3D Printing: What would Marx say?

I wish Karl Marx were alive today. The entire gamut of his communism may experience a thorough recheck and a revision under the new and evolving “print age” instead of a capitalist age, which was kicked off by the three-dimensional printing technology. Or else, at least, he might think of launching either a new volume or the next series on his long-discarded ‘Communist Manifesto’ which was, in actuality, a severe attack on the inherent shortcomings of the prevailing capitalist system. It was a great cause of sorrow for the anti-liberal circles that Marx breathed his last in the last decade of the 19th century.

Nevertheless, conceiving the presence of his immortal soul, I do hereby depict a new version of system or order that Marx had failed to anticipate that might emerge soon before his phases of socialism and communism. Keeping the ‘superstructure’ as the same as what Marx had envisaged, I propose a rising ‘base’ characterized by a corresponding chain of mode, forces, and production relations.

The new mode of production is an outcome of the recently advanced technological wonder of so-called 3D printing. In short, this new means of production implies a technological revolution that brought about a change in the course of the history of science, enabling an individual to manufacture any commodity as he pleases with digital designing, commonly known as Computer-Aided Design (CAD). 3D-scanners may also come to the rescue for generating a virtual 3D-digital copy of a solid object, for that matter. Its ease of portability and monetary feasibility facilitates the production of complex objects that vary from prototypes, architectural scale models, and human organs to automobiles and even weapons at a micro-level.

Thus, the conventional industrial avenues are on the verge of extinction as they are about to be substituted by the organizations of bedrooms and drawing rooms, or maybe kitchen too. Cutting it short, while the nature of the production model remains under private control as earlier, it weaves and wears a never-seen or hither-to-unheard-of outfit of three-dimensional printing as the new form of production. It endorses the dynamics of production from the macro to the micro-level in terms of the machinery required. The reality is that it is just the tip of an iceberg of the oversimplification of a matter of complexity. The underlying faults of such an immense mode of possibilities, rather than production, are aplenty.

The traditional forces of production such as means and human labor have undergone a dramatic shift in this ‘3D-effect’, which prescribes just a printer and an operator respectively for the said purpose. The consequent relations of production indicate a set of another antagonistic class of “haves” and “have nots” who are capable of affording the cost of such printers and those who are not, respectively. Hence, the indispensable class struggle shall be between the printer owning class and the printing lacking class.

At the same time, it writes an end to the era of consumerism that will be replaced by self-production, which facilitates the autonomization of human life. The worst affected is nothing but the industrial lifestyle, which depends on the foreplay of market forces of demand and supply. Now the sole creator of demand and supply is restricted to the same individual, which leads him to assign the new status of ‘prosumer’ (a blend of producer and consumer). Thus, the entire global trade regime is being cornered to the extremities of impotence. At least in terms of the movement of commodities of certain regards, globalization might embrace a shift in its focus to a new order of localization.

The implied consequences are innumerable. The immediate sphere of victims will be the copyright and patent claims. The only option before the governing hierarchy would be the deletion of such notions and the dismantling of the competent enforcement bodies. These new “printing classes” possess the inherent exploitative ability to manufacture commodities that requires just a digitally designed blueprint. The inevitable rise in the acquisition of commodities like weapons among people and its unavoidable impacts are beyond human perception. It would unleash an era of nothing but chaos, a situation where men take laws up into their own hands. Crime rates may witness an unprecedented rate of quantum leap. Apart from crimes of physical nature, the risk of economic offenses is also a concern. Production without the opportunity for the imposition of taxes would be the apparent reality. Hence, tax evasion is going to be the rule of society.

The dependency of such material printers on plastic, especially petroleum-derived plastic, heightens and diffuses the crisis to the environment’s domain. Needless to say, the magnitude of repercussions and footprints that may be left behind on the shores of ecology. It further worsens the environmental disequilibrium by affecting the degrading capacity of the terrains.

The easy availability of 3D printers in the absence of an effective regulatory mechanism to curb the possession of the same aggravates the situation. Unlike what Marx had envisioned, it’s not the dictatorship of the proletariat that might hit the pages of history, but the dictatorship of printers.  Instead of the ‘Critique of Political Economy, he would have been penning the ‘Critique of 3D-Economy’. The scientific possibilities that the 3D-printing promise are countless, but its socially disastrous consequences, in the long run, are not ignorable. The need of the hour is to establish an enforceable legal device to hinder the mounting dissemination of such printers, the contrary of which may bring in a wave of instances that may induce us to pay a huge ‘social’ cost.

“I want something, and I’m going to print it out” – would be the echo that may reverberate within the confines of the ‘room-scale’ industries. The resulting demassification of production may contribute to the mounting unemployment rate that may push the underprivileged to the walls. Hence, the imaginary Marx-at- present shall issue a clarion call to all countries’ workers to be united and to overthrow the ‘printeoisie’ and establish a “printerless” society marked by the dictatorship of printerlessariat.’

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