It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and cynical about the state of the digital economy right now. In return for what mainly amounts to small measures of consumer convenience, massive economic control has been ceded to platforms. But this consolidation has also changed the configuration of capital and the terrain of class struggle, as I discussed in a previous essay for Real Life.
It’s important not to turn this reconfiguration into a desire for what Gavin Mueller has describes as “digital Proudhonian” solutions, which overemphasize a critique of monopolies from the perspective of “creatives” and artists at the expense of class struggle in solidarity with the “noncreative” workers (think Uber drivers and warehouse workers) whose socialized, collective labor makes platform-based monopolies possible. If such solidarity is to challenge capital’s endless bloody appetite, we will have to understand how these platforms work and where they are most vulnerable. As platforms centralize commerce and labor, this makes them nodal points that, with the right organization, can be disrupted by militant labor action. The strike called by Spanish workers for a consumer and worker boycott of Amazon on Prime Day is just one example of the early rumblings of this.
Consumerism promises to fill a void created by the profound lack of democracy and political participation many feel in their day-to-day lives. Platforms are the means by which tech companies have sold us the empty calories of consumption cloaked in the rhetoric of freedom. So-called multisided markets promise an endless buffet of culture and commerce with no strings attached because they are designed to hide their real costs. But in prior periods of struggle, new forms of organization and resistance arose to meet it. Any realistic political project that could move us beyond this new age of monopoly consumerism that has taken hold will necessarily take platforms as its object and its opportunity.