I'm still not convinced, from the comments on the post below, that I have at all distorted the statement Stan Apps and Matthew Timmons wrote for Fold. Indeed, everything Stan says here, in response, only convinces me of the rightness of my reading. Perhaps I might have better avoided talking about their intentions and merely discussed the ideological positions that are suspended, as it were, within the text. As for my concluding that the piece was about the internet, its invocation of a vast, perduring cultural archive that need be merely replicated or re-distributed for the purposes of art (not to mention its ennui with the book) makes my deduction a rather elementary one, I think.
If I had it to write over again, I would probably put in something about how, problematic though it is, there is something to be said for their imagination of a world without scarcity. Indeed, in the essay for Action, Yes where I first set out some of these ideas, I wrote the following:
5.1 The point, then, is that to the extent that the internet fails to thrust me back onto my own lap, to the extent that it fails to render crystal clear the ugliness and smallness of the life I lead in all its terrible complicities, and to the extent that it fails to fail to escape these conditions, it is a vicious augmentation of the spectacular aerosolization of all that’s solid, a burp in the calculator. We must build a here there, and a there here. To the extent that it fails to remind us of this need, and that it pretends to satisfy it, it is a gorgeous, bourgeois lie. It may be the best bourgeois lie ever, but it is a lie nonetheless.* * *
5.2.1. Secondly, though, the positive aspect of the internets—of hyperlinked blog conversations, of the endless lateral arrays of information—must also be stressed through a sufficiently dialectical account. Like all utopias, the internet provides us with a ideological model, a vision—crude, blind in places, yes—of a classless society, a system of voluntaristic affiliations, confederations and recalibrations, a labile performance of self as internalized otherness, citation. Nor can we discount the possibilities it has allowed for the author as producer, self-distributing her self-designed books by word-of-keyboard. We can applaud this. Applause, too, to the presence here of intellectuals and artists outside of traditional academic and cultural institutions, who can discuss the philosophy of Condillac, labor strikes in Egypt, and the latest volume of The Grand Piano. And since we like things that are free almost as much as we hate capitalism, we cannot but cheer at the presence of www.ubu.com or www.marxists.org. It is undoubtedly a fine thing that the training or development of writers can now take place, nearly completely, outside of formal institutional space. What we must take measure of, however, is the extent to which such institutions persist in dematerialized forms.This still seems, essentially, correct. I like Jameson's account of utopia--that its value is that it throws us back upon the present, and shows us the difficulty (though not impossibility) of imagining a future which doesn't, ineluctably, reproduce that present, while at the same time driving home ever more clearly the unbearability of such a present. I don't think I necessarily get a pass here. I don't have all of the answers, and many of the answers I do have are likely to be wrong.
5.2.2 But the extent to which I experience these enthusiasms must be the extent to which I need them as fantasy. The ungraspable, bodiless utopia of the internet, inside the pores of which circulates the same sad non-communication as before, allows for a view of the virtual whose actualization it, in fact, thwarts. We need an internet of the streets. An internet with bodies.
Still, Stan's post clarifies, as have all his remarks, the substantial difference between our positions. It's certainly right that scarcity in late capitalism is largely manufactured. The problem, though, with the utopian imagination he sets out there is that it conflates productive capacity with the products themselves. He's right that there is sufficient productive capacity to meet the entire planet's needs, let everyone work twenty hours and devote the rest of our hours to time travel. But this does not imply, however much this is a truism on the left, that one can simply redistribute the existing products and meet everybody's needs. There may be adequate productive capacity, but there are not adequate products. A post-capitalist and truly post-scarcity world would need to radically recast production. In many cases, there is enough of a certain product (say, wheat) for everyone's needs, but in other cases there isn't anywhere close to enough of what people need, because capitalism only produces things that are profitable. Since Stan likes to use agriculture as an example, let's take the current food crisis. Although it's true that a good part of the crisis has to do with commodities speculators driving up prices, as well as the agribusiness scam known as biofuel, it also has to do with a restructuring over the last 30 years of the kinds of things people grow (and eat) that is completely inconsistent with existing needs (except for those of Monsanto and Cargill). For instance, in the Philippines, as it tells you in this article, there is simply not enough rice. And there isn't enough rice anywhere else. This is because the IMF and the WTO forced the Phillipines to liberalize their economy, transforming them into importers of rice and exporters of cash crops like flowers and asparagus. Similarly, capitalism currently devotes an incredible amount of labor capacity to prospecting for, and developing industries dependent upon, fossil fuels, and ridiculously small amounts to developing alternative energy sources. The people of the earth, especially those who live near sea level, have a need for clean energy, but clean energy doesn't, currently, exist. These problems don't have to do with distribution, but with the kinds of things that are produced. You can't just re-distribute resources that don't exist. As I said in the comments below, the problems with capitalism have to do with contradictions between production for profit and the needs that people actually have; and this means there will be an ample supply of Viagra but a less than ample supply of drugs for easily treated tropical diseases; lots of McMansions, but not enough affordable housing, etc. You can call this lecturing, but somehow I don't feel that this point is well-understood.
Secondly, most products are perishable, or will quickly wear-out. So any plan to merely distribute existing products will require that people continue to work the same shitty, body-destroying and soul-crushing jobs that they work now. Merely focusing on distribution means, in effect, saying that everybody should continue doing what they are doing now, a proposition that a majority of the world will likely (and should) find intolerable. This focus on distribution strikes me as the kind of position that somebody like me, somebody whose job it is to reproduce the relations of production, is much more likely to take when considering the weaknesses of capitalism. But I dare say the maquiladora worker, aside from wanting access to affordable food, health care and housing, also wants a better job.
Trust me, no one will be happier than me when robots do all of the work and the only problems are those of distribution, but that's not what we're looking at now. For now, any kind of alternative to capitalism will have to reform the relations of productions, and overcome the division of labor, so that some of us don't have to do shitty work for twelve hours a day until they die while others of us argue about it on the internet. This is not a problem of distribution. And it brings us back to the question of the revolutionary seizure of the means of production. I don't find Stan's bromides about the impossibility of overcoming the "spine" of capitalism or his worries about the violence that accompanies such radical measures all that compelling, needless to say. Some large measure of responsibility for such violence surely has to be placed on the shoulders of the counter-revolution. I, for one, would first go blaming Reagan and his death squads for the tragedy of Central America in the 80s rather than Marxist ideology, personally. Not incidentally, in my view, the problem with past Marxisms--in, say, the Soviet Union for instance--is that they weren't radical enough. For the most part, while production in the Soviet Union wasn't production for profit, and the masses had more access to the surpluses produced, the relations of production remained, by and large, what they were elsewhere. The same division of labor obtained.
It's almost needless to say, but whether you think I'm right or Stan's right (if either of us are) will mean, if you care, that the current historical moment demands a very particular kind of response. And that matters. At least it matters to me.