Digital Capitalism and its Techno Feudal Order

Feudalism managed to survive in different stages of its history.  As a social, economic, political, and cultural system that emerged in the Middle Ages, has shown remarkable resilience by adapting and transforming throughout history. In contemporary times, it has reinvented itself in the form of techno-feudalism. This modern iteration is dominated by platform companies that dominate and control various aspects of economic activities of producers, consumers, and distributers. These companies extract rent from producers, consumers, and distributors, influencing the economic activities of individuals, societies, states, and governments. The pervasive reach of these online platforms underscores the enduring nature of feudal structures, albeit in a new, technologically driven context.

Techno Feudalism 1

Like medieval feudalism, technological feudalism does not produce tangible goods and services but instead survives through the accumulation of rent. While medieval feudal lords extracted agricultural produce and labour from serfs, techno-feudal lords extract value through data and user engagement on digital platforms. Both systems thrive by leveraging their control over resources and populations to generate wealth, not by producing anything themselves but by appropriating the productivity and creativity abilities of the working masses.

The owners of tech corporations and online platform companies have become the new landlords of the digital age. They exert significant control over individuals, societies, and political systems, effectively enslaving them. By fostering a culture that controls the creative abilities of working people, these tech giants ensure their dominance. Moreover, they actively reshape legal systems to maintain their influence and control over every sphere of life and the planet. This modern form of feudalism underscores the power and reach of these feudal corporate entities in the contemporary world.

The accumulation of rent has been a central feature of feudalism throughout all stages of its history. This principle, which originally manifested through the collection of agricultural produce and labour from serfs, has evolved over time. In modern iterations, such as techno-feudalism, rent accumulation is evident in the control and monetisation of digital spaces by tech corporations. Whether in medieval manors or contemporary online platforms, the core mechanism remains the same: extracting rent from dependent or subordinate groups to enhance the wealth and power of the feudal ruling and non-ruling entities.

Techno-consumers of social media are akin to free slaves, labouring for the rental profits of social media company owners. Despite the perception of freedom and choice, these users are, in reality, contributing to the wealth of the digital platform owners through their engagement and data generation. This dynamic reflects a modern form of exploitation, where the users’ activities and personal information are commodified for corporate gain.

Technofeudalism is designed to subjugate working people and manipulate their consciousness to serve the interests of techno-feudal lords, all under the guise of technological progress. This system thrives without fostering genuine technological education, skills, and consciousness among the masses, primarily due to digital divides and the lack of availability and accessibility of technology for all. The technological barriers are intentionally crafted to create an army of unemployed workforce that remains perpetually available to work for low wages and under unfavourable working conditions imposed by the techno-feudals. This dynamic perpetuates inequality and exploitation, reinforcing the dominance of the tech elites.

Digital capitalism in all its forms, along with technofeudalism in all its iterations, complement each other to survive and thrive together, often at the expense of people and their planet. This symbiotic relationship enables these systems to exploit resources, labour, and data, prioritising rental profit over the well-being of individuals and the environment. As they reinforce each other’s structures and practices, they create a landscape where the interests of the few dominate, leading to increasing inequality, exploitation, and environmental degradation.

The working-class control over technology, the democratisation of digital platforms and technological infrastructure, the availability and accessibility of technological education and skills for all, and the prioritisation of technology for people rather than profit are some of the immediate alternatives to ensure technological progress that upholds the interests of the masses. Through these concerted efforts, working people can harness technology as a tool for societal advancement and empowerment, ensuring that its benefits are accessible to all members of society, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The cessation of the rent-seeking culture inherent in digital capitalism and technofeudalism stands as a pivotal factor in fostering the development of technology for the benefit of all, thereby ensuring the cultivation of a progressive technological consciousness. By dismantling the barriers erected by rent-seeking behaviours within these systems, working people can pave the way for equitable access to technological advancements. This inclusivity not only democratises innovation but also nurtures a collective awareness of the transformative power of technology, empowering individuals, and communities alike to actively engage with and shape the trajectory of technological progress and future.

Bhabani Shankar Nayak, University of Glasgow, UK

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