Nobel Prize for Walmart

A Marxian Analysis of Information Technology



Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

 (Part 4 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Relations of Production

Since Bill Gates raised the question, what do communists have to say about turning the Internet into private property? Karl Marx showed how, in every society up to this point in time, the relations of production ultimately strangle the development of the means of production. This, he explained, must lead to a period of social revolution.

The means of production, or productive forces, refers to the tools and technology of human society, up to and including the human mind. The relations of production means the legally established social relations between people – how they interact and work together – that are ultimately determined by forms of property. For example, Americans consider Freedom of Speech perhaps their most important right – guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, freedom of speech vanishes once you are on corporate property. Try telling the boss what you really think of him and you will see how far this right really goes.

That’s a relation of production. So are the minimum wage and the fact that women earn around 75% of what men do for the same job. All forms of discrimination and oppression pay off at the corporate bottom line.

Before the bourgeois revolution swept Europe in 1848, deposing almost all monarchies in its wake, a factory owner could hardly send his commodities down the river to market. Every minor princeling and self-proclaimed royal demanded the right to tax trade crossing their territory. This relation of production strangled the ability to sell products in order to realize capital and make private profit. Suddenly armies everywhere abolished this relation of production. In the same way, private property in digital technology deforms and shrivels the possibilities of the Internet.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production….  At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”  (12)

Marx’s point is that the relations of production, fixed and frozen as private property by law, ultimately become antagonistic to the development of a technology that is highly fluid and increasingly more productive. This is an objective process, outside of our control, one that informs any subjective acts of insurrection. The relations of production under capitalism take myriad forms, but they ultimately come down to essential principles:

If you own the technology, you can appropriate all the production that people produce socially, today in an increasingly global system, by working with/for the technology. As private property, this production is yours to sell on the market for private profit. The necessities of life are distributed based on individual ability to pay for them. If you own little or nothing, you must sell your labor power to the owners of the technology in order to get money to survive.

None of these things have to be. We can imagine a different way to live. It was this basic human impulse that created the Internet.

A child can see the vast potential in digital technology. However, the “architecture of the system”, imposed by the outmoded relations of production of capitalism is definitely “in antagonism to” what a really developed Internet could be. These relations constantly “fetter” the development of computers and the Internet. If it doesn’t produce private property, it is discarded. Hence private Intranets determine how the code is configured. God doesn’t put all those ads on your screen, nor does he demand a tollbooth between you and the information you seek. Marx was prescient on this one.

Information objectively demands to be free. It is a social act, an activity; as communication, it demands consensus to establish meaning. This is a social relationship that is strangled by capitalist relations of production. Information is easy to collectivize and relatively hard to privatize.

Information is not the same thing as a tangible, material product, such as the latest Jordans or even an orange. I can transmit information to you without lessening my ability to control or use it. In Marxist terms, information has use value – you can use it how you will. With shoes, if I give them to you, I lose control. This objective nature of information constantly struggles against the capitalist demand that it become private property that they can sell for a profit. That is a fetter on technology.

Everyone knows that microelectronics constantly reduces exchange value – what you can sell it for. This flows from Moore’s Law – that the capacity of a computer chip doubles every 18 months, even as its value decreases. Exchange value tends toward zero to the extent that labor-less production is employed. This is because ever-decreasing amounts of human labor are involved. Long before Marx, Adam Smith, supposedly the high priest of capitalism, identified human labor power as the basis of all value. Labor-less production, the fastest growing type of production in the world today, is coming to pass with a vengeance. Production without labor necessarily demands distribution without money.

Attacks on net neutrality, filling your screen with commercial ads, various forms of corporate censorship, the domination of private search engines, the “Cloud” – all reflect the relations of production of capitalism. All serve to deform digital technology and subordinate it to the commercial interests of private corporations and the market.

Back in the Roman Empire, the hot new technology was the mule, the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse. It was bigger and stronger than the donkey, and had far more stamina than the horse. The relations of production of slavery strangled this high tech development. Slaves could not personally sell the product of the mule, so when they took it out into the field, they beat it to death, “Hey Boss, you know how stubborn they are!”

But the thinking person, in antagonism to the relations of production of slavery, also understood that they could steal the mule, move three valleys away, and use this powerful new technology to feed their family and grow rich. Thus “begins the era of social revolution”. Since information and its technology objectively cannot be contained within the proscribed and narrow limits of private property, social revolution is already objectively going on. Today it is struggling into pass to our common subjective comprehension. The impulse to free information from corporate control gave birth to the Internet, open-source programming, Napster, jail-breaking your phone and the constant efforts to free digital technology for the 99%.

Background and Notes

12)  Karl Marx. Preface to The Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. 1859

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: Felix42 contra la censura via photopin cc


Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at


Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at

The Corporatization of the Internet

bill gates

Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 3 of a five-part series about the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Bill Gates Dismisses Open Source Pioneers as Communists

From the beginning, Bill Gates argued that no public discussion of who controls the Internet should even be permitted. He famously called open-source pioneers  “new modern-day sort of communists”. (6)  Bill Clinton opined that corporations were the best way to develop the Internet. Al Gore and Gates re-defined the web as the “Information Super Highway”.

Of course, we know that super highways often have tollbooths, where you pay for the privilege of driving your car. Clinton began the massive wave of privatization, of both society in general and of the Internet in particular, that flourished under George W Bush and is expanding even more with Barack Obama. Clinton’s de-regulation of Wall Street set the stage for the looting of American by Wall Street banks, the 1% and their corporate attack dogs. Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan amply describe this in “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” (7)

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the atomic vibrations we use for communication. This energy spectrum is as fundamental as the sun, but it was given away to corporations for chickenfeed. This was a huge step encouraging the privatization of Nature and natural processes.

Then the insurance model, essentially the cable-TV model, was imposed on the Internet: you pay a corporation for access to something that could easily be accessible for everyone for nothing. After all it’s simply a process of how you configure the software.

This massive centralization was clearly the exact opposite to the original intent of the Internet. The few massive super-corporations that already controlled the airwaves became ever more powerful. The great Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano stated, “Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few”. (8)

The essential structure of the Internet is simply written down as code. It can be designed to benefit the public, or it can be configured to benefit private profit. Larry Lessig explains:

The architecture of the original Internet minimized the opportunity for control, and that environment of minimum control encouraged innovation…. At its birth, the Internet gave individuals great freedoms of speech and privacy.

But the story about liberty on the original Net had a sequel: what the architecture could give, it could take away. The inability to control was not fixed in nature. It was a function of the architecture. And as that architecture changed, the ability to control would change as well…. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did.” (9)

Privatization is therefore not something that just happens. It is engineered. This goes deeper. These days, people like to imagine the Internet as a vast network, spanning the globe, where gigabytes of information send pictures and blogs around the world in microseconds. However, the Internet is dwarfed by a larger, and far more sinister system of networks, the Intranet. The Intranet is the collection of corporate and military networks that are protected from the public by firewalls. These have expanded again into extranets – including collaborators from other private concerns into shielded activities. Needless to say, individuals have no access to their computers, but corporations and the NSA have access to yours.

Dan Schiller described the formative role of the Internet’s evil twin – the Intranet – back in 1999:

Corporate applications of Internet technology – intracorporate and business-to-business – comprise the true fulcrum of Internet system development. Corporate networks are the guiding hand of technical experimentation within cyberspace and comprise the leading site of its creative ferment. (emphases added)”   (10)

Fast forward to 2013 – the corporate control of digital technology today has a evolved far from the original vision of a vast global network where everything is open for everyone. We could have public servers at no cost – we have public airports and roads – but we don’t. Increasingly everything is in the Cloud, and corporations own and control the Cloud. Software components, like those Berners-Lee accessed for free, are now sold as apps. Corporations determine who can use them, for a price. Even if certain corporate products are free, it is largely because corporations stand to gain even more from the data they have about users using those products. Facebook is a good example here because while the social networking service is arguably free, the data that they collect and analyze on a daily basis is far more valuable.

Almost all of the data and intelligence reside on the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying massive data centers spread around the world, owned by massive corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. etc. These data centers account for up to 10% of the worldwide usage of electricity.

The computers and cell phones we now use constantly reach out to the cloud for even the smallest of activities. When we speak into a cellphone and see our words appearing on the screen, what’s happening is that our voice is sent over to the cloud, where it gets converted into English language words, and then sent back to the phone. It takes only milliseconds to do this and is not easily visible to the user. The cloud stores every word we ever say to the phone at least for a period of time. Such a simple act of converting spoken words to written words can actually be done on the phone itself, if it had the program, but it has become cheaper and more advantageous for corporations to do it on the cloud.

A more recent evolution is the development of “computers” with greatly devolved capacity, really just shells of computers, with little storage and an always-on connection to the cloud. Unlike normal computers, these computers cannot function without the Internet. They are simply a window into the cloud. If you lose one of these “computers” you lose only the hardware and none of the data because everything is stored in the cloud, which is owned by these private corporations. This is cited as a convenience to consumers but, as we see with the NSA, it can be potentially dangerous to live life in the cloud. Facebook claims they own everything ever posted on their platform – photos, videos, writings, songs, you name it.

Microelectronics drives all this and is changing the nature of property. In the 16th Century most private property was in land; all of it was tangible. Today lots property is intangible, including things like software, algorithms, and ideas. But private property is still the divine right of thugs. Thanks to the Supreme Court, we understand these thugs are “corporate people”. So what kind of people are these?

The great book, The Corporation, points out that corporations exhibit characteristics of a very specific kind of person – namely psychopaths! (11)  Like psychopaths, corporations are grandiose, manipulative, both charming and deceptive, unable to feel remorse and always refuse to accept responsibility. So we happily trust all of our technology and most of our military to the tender mercies of… psychopaths. You know, nice people like Ted Bundy!

We can draw some conclusions here:

  • As long as society allows the private ownership of information technology by corporations for profit, the unlimited positive potential of technology will be deformed to guarantee that profit, short-term, regardless of the long-term destruction of society and the planet.
  • Corporations control the Surveillance State, not vice-versa.
  • Corporations control every technology as private property. The sad lessons that Global Warming is trying to tell us, the utter corporate incompetence in the abuse of antibiotics, (just two examples!) shows that corporate control is inherently incompetent and short sighted.
  • Therefore only the expansion of real public ownership and control of technology, at every level, in every branch of the economy, can release the wondrous potential of technology without abuse. The world of the very near future is going to be either all corporate, with no public, or all public, with no corporations. Which future it will be is up to us.

Background and Notes

7)  “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” by  Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan (‎)

8) Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. 2003

8)  Lessig, op cit p 140

9)  Lessig, op cit, p 140

10)  Dan Schiller. Digital Capitalism. 1999, p 17

11)  Bakan. The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. 2004. p 56  (You can also view the fine movie of the same name – on

 To be continued.

photo credit: Domain Barnyard via photopin cc

Reposted from Daily Censored

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at


Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at