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Is spectre of digital communism haunting?

Vladimir Milovidov Head of the Centre for Socio-Economic Studies at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Head of International Finance Chair at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Head of the Federal Service for Financial Markets in 2007-2011

According to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, a spectre used to be haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. Inspired by technological achievements of the industrial revolution, on the one hand, and dejected by the poor conditions of the exploited proletariat, on the other hand, the founders of Marxism hoped there could emerge an absolutely new society free of inequality and based on free labor and social life. Nowadays, impressed by the current progress in technologies and social informatization, new dreamers appear claiming their own messiahship. True, the modern world is continuously turning into a single social network which has no evident governance centers. It appears it wages a life of its own based on a humanitarian consent of its participants, i.e. on some assumed rules which a growing number of digitalization disciples is ready to follow.

A digital communism concept, a society where digital technologies make all people equal and destroy the institutional hierarchy of the thousands years old analogue era, opens limitless opportunities for imagination and creative activities to every individual. And this concept is finding a growing manifestation in the wordings of the ardent technocracy’s and academic anarchism’s representatives.

The most striking examples are John David McAfee, a software specialist and computer viruses fighter and cryptocurrency enthusiast, as well as David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist and one of the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Last May, both published brilliant texts which attracted audience’s broadest attention. On May 15 David Graeber’s new book, Bullshit Jobs: Theory, was released. On May 25, Team McAfee published on a new website its Declaration of Currency Independence, sort of a cryptocurrency supporters’ manifesto.

David Graeber follows the concept which he stated in his landmark book, Debt: The First 5000 Years. There, he formulated the basic principle of the financial slavery. First, people’s mutual obligations shaped stable bonds of voluntary humanitarian agreements. Then, after money appeared, such agreements’ monetization took place. A rigorous calculation of debts started taking place, and an economic hierarchy, from a borrower to a lender, was being built. The right to collect debts is thus established in the financial institutions’ hierarchic system, and such institutions start exploiting everyone and everything on a global scale. Productive labor gets replaced by the labor of those who are servicing the broad debts collection system and thus supporting financial capital’s domination. Graeber labels such activities as bullshit jobs. In 2013, in his popular essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant which was a prologue to this new book, he referred to the data evidencing a threefold growth, over the past century, of the servicing, and not productive, activities of clerks, managers, sellers, employees of the servicing sectors. This attack against servicing activities which postindustrialism ideologists proclaimed the most important attribute of the society’s shift to a higher development level, is better understood in the present-day technology revolution and economic activity intellectualization situation. A robotization brings about a risk for many employees engaged in bullshit jobs to become redundant. Artificial intelligence opens new horizons for transforming employment structure and reducing working hours. David Graeber insists that all of the bullshit jobs are invented and maintained in order to preserve the powers of the financial capital. Referring to John Maynard Keynes’ 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren (Keynes J.M. Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren. In “Essays in Persuasion”. New York, Harcourt Brace, 1932, p. 358-373), which summarized a dream of a prosperity and wellbeing society brought about by the technological revolution, Graeber claims that despite the existing technological capacities the financial capital’s dominance does not allow people to even now work three or four hours a day and have enough free time for their personal improvement and creative activities. A human being must be freed from a useless labor. But for that, the financial capital’s power must be destroyed. Isn’t that a communist utopia, based not on Marxism, but on the Keynesian theory? The IMF founder and a hobgoblin for antiglobalists and anarchists would have been greatly surprised to know that.

In May 2018, 170 years after the Communist Manifesto was published, Team McAfee appealed to Bitcoin and blockchain enthusiasts with a pledge to sign the Declaration of Currency Independence. The wordings of McAfee’s Declaration very much resemble the Marks’ slogans of Expropriation of the Expropriators and Having nothing to lose… But a world to win. The main point of the Declaration’s authors is, The time has come for Money to be separated from State, and for the first time, the tools are available. The authors challenge those who, in their view, ruin Value, the source of which is energy consumption by a man, a machine, and the nature. Due to the traditional money inflation, the Value is devalued. The traditional moneys are controlled by states which are guided by political expedience rather than by economic and rational motivations, and have become mechanisms of suppression and inhibition of human beings. Labor instead of creating Value turns into a set of actions of advocating the bubble of unequally distributed wealth.

McAfee supporters clearly bet on a new understanding of the ways to resolve the social inequality situation which is getting hard to ignore. Ruining state’s money monopoly, and monetary relationship democratization means diminishing the very foundations of the contemporary hierarchically structured financial community. Values must regain their true meaning and just measure.

The initial concepts of the digital communism (with a possible slogan, Digital Capacities Must Meet All Social Needs) are an evident response by the left intellectuals to the dramatic technological shifts within contemporary social developments. Diverse mobile applications, digital assistants, systems of performing various transactions provide unique opportunities to an individual, allowing to resolve virtually any routine issues and problems within seconds and without leaving home. There appear decentralized autonomous organizations, and the very nature of a productive labor is changing. Requirements to new soft skills such as creativity, emotions control, network communication, flexibility in adapting to changing conditions and tasks, are growing. This pyramid of transformations is certainly supplemented by a cryptocurrencies explosive development. Cryptocurrencies do not need any centralized issue procedures and are generated through mathematical computations and unbiased algorithms which are unaware of any political expediency. All of the above has an impact on a human thinking and shapes a new perception of social values and a desire to see new prospects. Utopians at all times tried to foresee or even build a desirable future based on technologies they were familiar with. The Cities of the Sun, new Atlantis where latest technology achievements are coupled with individuals’ free creative activities, and the present-day digital society structures have one essential thing in common. They are all embodiments of human ideas of the Lost Paradise which humans have been looking for since the day they were doomed by the Creator to hard toils.

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