When Left Theory "Leaves Behind the Dream of a Revolution": Class and the Software Economy

Rob Wilkie



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First introduced in Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media, and developed by such writers as N. Katherine Hayles (My Mother was a Computer), Alexander Galloway (Protocol), Benjamin H. Bratton (The Stack), Geoff Cox and Alex McLean (Speaking Code), and Mathew Fuller (Software Studies), the field of "software studies" proposes we have entered "a new computer culture" that is "a blend of human and computer meanings, of traditional ways in which human culture modeled the world and the computer's own means of representing it" (Manovich 46). From search engines to social networks, and cloud storage to self-driving vehicles, software studies takes as its starting point the notion we increasingly live in a "virtual" reality in which the rise of digital technologies and, more specifically, the immaterial labor creating the software that runs them, means "code now conditions existence in the West" (Kitchin and Dodge 260). It is not accidental that Elon Musk, the Internet's favorite billionaire, made headlines by speculating that the odds we are not already living inside a computer-coded software simulation are "one in billions" (Bault). Musk's musings on the possibility that material reality is defined by the immateriality of code reflect a broader notion connecting high theory and popular culture in which the "software revolution" said to be driving contemporary capitalism is a deconstructive "double-code." It refers not only to technological advances in how we produce, store, transmit, and access information, but more importantly to the belief that the significant role software plays in everything from manufacturing and finance to communications and entertainment represents a fundamental shift that "de-codes" the basis upon which capitalism is organized, bringing about the end of divisions between production and consumption, the material and the immaterial, and above all the class divide between owners and workers. Code, in short, has become the theoretical language through which class critique is deleted from the analysis of network capitalism.

Code theory is symptomatic of broader assumptions undergirding cultural theory today, for which class is either erased completely in favor of "power" and "inequality," or has become a "political concept" in which "our understanding of labor cannot be limited to waged labor but must refer to human creative capacities in all their generality" (Hardt and Negri 105). As such, I want to mark from the start that when I use the concept of class I am referring not to a cultural theory of class—that is, class as a series of shifting and amorphous political and cultural identities defined by a relation of "affinity" and "difference"—but rather to the objective economic division between owners and workers within capitalism that ultimately determines all other relations in society. Class, in other words, not in terms of the type of work that is done, or the way that people might perceive their own social position, but as the effect of "the specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of direct producers" and which "determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in tum, reacts upon it as a determining element" (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 778). While cultural theories of class blur the divisions between owners and workers either by promoting illusions of a commonality of Weberian lifestyle practices, or by dividing people into innumerable classes based upon employment type or income, I argue for a historical and material theory of class which brings back to the forefront of cultural theory the "hidden abode of production" (Marx, Capital Vol. 3 186) that shapes all other social relationships and explains why all of the contradictions of contemporary life—from rising poverty amidst increasing wealth, to the "digital divide" and "precarity" of work despite technological advances—are effects of the mode of production.

According to dominant readings of software in code theory, network capitalism is not defined by class divisions between owners and workers, but by oscillating and opposing antagonisms operating within structures of "power." Here I am referring to the Foucauldian argument that the exploitation of labor by capital has been replaced by the diktats of "biopower," or "a mode of production that makes life itself the site of valorization" (Galloway, The Interface Effect 136). According to the biopolitical reading of contemporary capitalism, surplus value "comes from the cognitive and immaterial product of a creative action" (Negri, "Labor" 19) and cannot be reduced to any particular activity or class. As such, the social ceases to be the space of class conflict and instead becomes a space of play between repressive forces which try to discipline eruptions of creativity in order to control any vital energies produced and the "disorganized, differential, and powerful multiplicity" whose creative acts ultimately resist all forms of control (Negri, "Labor" 22).

It is through this framework that the software revolution is read as a two-fold process that displaces the economics of class exploitation in favor of an oscillating cultural politics of "control" and "resistance." First, contemporary capitalism is said to represent what Deleuze and Guattari theorize as the "decoding" economy (Anti-Oedipus 246), or the idea that the production of profit under capitalism no longer rests on a clearly defined exploitation of labor by capital. Instead, capitalism is depicted as structured around an endless cycle of releasing and recapturing excessive creative energies generated by all social practices, not just those traditionally considered "work." In this post-labor, post-work form of network capitalism, profit depends upon capturing and selling the life activity of "users" whenever and wherever they log on to programs like Facebook or Snapchat, such that "the boundaries between work time and spare time, labour and play, become fuzzy" (Fuchs 126). Second, because of software's enabling of the capturing of creative energies through the continual tracking, recording, and shaping of user behavior, network capitalism supposedly dismantles the class division between owners and workers in favor of a series of constantly shifting assemblages that defy "reductive" class categorizations. Instead of the class binary of owners and workers, code theorists substitute the concept of "immaterial labor" in which the production of surplus value is "not completely confined to a specific class formation," but instead "is a form of activity of every productive subject within postindustrial societies" (Terranova 41). According to the theory of immaterial labor, class becomes an outdated concept the moment when everyone, regardless of whether they are at home or at work, turns out to be a producer of the information that is "data mined" by the Internet corporations who "accumulate profit by exploiting the play labour of users" (Fuchs 126). When all of us, actively or passively, are producing information commodities every time we log into our email, play a game, or even just turn on our phones, there is no longer an easy way of classifying who is an "owner" and who is a "worker." As Maurizio Lazzarato puts it,

in the era of immaterial labour and cooperation between minds it is not possible to think social conflicts in terms of the friend/enemy dichotomy or in terms of the conflict between two classes, nor in terms of liberal (private/public) or socialist (individual/collective) traditions (187).

The emerging code economy is thus taken to represent a spontaneous "communism of capitalism" (Virno 110) in which the elimination of traditional class contradictions between owners and workers through technological advances means the only remaining barrier to social equality is freeing life from the cultural homogenization of the network economy. In turn, social change is redefined as "exodus" from the instrumentality of work (Dyer­Witheford and de Peuter 218), rather than ending a system of private ownership of the means of production so that labor can be put to meeting the needs of all.

The idea that "software structures and makes possible much of the world" (Fuller 1), and that the "hard" work of commodity production is being replaced by the "soft" labor of coding information, upending in the process all social barriers between production and consumption, human and nonhuman, material and immaterial, and, above all, the class division between owners and workers, is said to mark the end of the history of social transformations. Manuel DeLanda argues, for instance, "Left" theory can only survive today if it "leaves behind the dream of a Revolution that changes the entire system" (48). On the contrary, I argue that the narrative of a code economy in which "labor is becoming even more informational and communicative" such that "all activities have been turned into production" (Cox and McLean 49) is the latest version of the desire for a post-class form of capitalism in which surplus value is created by the generation of new ideas, rather than the exploitation of labor. This ideological fantasy obscures the need for social transformation, since "there is no longer an outside to the relations of production" (Roggero 161), but instead celebrates "acceleration" in which "the liberation of the potentiality of labor against the blockage determined by capitalism must happen within the evolution of capitalism itself" (Negri, "Some Thoughts" 366). In contrast to the dominant reading of software as ushering in an era of post-class network capitalism, I argue new technologies such as software do not eliminate class but sharpen it. Software is the product of labor and thus, like all technologies under capitalism, a mechanism used by the owning class to extend rather than extinguish the exploitation of productive labor of the working class that is at the heart of the capitalist system. When examining the consequences of the software revolution, a historical and materialist theory of class, defined by Marx as one's position in the "direct relation between the owners of the conditions of production and the direct producers" (Capital Vol. 3 778), is necessary if we wish to bring about real social transformation and not just prepare a new generation of workers with the cultural and technological "skills" required by global capitalism.


Erasing Class: The "Life" of Software Assemblages

Software studies emerges as a challenge to capitalism's instrumental rationality which, through brutal technological efficiency, is said to turn the immeasurable singularity of "life" into "quantifiable metrics that are now visible and amenable for computation and processing" (Berry 2). Writers such as Lev Manovich (Software Takes Command), Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Programmed Visions), and Matthew Fuller (Software Studies) argue software is not simply a neutral series of algorithms-a passive object waiting for human agency—but an active assemblage, capturing of all aspects of life through the mechanisms of code while simultaneously creating "lines of flight" (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 21) that undermine quantitative reduction and open a space of resistance from within. Software studies is thus located, on the one hand, within the philosophical tradition of Heidegger's anti-instrumentalist poetics, which attempt to linguistically dematerialize the material world in order to naturalize class inequalities while nonetheless challenging the reduction of life to "standing-reserve" ("Question" 17), and, on the other, Foucault's theory of "biopolitics," in which capitalism is understood as shifting from labor exploitation to technics of power in order "to administer, optimize, and multiply [life], subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive administrations" (137). As such, it is part of a series of new philosophical movements, including "new materialism" (Bennett, Vibrant Matter), "thing theory" (Brown, Other Things), "speculative realism" (Shaviro, The Universe of Things), and "object-oriented-ontology" (Harman, Immaterialism), which claim to challenge capitalism's instrumental logic by recognizing the agency of all "actants" (Latour 75)—whether human or nonhuman, material or immaterial—in shaping the existing in unknown ways. Calling into question the representation of software as "realized instrumentality" (Fuller 3) and "a universal language through which the world speaks, and a universal engine on which the world runs" (Manovich, Software 2), software studies proponents argue code represents a posthuman vitality that, as an expression of nonhuman forms of liferesists capture as "a hybrid assemblage that is contingent, relational, productive, and made in the moment" (Kitchin and Dodge 246). In other words, software is an embodied metaphor for the attempt by humanity to reduce life to "means to an end" and the ability of life to exceed humanity's instrumental reason.

In Programmed Visions: Software and Memory, for example, Chun argues computing has been "central to the management and creation of populations, political economy and the apparatuses of security" and that "without [computers] there would be no government, no corporations, no schools, no global marketplace" (7). She writes that the role of software under neoliberalism has been to create the appearance of "the seemingly sovereign individual, the subject driven to know, driven to map, to zoom in and out, to manipulate, and to act" (8). However, the "sovereignty" of the individual, she continues, remains dependent upon "individuating us and also integrating us into a totality" defined by the terms of the global market. Yet, while Chun challenges the neoliberal idea of "empowerment" offered by software as giving the user "control" over things like access to market information that enables "better decisions" (8), her challenge is limited to exposing capitalism's inability to ever fully control the effects of software and thus incorporate it entirely within the structure of commodification. Software, in her analysis, remains a "ghostly presence" that "produces and defies apprehension" (3). Going back to Heidegger's theory of the "thing" as a Kantian materiality which exists by means other than those of human labor and beyond human reason ("The Thing" 179), Chun writes "software as thing cannot be reduced to software as a commodity" because a thing is simultaneously ambiguous and specific (6). She claims, despite the "dream" of complete and instantaneous access to information promised by neoliberalism, "our computers execute in unforeseen ways, the future opens to the unexpected. Because of this, any programmed vision will always be inadequate, will always give way to another future" (9). Similarly, Kitchin and Dodge argue "software is the product of a sociotechnical assemblage" (247), which means "the relationship between people, material technology, time, and space is contingent, relational, productive, and dynamic" (16) and thus forever "open to rupture" (19). The sense that code inherently resists capture reflects a belief that "neither the agency of human programmers nor the description of code fully accounts for the complex and rich ways that code creates a world (welt) beyond human design" (Holmes). Software "glitches" are read not as errors or failures, which would presume the existence of a normalized "operational" state, but a form of what Henri Bergson describes as élan vital, or spontaneous eruptions of "life force" that cannot be reduced to an "on/off" binary. When our computers fail to operate in expected ways, this argument goes, we are exposed to the limits of human intention in controlling life's flows, guaranteeing a "space for profound and unfinished imagination" (Fuller 7). In this sense, software becomes an expression of life's vitalism, which repels the intentionality of control and design. As software studies proponents argue, the "possible and often unpredictable actions that result when a program runs" (Cox and McLean 63) mean that the creativity of life, even if that life is the post-life of software, "is not simply reducible to market principles" (Cox and McLean 51).

The depiction of software as one agent in a series of "hybrid assemblages" (Kitchin and Dodge 16) which "tie humans and non-humans together into new aggregates" (Berry 2) draws heavily upon Deleuze and Guattari's reworking of Bergsonian vitalism in their claim that the transformation of capitalism can only happen from within, by "accelerat[ing] the process" of decoding and deterritorializing—that is, the explosion of schizophrenic desires which exceed attempts of re-coding and control—that capitalism inevitably unleashes upon itself (Anti-Oedipus 240). Arguing that "Marxist economists too often dwell on considerations concerning the mode of production" (230), what has made Deleuze and Guattari's work so influential is not their ability to effectively explain anything about capitalism, but the way in which they blur the material basis of class divisions in the private ownership of the means of production, while nonetheless appealing to a sense of frustration and hostility toward an increasingly homogenizing and instrumental capitalist culture. The rhetorically "crude" and "disruptive" aspects of their writings—repeated uses of "shit" and "fuck," for example—situate them as the "hipster" opposition to "staid" corporatizing forces that stunt the possibilities of everyday life, while at the same time promising workers that challenging the banality of corporate culture requires nothing more than fully acceding to one's desires. The celebration of their work by those claiming to resist corporate culture reflects the extent to which the capitalist ideology that surplus value comes from sources other than exploited labor has taken hold in contemporary "Left" theory.

According to Deleuze and Guattari, history is defined by the emergence and resistance of life forces to that which attempts to capture these "flows of desire, to inscribe them, to record them, to see to it that no flow exists that is not properly damned up, channeled, regulated" (33). All societies operate as assemblages and, through the deployment of "codes" designed to structure the possibilities and limits available to all participants within the assemblage, attempt to tame the vitalism of desire and direct it toward maintaining unequal power relations. In this model, desire is that which exceeds attempts by the "socius" to contain it in order to extract value from it. Desire, they argue, is revolutionary because it represents an inherent and unconscious resistance to the intentionality of human design "by wanting what it wants" (116). It is, for them, a measure of élan vital. In displacing the analysis of production under capitalism in favor of a system they claim is based upon the generation and controlling of desire, Deleuze and Guattari argue "the theoretical opposition" within capitalism "is not between two classes," but rather "between, on the one hand, the decoded flows that enter into a class axiomatic on the full body of capital, and on the other hand, the decoded flows that free themselves from this axiomatic" (255). By declaring all production is desiring-production, and proposing all are subject to the "axiomatic" of control of capitalism's desire-capturing assemblage, there is no basis upon which to differentiate between owners and workers. Property in Deleuze and Guattari instead becomes a post-class potential for "creativity," expressed by anyone regardless of their objective position in the division of labor.

The influence of Deleuze and Guattari's post-class theory of "desire" is engrained in the way in which software studies approaches the relationship between class and the labor that produces surplus value. In Speaking Code: Coding as Aesthetic and Political Expression, for example, Cox and McLean argue network capitalism is less about the exploitation of labor than "captur[ing] the creative and communicative capacity of the socialized labor force and turn it into information that can be marketized" (49). According to their reading, the shift from material to immaterial production requires expanding the definition of labor "to involve cultural activities not traditionally considered to constitute work, including intellectual labor and artistic practices" (51). Instead, "labor is no longer simply contained by the factory walls" (48), but "is becoming even more informational and communicative, leading to a situation in which all activities have been turned into production" (49). As a result, "the once straightforward distinction between waged and unwaged work, or work and nonwork (play), becomes even harder to establish" (51). Once again, we are back to the notion that value creation is the effect of a post-class "assemblage" designed for extracting creative energies unleashed by practices of desire. According to this model, which they claim disrupts "orthodox conceptions of labor, value and agency" (50), the shift from exploitation at the point of production to a generalized capturing of creativity means "neither labor time nor wage is considered to be the central issue under critique but technological skill and organizational forms defined by cultural, informational factors and knowledge" (50). In turn, insofar as all social acts are deemed productive of new value, "class antagonism is transformed into a broader dynamic" that is "no longer simply between workers and capitalists" but instead operates between "communities and platforms" (50). Class, in other words, ceases to be an objective matter of one's position in the division of labor, but rather becomes a fluid relationship between forces of control and resistance. Thus, Cox and McLean conclude, "Although capital tries to treat ideas as it would any other goods, it does not succeed in commodifying them altogether, because intellectual work is not simply reducible to market principles" (54). Citing Franco Berardi, they state, "If neoliberalism attempted to capture the very essence of life, it will always ultimately fail, as it wrongly assumes 'that the soul can be reduced to mere rationality"' (68). Just as in Deleuze and Guattari, the limit of capitalism is life's inherent vitality that erupts from any attempt at capturing and controlling it, such that social transformation requires nothing more than "an even more indeterminate approach and openness to other transformative possibilities, such as the possible and often unpredictable actions that result when a program runs, including the return of errors" (63). What better message for software companies than telling workers their liberation can be achieved through spontaneous and individual acts of creativity while nonetheless remaining within the system that exploits their labor.


Software and the "Hidden Abode" of Production

Couched in ethical language about "shifting from an emphasis on epistemologies to also encompass the way in which things are embedded with and produce certain kinds of knowledge and possibility of interaction with the world (and indeed make worlds)" (Fuller 7), software studies proponents, concern with "life," "creativity," "desire," and "immateriality" dematerializes class by severing one's objective class position from private property relations. The underlying assumption of these concepts is that capitalism has shifted from the exploitation of "material" production to the capturing of knowledge and creativity produced by "immaterial" labor. As Yann Moulier Boutang declares, "The resource that capitalism seeks to prioritise today is collective intelligence, creativity distributed through the entirety of the population" (34). Creativity, which is really another way of substituting "vitalism" for labor without appearing spiritualist, is a post-labor, post-class mystification of the production of surplus value under capitalism. While emerging as a cultural reaction to the extent to which everyday life has become commodified, the problem with such arguments is they obscure the extent to which all technology—whether the earliest flint tools or the code that runs the apps on your iPad—is a product of human labor in the past which is put to use by human labor in the present. As Marx and Engels write, the world around us is

not a thing given direct from all eternity, remaining ever the same ... [it is] the result of activity of a whole succession of generations, each standing on the shoulders of the proceeding one, developing its industry and intercourse, and modifying its social system according to changed needs (39).

In other words, regardless of whether we are talking about a painting or computer code, knowledge is the form labor takes under advanced conditions of production. The scientific and technological advances manifest in the software revolution, which appear to replace the labor of humanity with the labor of machinery and promote immaterial value over material production, are, in fact, "the productive powers of social labour and the social powers of production in general" (Marx, Economic Manuscripts 128). This "simple" fact—what appears to be a product of pure knowledge is, in actuality, stored labor waiting to be put to use—is not as simple as it first seems because it means that technology is a social object whose creation and use are determined by the social relations in which human labor occurs. In order to understand the software revolution, therefore, we cannot begin with the products of labor as they appear in the marketplace, but must consider the conditions under which they are produced.

Capitalism is a system in which private ownership of the means of production has the consequence that technological advances, which could be used to meet the needs of all, are used to increase the productivity of labor for the purposes of producing private profits instead. Class is the effect of capitalist property relations, not its cause. A worker, who has nothing to sell but their labor-power, must go to work for the capitalist and, for as much time as their wage has purchased, produce not just enough value to pay for their labor and maintain the workplace, but also create new value above and beyond these costs. As Marx explains,

labour capacity is only bought because the labour it can perform, and enters into an obligation to perform, is greater than the labour required for the reproduction of this labour capacity, and is therefore represented by a value greater than the value of the labour capacity (Economic Manuscripts 133).

For this reason, capitalism's fundamental goal is not the production of any particular product, as "the value of the product as such is a matter of indifference to capitalist production" (110), but "the production of the greatest amount of surplus value" (110). The capitalist does not care if their workers spend their labor­ time writing code or constructing bombs, only that as much of the labor-power they have purchased with a wage is put to producing more value than they paid for it. This is why "immaterial labor" is a thoroughly fuzzy concept. It conflates everything from the type of work that is done, to the commodity produced, to the lifestyle of the person who consumes it, in order to claim that Marx's labor theory of value is "incapable of understanding the creative energy of labor itself" (Negri, "The Labor" 20). However, when Marx talks about the productivity of labor as critical to the profitability of capitalism, he is not referring to "what labor is productive in general," but explaining why it matters that "labor which is converted directly into capital is productive" (emphasis in original) (Economic Manuscripts 128). Central to capitalism is not the type of work available or the kind of commodity produced, but whether the labor the capitalist has purchased results in the production of new capital beyond the costs of production. The more technology advances, the more productive labor becomes. In this sense, software is not an autonomous "actant" equally participating in the shaping of social relations, but the social labor of many workers consolidated into technologies that allow one worker to be as productive as several.

While Deleuze and Guattari's disciples claim "machines are not just a product of labor but, much more importantly, of engineering design and science" and that "design, both functional and aesthetic, also produces value, as does the organization of production" (DeLanda 45), the consequence is that knowledge production is rendered autonomous from labor. This is where the figure of the "assemblage" comes in, as a means of addressing the complexity of contemporary circuits of production while obscuring deepening class divisions. The representation of the social as consisting of "unique historical entities" (DeLanda 6) which include not only people, but things like "the architecture of the buildings that house them, the myriad different tools and machines used in offices, factories, and kitchens" as well as "the many symbols and icons with which they express their identity" (DeLanda 20), redefines value as that which is created by the organization of different elements—from workers and desks to electricity and ideas—without having to account for the fact that all of these elements are the products of human labor. This representation of value as produced through the "dynamic" organization of the assemblage is a managerial theory of capitalism that attributes the source of value to entrepreneurs, administrators, bureaucrats, and even the buildings or computers, more than it does to workers. A building does not just appear, nor do ideas simply fall from the sky. The person who codes the app on your phone is a worker whose labor builds upon the labor of others who, among other things, create the computer they work on, write the software they use to develop the code, produce the electricity that runs the computer, educate them on how to code, build and maintain the building they work in, and produce and distribute the food they eat. At each stage in this process, capitalism seeks to reduce the time necessary to reproduce the costs of production in order to increase the time devoted to surplus value. The fact that capitalism obscures the "hidden abode" of production behind the illusion of a "free" market exchange means that, as Marx writes, new technologies appear as "independent of surplus LABOUR and SURPLUS VALUE, since these are presupposed to them as given" (emphasis in original) (Economic Manuscripts 126). The extent to which capitalist labor relations dictate all other aspects of life means that the labor that produces life disappears behind the illusions of a culture of code.

The assertion that network capitalism's fundamental antagonism is between an outdated instrumental culture and an emerging playfulness of profound ambiguity that is always "open to rupture" (Kitchin and Dodge 19) takes as its starting point the notion that we are entering a "code" economy built upon the encoding of life rather than the exploitation of labor. As Teresa L. Ebert and Mas'ud Zavarzadeh argue, the displacement of labor in the affirmation of "life" is "to, in effect, affirm the way things are as the way they ought to be (and thus always will be)" (412). What I would call "software vitalism" reproduces a post-class ideology in which technology has supplanted labor to become the primary source of value. Rather than "freeing" humanity to concern itself with the (re)distribution of objects in the world, software vitalism furthers the reach of capitalism through the expansion of production. The rhetoric of an emancipatory code economy embraces the cultural logic of "disruption" that has become the centerpiece of the libertarian ethos of Silicon Valley, while normalizing (by disappearing) the exploitation of labor on which it is based. When writers such as Christian Fuchs claim that "on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, all consumption time is commodity production time" (90) because "all human time of existence tends to be exploited for the sake of capital accumulation" (91), they blur the boundaries of owner and worker by collapsing the production and the consumption of commodities into a single moment. While it is often said that companies like Facebook and Google "break" the labor theory of value because they "produce nothing," it is important to distinguish between accumulated capital and the source of that capital. While much of the internet economy does rely on monetized information—for example, in the form of targeted advertising—their massive capital reserves primarily represent the accumulation of surplus value produced elsewhere. For example, no new value is created when Facebook sells information that results in a viewer watching a film trailer. Rather, already existing capital in the form of money is transferred to Facebook from the film studio that bought the rights to this information. It was the exploitation of the labor during the film's production that generated the surplus value used to purchase targeted advertising. In fact, this is why there is increasing pressure on Google and Facebook to be more accountable for the effectivity of digital ads (Alba). The software industry, however, does create new value when it hires the labor of coders to create software that makes it possible to collect, categorize, and classify the information that can then be sold. In other words, while individual consumer habits help realize surplus value as profit, they are not its source. The source of new value in the software industry comes from exploited wage-labor that creates software commodities enabling consumer information to be accumulated.

Approached from a historical and material perspective, it becomes clear that technology is fundamentally dialectical. On the one hand, under capitalism technology represents the negation of the worker insofar as it is only used "as a means of exploiting to a higher degree the worker's powers of labor and the combination of workers" (Marx, Economic Manuscripts 126). On the other hand, the potential of technology to meet people's needs—that is, to negate their negation as exploited workers—is a reflection of the deeply collective nature of production. As Marx explains, "That the worker delivers more of the product in the same time ... is the result of cooperation, of the division of labor, and lastly of the association with machinery (natural forces) and methods of work (science)" (126). The increasing alienation of the software revolution described in books like Sherry Turkle's Alone Together and Nicholas Carr's The Glass Cage reflect the fact that under capitalist relations of production,

unity in cooperation, combination in the division of labour, the application of the forces of nature and science, as well as the products of labour in the shape of machinery, for the purpose of production, are all things which confront the individual workers themselves as alien and objective, as mere forms of existence of the means of labour which are independent over them and rule over them. (Marx 123)

While capitalism negates the lives of individual workers, it nonetheless continues to move toward a social system of production that links workers all over the world and shows, however much it tries to kill the "dream of a Revolution," that humanity's future depends upon collectivity rather than the divisiveness of individualist desires. Social change will not come via a new app. The future cannot be "disrupted" or "accelerated" into difference. It is only by negating the negation of exploitation that capitalism can be transformed, class inequality brought to an end, and the full development of all can take place.

First published in Media and Class: TV, Film, and Digital Culture. Routledge, 2018.

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