by McKenzie Wark
This land is your land, this land is my land
This land is your land, this land is my land
—Gang of Four
This land is your land, this land is my land
A class arises—the working class—able to question the necessity of private property . A party arises, within the worker’s movement, claiming to answer to working class desires—the communists. As Marx writes, “in all these movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.” This was the answer communists proposed to the property question: “centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state.” Making property a state monopoly only produced a new ruling class, and a new and more brutal class struggle. But is that our ﬁnal answer? Perhaps the course of the class struggle is not yet over. Perhaps there is another class that can open the property question in a new way—and in keeping the question open end once and for all the monopoly of the ruling classes on the ends of history.
There is a class dynamic driving each stage of the development of this vectoral world in which we now ﬁnd ourselves. The vectoral class is driving this world to the brink of disaster, but it also opens up the world to the resources for overcoming its own destructive tendencies. In the three successive phases of commodiﬁcation, quite different ruling classes arise, usurping different forms of private property. Each ruling class in turn drives the world towards evermore abstract ends.
First arises a pastoralist class. They disperse the great mass of peasants who traditionally worked the land under the thumb of feudal lords. The pastoralists supplant the feudal lords, releasing the productivity of nature that they claim as their private property. It is this privatisation of property—a legal hack—that creates the conditions for every other hack by which the land is made to yield a surplus. A vectoral world rises on the shoulders of the agricultural hack.
As new forms of abstraction make it possible to produce a surplus from the land with fewer and fewer farmers, pastoralists turn them off their land, depriving them of their living. Dispossessed farmers seek work and a new home in cities. Here capital puts them to work in its factories. Farmers become workers. Capital as property gives rise to a class of capitalists who own the means of production, and a class of workers, dispossessed of it—and by it. Whether as workers or farmers, the direct producers ﬁnd themselves dispossessed not only of their land, but of the greater part of the surplus they produce, which accumulates to the pastoralists in the form of rent as the return on land, and to capitalists in the form of proﬁt as the return on capital.
Dispossessed farmers become workers, only to be dispossessed again. Having lost their land, they lose in turn their culture. Capital produces in its factories not just the necessities of existence, but a way of life it expects its workers to consume. Commodiﬁed life dispossess the worker of the information traditionally passed on outside the realm of private property as culture, as the gift of one generation to the next, and replaces it within formation in commodiﬁed form.
Information, like land or capital, becomes a form of property monopolised by a class, a class of vectoralists, so named because they control the vectors along which information is abstracted, just as capitalists control the material means with which goods are produced, and pastoralists the land with which food is produced. This information, once the collective property of the productive classes—the working and farming classes considered together—becomes the property of yet another appropriating class.
As peasants become farmers through the appropriation of their land, they still retain some autonomy over the disposition of their working time. Workers, even though they do not own capital, and must work according to its clock and its merciless time, could at least struggle to reduce the working day and release free time from labour. Information circulated within working class culture as a public property belonging to all. But when information in turn becomes a form of private property, workers are dispossessed of it, and must buy their own culture back from its owners, the vectoralist class. The farmer becomes a worker, and the worker, a slave. The whole world becomes subject to the extraction of a surplus from the producing classes that is controlled by the ruling classes, who use it merely to reproduce and expand this spiral of exploitation. Time itself becomes a commodiﬁed experience.
The producing classes - farmers, workers, hackers—struggle against the expropriating classes --pastoralists, capitalists, vectoralists — but these successive ruling classes struggle also amongst themselves. Capitalists try to break the pastoral monopoly on land and subordinate the produce of the land to industrial production. Vectoralists try to break capital’s monopoly on the production process, and subordinate the production of goods to the circulation of information: “The privileged realm of electronic space controls the physicallogistics of manufacture, since the release of raw materials and manufactured goods requires electronic consent and direction.”
That the vectoralist class has replaced capital as the dominant exploiting class can be seen in the form that the leading corporations take. These ﬁrms divest themselves of their productive capacity, as this is no longer a source of power. They rely on a competing mass of capitalist contractors for the manufacture of their products. Their power lies in monopolising — patents, copyright sand trademarks—and the means of reproducing their value— the vectors of communication. The privatisation of information becomes the dominant, rather than a subsidiary, aspect of commodiﬁed life. “There is a certain logic to this progression: ﬁrst, a select group of manufacturers transcend their connection to earthbound products, then, with marketing elevated as the pinnacle of their business, they attempt to alter marketing’s social status as a commercial interruption and replace it with seamless integration.” With the rise of the vectoral class, the vectoral world is complete.
As private property advances from land to capital to information, property itself becomes more abstract. Capital as property frees land from its spatial ﬁxity. Information as property frees capital from its ﬁxity in a particular object. This abstraction of property makes property itself something amenable to accelerated innovation—and conﬂict. Class conﬂict fragments, but creeps into any and every relation that becomes a relation of property. The property question, the basis of class, becomes the question asked everywhere, of everything. If “class” appears absent to the apologists of our time, it is not because it has become just another in a series of antagonisms and articulations, but on the contrary because it has become the structuring principle of the vectoral plane which organises the play of identities as differences.
The hacker class, producer of new abstractions, becomes more important to each successive ruling class, as each depends more and more on information as a resource. Land cannot be reproduced at will. Good land lends itself to scarcity , and the abstraction of private property is almost enough on its own to protect the rents of the pastoral class. Capital’s proﬁts rest on more easily reproducible means of production, its factories and inventories. The capitalist ﬁrm sometimes needs the hacker to reﬁne and advance the tools and techniques of productions to stay a breast of the competition. Information is the most easily reproducible object ever captured in the abstraction of property. Nothing protects the vectoralist business from its competitors other than its capacity to qualitatively transform the information it possesses and extract new value from it. The services of the hacker class become indispensable to an economy that is itself more and more dispensable—an economy of property and scarcity.
As the means of production become more abstract, so too does the property form. Property has to expand to contain more and more complex forms of difference, and reduce it to equivalence. To render land equivalent, it is enough to draw up its boundaries, and create a means of assigning it as an object to a subject. Complexities will arise, naturally, from this unnatural imposition on the surface of the world, although the principle is a simple abstraction. But for something to be represented as intellectual property, it is not enough for it to be inadifferent location. It must be qualitatively different. That difference, which makes a copyright or a patent possible, is the work of the hacker class. The hacker class makes what Bateson calls “the difference that makes the difference.” The difference that drives the abstraction of the world, but which also drives the accumulation of class power in the hands of the vectoral class.
The hacker class arises out of the transformation of information into property, in the form of intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, copyright and the moral right of authors. These legal hacks make of the hack a property producing process, and thus a class producing process. The hack produces the class force capable of asking—and answering—the property question, the hacker class. The hacker class is the class with the capacity to creates not only new kinds of object and subject in the world, not only new kinds of property form in which they may be represented, but new kinds of relation, with new properties, which question the property form itself. The hacker class realises itself as a class when it hacks the abstraction of property and overcomes the limitations of existing forms of property .
The hacker class may be ﬂattered by the attention lavished upon it by capitalists compared to pastoralists, and vectoralists compared to capitalists. Hackers tend to ally at each turn with the more abstract form property and commodity relation. But hackers soon feel the restrictive grip of each ruling class, as it secures its dominance over its predecessor and rival, and can renege on the dispensations it extended to hackers as a class. The vectoralist class, in particular, will go out of its way to court and coopt the productivity of hackers, but only because of its attenuated dependence on new abstraction as the engine of competition among vectoral interests themselves. When the vectoralists act in concert as a class it is to subject hacking to the prerogatives of its class power.
The vectoral world is dynamic, struggling to put new abstractions to work, producing new freedoms from necessity. The direction this struggle takes is not given in the course of things, but is determined by the struggle between classes. All classes enter into relations of conﬂict, collusion and compromise. Their relations are not necessarily dialectical. Classes may form alliances of mutual interest against other classes, or may arrive at a “historic compromise," for a time. Yet despite pauses and setbacks, the class struggle drives history into abstraction and abstraction into history .
Sometimes capital forms an alliance with the pastoralists, and the two classes effectively merge their interests under the leadership of the capitalist interest. Sometimes capital forms an alliance with workers against the pastoralist class, an alliance quickly broken once the dissolution of the pastoralist class is achieved. These struggles leave their traces in the historical form of the state, which maintains the domination of the ruling class interest and at the same time adjudicates among the representatives of competing classes.
History of full of surprises. Sometimes—for a change—the workers form an alliance with the farmers that socialises private property and put it in the hands of the state, while liquidating the pastoralist and capitalist classes. In this case, the state then becomes a collective pastoralist and capitalist class, and wields class power over a commodity economy organised on a bureaucratic rather than competitive basis.
The vectoralist class emerges out of competitive, rather than bureaucratic states. Competitive conditions drive the search for productive abstraction more effectively. The development of abstract forms of intellectual property creates the relative autonomy in which the hacker class can produce abstractions, although this productivity is constrained within the commodity form.
One thing unites pastoralists, capitalists and vectoralists— the sanctity of the property form on which class power depends. Each depends on forms of abstraction that they may buy and own but do not produce. Each comes to depend on the hacker class, which ﬁnds new ways of making nature productive, which discovers new patterns in the data thrown off by nature and second nature, which produce new abstractions through which nature maybe made to yield more of a second nature—perhaps even a “third nature.”
The hacker class, being numerically small and not owning the means of production, ﬁnds itself caught between a politics of the masses from below and a politics of the rulers from above. It must bargain as best it can, or do what it does best--hack out a new politics, beyond this opposition. In the long run, the interests of the hacker class are in accord with those who would beneﬁt most from the advance of abstraction, namely those productive classes dispossessed of the means of production—farmers and workers. In the effort to realise this possibility the hacker class hacks politics itself, creating a new polity, turning mass politics into a politics of multiplicity, in which all the productive classes can express their virtuality .
The hacker interest cannot easily form alliances with forms of mass politics that subordinate minority differences to unity in action. Mass politics always run the danger of suppressing the creative, abstracting force of the interaction of differences. The hacker interest is not in mass representation, but in a more abstract politics that expresses the productivity of differences. Hackers, who produce many classes of knowledge out of many classes of experience, have the potential also to produce a new knowledge of class formation and action when working together with the collective experience of all the productive classes.
A class is not the same as its representation. In politics one must beware of representations held out to be classes, which represent only a fraction of a class and do not express its multiple interests. Classes do not have vanguards that may speak for them. Classes express themselves equally in all of their multiple interests and actions.
Through the development of abstraction, freedom may yet be wrested from necessity. The vectoralist class, like its predecessors, seeks to shackle abstraction to the production of scarcity and margin, not abundance and liberty. The formation of the hacker class as a class comes at just this moment when freedom from necessity and from class domination appears on the horizon as a possibility. Negri: “What is this world of political, ideological and productive crisis, this world of sublimation and uncontrollable circulation? What is it, then, if not an epoch-making leap beyond everything humanity has hitherto experienced?... It constitutes simultaneously the ruin and the new potential of all meaning.” All that it takes is the hacking of the hacker class as a class, a class capable of hacking property itself, which is the fetter upon all productive means and on the productivity of meaning.
The struggle among classes has hitherto determined the disposition of the surplus, the regime of scarcity and the form in which production grows. But now the stakes are far higher. Survival and liberty are both on the horizon at once. The ruling classes turn not just the producing classes into an instrumental resource, but nature itself, to the point where class exploitation and the exploitation of nature become the same unsustainable objectiﬁcation. The potential of a class divided world to produce its own overcoming comes not a moment too soon.
McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto
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