Postcapitalism as Indeterminate Multiplicity

Postcapitalism presents a juxtaposition of dynamics, presenting both an evolutionary and revolutionary system of transition to the next stage of economic development. Paul Mason sees postcapitalism in the interstices of information technology and production techniques within globalised supply lines and just-in-time systems. In the same way that capitalism is a “complex, adaptive system”[1] that integrates and externalises differential technologies and production/consumption techniques and cultures, postcapitalism will exploit these externalities and reroute dynamics, developing an alternate complex adaptive system focused around axioms of abundant information and collaborative production.

“The struggle between the network and the hierarchy”[2], or between the decentralised forms of non-market production, cooperatives, commons, etc. and the centralised entities of monopolies and states respectively – this is the defining telos of postcapitalism as an emergent force. Going further, Srnicek & Williams state the shift to a postcapitalist system requires “a transformed and newly mutable subject”[3]. This requires both an evolutionary growth of emergent factors that can question and decentre established capitalist logics, whether that be in de-monetising the flows of information across telecommunication networks or developing commons-based logics for things like land, money and labour, while also establishing a revolutionary subject prepared for the conflict of network and hierarchy. What appears to emerge within this complex framework is an indeterminate set of potentials that rely upon mechanisms and processes rather than grand narratives, while also attempting to instantiate such narratives in a postcapitalist subject.

“Governance…has therefore generated an assemblage of arrangements that lacks the coherence and integrity of an integrated top-down governing initiative, since it is the result of the emergence of meso-level solutions to ‘regional’/’sectoral’ problems. In the face of such mobius-web governance, one must be satisfied with effecting modest improvements to the governance of a socio-economy…This entails less focus on ‘big ideas’, and more attention to mechanisms likely to provide an acceleration of the process of social learning”[4]. The nature of complex adaptive systems is that their governance is diverse, multiplicitous and modular. The power of capital is its capacity to link with alternate structures (of production and exchange) and integrate their mechanisms into wider axioms of profit, expansion and circulation.

The uniformity of a postcapitalist structure that Mason seems to push forward, or the requirement of a new subject, are problematic in that they face a system of capital capable of integrating and modifying the logics of the postcapitalist structures identified. The expansion of free knowledge has opened new methods of profit through latent advertising and the exploitation of big data held by nebulous networks of social media companies, email servers, domain addresses and advertising clients, integrated within legal structures of limited liability that decentres the notion of publishers and responsibility regarding the ownership of content on platforms. Cooperative production structures and alternative financial organisations have proven entirely capable of existing in international flows of capital, as fair trade in the coffee and cocoa industries has shown. Even the more ambitious concept of basic income is modifiable to capitalist labour market requirements, becoming a statutory payment mechanism that can supplement cycles of unemployment and long-term labour dislocation caused by technological displacement, effectively producing new consumer markets.

The nature of both capitalism and postcapitalism is that they are overdetermined systems within diverse economies with primary logics that can conflict but can also be ameliorated. Gibson-Graham’s framework of a diverse economies perspective, with its focus on overdetermination whereby modern socio-economic concepts are overdetermined by their constituent parts, brings into question uniform explanations of postcapitalist political economy. Overdetermination here is defined as the presumption “that each site and process is constituted at the intersection of all others, and is thus fundamentally an emptiness, complexly constituted by what it is not”[5]. Relating this to both systems, they can be determined as fluid conceptions of political economy, where multiple nodes of action congregate into a wider system which can include markets, social distribution (i.e. basic income and welfare provisioning) and systems of abundance-based production that is free for exchange. Postcapitalism attempts to become a non-capitalocentric framework of theory and praxis, whereby many different economic systems coalesce and work with each other. But equally capitalism, in producing capitalocentric frameworks, can integrate differential economic systems too.

Deleuze notes this in relation to biological systems, problematising structure as a fixed reference point with primary movers. Is the bone the central structure of the body, as a building block? In isolation the bone is its own entity, without the logic of a body transposed through it. The concept of centrality becomes diffuse as a central reference in one instant can become secondary in another. Relating to the social, “the social idea is the element of quantitability, qualitability and potentiality of societies. It expresses a system of multiple ideal connections, or differential relations between differential elements”[6]. There are “multiple modernities”[7] with multiple reference points, centrifugally expanding depending on their innate logics.

Looking at identified postcapitalist structures, this overdetermined nature reveals itself. Blockchain technologies are leading toward things like smart contracts and e-governance, as well as the creation of cryptocurrencies which open a space for problematising state capitalist currencies. Bitcoin is the most visible example, but there are a huge range of cryptocurrencies with ingrained protocols, some of which can help inculcate forms of social[8] provisioning[9]. Already, the blockchain has begun to provide new forms of capital access and crowdfunding through apps like Swarm and Lighthouse, which are “decentralized crowdfunding platforms”[10], and new forms of exchange in relation to taxi services and ridesharing[11]. Ethereum[12] is another platform through which similar systems are being explored, such as smart contracts and the development of supply chain systems that are experimenting with new forms of the internet-of-things, food production, contractual relations and electricity pricing[13]. Thus we begin to see the development of alternative systems of exchange which can challenge capitalist forms. However the positive response to these developments of many established banking groups and financial organisations[14] also shows how integrable blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies are within the capitalist milieu. The potential for the establishment of a set of private currencies designed for specific users/customers/stakeholders could recreate the restrictive systems of company towns, locking in loyalty and limiting exit not through geography as in the original towns, but through contracts/covenants with high exit penalties and non-competition clauses with other platforms.

Similarly, systems of collaborative production and networks of distribution are a major element in postcapitalist theory. Groups like the P2P Foundation and Las Indias or wider movements around 3D production (particularly 3D-printed weapons) constitute a basis for postcapitalist valuation structures and the organisation of production and exchange in opposition to existing capitalist ones. From the hobbyists of hackerspaces[15] to international structures of postcapitalist production, including the Shanzhai economy of Shenzhen, the Emilia-Romagna production systems, the alternative economies of Greece[16] and many other black market economies and alternative planning structures which create on-the-ground alternatives to modern capitalism, these show a desire for new forms of production and exchange, thus showing the motivation behind new networks and forms of production (as noted by Benkler[17] in his analysis of non-marketable forms of economic relations).

The fundamental question though is are they part of a developing diverse economy, or are there constituent elements too far integrated into modern forms of capitalism to be useful in a postcapitalist political economy? The problem with these multiplicitous systems is both there lack of integration and their subversiveness, reliant as they are upon the interstitital cracks of crises, creating ebbs and flows of activity that spike during the height of crisis and ebb away as normal economic relations and political activities re-establish themselves. Srnicek & Williams note this with the Argentinian factory/workplace takeovers during the 1998-2002 financial crisis that led to a wave of bankruptcies and high unemployment and inflation. While initially inspiring much enthusiasm, when GDP growth began to recover in 2003 and a debt-restructuring plan was agreed in 2005, normal employment relations returned, with many workplaces being returned to their original “owners”.

Going back to Paquet’s analysis of mechanisms of governance, the evolutionary developments of postcapitalist forms is their sub-structural componentisation within capitalism, becoming mechanisms to help prevent or overcome the externalities of capitalist practices, without actually developing a new systematic understanding of production and exchange relations. The integration of 3D printing and collaborative production into existing supply chains (establishing a new component in just-in-time production networks) and the implementation of blockchain technologies by major banks show the extent of overdetermination that modular structures of capital can cope with. Abstracting out toward organisational forms like networks and stakeholdership, different capitalist realities have found the space to incorporate them as new elements, from Rhine capitalism’s workers representation and strength of trade and credit unionism to the integration of Emilia-Romagna as part of international automobile production links. An indeterminacy abounds.

At the level of the subject, a similar indeterminacy both expands the potential of postcapitalist systems and dissipates their force as an alternate modernity. “Any particular image of modernity must be open to co-creation, and further transformation and alternation”. In this humanity is a “transformative and constructible hypothesis”[18]. Such sentiments border on the banal, as humanity, even in situations of dynamic conservatism, is constantly adapting to exogenous and endogenous variables. The production of subjectivity is a ground of constant conflict and contestation, even in the straits of capitalist ideology. The subject of either capitalism or postcapitalism is contested, with a multitude of alternative constructs that exist in and around it. This genealogical character makes it “the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, and so on”[19] that are “effects of fragmented histories, colliding discourses, forces that prevailed without triumphing, arguments insecure about themselves” making us “both more severely historical and also more malleable than we would otherwise seem. We are more sedimented by history, but also more capable of intervening in our histories”[20].

These histories are multifaceted collections of elements from both within the prism of capitalist subjectivity-production and from without in multiple other socio-economic and political discourses and organisational loci. Going back to Deleuze’s biological idea, the attempt to inhere a central trajectory of perspective upon the milieu is the tenet of ideological instantiation. But this also must contend with other ideological forces that produce multiplicitous subjects, paradoxically both conservative and transformative as they attempt to make understandable various lifeways while always changing and adapting in face of these lifeways and their varying requirements/constraints. Deleuze’s wider conception of ideas, being and the dialectic point toward a splintered philosophy of being and action, where ideas are part of a matrices of constitutive practices that can terraform into new social realities, transcending the subject into a collation of ideas within ideal structures, constrained by the perspectival limits of knowledge.

“For Deleuze the Idea is determined according to a logic of structure, in which contradiction between terms that actualise the structure should not be confused with the relations and transformations set out in the structure itself. If the structure is taken purely in its ‘pre-actual’ state, as a set of ideal transformations, in which the elements are subject to reciprocal determination, then the contradictions that might arise between the actualised elements and relations remain undecided or unselected. In this pure state, of course, the problem can only be thought, not experienced, precisely because experience functions by means of conceptual recognition. Such problematic structures may apply to particular fields of knowledge and experience, or may ground the question of what counts as knowledge itself”[21]. In relation to the postcapitalist subject, we see the innate juxtaposition of modern reality in its interstitial and multi-varied character, having no central axis of reference but instead linked by its foundations of opposition. This is similar to Deleuze’s ideal, as there is no true common point (or common horizon in Kantian terms), simply a sea of possibilities that can be expressed through being and the ideal, problematising reality rather than soothing it. However in the breach between the pre-actual and the concrete, the delineation of an ideal type is dissipated and decentred as the modular realities of a diverse economy componentise and segment the building blocks. The presupposition of a constructible subjectivity informed by a milieu of interconnected ideas and conceptions of being can only enter the world through conflict with other pre-established structures, muddying the waters of a transformative subject. Indeed, “this potential to manipulate and modify isn’t simply a linear dynamic toward the construction of a pliant agency. It can intend opposition and ambivalence as much as it propounds action and counter-hegemony”[22].

Postcapitalism in its ideal exists as the successor system to capitalism, containing the necessary transformative dynamics and underlying infrastructure to exploit the crises and reroute the subjectivities of capital (and its modular components and externalities) through the production of a new modernity (with its own historical lineage). Whether basing postcapitalism within the world of information flows or within the developments of automation, an assumptive rationality emerges that suggests a unidirectional travel. However within these building blocks remain the integrable elements of an evolving capitalism and the remaining subjectivities of the existing modernity and its detritus. Postcapitalism in its concrete realisations is an indeterminate multiplicity of partially-linked production and exchange systems and ideological fragments. This is both its strength and its weakness, as it presents a modular infrastructure to exploit capitalism while also being equally exploitable. It is both reliant on subversion and fully open to being subverted.


[1] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism

[2] Paul Mason, PostCapitalism

[3] Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future

[4] Gilles Paquet, The New Geo-Governance

[5] J. K. Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics

[6] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

[7] Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Globalization North and South: Representations of Uneven Development and the Interaction of Modernities

[8] http://motherboard.vice.com/read/how-bitcoin-could-make-distributing-a-universal-basic-income-actually-possible

[9] https://resilience.press/using-p2p-value-networks-and-universal-darwinism-for-a-crypto-basic-income-system-603f53ed0c90#.jxx3ua4h2

[10] https://techcrunch.com/2014/10/17/bitcoin-2-0-crowdfunding-is-real-crowdfunding/

[11] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-16/this-israeli-ride-sharing-app-is-the-utopian-hippie-uber

[12] https://www.ethereum.org/

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/28/business/dealbook/ethereum-a-virtual-currency-enables-transactions-that-rival-bitcoins.html?_r=2

[14] http://www.afr.com/technology/anz-backs-private-blockchain-but-wont-go-public-20160629-gpuf9z

[15] http://www.hackspace.org.uk/wiki/Main_Page

[16] https://undercoverinfo.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/the-parallel-economic-revolution-in-greece/

[17] Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks

[18] Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future

[19] Michel Foucault, The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential works of Foucault, 1954-1984

[20] Marieke de Goede, Virtue, Fortune, and Faith

[21] https://www.generation-online.org/p/fpdeleuze8.htm

[22] https://thelibertarianideal.com/2021/03/18/utopia-uchronia/

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