Arie Altena

Manifesto of the New Media Workers Party

Comrades and Fellow Revolutionaries!

It is with great pride that we present to you the Manifesto of the New Media Workers Party (NMWP).

The history of all hitherto existing networks is the history of permissions and proprietary protocols.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of networks into various orders, a manifold layering of permissions and protocols. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; Today we have administrators, superusers, users and guests; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois office ethernet that has sprouted from the ruins of the venerable academic serial line has not done away with protocol antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of incompatibility, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the networked bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Networks as a whole are more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Closed Source and Free Software.

From the Computing Utilities of the early Sixties sprang the teletype logins of the earliest Mini's. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeois network were developed.

The corporate system of batch Mainframes, under which networking was monopolised by IBM, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The Mini-computer system took its place. The IBM Mainframes were pushed on one side by Digital Equipment Corporation machinery.

Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even Mini-computers no longer sufficed. Thereupon, the home-computers of the seventies and there after Intel, Microsoft and Apple in the eighties, revolutionized industrial computing production. The place of the Mini-computer was taken by the Personal Computer, the place of the Closed Hardware Architecture, by the new Independent Software Vendors, their leaders controlling an entire army of commodity PeeCee's, the modern bourgeois network.

We see, therefore, how the modern network bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of systems production and of information exchange.

The network bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of systems production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, system vendors into networked civilisation. The cheap prices of its commodity hardware are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all proprietary walls, with which it forces the system vendors intensely obstinate hatred of non-proprietary architectures to capitulate. It compels all systems vendors, on pain of incompatibility, to adopt the bourgeois mode of data manipulation; it compels them to introduce what it calls 'Ease of Use' into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

The network bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarcely 20 years, has created more massive and more colossal Market Share than have all preceding generations together. Modern bourgeois networked society with its highly prejudiced relations of IT production, a society that has conjured up such overbearing means of instable File and Print servers, dogslow Webservers and of Exchange mailservers, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.

In proportion as the network bourgeoisie, i.e., Shareholder Value, is developed, in the same proportion is the data proletariat, the modern working class, developed -- a class of information labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases Shareholder Value. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like every other article of commerce, and are consequentely exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.

Owing to the extensive use of Commodity PeeCee machinery and to Standard Applications Software packages, the work of the data proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a Standard Application Software Package, and therefore also of labour, is not even equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of Commodity PeeCee machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the hours spent fighting inane dialog boxes, by increase of the work exacted in a given time through update cycles and fix-packs or by the increased gadgetry of new User Interface metaphors, etc.

Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great glass effigies of the industrial capitalist. Masses of white collar information labourers, crowded into the office, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the office army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of Administrators and MIS Managers. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois network class, and of the bourgeois Office Complex; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the PeeCee machine, by the Wizard Dialog, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois software manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims Ease of Use to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

The inherent paradoxes of the Bourgeois Network Society are now beginning to show rather harshely.

With the development of computer and ICT-industry the Data Proletariat of white collar information workers has enourmously increased in number. It also becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. Everybody is a Data Worker in some way, the dominant form of work has become immaterial labour. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of this proletariat are more and more equalised, in proportion as commodity PeeCee computing machinery obliterates all distinctions of labour, and nearly everywhere reduces individual competence to the same low level.

The growing greed and competition among the Network Bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises of which the demise of various dotcom-industries is just one sign, make the lives of the information workers ever more fluctuating. The unceasing improvement of commodity machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious. The Terrible Clutch of the Corporate Bourgeois Computer World on all the aspects of live also constantly threatens the free exchange of information and data sharing on which the existence and livelihood of the Data Proletariat depends.

There upon the workers, specifically the system administrators who try to make their lives less of a hell of repetetive fix-pack installments, begin to form combinations against the bourgeois network class and the bourgeois Office Complex; they band together in order to keep up the rate of wages and the quality of their lives; they found permanent associations in order to make provisions beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there the contest breaks out into riots, that often can be kept quiet by their Bourgeois Bosses because the Networked Terrain of struggle is invisible to most of the proletariat.

The Network Bourgeois continually tries to bring a halt to the riots by providing total consumer fulfillment through client-tracking and finetuned marketing; it keeps up an impossible growth of economy and markets in order to keep abreast of chaos, and keeping their workers satisfied through brain-damaging entertainment and new consumer electronics. They give the market what the market wants: software bloat, eye-candy, superfluous functionality and distracting so called easy-to-use interfaces.

Now and then the information workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding Union of the New Media Workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern computer networks, and that place the workers of different localities in immediate contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes. Just as it required centuries before the burghers of the Middle Ages with their miserable highways, attained a union; and as, thanks to railways, it took the proletarians of the nineteenth century years to achieve a union, so the data proletariat of modern information workers will just need a few months to achieve a union, thanks to the Bourgeois Information Highway.

This organisation of the proletarians of new media workers into a class, and consequently into a political party is continually being upset again, but it rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of the particular of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself. The development of open source software through the voluntary collaboration of this multitude of proletarians and the success of GPL and GNU/Linux are the signs that will lead the proletariat unto the light the true New Media Society.

Of all the classes that stand face to face with the network bourgeoisie to-day, the proletariat of Information Workers, or Data Proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The data proletariat is the special and essential product of the Bourgeois Computer Industry. Amongst them there is an elite of system administrators and power users, working deep inside all the branches of the Bourgeois Network Society, with a knowledge of Open Source Software and Programming. From this Multitude Change will come.

In times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class, cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, (the developers of open source software, system administrators of the first hour, long-time power users), the class that holds the future in its hands.

Just as, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, and as in the nineteenth century a portion of the bourgeoisie went over to the proletariat, so now, GNU/Linux is quietly accepted in Corporate IT Structures. Which means generally that the Ruling Class of Network Bourgeois is quietly and unknowingly joining the ranks of the Revolutionary Class. General Management Ineptitude, of the stubborn adherents to the Ideology of the Network Bourgeoisie is helping this situation a great deal.

Then also a portion of the Bourgeois Network proponents, home-users of Corporate Click-and-Point software, Office Drones, long-time Windows-Information Workers with an understanding of the history of software, will join the the ranks of those open source developers and adherents to the ideology of Free Software who are developing the tools for the revolutionary Information Workers. Their software holds the keys to a better future for the class of information workers.

Meantime the Data-Slaves are happy to provide themselves with mindnumbing entertainment of AOL/TimeWarner websites and information portals that look suspiciously like Office Software they work with during daytime. They fight against the bourgeoisie, in the sense that they try to save their existence from extinction as fractions of the middle class. They are not revolutionary but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history, by a self-inflicted imprisonment in the datadungeon designed by their oppressors. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only in view of their impending transfer into the true Proletariat of Information Workers, they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.

The "dangerous class," the social scum, crackers, Chaoten and computer-hooligans, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution from the multitude; its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue. They may however be useful in the sense that they exploit the weaknesses of the Bourgeois Network Society, weaknesses that stem from the blind and mindless pursuit of profit and control, from the capitalist ideology of customer lock-in and the choice for closed-source instead of programming excellence.

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. This majority is the class of Information Workers, the multitude of new media labourers, who work in the trenches of the IT-world.

Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois, and just as, in the past century, the modern labourer, after the rise of new liberalism and the death of the Real-existierende Socialism, transformed himself into a farcical version of the bourgeois.

Now the Information Worker, who is forced to work with so-called easy-to-use corporate Office-ware, instead of rising with the development of technology, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a machinelike clerk, a braindead pauper. From this multitude comes the resistance and the beginning of a real New Media Society.

Here it becomes evident, that the Network Bourgeoisie with their Office Complex and 'easy-to-use' Click and Point Interface that prevents any real progression in data work, is unfit to be the ruling class in computer-society, and to impose its conditions on the immaterial data-labour and thus on the existence of the new media workers. New media society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with new media society.

The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the network bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of software industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Computer Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the network bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the network bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. The fall of the Network Bourgeoisie and the victory of the New Media Worker, who will arise from the multitude, are equally inevitable. The New Media Worker will be the glorious victor of the network class struggle!

This text, sort of a rewriting of the Communist Manifesto, was the main part of a fun project of Avi Bercovich and me when we both worked at Mediamatic at the end of the 1990s, early 2000s. As far as I can recall most of the writing was done by Avi, with additions and amendments by me. It was online for a number of years at Honestly I don't know if this is the version that was online on that url, it is the only version I found amongst my files.

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