The Liberal Communists of Porto Davos

The Liberal Communists of Porto Davos
The Liberal Communists of Porto Davos

In the last decade, Davos and Porto Alegre have emerged as the twin cities of globalization. In Davos, the exclusive Swiss ski resort, the global elite of managers, statesmen and media personalities meets under heavy police protection, trying to convince us (and themselves) that globalization is its own best remedy. In the sub-tropical, Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, the counter-elite of the anti-globalization movement convenes, trying to convince us (and themselves) that capitalist globalization is not our fate, that, as their official slogan has it, “another world is possible.” Lately, however, the Porto Alegre reunions seem to have lost their impetus. Where did the bright stars of Porto Alegre go?

Some of them, at least, moved to Davos itself! That is to say, more and more, the predominant tone of the Davos meetings comes from the group of entrepreneurs who French journalist Olivier Malnuit ironically refers to as “liberal communists” (that is “liberal” in the pro-market, European sense) who no longer accept the opposition between “Davos” (global capitalism) and “Porto Alegre” (the new social movements’ alternative to global capitalism). They claim that we can have the global capitalist cake (thrive as profitable entrepreneurs) and eat it too (endorse the anti-capitalist causes of social responsibility, ecological concerns, etc.). No need for Porto Alegre, they say, since Davos itself can become Porto Davos.

So who are these liberal communists? The usual gang of suspects: Bill Gates and George Soros, the CEOs of Google, IBM, Intel, eBay, as well as court-philosophers like Thomas Friedman. What makes this group interesting is that their ideology is becoming indistinguishable from that of Antonio Negri, who has praised postmodern digital capitalism, which, according to Negri, is becoming almost indistinguishable from communism. By Negri’s reckoning, both the old Right–with its ridiculous belief in authority, order and parochial patriotism–and the old Left–with its big Struggle against Capitalism–are the true conservatives today, completely out of touch with the new realities as they fight their shadow-theatre struggles. The signifier of this new reality in the liberal communist Newspeak is “smart.” Smart means dynamic and nomadic against centralized bureaucracy; dialogue and cooperation against central authority; flexibility against routine; culture and knowledge against old industrial production; and spontaneous interaction against fixed hierarchy.

Bill Gates–software mogul and philanthropist–is the icon of what he called “frictionless capitalism,” the post-industrial society in which we witness the “end of labor,” in which software is winning over hardware and in which the young nerd has replaced the black-suited manager. In the new company headquarters, there is little external discipline, and (ex)hackers dominate the scene, working long hours and enjoying free drinks in plush surroundings. In this respect, it is a crucial feature of Gates as icon that he is (perceived as) the ex-hacker who made it. At the fantasmatic level, the underlying notion here is that Gates is a subversive marginal hooligan who has taken over and dresses himself up as a respectable chairman.

[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on April 11th, 2006. (full text).]

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