Wu Ming is a collective of anonymous Italian authors, a group that grew out of the Luther Blisset collective, known for the popular novel Q. Wu Ming have been active for over a decade now, releasing many novels collectively and individually, as well as co-writing the script to Lavorare con Lentezza (Working Slowly), a fantastic film about the ’77 movement and the pirate free radio station Radio Alice. Wu Ming means “no person” in Mandarin Chinese, but with a different inflection can mean “no person,” perfect for a group of anti-copyright leftists espousing the limelight and complicating the nature of authorship and distributed creativity. They’ve also thrown their myth-creating weight behind Steve Workers.
An excellent new article by Wu Ming appeared in Italian and French late last month, just before the death of Steve Jobs. Here is the article in English. Really worth a close, slow read.
Read the article here.
Some of my favorite highlights:
” [Let me put things clear: I do have a Mac, and I work well with it. I also own an iPod, a smartphone with Android, and a Kindle. My job requires me to know and investigate the ways in which culture is shared and the net is used. As I will explain later, this essay does not focus on the behaviour of the individual consumer — on which a diverting rhetoric has been built in the latest years — nor it implies any accusation of moral “incoherence” against him or her. What I am discussing here is the necessity of connecting online activism to the struggles that are taking place upstream, during the material production phase.]
Because of net-fetishism, the spotlight is always on the practices of liberation pervading the Internet — ie the kind of practices we Wu Ming have put time and effort into for twenty years —, which are customarily described as the rule. In this way, people dismiss as exceptions all the practices of subjugation , eg using the net to exploit or underpay intellectual work, to control and arrest people (see what happened after the recent UK riots), to impose new idols and fetishes, to spread the dominant ideology, to enforce the same financial capitalism that’s destroying us.
On the net, the practices of subjugation are the rule as much as the others. In fact, if we want to nitpick, we should consider them the rule more than the others, if we take into account the genesis of the internet, which evolved from ARPAnet, a military computer network.
Once this point is clarified, in considering how much labour gets embodied in a tablet one can:
1. Start from the retrieval of raw materials like lithium. Without lithium there would be no rechargeable batteries in our gadgets. It does not exist in nature in a “pure” form, and the process to derive it is costly and impacts on the environment. (By the way, 70% of the world reserves of lithium is at the bottom of Bolivian salt lakes, and the Bolivian government has no intention to sell it off. Apart from geopolitical issues, even earthquakes contribute to the mess. This primary stage of the cycle is bound to get more complicated and require more and more labour);
2. Take into account the work (and the harm suffered) by those who work in the petrochemical industry producing the necessary polymers;
3. Take into account the work lacking any safeguard of the toilers assembling the devices (we’ve mentioned above the work conditions at Foxconn);
4. Finally, take into account the (undignified, noxious, almost inhuman) work of those who “dispose” of the laptop’s or tablet’s carcass in some African dump. Being these rapidly obsolescent commodities, and particularly, commodities whose obsolescence is planned, this work is already embodied in them since the beginning of the cycle.”
The links to the point I was making in my article on Coltan should be clear.
“In a nutshell, Marx is saying that:
1) the collective, cooperative nature of labour is really subdued (the term is sometimes translated as “subsumed”) under capital—-which means that it’s a specific collective nature that did not exist before capitalism.
The “real submission” of labour under capital is set by Marx against the “formal subsumption”, which was typical of the dawn of capitalism, when the capital used to subdue pre-existent kinds of labour: hand weaving, the processes of agricultural labour, etc.
“Real submission” (or “subsumption”) means that the capital turns into productive force a social cooperation that did not pre-exist it, because workers, salaried labour, machines and new ways of transportation and distribution did not exist before capitalism;
2) the more advanced the productive process (thanks to the application of science and technology), the more mystified the representation of productive cooperation.
Let us look now for some current examples of this formulation: the production of sense and relations on the internet is not considered as productive force of cooperating workers; nor does the dominant ideology allow to recognize the work of a single person. All this production is fraudulently, mythologically attributed to the capital itself, to “entrepreneurial spirit”, to the supposed genius of the capitalist, etc. For instance, it is often said that Facebook exists thanks to Mark Zuckerberg’s “insight” blah blah blah.”
“To realize that our relation with things is neither neutral nor innocent, to find ideology therein, to acknowledge commodity fetishism—-these are all achievements in themselves: we may still be injured and insulted, but at least we are not “injured, insulted, and loving it“. The injury is still there, but not the mockery of believing to be free within frameworks whereas we’re actually exploited. We should always find the dispositifs that subjugate us, and describe them while finding ways to put them in crisis.
The digital devices we use incorporate exploitation—-let us realise it. The Internet stands upon gigantic pillars of invisible labour—-let’s show it, and let’s show the struggles and the strikes. Although still little debated in the Western world, there are indeed strikes in China, and there will be more and more.
Whenever a loser becomes a tycoon, we should go and check how many heads he stepped on to get where he is, what work he exploited, how much surplus work he did not reward.
When I talk about “defetishising the Net”, I mean the acquisition of this awareness, which is the requirement to stay “inside and against”, inside in a conflictual way.
If we stay “inside and against” the Net, we may find the way to enter into an alliance with those who are exploited upstream. A worldwide alliance between “digital activists”, cognitive workers, and electronic-industry workers would be the most frightening thing for the bosses of the Internet.
The forms of this alliance, of course, are all to be discovered.