The phenomenon titled the “sharing economy” by the Economist in 2013, is an important development in capitalism economy with both ruinous and advantageous effects on the working-class struggle. This is specifically a development in the modality of exchange under capitalism, which is now taking on a hegemonic presence in the global markets. Any development in the modality of exchange under capitalism has a direct and inexorable impact on the social relations in society. This cannot be ignored or circumvented by anyone who wishes to fully appreciate today’s state of class-struggle.
The “sharing economy” is a collection of mobile applications and online websites that allow people to rent bedrooms, rent or “share” cars, share home-Wi-Fi signals, sell second-hand goods, sell parking spaces, share sports equipment, sell clothes, and even to share left-over foods with a neighbours (leftoverswap). Most of these applications are based on a peer-to-peer monetary and “asset” exchange.
The online “sharing economy”, is predicated on the advancements in communication technology. The revolution in communication technology is a direct consequence of the process of capital. The increasing speed of communication reduces the friction of space and time in capital circulation (geographical mobility of money capital) from being fixed to being more dynamic: the faster capital circulates (commodity-money-commodity) the faster profits are generated. Also, it is important to mention that the control and the technological innovations in communication technology have been a primary method for the reproduction of capitalism as a whole.
The use of online “sharing” applications has allowed for a further encroachment of the capital markets into people’s lives with interesting consequences on social relations. Let’s use a scenario to appreciate the concept of “shared economy”. Under capitalism, human social labour has an exchange-value based on the market value of the social labour and the state of class-struggle at the time. This exchange-value, in the form of wages, is spent by the worker in the market to reproduce his labour for the next day (by purchasing basic necessities such as food and shelter etc…). In this scenario the worker is dependent on the market to sell his/her social labour and to buy his/her life necessities and more. Furthermore, this worker owns a house and a car (under “standard of living”). Life basics, for example a house, can now be rented much more easily than before with the use of communication technology (for example if s/he is out of town) by using online applications. The worker can do the same (put a price tag, “exchange value”) on his/her car, parking space, knowledge of the city, clothes or leftover foods.
The worker may feel that s/he is becoming further independent and resisting against capitalism markets, but unfortunately this is not the case. By placing an exchange market value on his/her possessions the worker is NOT entering a sharing economy (in its egalitarian definition) or moving away from capitalism’s mode of production and exchange: but the total opposite, the worker is in fact further strapped into the market. The end result is a comprehensive monetization of workers’ life and not his/her emancipation.
Why now? The recent developments in communication technology (for example the wider use of mobile applications and websites) only illuminates the desperation of the working-class after four decades of gruelling attacks on its wages, benefits and social solidarity (breaking of unions and worker associations). The so called “sharing economy” is the monetization of every aspect of the workers’ life. It is consequence of decades of depreciating standard of living. This is not workers becoming richer, it is sharing poverty.
Another world is possible. Since “sharing” applications can be used to organize a place to live, transportation, making and delivering food, then it can also be used in a not-for-profit economy. Open-source software, torrent technology and other communal sharing applications are already widely in use and are undercutting the profits of large corporations, by reducing the working-class dependency on their markets for basic and recreational use-values. One important side-effect of these “sharing” applications is also the creation of global social solidarity networks. This shatters any modicum of illusions about “the other” and makes it clear that we are all in the same boat and in a gargantuan class struggle against a class enemy. This also precipitates more permanent street presence and movements rather than the current discursive and discontinuous protests. The revolutions in communication technology that promotes the process of capital and reproducing capitalism’s stranglehold on society will inexorably be used to create an alternative economy.