In a post cold-war era, where capitalism reigns as the dominant force of globalization, never has there been a time where we were in as much control of our own labour as we are now – the very cornerstone of Marx’s Communist Manifesto that argued against capitalism as a force that oppresses workers and denies them the freedom of their own labour. And yet, in a capitalist society where free markets are the driver of economic growth and distribution of wealth, we are now blessed with technological tools that allow us to very simply “be in control” – Marx’s dream albeit in a capitalist society. Is this a paradox? Or is it a convergence of what use to be seen as two opposing school of thoughts? I say – neither.
No doubt, as many critics have argued since Marx, the problem of realizing the Marxist dream was one of practicality and implementation. In the words of George Orwell “the trouble with communism is that it takes up too many nights”. Indeed, in an age where the industrial revolution was still at its infancy, we could safely argue that society lacked the infrastructure and mechanisms to allow people – the “working classes” – to channel their labour and skills where they were needed. The hubs of capitalism – markets where money is aggregated and exchanged between companies and retailers – inevitably dominated as the only practical mechanism of achieving ‘clearance’. And achieved it they do, but they do so on the behalf of all of us – what led to the argument of ‘oppression’ of the working classes in the first instance.
Enter the internet revolution. Now, for the first time in history, we have at our disposal a medium, easily accessible to all, that redistributes the market forces from those almighty aggregators down to simple people – the “working classes” – empowering them with the means to be freed from the dependency of ‘hubs’, ‘aggregators’ and the corporations that dominate them. With sites like www.eBay.com , they can buy and sell products directly online and dictate the price; with sites like www.prosper.com they can borrow and lend money and dictate the terms themselves; with www.PeoplePerHour.com they can sell their services as and when they feel like at a rate they choose themselves. And not just that, they can choose to be a lawyer in the morning, and a translator in the afternoon (if they have the necessary skills of course) or a retailer in the evening! They can choose to work at night or in the day, from an office or remotely. Indeed, as far as “being in control goes” – it doesn’t get much better than that.
This may not be obvious to all of us yet, but we are experiencing a very fundamental paradigm shift. Picture this: two people across continents – simple people who have never met and who in the world of capitalism are powerless to make any noticeable difference – are now able to transact between themselves directly and transparently and in doing so taking a slice of the profits of a multinational corporation. And because the direct dealing cuts out the middle-man, the rate – for whatever the transaction involves – is bound to be better, so not only do you bypass them but you beat them in their own game. And all the while, you are “in control”.
The extent and reach of this is mind-boggling. The internet has changed the way we buy and sell items, it has changed the way and speed with which we access information, and now it is changing the way we deploy our innate right to work. So is it a paradox or just a convergence of different social dogma? I repeat the answer I started with – neither. It’s just the web!