lop1912 on Mon, 4 Nov 2002 20:24:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] dark fiber in Italy

Dark Fiber by Geert Lovink
Introduction to the Italian translation
Published by Luca Sossella editore,
November 2002
By Bifo

For many years, Geert Lovink has carried out his work as net-critic
wandering across the territories where the net meets the economy, politics,
social action and art. Years of fast writing on mailing lists, analysis,
polemics, replies and reports have been collected and elaborated in a way
that maintains the rap-style of e-mail debates: short sentences, ironic
slogans, cuts and returns, allusions, citations...but what emerges from this
mosaic is a coherent overall view on the first decade of digital society.
This book is the first complete investigation of global netculture, an
analysis of the evolution and involution of the web during the first decade
of its mass expansion.

But Lovink goes beyond a sociological, economic and anthropological survey.
Many of the essays in the book outline the theoretical positions of various
agents in the cyber-cultural scene: Wired's libertarian ideology, its
economistic and neoliberal involution, and the radical pessimism of European
philosophers. Outside of such confrontation, Geert's position is that of a
radical and pragmatic Northern-European intellectual close to autonomist and
cyberpunk movements, who has animated the cybercultural scene for a decade
with his polymorphous activity as writer and moderator of connective
environments such as nettime.org, and as organiser of international

This book has been published almost simultaneously in the United States and
in Italy, it will soon come out in a Spanish and a Japanese edition. Its
publication is exceptionally timely, coinciding with an unprecedented
storm in the global economic system. In the middle of the storm, in the eye
of the cyclon sits the system of webs that multiplied the energies of mass
capitalism in the 90s, and that today finds itself on the threshold of a
radical redefinition of perspectives.

The economic crisis can only be fully explained in relation to the
ideological crisis of the new economy that supported the mass capitalism of
the 90s. Similar to Carlo Formenti's 'Mercanti del futuro', Einaudi, this
book helps us analyze the actual interlacement of web and economy, and to
get a glimpse of what is to come.

The 1987 Wall Street crash interrupted the booming cycle that had
characterized the first affirmation of Reagan's monetarist and neoliberal
policies. During the storm that upset the markets for several weeks,
(nothing in comparison to the one to come between 2000 and 2002), analysts
offered an interesting explanation: part of the international financial
system was being modernized and connected to the internet. Long before the
internet entered everyday life, some sectors of international finance had
started to make their information systems interdependent in real time.

However, since not all of the international financial system was
interconnected - so the experts claimed - the gaps and the incompatibility
of the systems of communication disturbed the fluidity of exchanges and
prevented a fast and coordinated intervention of American banks. In
order to avoid a reoccurrence of these delays in coordination, the
informatization of finance and the pervasiveness of systems of
telecommunication needed to be perfected. This is what happened in the
following years. In the 90's the circuit of information and financial
exchanges was so spread as to allow a capillary and mass participation to
the flux of financial investments.

The web became the principal support of mass capitalism and sustained its
long expansive phase in the last decade of the century. Millions of
Americans and Europeans started to invest their money, buying and selling
shares from their own homes. The whole financial system became tightly
interconnected. Today that long expansive phase has entered into a crisis,
and we see that, contrary to 1987, in fact the main danger for the global
system is the pervasive character of its connections. The Web, this
fantastic multiplier of popular participation to the market, risks becoming
the multiplier of its crisis, and the point of flight from the
mediatic-financial system of control.

But there is another side to the process. Due to mass participation in
the cycle of financial investment in the 90s, a vast process of
self-organization of cognitive producers got underway.
Cognitive workers invested their expertise, their knowledge and their
creativity, and found in the stock market the means to create enterprises.
For several years, the entrepreneurial form became the point where financial
capital and highly productive cognitive labor met.

The libertarian and liberal ideology that dominated the (American)
cyberculture of the 90s idealized the market by presenting it as a pure,
almost mathematical environment. In this environment, as natural as the
struggle for the survival of the fittest that makes evolution possible,
labor would find the necessary means to valorize itself and become
enterprise. Once left to its own dynamic, the reticular economic system was
destined to optimise economic gains for everyone, owners and workers, also
because the distinction between owners and workers would become increasingly
imperceptible when one enters the virtual productive circuit.

This model, theorised by authors such as Kevin Kelly and transformed by the
Wired magazine in a sort of digital-liberal, scornful and triumphalist
Weltanschauung, went bankrupt in the first couple of years of the new
millennium, together with the new economy and a large part of the army of
self-employed cognitive entrepreneurs who had inhabited the dotcom world.

It went bankrupt because the model of a perfectly free market is a
practical and theoretical lie. What neoliberalism supported in the long run
was not the free market, but monopoly. While the market was idealised as
a free space where knowledges, expertise and creativity meet, reality
showed that the big groups of command operate in a way that far from being
libertarian introduces technological automatisms, imposing itself with the
power of the media or money, and finally shamelessly robbing the mass of
share holders and cognitive labour.

The free market lie has been exposed by the Bush administration. Its policy
is one of explicit favouritism for monopolies (starting with the scandalous
absolution of Bill Gates' authority in exchange for a political alliance
based on large electoral donations). It is a protectionist policy that
imposes the opening of markets to weak states while allowing the United
States to impose 40% import taxes on steel. With Bush's victory, the
libertarian and liberal ideology has been defeated and reduced to a
hypocritical repetition of banalities devoid of content. Geert Lovink does
not dwell on American liberal ideology, the defeated enemy. Instead, he
invites us to understand what happened at the level of production in the
years of dotcom-mania.

We have no reason to cheer over the dotcom crash, he says. The ideology that
characterised dotcom mania was a fanatical representation of obligatory
optimism and economistic fideism. But the real process that developed in
these years contains elements of social as well as technological
innovation: elements that we should recuperate and re-actualise.
In the second half of the 90s a real class struggle occurred within the
productive circuit of high technologies. The becoming of the web has
been characterised by this struggle. The outcome of the struggle, at
present, is unclear. Surely the ideology of a free and natural market
turned out to be a blunder. The idea that the market functions as a pure
environment of equal confrontation for ideas, projects, the productive
quality and the utility of services has been wiped out by the sour truth of
a war monopolies have waged against the multitude of self-employed
cognitive workers and against the slightly pathetic mass of microtraders.

The struggle for survival was not won by the best and most successful,
but by the one who drew his gun out. The gun of violence, robbery,
systematic theft, of the violation of any legal and ethical norm. The
Bush-Gates alliance sanctioned the liquidation of the market, and at that
point the phase of the internal struggle of the virtual class ended. One
part of the virtual class entered the techno-military complex, another
part, the large majority, was expelled from the enterprise and pushed to
the margins of explicit proletarianization. On the cultural plane, the
conditions for the formation of a social consciousness of the cognitariat
are emerging, and this could be the most important phenomenon of the years
to come, the only key to offer solutions to the disaster.

Dotcoms were the training laboratory for a productive model, and for a
market. In the end the market was conquered and suffocated by monopolies,
and the army of self employed entrepreneurs and venture microcapitalists was
robbed and dissolved. Thus a new phase began: the groups that became
predominant in the cycle of the net-economy forge an alliance with the
dominant group of the old-economy (the Bush clan, representative of the oil
and military industry), and this phase signals a blocking of the project of
globalisation. Neoliberalism produced its own negation, and those who were
its most enthusiastic supporters become its marginalized victims.

The main focus of this book is the Internet. What has it been, what has it
become and especially what will it be? A discussion, starting in the
mid-90's, opened gaps within cyberculture and divided the theoretical and
creative paths of its various agents. As soon as the internet became more
diffuse and revealed cultural, technical and common synergies, the
advertisers and traders arrived with their entourage of profit fanatics.
Naturally, they only had one question: can the Internet become a
money-making machine? The 'experts' (who then amounted to a multicolored
bunch of artists, hackers and techno-social experimentators) replied in
Sibylline ways. The Californian digerati of Wired replied that the Internet
was destined to multiply the power of capitalism, to open vast immaterial
markets, and to upset the laws of the economy, which predict crisis and
delays and decreasing incomes and falls of profit. Nobody really refuted
these people. Net-artists and media activists had other things to do, and
their criticisms and reservations came across as the lament of the losers,
who are incapable of entering the big club.

Digerati, cyberpunk digital visionaries, and net artists let the bubble
grow. The money that entered into web circuits was useful to develop any
kind of technological, communicative and cultural experimentation. Someone
called it the funky business. Creative labor found a way to scrounge money
from a whole host of fat, obese and small capitalists.
The truth is that nobody (or very few) said that the Internet was not a
money-making machine. It has never been and it cannot be. Careful: this
does not mean that the web has nothing to do with the economy. On the
contrary, it has become an indispensable infrastructure for the production
and the realization of capital, but this does not mean that its specific
culture can be reduced to the economy. The Internet has opened a new
chapter in the processes of production. The dematerialization of the
commodity, the principle of cooperation, and the unbreakable continuity
between production and consumption have made the traditional criteria of
definition of the value of commodities redundant. Whoever enters the web
does not see him- or herself as a client, but as a collaborator, hence,
he/she does not want to pay. AOL, Microsoft and all the other sharks can do
what they like, but they won't be able to change this fact that is not just
a rather anarchoid cultural trait, but the core of the digital labour

We should not think that the Internet is an extravagant island where the
principle of valorisation that dominates the rest of human relations
enters a crisis. On the contrary, the web has created a conceptual opening
that is destined to grow larger. The principle of freedom is not a marginal
exception, it can become the universal principle of access to material and
immaterial goods.

With the dotcom crash, cognitive labor has separated itself from capital.
Digital artisans, who during the 90s felt like entrepreneurs of their
own labour, will slowly realize that they have been deceived, expropriated,
and this will create the conditions for a new consciousness of cognitive
workers. The latter will realise that despite having all the productive
power, they have been expropriated of its fruits by a minority of ignorant
speculators who are only good at handling the legal and financial aspects
of the productive process. The unproductive section of the virtual class,
the lawyers and the accountants, appropriate the cognitive surplus value of
physicists and engineers, of chemists, writers and media
operators. But they can detach themselves from the juridical and financial
castle of semiocapitalism, and build a direct relation with society, with
the users: then maybe the process of autonomous self-organisation of
cognitive labor will begin. This process is already underway,
as the experiences of media activism and the creation of networks of
solidarity from migrant labour show.

Starting from these experiences, we need to rethink the 19c question of the
intellectual. In Geert Lovink's book the question reemerges. His portrait of
the virtual intellectual, in the first section of the book, is both a
synthetic autobiography and a description of the different intellectual
attitudes that characterized the formation of the connective sphere. Between
the 'organic' intellectual of corporations, and the radical and
nostalgically humanistic pessimist (the dominant intellectual figures of the
90s), Lovink proposes the figure of the net-critic, undogmatic and curious
about what happens while resistant to any form of ideological and especially
economic hegemony. But more is at stake than a cultural fashion that is
counterposed to another. At stake is the defection from the political scene
that characterised the XXth century, and the creation of a totally different

The XXth century was dominated by the figure of the 'superstructural'
intellectual, to use an Engels, Leninist and Gramscian formulation. For the
revolutionary communist movement, the intellectual was the pre-industrial
figure, whose function was determined on the basis of a choice of organic
affiliation with a social class. The Leninist party is the professional
formation of intellectuals who chose to serve the proletarian cause. Antonio
Gramsci introduced decisive elements of innovation to the Leninist
conception, because he introduced the theme of cultural hegemony, of the
specificity of a work of ideology to develop in the process of seizing
political power. But Gramsci remained fundamentally attached to an idea of
the intellectual as an unproductive figure, to an idea of culture as pure
consensus with ideological values. The industrialisation of culture that
developed during the 1900s modified these figures, and critical thought
realised this when it migrated from Frankfurt to Hollywood.

Benjamin and Marcuse, Adorno and Horkheimer, Brecht and Krakauer registered
this passage. But it is not until the digital web redefined the whole
process of production that intellectual labor assumed the configuration that
Marx had, in the Grundrisse, defined with the expression of 'General

Pierre Levy calls it collective intelligence, Derrick De Kerkhove points
out that it actually is a connective intelligence. The infinitely fragmented
mosaic of cognitive labour becomes a fluid process within a universal
telematic network, and thus the shape of labour and capital are
redefined. Capital becomes the generalized semiotic flux that runs through
the veins of the global economy, while labour becomes the constant
activation of the intelligence of countless semiotic agents linked to one
another. Retrieving the concept of 'general intellect' in the 90s,
Italian compositionist thought (Paolo Virno, Christian Marazzi, Carlo
Formenti) has introduced the concept of mass intellectuality, and
emphasized the interaction between labor and language.

We needed to go through the dotcom purgatory, through the illusion of a
fusion beween labour and capitalist enterprise, and then through the hell of
recession and endless war, in order to see the problem emerge in clear
terms. On the one hand, the useless and obsessive system of financial
accumulation and a privatization of public knowledge, the heritage of the
old industrial economy. On the other hand, productive labor
increasingly inscribed in the cognitive functions of society: cognitive
labor that starts to see itself as a cognitariat, building autonomous
institutions of knowledge, of creation, of care, of invention and of
education that are autonomous from capital.

Franco Berardi Bifo, August 2002, Bologna

(Translation: Arianna Bove)

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