Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marx's Capital in the Information Age

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Marx's Capital in the Information Age

Article excerpt

Introduction

The general interest in Marx's works has, since the start of the new world economic crisis in 2008, significantly increased. Whereas before it was easier to dismiss the relevance of capitalism and class, their crucial relevance can hardly be ignored today. In this situation, the question also arises of how to read Marx. This especially concerns Marx's most widely read book, Capital Volume 1, that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed on the Memory of the World Register in 2013, together with the Communist Manifesto. Whereas the German edition of Capital that the publisher Dietz distributes as part of the Marx Engels Works (MEW) had annually sold around 500-750 copies in the years 1990-2007, this number increased to 5,000 in 2008 and stands now regularly at about 1,500-2,000 (Meisner 2013). In times of digital capitalism, in which billions use Facebook, Google, Twitter, Weibo, iPhones, Spotify, online banking, online news sites and other media at work, in politics and everyday life, the time has come to read Marx's Capital from a media and communication studies perspective.

Reading Marx's Capital Volume 1 in the information age

One can wonder how important media and the Internet are today and whether a media-and communications-oriented reading of Marx's Capital Volume 1, as offered in the book Reading Marx in the Information Age: A Media and Communication Studies Perspective on Capital, Volume 1 (Fuchs 2016), is really justified. Often it is claimed that all this talk about the digital and media revolution is a pure ideology that wants to convince us that we have entered an information society that has substituted capitalism.

In the 2015 Forbes list of the world's largest 2,000 transnational corporations (TNCs), one can find a total of 243 information companies, which amounts to 12%. They are located in the sectors of advertising, broadcasting and cable, communications equipment, computer and electronic retail, computer hardware, computer services, computer storage devices, consumer electronics, electronics, Internet and catalogue retail, printing and publishing, semiconductors, software and programming, and telecommunications services. The information economy constitutes a significantly sized part of global capitalism. But in the same list, one finds, for example, 308 banks (15%) that account for the majority of the 2,000 largest TNCs' capital assets. So one can easily argue that more than a media and communication studies perspective, we need a companion with the title Reading Marx's Capital Volume 1 in the Financial Age. Capitalism is however not homogeneous, but a differentiated dialectical unity of diverse capitalisms. We do not have to decide between information capitalism or finance capitalism (or other capitalisms, such as hyper-industrial capitalism, mobile capitalism, etc.), but rather have to see capitalism's manifold dimensions that mutually encroach each other (Fuchs 2014a: chapter 5). The information economy is itself highly financialised, as, for example, the 2000 dot-com crisis and the constant flows of venture capitalism into Silicon Valley show. And information technology is one of the drivers of financialisation, as indicated by algorithmic trading, credit scoring algorithms or digital currencies such as Bitcoin. The computer is a universal machine that, as networked information technology, has affected all realms of everyday life, not just industry, labour and the economy. It is a convergence technology that has, together with other societal developments, advanced social convergence tendencies of culture and the economy, work time and leisure time, the home and the office, consumption and production, productive and unproductive labour, the public and the private (Fuchs 2015a). Reading Capital from an information perspective can therefore not be limited to the realm of media technologies and media content, but has to be extended to communication in society at large. …

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