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Fighting Capitalism with the Internet’s Favourite Marxist

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MIISTA

With books like Reverse Cowgirl and A Hacker Manifesto under their belt, McKenzie Wark is the leading literary voice of contemporary Marxism. Here, Miista speak to Wark about the relationship between fashion, capitalism, Marxism and everything in between.

In your 2004 book A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard University Press), where you look at the commodity of information in a digital age, you use the term ‘ hacker class’, what does that phrase mean? 

Hacker class was meant to talk about the people who make a living out of producing new information, and the whole technical infrastructure that came into existence in the late 20th century. That’s a kind of work that's not quite work, because you can't quite industrialise it the same way. The traditional factory system doesn't really work to do that, but what does it mean that your production value is liking things like online.

 

Would you say a social media company like Facebook is the perfect example of that?

Well, yes. The thing about those platforms is that you’ve got a whole consumer facing part and we've got a whole kind of ruling class that's just basically about extracting surplus information and then controlling the value chain through that. 

 

Why do you think that it's been so easy for those companies to do that? Why is there such a ready audience for this kind of growth?

These kind of companies are exploiting our communism, to put it in the strongest form. They’re exploiting our desire to be with each other and to share. But this is sort of the tip of the iceberg. 

 

What do you think these tech and social media platforms have done to creativity? 

There are people who I think actually do exceptional work on Instagram. And that's the difference between culture and art, right? That's just a form that we all accept. And culture is great because it's shared. But the other thing about the Instagram world is it's really changed what's public and private.

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MIISTA

Reverse Cowgirl (MIT Press, 2020)

There are people who I think actually do exceptional work on Instagram. And that's the difference between culture and art, right? That's just a form that we all accept. And culture is great because it's shared.

So how can people rebel against that? How could someone subvert from within and be a radical within that system?

You know, it's a kind of information academy that runs on attracting novelty. So whenever you do something new, it's going to immediately think that’s important information that can be turned into profit, it’s very hard to predict a way out.

 

Do you think there's a way for Gen Z to step aside from social media?

The whole thing relies on free labour. It relies on people giving their labour away. And you know, once you love the effect of being visible to friends, it’s very hard to take that away. 

 

Your book Capital is Dead, Is This Something Worse? (Verso) - can you elaborate on how that book began?

It's sort of an update on Hacker Manifesto, which I wrote in 2004. So it's ten years of thinking about the thesis of the title. I was looking at the concept of, what if this isn't even capitalism? What if the way capitalism exists with a mode of production on top of it? In the same way that the peasant landlord class, they would rent to the worker. We tend to think everything became capitalism, but there's always like hybrid modes of production.

 

There's a line in the book - “the dominant ruling class of our time, owns and controls information”. Could you speak specifically about this idea of the ruling class owning and controlling data.

The biggest beneficiary, at least here in the states, during Covid-19 seems to be Amazon. Every small business owner is in desperate straits. But you know, because we’re all dependent and we need this, Amazon and Apple are the big winners.

 

How do you put the blinkers on yourself, do you do find ways to sort of be averse to branding and the whole content economy?

I grew up in the 1980s, I love a good brand that makes nice shoes and I'm fine with it. There's sort of a middle class morality about pretending you don’t enjoy branding or fashion. I think people need to just stop seeing themselves as a moral consumer, you're a consumer - that's just what you are.

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MIISTA

Capital Is Dead: Is This Something Worse? (Verso Books, 2019)