Rhea Myers

Mackenzie Wark: A Hacker Manifesto

This is the book-length version of an essay that has appeared online in several versions over the last few years. A little red book in a clear acetate wrapper, the design is portentious and, with its grunge-type titles and drop caps, slightly irritating. The book consists of some four hundred numbered paragraphs in a dozen chapters.

It is a hacker manifesto, applying class analysis to intellectual property. It’s about time someone did this. Brand and Big Media critiques like “No Logo” would have been so much better if they’d used the tools of class analysis that cultural studies’ fashionable postures denied them. Wark is a Marxist, well a crypto-Marxist, so he has no such limitations. And this allows him to get to the heart of the matter from the word go.

Wark identifies a new “vectoralist” class as successor to the capitalists and pastoralists that have previously made up the ruling classes. He never really defines all his terms, but you get the hang of them as the book goes on.The vectoralists seek to dominate the production and distribution of information, creating a new kind of property; intellectual property. The vectoralists rely on the creative classes, the hackers, to hack new abstractions form nature to create new value, releasing nature’s “virtuality”. But intellectual property denies hackers the fruits of their labour, and so we see why hacking and intellectual property are at odds.

There’s much, much more to Wark’s investigation, but it emerges from, and supports the idea of, the vectoralist class’s creation of and exploitation of the idea of intellectual property and how this is against the class interest of the creative class.

Wark comes to call for a recognition of shared class interest amongst the world’s hackers (one that my own experience shows is lacking between hackers sat in the same room, never mind on different continents) and an expressive politics to escape the representative politics that is all to easily commodified by the vectoralists. He also shows how this shared interest has come about, and how all the productive classes (agrarian, industrial and technological) can benefit from and be of benefit to the Hacker class.

Any book that name-checks Art & Language and Rhizome in the endnotes can’t be all bad, and despite the excesses of its design, its sometimes florid prose style and its occasional vagueness, “A Hacker Manifesto” isn’t bad at all. In fact it’s a watershed. The critique Wark provides is urgently needed, incisively argued and far-reachingly applied.

Hackers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your NDAs…