KickStarter and Counter-Power

Dec 3rd, 2012 by Squee in Anarchy, Art, Social Analysis

Two articles recently appeared on anarchist news concerning the practices and services offered by KickStarter. As most everyone who is likely to read this is aware, capitalism requires and increases more the dispossession of us both as individuals and as a class of the resources which we would need to produce what we consume. So assuming you can do without an elaboration on this process, I’d like to talk about some of the more contemporary circumstances which set the stage for something like KickStarter to function.

Most significant from my perspective is the present trend towards the decentralization of production which grows as technologies become smaller, cheaper, more communicable and more efficient. With this, companies save money by closing distances between sites of production and sites of consumption, by relying on fewer workers coordinated over greater distances and aided by faster transportation, and by offering customers products with the potential to be more personalized as customers add their labor. Already detached from the skills of transforming natural resources into energy and basic materials from earlier industrial breakthroughs, we are aided in becoming a society of variously skilled, individualistic, indebted, and precarious people. Participating in a spectacle that superficially connects us back together and finding past methods of substantial unification impractical (syndicalist trade unionism, for example), we find social networking sites and niche cultural artifacts of benefit …both of which are used by authoritarian institutions to advance their own aims above ours.

So it is that as rebels we find ourselves fighting against gigantic institutions, vast in their visions, penetrating every nook and cranny of our lives with control over natural and technological resources we couldn’t dream of earning through our labor. For what little numbers we make up and with what capacity we have spread insurrections and to expropriate space, materials, equipment, and infrastructure …we still manage to survive, resist, and propagate our ideas. And that’s really a minimal feat compared to the capacities we could have in creating forms of counter-power.

One thing about trade unionism that still makes sense for the purpose of developing our own means to life is the ability to know who to talk to for what projects in relation to skill. Where we have done well is in our capacity to organize events both large and small (legal and illegal), appropriate small portions of space (material and cyber) to create information hubs, develop methods of food acquisition and distribution on a local level, publish and print through mostly our own means, and come up with cultural forms that appeal beyond our committed networks. What is shown with our reliance at times on KickStarter, Facebook, food stamps, wage-labor, ISPs, public utilities and transportation, and countless other State and capitalist provided means is that we have yet to create these for ourselves (at least generally and on larger scales).

Technically, to the extent that we are able to acquire land, network our computers, code software and websites, account for important exchanges and the authenticity of information, store and transport products, and function together so that we can pool resources and the fruits of our labors …we could replace these things ourselves. I don’t think the question of what holds us back from doing so is easy to specify beyond the general conditions we share. But, from experimental and more permanent projects which we already maintain, there is a lot to suggest that if we were to want this we could do it ourselves. Shit, with the now existent designs for guns which can be produced with 3D printers, we could even do something to that end (insofar as we could get away with it). The biggest obstacle in our way is the real nitty-gritty of the real basics which have been withheld from us since before we were alive: treating water, growing food, generating electricity, creating materials (textiles, steel, etc.), and fabricating tools. Comparatively, coming up with a system to share resources (in the case of KickStarter, financial and technological) should be easy if we plan to take things further.

But indeed it is a struggle. Our day-to-day lives are oppressive enough as it is without taking on such things while we’re already having difficulty fending off threats to survival and threats of incarceration …or worse. Civilian society, for the most part still so filled with prejudice, ignorance, and cruelty isn’t rushing over to fight in our corner either. Regardless, we don’t need to deny that we could provide ourselves with alternatives to our enemies. There are so many dependencies to critique that we are probably less incapable of abandoning and more cognizant of the relative costs and benefits to such ventures.

Expanded from comments I made on an analysis of KickStarter and the response to that analysis

http://anarchistnews.org/content/who%E2%80%99s-shop-steward-your-kickstarter

This was very well written and similar analysis can apply to a lot. Here are some other institutions which have similar effects because they are profit-based and alienate people from their labor/spending: Food Stamps (consider where most people are likely spending their food stamps), Print-on-Demand and 3D Printing companies, Etsy, Localmotors (outsourcing automotive design and labor to the community in the production process). As the article mentioned (as a pyramid scheme), this sort of swindle isn’t anything new or rare …especially in sales. An alternative to this shit would be the same thing which we do with food not bombs, really really free markets, indymedia, etc. Technically, we’re smart enough and have the means to create our own platforms for resource exchange among ourselves, to collectively invest in our own printers and trade tools, and distribute things (though I don’t see an AnarchistExpress anywhere in the near future). Not that this would be the elimination of capitalism; but, it would at least be a step away from the State cultural projects and corporate exploitation.

http://anarchistnews.org/content/response-josh-macphee%E2%80%99s-essay-about-kickstarter

I didn’t read all of this and I probably will go back and do so; but, I don’t think the author of the first piece was attempting to condemn Kickstarter (and if so, maybe the condemnation was misguided). The point of the first piece seemed to be that there are practical and social consequences in using a service provided at a profit, even when it seems like the profit is more appropriate because the the laborers apparently labor out of passion. Kickstarter could be inspiring as to how we could work together in order to collectively produce what we want …minus the centralization of power into the hands of those who own the means to our production.

I’m a little surprised that the writer of the first post didn’t elaborate on some of the practical necessities of creating similar services in purpose and scale: an easy way to ensure secure transfer of funds, a user-friendly format for setting up a fund-raising page, neat ways to network various projects together (maybe if numerous people close in proximity require the same technologies and such, there could be an option for sharing), and a method for keep the service accountable to the community. As I said in the comments section of the first post …this can go well beyond the arts while still avoiding State and business. There just needs to be a willingness to go beyond our immediate needs (food, shelter, information, communication) when it comes to large-scale collective projects.

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