It is curious that if one looks at the world’s biggest corporations these days, a lot of their power and property is in vectoral form. Many of them don’t actually make the things they sell. They control the production process by owning and controlling the information. Even when they do still make the stuff, a quite remarkable amount of the valuation of the company comes from portfolios of intellectual property, or proprietary data about their customers, and so on. Capital was subsumed under a more abstract form of technical power.
When considering the vectoralist class, then, three further points suggest themselves. First, it seems to be able to extract value not just from labor but from what Tiziana Terranova calls free labor. Even when you just stroll down the street, the phone in your purse or pocket is reporting data back to some vectoralist entity. The vectoralist class seems to be able to extract revenue out of qualitative information in much the same way as banks extract it out of quantitative information. Perhaps the exercise of power through control of quantitative and qualitative information is characteristic of the same ruling class.
Second, the vectoralist class subordinates the old kind of ruling class, a capitalist class, in the same way that capitalists subordinated the old landlord class that subjected rural production to commodification through ground rent. In that sense, the rise of a vectoralist class is a similar and subsequent development within intra-ruling class dynamics. The vectoralist class still sits atop a pyramid of exploited labor, but it depends also on extracting a surplus out of another, fairly privileged but still subordinate class.
I call it the hacker class. Bernal already had an inkling of this development when he tried to articulate the interests of scientific workers in and against capitalism, but this was not quite the hacker class yet. That had to wait for the development of sophisticated forms of intellectual property, which are in turn embedded in the design of the interface for the creative process. This transforms the qualitative work of producing new forms of information in the world into property that can be rendered equivalent in the market. In short, a new class dynamic, between vectoralist and hacker, was added to an already complex pattern of relations between dominant and subordinate classes.
Third, the political economy of the former West rather than the former East was the one that was able to develop the implications of the scientific and technical revolution, in the form of the rise of the vectoralist class. But it was the state form of the former East that has prevailed in the former West. The vector is not just a means of transforming production. It is also a way of transforming state power. Data can be collected for the purposes of a logistics of economic control; data can also be collected to run the surveillance and security apparatus of the state. The western states too had their surveillance apparatus, but it was never as total as those of the East. The new model worldwide uses the vector to realize the dreams of the KGB of old, an information state. This is what Guy Debord called the stage of the integrated spectacle, combining the worst of the former East and West.
The West is now the former West. Its economy became something else. It isn’t capitalism any more—it’s worse. It takes even more control away from work life and everyday life. It expands the exploitation of nature to possible extinction. It is certainly not the wonderful dream of a “postindustrial society,” still less Bernal and Richta’s accelerationist socialism. It is a relatively new and more elaborate form of class domination, one in more or less “peaceful coexistence” with the Russian former East, whose global significance is reduced to that of predatory oligarchy monopolizing a resource export economy. The Soviet Union paid a high price for not figuring out the role of information and reaching a modus vivendi with its scientific workers.

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mckenzie-wark

 

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