Photograph by duncan_c

From Mute:

Bitcoin rhetoric replicates elements of racist right-wing Federal Reserve conspiracism, deploying the language and rhetoric of the far-right without consciously identifying it as such or understanding the origin of these Volk-tales. These narratives are ubiquitous throughout Bitcoin literature and as Golumbia states, the ‘bedrock precepts of right-wing conspiracism’ are the rule and not the exception when reading through the propaganda.

Consequently, keywords such as ‘tyranny’ and ‘liberty’ dominate Bitcoin discourse. Here the assumption is that Bitcoin prevents the tyranny of a Federal Reserve, which merely serves private extra-national interests. Conversely, Bitcoin claims to free ‘ordinary people’ from the oppression of ‘State monetary policy’. Golumbia goes to some length to explain the reactionary origins of these narratives and how they in fact serve a corporatist agenda – attacking the familiar bug bears of the wealthy: tax and regulations which deprive ‘individuals’ of true value. The strength of Golumbia’s analysis here is in rooting out political and economic claims among what are supposed to be value-neutral technological assertions. Furthermore, his critique serves to blunt the insistence on Bitcoin’s novelty, behind which we find familiar right-wing canards, treated as common sense by Bitcoin’s boosters. The occultation of the origin of these discourses within left-cyberlibetarian circles therefore makes it possible to declaratively reject right-wing politics, while at the same time uncritically replicating the values of the far-right.

Bitcoin and other species of cryptocurrency begin to appear Ponzi-like in structure, or even worse, a disguised ‘work-at-home’ get-rich-quick scheme, the complexity of which obscures and even flatters those it exploits. Appropriately, Golumbia leaves the left-wing users of blockchain technologies with a warning:

This is not to say that Bitcoin and the blockchain can never be used for non-rightist purposes, and even less that everyone in the blockchain communities is on the right. Yet it is hard to see how this minority can resist the political values that are very literally coded into the software itself.

While artists, theorists and curators have promoted Bitcoin and blockchain technologies as emancipatory, finding content, cultural capital and indeed economic rewards in playing the blockchain avant-garde, as Golumbia’s analysis reveals, these aestheticized (monetary) politics carry an ideologically right-wing payload – and value is always accompanied by values. Despite the claim to liberate us from austerity and centralised power, the Bitcoin and the blockchain reinforce the dream of a monetary solution to capitalist crisis, deflecting attention from alternatives – actual social struggle against the conditions capital now imposes upon us – that are perhaps more arduous but certainly less bogus. This has the effect of reducing art’s utopian critical function to a historical nadir: art totally subordinated to retailing the brutal story capital now demands, while blocking off (as it were) all more antagonistic desires.

“Chump Change: Decrypting Bitcoin & Blockchain”, Andrew Osborne, Mute