Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I just read one article viz Digital Labour and Imperialism by prof Christian Fuchs,Social media research Institute, Univ of Westminster. I have given here some interesting extracts from that article.. those interested in Political economy can go thro ..Pattabi

“A century has now passed since Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) and Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy (1915), as well as Rosa Luxemburg’s 1913 Accumulation of Capital, all spoke of imperialism as a force and tool of capitalism.
This article reviews the role of the international division of labor in classical Marxist concepts of imperialism, and extends these ideas to the international division of labor in the production of information and information technology today. I will argue that digital labor, as the newest frontier of capitalist innovation and exploitation, is central to the structures of contemporary imperialism. Drawing on these classical concepts, my analysis shows that in the new imperialism, the information industries form one of the most concentrated economic sectors; that hyper-industrialization, finance and informationalism belong together; that multinational informational corporations are grounded in nation-states, but operate globally; and that information technology has become a means of war.
In his 1916 “Popular Outline,” as he subtitled his work, Lenin defined imperialism as
capitalism at that stage of development at which the domination of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun; in which the division of all the territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.
For Bukharin, imperialism is simply “the expression of competition between” these trusts, all aiming to “centraliz[e] and concentrat[e] capital in their hands.”6 Lenin, in contrast, wrote that “an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony.”7 Lenin’s formulation of a competition between “great powers” is more careful than Bukharin’s concept of state capitalist trusts, because it encompasses both companies and states.
For Rosa Luxemburg, meanwhile, imperialism is the violent geographical and political expansion of the accumulation of capital, the competitive struggle for what remains still open of the non-capitalist environment…. With the high development of the capitalist countries and their increasingly severe competition in acquiring non-capitalist areas, imperialism grows in lawlessness and violence, both in aggression against the non-capitalist world and in ever more serious conflicts among the competing capitalist countries. But the more violently, ruthlessly and thoroughly imperialism brings about the decline of non-capitalist civilizations, the more rapidly it cuts the very ground from under the feet of capitalist accumulation.
Luxemburg argues that capital wants to extend exploitation globally, to “mobilize world labor power without restriction in order to utilize all productive forces of the globe.
Lenin-He sees the export of capital, in contrast to the export of goods, as a crucial feature of imperialism:
As long as capitalism remains what it is, surplus capital will be utilized not for the purpose of raising the standard of living of the masses in a given country, for this would mean a decline in profits for the capitalists, but for the purpose of increasing profits by exporting capital abroad to the backward countries. In these backward countries profits are usually high, for capital is scarce, the price of land is relatively low, wages are low, [and] raw materials are cheap.
For Luxemburg, the international relations of imperialism require robbery and the exploitation of labor: “Capital needs the means of production and the labor power of the whole globe for untrammeled accumulation.” Hence, “it cannot manage without the natural resources and the labor power of all territories.…’sweating blood and filth with every pore from head to toe’ characterizes not only the birth of capital but also its progress in the world at every step.”
Global communications, in the form of the telegraph and international news agencies, already played a role in imperialism by the time of the First World War, helping to organize and coordinate trade, investment, accumulation, exploitation, and war.23 A hundred years later, qualitatively different means of information and communication such as supercomputers, the Internet, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and social media have emerged. But just like the labor of workers in the periphery during earlier stages of imperialism, the production of information and information technology is part of an international division of labor, one that continues to shape modes of production, distribution, and consumption.
 the world’s 2,000 largest multinational corporations in the years 2004 and 2014. These companies’ revenues accounted for more than 50% of worldwide GDP, showing that multinationals compete for monopoly status at the global level.
All of this indicates that to varying degrees, global capitalism means not only monopoly-finance capitalism, but also monopoly-mobility capitalism, monopoly-hyperindustrial capitalism, and monopoly-information capitalism
A significant change between 2004 and 2014 was the rise of Chinese multinationals, whose shares of assets, revenues, and profits dramatically increased. European and North American multinational corporations now no longer control around three-quarters, but instead two-thirds of global capital, which means that they nevertheless continue to be dominant. That Chinese multinationals play a more important role does not signify a fundamental break, but rather shows that China imitates Western-style capitalism, so that a “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” has emerged.
“Digital labor,” therefore, does not only denote the production of digital content. It is a category that rather encompasses the whole mode of digital production, a network of agricultural, industrial and informational labor that enables the existence and use of digital media. The subjects (S) involved in the digital mode of production–miners, processors, assemblers, and information workers–stand in specific relations of production
Today most of these digital relations of production are shaped by wage labor, slave labor, unpaid labor, precarious labor, and freelance labor, making the international division of digital labor a vast and complex network of interconnected, global processes of exploitation. These range from the Congolese slave miners who extract minerals for use in ICT components, superexploited wage-workers in Foxconn factories, and low-paid software engineers in India to highly paid, highly stressed software engineers at Google and other Western corporations, precarious digital freelancers who create and disseminate culture, and e-waste workers who disassemble ICTs, exposing themselves to toxic materials.
Apple was the world’s twelfth largest company.30 Its profits grew from $37 billion in 2013 to $39.5 billion in 2014 and $44.5 billion in 2015.31 That year, iPhones accounted for 56 percent of Apple’s net sales, iPads for 17 percent, Macs for 13 percent, and iTunes, software, and other services for 10 percent.32 The Chinese labor involved in manufacturing an iPhone made up only 1.8 percent of the iPhone’s price, while Apple’s profits from iPhone sales were 58.5 percent, and Apple’s suppliers, such as the Taiwanese company Foxconn, made a 14.3 percent profit.33 Thus the iPhone 6 Plus does not cost $299 because of labor costs, but rather because for each phone, Apple on average earns $175 in profits and Foxconn makes $43, while the workers assembling the phones in a Foxconn factory receive just $5. The high cost of iPhones and other products are a consequence of a high profit rate and a high rate of exploitation—direct results of the international division of digital labor. China is, as Foster and McChesney write, “the world assembly hub” in a system of “global labor arbitrage and…superexploitation.”
Foxconn is the third-largest corporate employer in the world, with more than a million workers, made up mostly of young migrant workers from the countryside.35 Foxconn assembles the iPad, iMac, iPhone, and the Amazon Kindle, as well as video game consoles by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. When seventeen Foxconn workers tried to commit suicide between January and August 2010, and most of them succeeded, the issue of dismal working conditions in the Chinese ICT assembly industry began to attract wider attention. A number of academic studies have subsequently documented the everyday reality at Foxconn factories, where workers must endure low wages, long hours, and frequent work schedule disruptions; inadequate protective gear; overcrowded, prison-like accommodations; yellow unions managed by company officials and distrusted by workers; prohibitions on talking during work; beatings and harassment by security guards; and disgusting food.

The International Labor Organization’s Convention C030 on work hours recommends an upper limit of forty-eight hours per work week, and no more than eight hours a day. That Apple prides itself on enforcing a sixty-hour work week for labor in its supply chain shows that contemporary imperialism’s international division of digital labor is not just exploitative, but also effectively racist: Apple assumes that for people in China, sixty hours is an appropriate standard.
Apple’s 2014 report also claims that the company audited the working conditions of more than a million workers. However, these audits are not conducted independently, nor are their results reported independently. Since Apple doesn’t rely on independent corporate watchdog organizations such as Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), its reports must be considered inherently biased: workers being studied by their own employers will certainly not report their complaints, lest they lose their jobs
 technological fetishism that assume that technology inherently fosters a good society without analyzing the social relations in which it is embedded. In technological fetishism, just as Marx wrote of classic commodity fetishism, the “definite social relation between men themselves” assume “the fantastic form of a relation between things.”
Apple achieves high profits in the international division of digital labor by outsourcing manufacturing labor to China, where the Western strategy of “exporting capital abroad” achieves high profits because wages are low and the rate of exploitation is high.
 The exploitation of workers at Foxconn, Pegatron and other companies shows that “‘[s]weating blood and filth with every pore from head to toe’ characterizes not only the birth of capital but also its progress in the world at every step.”40 Through it all, Lenin’s and Luxemburg’s analyses remain as true in the twenty-first century as they were a hundred years ago.
According to data from the China Labor Bulletin, 1,276 strikes took place in China in 2014.42 China is not a monolithic society, but one with active and vivid working-class struggles against exploitation. In October 2014, after earlier labor unrest in June, a thousand workers went on strike for wage increases at the Foxconn factory in Chongqing.

The question of what role the national or international dimension of social struggles against digital capitalism should play is a matter for strategic political debates. In an 1867 address to the International Workingmen’s Association, Marx argued that “in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labor force.”44 It is true today as it was then that if “the working class wishes to continue its struggle with some chance of success,” then the only adequate response to global capitalist rule is that “the national organizations must become international.”

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