23 December 2008

Niche markets and their genesis

The central point of the CM political model is that, while factory workers and office workers have fundamentally identical interests, they have fundamentally differing experiences of the work place. The essential reason for this is that the process of accumulating education / cultural capital that qualifies you for office work is also the process of cultural assimilation. In other words - to work in an office you have to be able to communicate with the boss and with your fellow workers in terms they can understand. You have to be pretty fluent in whatever the local lingua franca is, naturally, but you also have to "fit in" socially, so that people don't feel "uncomfortable" around you. Which assumes some commonality of social and cultural frames of reference with your employer. Which is not ideal for the dawning of class consciousness.

The essential upshot of this is that office workers are far less likely to see their interests as counterposed to that of the boss than factory workers - even though in reality they are. The exception to this is in large corporate firms, where "the boss" is generally ten flights of stairs up and might as well be on a different planet. But the nature of office work is that it's as efficient to carry it out in small sites than in big ones, especially in the Intarwebz age. When "the boss" is just across the hallway, when they pretty much "speak your language" in every significant sense, it is so much easier to feel an affinity with them than, say, the Bengali immigrant who's emptying your wastepaper basket.

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Another aspect of the more equal relationship (on the surface) that pertains in the office environment is that it makes it far easier for the boss to exploit your intellectual capital - i.e. get you to come up with ideas to make your exploitation more efficient and not reward you. This whole question of "enclosure of the cultural commons" is one that exercises the autonomist-operaista wing of Marxism very much, in that you get exploited simply by having a brain and thinking, let alone actually producing any concrete surplus value. But it can also efficiently explain the emergence of niche markets - as well as explaining one of the most important social cohesion strategies of globalised capitalism.

Simply put - if there's a subculture, you can sell to it. So savvy operators find the most articulate and cogent exponents of a subculture - even if they're mouthing off politically radical memes - and offer them all manner of class privileges for turning these memes into commodities. Now this isn't a simple matter of selling out of an individual, because through this process, the cultural operators get an "in" to pick the collective brains of the entire community. To use an example, once you've noticed that Belfast Protestant hip-hop exists, and you've got some MC Red Hand or whatever making some money and getting some notoreity in the media economy, then everyone will try to get on the bandwagon, and the whole community becomes just another niche market, no threat to anyone or anything.

Here's an article about how they did it in the anarcho-hippie underground of Copenhagen. In fact, every anarchist or underground "community" on this planet has a small fringe of "entrepeneurs", getting a modest but real income off translating the bubbling cultural ferment of the "scene" into something that can be sold. So there is no real benefit in rebellion for the "community leaders" - and of course they get to distribute some bones from the table, sorry, "bring something back to the community". And the scene expands, as its cultural fringe is sold cheap to kids from the suburbs looking for some identity, anything.

Chaos Marxism firmly maintains that any "scene", "community" or "movement" that someone is making money off is not a revolutionary one.