capitalist classes but with the formation of a transnational capitalist class — while the majority of it may be from the North, it is not exclusively so: China, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, etc., all have produced MNCs [multi-national corporations]. Much greater attention needs to be paid to the processes today of concentration and centralization of capital.

There needs to be much greater attention paid to way in which the domination of the transnational capitalist class can be countered: our discussions have not really touched on that adequately. Surely it has to be more than “Stop using Google / Google Docs”!

Seventh Response

We need to challenge the traditional distinction between research and action. Challenge the paradigm that research is somehow objective or even neutral. Develop an understanding of research that is profoundly political and profoundly anti-capitalist; that is situated in struggle and social movements, that is based on resistance. Defend a position that only activist research has any use-value in the contemporary crisis of capitalism.

Eighth Response

 

With the aid of Information and communication technologies, monopoly capital or big capital is putting a great distance between itself and labor. The labor which is the most exploited, whose surplus value the monopoly capital extracts in the form of rent, is not directly working under big capital. There is a geographic and managerial distance between them. Exploitation is realized only in the course of commodity circulation.

The smaller capital of the developing countries is the one which is involved in the direct oppression of these workers on the factory floor. When the workers, through various forms of resistance, bring about certain favorable changes in the relationship, monopoly capital easily discards this smaller capital and moves on to other smaller capitals in other developing countries.

It is important to understand the relationship of labor vis-à-vis both smaller and bigger capital differently. The struggles should involve fight against both and tactical alliance with smaller capital on some rare occasion, because finance capital is inimical to the interests of both small capital and labor.

Ninth Response

The radical or “root” problem is still the question of the administration of production. The questions of production for the commons, of production for use value and not exchange value in either software or cultural production or other cases of “exvestment” require the social and democratic allocation of labor, but in order to allocate this labor we have to be able to reproduce the workers themselves, have a way of agreeing on the collective administration of this labor, and this necessarily relies on the material economy (food, housing, transport). Without some level of semi-autonomy in the material productive sphere for the reproduction of the worker, we simply can not win — exvestment will be for capitalist purposes and prefigured for value creation when it occurs at all.

We need to be generating surpluses from production which can be allocated to general communist production — exvestment and investment (to increase productivity per unit labor, which can be socially shared). Where does this happen? There are two potential answers, one is state and semi-state productive approaches and the other is cooperative federations for communist production. Both of these pose the question of how to manage “finance” democratically. The former statist mode has the problem of claw-back after losing the state in democratic elections unless one takes on to engage in lightning expropriation. Lightning expropriation poses its own problems in that it leads almost necessarily to a revolutionary situation as well as a surround and conquer approach, which will be taken by capitalists — unless seizure of the state has both huge public support and a significant productive capacity, it will not succeed or will be highly undemocratic — but how to generate such massive public support without the productive capacity in the first place in order to engage in narrative formation?

If we take the second position of autonomous cooperative productive development in a communist and democratic direction, then we can try to generate surpluses prior to and outside of state seizure preparing for such a seizure. The structure should attempt to be “scale free,” allowing us to build up large capacity, internationally and ahead of state control — utilizing our interventions in the state to help propel this dynamic and to avoid claw-back where possible against capitalists. We can use the surpluses to generate public support for the project helping to deal with the problem of ideological hegemony. State control can then be used more as a war of maneuver than a war of position — allowing expansion of the general sphere of non-commodity production in leaps when seized but also we can weather periods in which we do not have state power.

The real big questions for me are how to bootstrap such a process of production outside of the state. These venture communist proposals seem structurally appealing but are not happening. How can we make them happen? Is it a real possibility or is it theoretically interesting but utopian? Why is it not already happening?

I also want to strongly defend the party form as the appropriate means of democratically arriving at proletarian programs. While “parliamentary cretinism” has been a hallmark of many parties, especially of the “social democratic” variety in recent times, the “new movements” do not pose a real possibility of exceeding the capacities of parties despite this. The failure to intervene in the state is simply failure — it is a bug and not a feature. The problems of “parliamentary cretinism” are real, but they must be counter-acted because it simply is not possible to go around the problem by giving up. They do not solve the problem of counter-politics or production. We need to overcome the antagonism to parties which has been generated by the current failures of parties.

Parties should return to the approach of party movements rather than electoralism without movements and as against movements without democratic formation of program. That the state is deeply embedded in the capitalist mode of production does not excuse movements in some way as they can’t in themselves supercede the state or capital either, but instead are not even able to demonstrate for themselves the levels of popular sentiment. One hundred thousand people in the streets is useful, but more useful when coupled with a party which demonstrates support from a large percentage of the population for a programme of forward movement. The party form is at base the collective democratic organization of narrative formation and programmatic action. We should not dispense with democratic cooperative labor organization of narrative formation and programmatic action.

Letter to Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi regarding the Guidelines for Examination of CRIs

Concerned organisations and individuals, including the Society for Knowledge Commons, wrote to the Prime Minister requesting him to intercede with the Patents Office and ensure that the statutory provisions in the Patents Act are given effect to.

Letter to PM – CRI Guidelines – 2015

An update on the net neutrality debate in India

Background:

Following various reports of violations of the principle of net neutrality in early 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India issued a consultation paper that sought public comment regarding the need to license ‘over the top’ service providers.

 

The regulatory framework proposed by this consultation paper was ill thought out in that the regulator was seeking to differentiate and license different types of content and services on the Internet – something that is both impractical and inadvisable for a variety of reasons. The consultation received a tremendous public response, with TRAI receiving over a million responses requesting it to put in place regulation that would uphold the principle of net neutrality.

 

While TRAI never published any findings or recommendations based on this consultation, due to the tremendous public interest in the issue (and consequent pressure by various political parties), the Department of Telecommunication, formed a committee to examine the issue of net neutrality and make recommendations in this regard. The DoT committee issued its report in May 2015, which notably recommends, “the core principles of Net Neutrality must be adhered to”.

 

Despite the issue of net neutrality capturing the public imagination to the extent it has, as well as the numerous statements by government officials regarding the need to protect the open Internet, neither the Government nor the sectoral regulator have to date proposed any concrete policies or regulations concerning the issue.

 

At the same time, we have continued to see violations of the principle of net neutrality – the most egregious probably being the Free Basics platform. The issue of zero rating (the practice where a content provider and service provider enter into an agreement to provide subsidized access to certain specific content) is one of the most complicated in the entire net neutrality debate and has come to the fore in India largely due to Facebook’s rebranding of Internet.org and its subsequent publicity blitz.

 

The TRAI Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing of Data Services:

Recently, TRAI issued another consultation paper that touches on the issue of net neutrality – and specifically the issue of zero rating.

 

In its consultation paper of December 2015, TRAI has sought public responses on permitting service providers to charge differential rates for users to access different content on the Internet. Essentially, this would permit service providers to offer different tariff packages for users accessing different types of content – so notionally, a service provider could charge more for accessing ‘x’ website than ‘y’ website.

 

The issue raised by TRAI is a fairly interesting one – you have various content and service providers who are coming together to provide subsidized access to certain specific content. Such practices, on the face of it, permit poorer people to access a certain limited range of content at low costs. However, such platforms cause tremendous damage to the Internet economy itself – largely by enabling the perpetuation of monopolies in the Internet space (and the associated problems – ranging from privacy concerns to issues of plurality of media). Further, such platforms affect the basic architecture of the Internet by casting service providers in the role of gatekeepers to the Internet. Generally speaking, on the Internet all content is equally accessible – however permitting differential pricing by service providers would turn this resource into a cable TV service, where you have to subscribe to specific content services or channel bouquets.

 

While differential pricing of services is a legitimate market practice – used across numerous industries – the question in this instance, is whether it is fair (or indeed possible) to segregate users based on the content or type of content being accessed or viewed.

 

It must be kept in mind that the Internet is comprised of over a billion websites! Platforms such as Free Basics do not provide access to the whole Internet – just some select content. Is it fair to provide this sort of access to the poor and underprivileged i.e. asking them to choose between access and freedom, particularly when there are numerous other models that provide a ‘net neutral’ method of providing subsidized access?

 

If Facebook and other such companies really wanted to help the underprivileged access the Internet, it could subsidize overall Internet access for the needy rather than just provide access to a limited array of content. There are numerous models used across the globe that do just this. For example:

  1. In India, Aircel has begun providing full internet access for free at 64 kbps download speed for the first three months;
  2. In Bangladesh, Grameenphone users get free data in exchange for watching an advertisement.
  3. In Africa, Orange users get 500 MB of free access on buying a $37 handset.
  4. In certain parts of Asia, Telenor’s clients get 20mb of data per day free in exchange for watching a 30 second advertisement.
  5. Various governments, both central and state, are examining the possibility of implementing different types of direct subsidies for accessing the Internet.

 

Once again, TRAI received a tremendous response to its consultation paper – with an analysis of the comments received showing a clear divide between large service and content providers (your Airtels, Vodafones, Facebooks etc.) and users and smaller service and content providers on the other side.

 

TRAI has on February 8, 2016, issued its order pursuant to this consultation. It has, adopting a pro public position, held that differential rating on the basis of content should not be permitted. (an analysis of the Regulations issued by TRAI in this regard will be published shortly)

 

What We Are Doing:

We have been involved in campaigning for strong net neutrality regulation through the FSMI as well as Society for Knowledge Commons. In addition to producing literature on the issue, we have organized signature petitions and been involved with coordination with other civil society groups to raise public awareness of the issue. We have submitted comments to the TRAI as well as DoT (amongst other law and policy making authorities) on the issue and written extensively in both new and traditional media.

 

One of the biggest challenges we have faced has been to demystify the issue of net neutrality – which can appear technical and intimidating to the lay public. However, the response to the TRAI consultations clearly indicates that the public of India is interested in such issues – and will not allow a vital resource to be turned into a money making machine for corporates.

 

The TRAI order barring the use of zero-rated and similar platforms (that breach net neutrality principles), represents a huge win for the thousands of activists who have been involved with this issue. Nonetheless, there is still plenty of work to do – as there are still numerous unresolved issues (for instance that of what are legitimate traffic management practices, whether websites can be slowed down or sped up by service providers, etc.) that could affect how Indians access the Internet.

 

Further Resources:

 

 

An update on the Patent Office Guidelines on Computer Related Inventions

I – Background:

 

The Indian Patent Office (IPO) is the authority designated in the Patents Act, 1970 to review applications for and grant patents.

 

While the IPO cannot make law regarding patents – that is generally speaking, the function of Parliament – the role it plays in regulating the IP system in the country is critical.

 

Following demands for the IPO to codify its practices, the authority released a draft Manual of Patent Office Practice and Procedure in 2009. Following a process of public comment and revision, the Manual was finalized in 2011.

 

The Manual is important as it lays out the way in which the Patent Office will scrutinize patent applications – in order to see whether an innovation is fit for patenting or not. The Manual is supposed to bring consistency and uniformity to the methods followed by the patent examiners and also enhances transparency in their functioning.

 

In 2013, the IPO released a set of draft Guidelines pertaining to how the authority would examine inventions related to computers. These draft Guidelines broadly followed the scope of the parent legislation – the Patents Act – which contains specific provisions that proscribe the patenting of algorithms, business methods, mathematical methods and computer programmes ‘per se’.

 

Following various rounds of meetings with stakeholders (which include representatives of industry as well as civil society, including the Society for Knowledge Commons), the IPO issued its final Guidelines on Computer Related Inventions in August 2015 (the CRI Guidelines). These Guidelines were to replace the existing provisions in the Manual when it came to the examination of computer related inventions.

 

II – The Problem: 

 

The Indian Patent Act, 1970, in Section 3, lists various artifacts that are not deemed to be inventions and therefore not capable of being granted a patent. Amongst the proscribed inventions are, in sub-section (k), “a mathematical or business method or a computer program per se or algorithms”.

 

The purpose of such a provision is well understood – intellectual property law in jurisdictions around the world agrees that subject matter which would have the practical effect of preempting laws of nature or which seek to privatize abstract ideas are ineligible for patent protection.[i]

 

Accordingly, Section 3(k) is on the face of it, fairly clear in explicitly ruling out mathematical and business methods and algorithms, in any form, from the scope of patenting. Further, computer programs (software) “per se” cannot be granted a patent.

 

The CRI Guidelines when finally notified in August 2015, however, went against the letter and sprit of the statute and sought to expand the scope of patenting available to mathematical and business methods, algorithms and software.

 

The CRI Guidelines state that if a patent application specifies an apparatus in connection with or a technical process for carrying out a business method or demonstrates a practical application for a mathematical method, it can be considered an invention (i.e. could be the subject of patenting if it meets the other tests of patentability). This, however, clearly violates the letter and spirit of Section 3(k) of the Patents Act.

 

In so far as software patents are concerned, the CRI Guidelines misinterpreted legislative history of the Patents Act (and section 3(k) in particular) and stated that a patent should not be denied if a claim directed primarily at software also establishes industrial applicability of the invention. The CRI Guidelines also permitted patents to be granted where a claim showed novel software in combination with known hardware that goes beyond the normal interaction with that hardware and that affects a change in functionality of the hardware.

 

This interpretation of Section 3(k) basically ignored the fact that in its 2005 amendment to the Patent Act, Parliament specifically rejected proposed amendments to Section 3(k) that would have the effect of further narrowing the exception created by the section (thereby increasing the scope of patenting software). Parliament specifically rejected proposals to permit software to be patented when industrial or technical application was demonstrated or when in a combination with hardware.

 

What these changes mean is that merely by strapping a hardware device onto a new or novel software, the applicant could get a patent. Similarly with a mathematical method or business method – mere addition of a hardware component could see a patent granted.

 

III – Why this is an important issue:

 

Today, there is a greater understanding globally that software patents can actually harm innovation, reduce investment in productive R&D, and can hamper the spread of knowledge. Research has found that not only do software patents restrict technological progress and encourage monopolisation, they massively enhance costs through the creation of patent thickets and through the diversion of funds from productive R&D towards litigation[ii] and discovery/licenses[iii]. Enhancing patent protection for software has only really benefited patent trolls who sue innovative companies based on spurious claims. It is worth pointing out that 62% of troll litigation in the US involves software patents.[iv] Given that app. developers typically lack the resources to defend against trolls, this basically means a stunting of technical progress and innovation.[v]

 

IV – What we are doing about it: 

 

Following the notification of the CRI Guidelines by the IPO, various civil society organizations, members of academia as well as various representatives of the tech- industry, came together to start a campaign to seek revision of the CRI Guidelines.

 

We petitioned the patent office, the Prime Minister of India, and sought to draw public attention to the issue using both traditional and new media.

 

Following our interventions, the Patent Office has decided to keep the CRI Guidelines in abeyance pending further discussions.

 

We are currently involved in meetings with the IPO to draft a fresh set of Guidelines that will actually follow the letter and spirit of the Patents Act.

 

V – Further reading: 

 

Endnotes

[i] Generally speaking, all intellectual property laws seek to balance two competing interests – that of society in general (which is benefitted by a free flow of information) versus incentivizing creation or development of new technologies/ideas (and the consequent social benefits brought by such progress). It is generally accepted that permitting IP protection is by way of exception to the general norm requiring free flow of information (as IP protection creates monopolies over knowledge). (See the dicta of the US Supreme Court in Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 US 1, 7-11 (1966)). In the case of abstract ideas such as mathematical models, algorithms, business methods etc., it is argued that these are all natural / naturally occurring – and as such are not ‘invented’, but merely ‘discovered’. It is therefore argued that only God / nature could have a patent on such subject matter. See generally Thomas Jeffersons letter to Isaac McPherson in 1813 about the nature of ideas – http://movingtofreedom.org/2006/10/06/thomas-jefferson-on-patents-and-freedom-of-ideas/ The US Supreme Court has in fact recently reaffirmed (in the Alice v BLC Bank decision), “Laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are the basic tools of scientific and technological work. Monopolization of those tools through the grant of a patent might tend to impede innovation more than it would tend to promote it,” thereby thwarting the primary object of the patent laws… We have “repeatedly emphasized this . . . concern that patent law not inhibit further discovery by improperly tying up the future use of these building blocks of human ingenuity.”

[ii] Scholars Christina Mulligan and Timothy B. Lee estimated that it would take roughly 2,000,000 patent attorneys working full-time to compare every software-producing firm’s products with every software patent issued in a given year (in the US). Mulligan and Lee estimate that this would cost the U.S. economy $400 billion a year. In reality, the costs would likely be far greater, since these scholars guesstimated the average cost of a patent attorney as being $100 an hour, when in fact it is now much higher. The American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) estimates the mean cost of a patent attorney or patent agent as being $371 an hour in 2011. Using AIPLA’s hourly mean, it would cost approximately $1.5 trillion a year to screen every software program against software patents issued just that year (and that is assuming it only takes 10 minutes to clear an individual patent).  Put another way, conducting thorough software patent clearances would consume — at a minimum — 10% of the U.S. GDP (and perhaps considerably more).  This exceeds the value-add that the nation’s information industries, (software, publishing, data processing, telecommunications) provide to U.S. GDP in the first place.  In fact, it is nearly 2.5 times the amount of money spent by the U.S. Government on national defense in 2012.

[iii] Software patents have extremely high discovery costs – making it virtually impossible for a regular app developer to try and find out what patents his innovation may or may not violate. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2016968

[iv] http://scienceprogress.org/2013/05/software-patents-separating-rhetoric-from-facts/

[v] A disproportionate share of patent litigation concerns software patents. The non-partisan government agency, GAO, found that the number of defendants in patent lawsuits more than doubling from 2007 through 2011. Notably, this increase is specifically related to software patents — software patents account for 89% of the increase, according to the GAO’s calculations. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/09/03/the-patent-troll-crisis-is-really-a-software-patent-crisis/ . Other research shows that a software patent is four times as likely as a chemical patent to be involved in litigation; a software patent on a method of doing business is thirteen times more likely to be litigated. Nor are these high rates of litigation a result of the newness of software patents. After hundreds of thousands have now been issued, the probability that a software patent will be used in a lawsuit has gone up, not down. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/09/03/the-patent-troll-crisis-is-really-a-software-patent-crisis/

Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Free Basics (from global civil society)

Thirty groups from around the world, including the Society for Knowledge Commons, have penned an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg regarding Facebook’s recent actions concerning the Free Basics program in India. The letter urges Facebook to meaningfully and respectfully engage with Net Neutrality advocates who are fighting for a free and open internet across the globe.

Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Net Neutrality Advocacy in India

Facebook’s Fraudulent Campaign on Free Basics

Article from Newsclick on Facebook’s Free Basics campaign in India

Facebook’s Fraudulent Campaign on Free Basics

The Trojan Horse of Free Basics

Article from Newsclick on Free Basics

The Trojan Horse of Free Basics

What Facebook Wont Tell You About Free Basics

Article from Newsclick on Free Basics and their ad-campaign in India:

What Facebook Won’t Tell you About Free Basics

Submissions to the TRAI Consultation on Differential Pricing for Data Services

Initial Comments of the Society for Knowledge Commons apropos of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s Consultation Paper No. 8/2015 on Differential Pricing for Data Services are available at:

KC Response to TRAI Consultation on Differential Data Pricing – Dec 29, 2015 – e submission

The counter comments of the Society for Knowledge Commons on the same Consultation Paper are available at:

KC Counter comments to TRAI – differential pricing of data – Jan 14, 2016

Comments on India’s position on the ITU’s International Telecommunication Reccomendations (2012)

KC was part of a group of civil society organisations that commented on the Indian government position at the ITU’s World Conference on Information Technology held in Dubai in 2012 to discuss framing new International Telecomunication Regulations.

covering letter

INTRODUCTION – CIVIL SOCIETY RECOS ON ITR AMENDMENTS

COMMENTS ON INDIAS PROPOSAL FOR ITR AMENDMENTS