These two articles present opposing views on how Marxism is manifested in the economy of the digital era. On one side of the argument, there is Christian Fuchs, who presented his views in the book “Digital Labor and Karl Marx”. The key concept in Fuchs’ book is that social media has become a tool for exploiting its users in a manner that parallels Marxist concepts. These views are mainly motivated by the financial crisis that occurred in 2008, thereby exposing the underlying political economy tenets. In one of the presented articles, Fuchs’ views are challenged by Nicholas Garnham who suggests that it is not possible to employ Marxism in the modern economy. In the second article, Fuchs replies to Garnham’s criticism by pointing out that he fails to consider the Hegelian dialectical in his dismissal of modern Marxism (301). These two voices are part of a wider debate concerning the place of Marxism in the modern economy. In some instances, this debate touches on other significant historical economists such as Adam Smith. This essay explores the debate between Garnham and Fuchs, with the view of defending Fuchs’ side of the argument.
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One of the factors that strengthen Fuchs’ argument is that he is able to call his opponent’s attention to the Hegelian dialectical perspective. According to this author, dismissing the relevance of Marxism in today’s political economies is tantamount to rejecting the way manner in which societies work. For example, in his response, Fuchs points out that rejecting Marxism would mean that “society develops in the form of historical sublations, that are non-linear and non-mechanic” (Fuchs 302). This claim is enough to poke a hole in Garnham’s claims about the obsolete nature of both Marxism and neoliberalism in modern contexts.
According to Garnham, Marxism’s main weakness is that it operates under the assumption that the economy is uniform in nature (296). Therefore, Garnham takes issue with the proposition that modern economies can be arranged to fit into the monolithic Marxism. The main issue with this argument is that Garnham assumes that past economies were simplistic and that is why they could fit into a theoretical model such as Marxism. However, the fact is that the past elements that Garnham considers to be ‘simple’ are the same ones that developed into the modern complex ones. For example, Fuchs notes that all other aspects of societal development are linear and mechanic (302). Consequently, it would be an oversight of Garnham’s part to suggest that economies do not adhere to this rule.
Another aspect that validates Fuchs’ argument is his core understanding of the modern mass media as opposed to Garnham’s consideration that social media is a late addition to political economies. According to Fuchs, although Marx had not encountered consumer culture, advertising, and mass media, there were still strong elements of these factors in the 19th Century (302). By taking into consideration the market-like nature of today’s mass media, it is easy to see its connection to Marxism. This is why Dallas Smythe used Marxist concepts in his consideration of audience labor and audience commodity. The audience factor was subsequently amplified in the 21st Century rise of platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Fuchs suggests that these economic concepts represent the third wave of Marxism interpretations in relation to labor.
Garnham stands in strong opposition to Fuchs’ assertion that social media usage amounts to labor. For instance, Garnham fails to understand how the time that users spend on Facebook can be interpreted as labor. He continues his Fuchs’ antithesis by pointing out that the fact that Dallas Smythe used the concept of TV viewers as laborers who were adding value to products. Although Garnham strongly opposes the interpretation of social media in relation to modern labor economies, he fails to give a convincing alternative argument. For instance, his opposing views suggest that social media does not fit into Fuchs’ interpretations because “of the growing literature on privacy, media regulation, and the varying often complex relationships of power between users and providers” (Garnham 298). This rebuttal fails to carry the weight of Fuchs’ linear argument, which covers the entire period between the 19th and 20th Centuries. Furthermore, it is quite simplistic to consider mass media to be a completely new phenomenon in modern life. Garnham’s approach takes this form when he argues that social media usage does not qualify to be categorized as labor because it is not measurable.
It is also important to consider the differences between the two arguments’ consideration of capitalism. Garnham is of the opinion that capitalism is without doubt the best possible system (296). In his view, capitalism has succeeded in reducing the levels of inequality in various parts of the world where it is embraced. The author bases his opinions on several arguments, the first one being that Fuchs’ article is written in the ‘spirit of communism’. According to Garnham, “capitalism has succeeded in producing a sustained increase in productivity and thus surplus, in spreading the resulting rise in general welfare to a larger and larger proportion of the world’s population” (296). On his part, Fuchs responds to these views by noting that available evidence contradicts Garnham.
For instance, Fuchs cites data that indicates that the current levels of inequality in relation to capitalism are at the same level as they were in the 1900s (303). Furthermore, he solidifies his argument by pointing out how Marxism interprets several capitalistic concepts such as labor, property, surplus value, profit, and output. In the course of this debate, Fuchs appears to make more sense because his facts resonate more with the current situation. For example, a recent wealth report indicated that a significant percentage of global wealth is owned by the top five richest men in the world. In the view of these damning facts, it is hard for Garnham to claim that capitalism has reduced inequality. Once again, Garnham is taking a non-linear approach when considering societal developments beginning from the 19th Century. It is important to note that although the lowest class of citizens has access to more amenities, the economic distance between them and the top-most class remains the same.
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Both Garnham and Fuchs present solid arguments when defending each side of this debate. Garnham strongly opposes Fuchs’ contextualization of Marxism in the modern political economies. On the other hand, Fuchs points out that his opponents’ arguments are too simplistic and they do not hold any water. In my view, Fuchs’ side of this argument is more appealing because he employs a historically linear consideration of economic issues. Furthermore, Fuchs’ cites more credible and relatable data when he is supporting his argument. Some of the most relevant aspects of this debate such as mass media, labor, inequality, and capitalism qualify for additional consideration as independent economic concepts.
Fuchs, Christian. “Against Theoretical Thatcherism: A reply to Nicholas Garnham.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 2, 2016, pp. 301-311.
Garnham, Nicholas. “Review of Christian Fuchs, Digital Labour and Karl Marx.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 2, 2016, pp. 294-300.