A [hacked] Hacker Manifesto [version 5.1: transitional version]
00. Commodity production is in transition from the domination of capital as property to the domination of information as property. The radical and reformist theory of the transition beyond commodity production has not yet made this same transition. This body of theory has been through two phases, which correspond to two kinds of error. In the first phase, when theory was in the hands of the workers’ movement, it fetishized the infrastructure, or economy of the social formation. In the second phase, when theory was in the hands of the academic radicals, it fetishized the superstructures, or culture and ideology. Theory of the first kind reduces the superstructure to a reflection of the economy; theory of the second kind awards the superstructure relative autonomy. Neither grasps the fundamental changes in commodity production, which render obsolete this understanding of the social formation, or the new kinds of class struggle now emerging under the sign of the domination of information as property. Property is a concept that occupies a liminal, undetermined place between economy and culture. Our task today is to grasp the historical development of commodity production from the point of view of property, on which not only infrastructure and superstructure hinge, but also class struggle.
01. There is a double spooking the world, the double of abstraction. The fortunes of states and armies, of companies and communities, depend on it. All contending classes—the landlords and farmers, the workers and capitalists— revere, yet fear the relentless abstraction of the world on which their fortunes yet depend. All the classes but one: the emergent hacker class.
02. Whatever code we hack, be it programming language, texts or poetic language, math or music, images or concepts, we create the possibility of new things entering the world. Not always great things, or even good things, but new things. In art, in science, in philosophy and culture, in any sphere of production of knowledge where data can be gathered, and knowledge extracted from it, new possibilities for the world are produced. Hackers hack the new out of the old. While hackers create these new worlds, we do not possess them. That which we create is mortgaged to others, and to the interests of others, to states and corporations that control the means for making worlds we alone discover. We do not own what we produce—it owns us.
03. And yet, while we recognize our distinctive existence as a creative class—as programmers, artists, writers, scientists, or musicians—we rarely see ways of representing ourselves as a class. We struggle to collectively express ourselves in the process of producing abstraction in the world. Hackers are a class, but a virtual class, a class as yet to hack itself into manifest existence: as the utopian class.
04. Abstraction may be discovered or produced, may be material or immaterial, but it is what every hack creates and affirms. To abstract is to construct a plane upon which otherwise different and unrelated matters may be brought into many possible relations. It is through the abstract that the virtual is identified, produced, and released. The virtual is not just the potential latent in matters; it is the potential of potential. To hack is to produce the abstract, and express the possibility of new worlds.
05. As the abstraction of private property was extended to information, it produced the hacker class as class. Hackers must sell their capacity for abstraction to a class that owns the means of production, the vectoralist class—the emergent ruling class of our time. The vectoralist class is waging an intensive struggle to dispossess hackers of their intellectual property. Patents and copyrights all end up in the hands not of their creators, but of the vectoralist class that owns the means of realizing the value of these abstractions. The vectoralist class struggles to monopolize abstraction. Hackers find themselves dispossessed both individually and as a class. Hackers come piecemeal to struggle against the particular forms in which abstraction is commodified and made into the private property of the vectoralist class. Hackers come to struggle collectively against the usury that vectoralists extort in order to access the information that hackers collectively produce, but that vectoralists collectively come to own. Hackers come as a class to recognize that their class interest is best expressed through the struggle to not only free the production of abstraction from the particular fetters of this or that form of property, but to abstract the form of property itself. The abstraction of property must be abstracted from itself.
06. What makes our times different is that what now appears on the horizon is the possibility of a life finally set free from necessity, both real and imagined, by an explosion of abstract innovations. Abstraction with the potential once and for all to break the shackles that hold hacking fast to outdated and regressive class interests.
07. Production produces all things, and all producers of things. Production produces not only the object of the production process, but also the producer as subject. Hacking is the production of production. The hack produces a production of a new kind.
08. The hack produces both a useful and a useless surplus, although the usefulness of any surplus is socially and historically determined. The useful surplus goes into expanding the realm of freedom wrested from necessity. The useless surplus is the surplus of freedom itself, the margin of free production unconstrained by production for necessity.
09. The production of a surplus creates the possibility of the expansion of freedom from necessity. But in class society, the production of a surplus also creates new necessities. Class domination takes the form of the captor of the productive potential of society, and therefore harnesses it to the production not of liberty, but of class domination itself. The ruling class subordinates the hack to the maintenance of forms of production that uphold class power, and consequently suppresses and marginalizes other forms of hacking. What the producing classes—farmers, workers, and hackers—have in common is an interest in freeing production from its subordination to the ruling class that turns production into the production of new necessities.
10. The class struggle, in its endless setbacks, reversals, and compromises, returns again and again to the unanswered question of property, and the contending classes return again and again with new answers. The working class questioned the necessity of private property, and the Communist Party arose, claiming to answer the desires of the working class. The answer, expressed in The Communist Manifesto was to "centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State." But making the state the monopolist of property has only produced a new ruling class, and a new and more brutal class struggle. Perhaps, however, this was not the final answer, and the course of the class struggle is not yet over. The hacker can pose the property question in a new way—and offer new answers to breaking the ruling class’s monopoly on property.
11. Information, like land or capital, becomes a form of property monopolized by a ruling class; a class of vectoralists, so named because they control the vectors along which information is abstracted—just as capitalists control the material means with which goods are produced, and pastoralists the land with which food is produced. Information circulates within working class culture as a social property belonging to all. But when information in turn becomes a form of private property, workers are dispossessed of it, and must buy their own culture back from its owners, the vectoralist class.
12. Vectoralists try to break capital's monopoly on the production process, and
subordinate the production of goods to the circulation of information. The leading corporations divest themselves of their productive capacity, as this is no longer a source of power. Their power lies in monopolizing intellectual property—patents, images, and rights—and the means of reproducing their value, the vectors of communication. The privatization of information becomes the dominant, rather than a subsidiary, aspect of commodified life. As private property advances from land to capital to information, property itself becomes more abstract.
13. The hacker class, producer of new creative abstractions, becomes more important to each successive ruling class, as each depends more and more on information as a resource. The hacker class emerges from the transformation of information into property with the capacity to create new kinds of objects and subjects in the world, and new kinds of relation beyond the property form. The formation of the hacker class as class comes at just this moment when freedom from necessity and from class domination appears on the horizon as a possibility.
14. Property constitutes an abstract plane upon which all things share a quality: property itself. Land is the primary form of property. Pastoralists acquire land as private property through the forced dispossession of peasants who once shared a portion in the form of common ownership. Capital is the secondary form of property, the privatization of productive assets in the form of tools, machines, and working materials. Capital, unlike land, is not fixed in supply or disposition. It can be made and remade, moved, aggregated, and dispersed. An infinitely greater potential can be released from the world once the abstract plane of property includes both land and capital. But abstraction does not end with capitalism; the transformation of information is an even more abstract form of property, abstracted even from a material expression. Intellectual property opens a third, as yet uncharted phase of development.
15. Hackers as a creative class must calculate their interests not as owners, but as producers, for this is what distinguishes them from the vectoralists. Hackers do not own or profit from the owning of information. They produce new information, and as producers need access to information free from the absolute domination of the property form. Hacking as a pure, free, and experimental activity must be loosed from any constraint that is not self-imposed. Only out of liberty will the means of producing a surplus of liberty be ensured.
16. Private property arose in opposition not only to feudal property, but also to the traditional forms of gift economies, which fettered the productivity of the commodity economy. Qualitative gift exchange was superseded by quantified
money exchange. Money is the medium through which land, capital, information, and labor all confront each other as abstract entities, reduced to an abstract plane of quantity. The gift is marginal, but nevertheless plays a vital role in cementing reciprocal and communal relations among people who otherwise can only confront each other through commodity exchange. As vectoral production develops, the means appear for a renewal of the gift economy. Everywhere the vectoralist extends property and the commodity, but they are always haunted by the generosity of the gift.
17. The hacker class has a close affinity with the gift economy. The hacker struggles to produce a subjectivity that is qualitative and singular, in part through the act of the hack itself. The gift, as a qualitative exchange between parties, allows each party to be recognized as a subject of production, rather than as a commodified and quantified object. The gift expresses in a social and collective way the subjectivity of the production of production, whereas commodified property represents the producer as an object. A property like any other. The gift of information need not give rise to conflict over information as property, for information need not suffer the artifice of scarcity once it is freed from commodification.
18. The vectoralist class contributed, unwittingly, to the development of the vectoral space within which the gift as property could return, but quickly recognized its error. As the vectoral economy develops, less and less of it takes the form of a social space of open and free gift exchange, and more and more of it takes the form of commodified production for private sale. The vectoralist class can grudgingly accommodate some margin of socialized information, as the price it pays in a democracy for the furtherance of its interests. But the vectoralist class quite rightly sees in the gift a challenge not just to its profits, but also to its very existence. The gift economy is the virtual proof of the parasitic and superfluous nature of vectoralists as a class.
19. In epidemiology, a vector is the particular means by which a given pathogen travels from one population to another. Water is a vector for cholera, bodily fluids for HIV. By extension, a vector may be any means by which information moves. Telegraph, telephone, television, telecommunications: these terms designate not just particular vectors, but also a general abstract capacity that they bring into the world and expand.
20. With the commodification of information comes its vectoralization. Extracting a surplus from information requires technologies capable of transporting that information through space as well as through time. The archive is a vector through time just as communication is a vector that crosses space. The vectoral class comes into its own once it possesses the powerful technologies for vectoralizing information. The vectoral class may commodify information stocks, flows, or vectors themselves. A stock of information is an archive, a body of information maintained through time that has enduring value. A flow of information is the capacity to extract information of temporary value from events, and to distribute it widely and quickly. A vector is the means of achieving either the temporal distribution of a stock, or the spatial distribution of a flow of information. Vectoral power generally combines ownership of all three aspects.
21. The vectoral class struggles at every turn to maintain its control over the
vector. But, as it continues to profit from the vector’s proliferation, some greater capacity always escapes control. In order to market and profit from the information it peddles through the vector, the vectoral class must in some degree address the vast majority of the producing classes as subjects, rather than as objects of commodification. The hacker class seeks the liberation of the vector from the reign of the commodity, but not to set it indiscriminately free, but
rather, to subject it to collective and democratic development. The hacker class can release the virtuality of the vector only in principle. But it is up to an alliance of all the productive classes to turn that potential into actuality, to organize themselves subjectively, and to use the available vectors for a collective and subjective becoming.
22. The virtual is the true domain of the hacker. It is from the virtual that the hacker produces ever-new expressions of the actual. To the hacker, what is represented as being real is always partial, limited, perhaps even false. To the hacker there is always a surplus of possibility expressed in what is actual, the surplus of the virtual. This is the inexhaustible domain of what is real without being actual—what is not, but which may be. To hack is to release the virtual into the actual, to express the difference of the real.
23. Through the application of abstraction, the hacker class produces the possibility of production, the possibility of making something of and with the world—and of living off the surplus produced by the application of abstraction to nature, any nature. Through the production of new forms of abstraction, the hacker class produces the possibility of the future—not just “the” future, but an infinite array of possible futures, future itself as virtuality.
24. Under the sanction of law, the hack becomes a finite property, and the hacker class emerges, as all classes emerge, out of a relation to a property form. Like all forms of property, intellectual property enforces a relation of scarcity. It assigns the right to a property to an owner at the expense of non-owners, to a class of possessors (vectoralists) at the expense of the dispossessed.
25. To the extent that the hack embodies itself in the form of property, it gives the hacker class interests quite different from other classes, be they exploiting or exploited classes. The interest of the hacker class lies first and foremost in a free circulation of information, this being the necessary condition for the renewed statement of the hack. But the hacker class as class also has an interest in the representation of the hack as property, as something from which a source of income may be derived, which gives the hacker some independence from the ruling class.
26. The very nature of the hack gives the hacker a crisis of identity. The hacker searches for a representation of what it is to be a hacker in the identities of other classes. Some see themselves as vectoralists, trading on the scarcity of their property. Some see themselves as workers, but as privileged ones in a hierarchy of wage earners. The hacker class has produced itself as itself, but not for itself. It does not (yet) possess a consciousness of its consciousness. It is not aware of its own virtuality. It has to distinguish between its competitive interest in the hack, and its collective interest in discovering a relation among hackers that expresses an open and ongoing future. A future to which the utopia of free information points in its negation of the property form.
27. The class struggle within nations, and the imperial struggle between nations, has taken two forms of politics. One kind of politics is regressive. It seeks to return to an imagined past. It seeks to use national borders as a new wall, a neon screen behind which unlikely alliances might protect existing interests in the name of a glorious past. The other form is the progressive politics of movement. It seeks to accelerate toward an unknown future. It seeks to use international flows of information, trade, or activism as the eclectic means for new sources of wealth, or liberty, that overcomes the limitations imposed by national coalitions.
28. Neither of these politics corresponds to the old notion of a Left or a Right, which the revolutions of 1989 have definitively overcome. Regressive politics brings together Luddite impulses from the Left with racist and reactionary impulses from the Right in an unholy alliance against new sources of power. Progressive politics rarely takes the form of an alliance, but constitutes two parallel processes locked in a dialogue of mutual suspicion, in which the liberalizing forces of the Right and the social justice and human rights forces of the Left both seek non-national and transnational solutions to unblocking the system of power that still accumulates at the national level.
29. There is a third politics, which stands outside the alliances and compromises of the post-1989 world. Whereas both progressive and regressive politics are representative, and deal with aggregate party alliances and interests, this third politics is stateless, and seeks escape from politics as such. A politics of the hack, inventing relations outside of representation.
30. Expressive politics is a struggle against commodity property itself. Expressive politics is not the struggle to collectivize property, for that is still a form of property. Expressive politics is the struggle to free what can be freed from both versions of the commodity form—its totalizing market form, and its bureaucratic state form. What may be free from the commodity form altogether is not land, not capital, but information. All other forms of property are exclusive. The ownership by one excludes, by definition, the ownership by another. But information as property may be shared without diminishing anything but its scarcity. Information is that which can escape the commodity form.
31. Politics can become expressive only when it is a politics of freeing the virtuality of information. In liberating information from its objectification as a commodity, it liberates also the subjective force of statement. Subject and object meet each other outside of their mere lack of each other, by their desire merely for each other. Expressive politics does not seek to overthrow the existing society, or to reform its larger structures, or to preserve its structure so as to maintain an existing coalition of interests. It seeks to permeate existing states with a new state of existence, spreading the seeds of an alternative practice of everyday life.
hacked by Neil Cummings 01.09.09
Thanks to McKenzie Wark, un-hacked version available at: