Break or Continuity? Friedrich Engels and the Critique of Digital Surveillance
This paper is a contribution to the argument that Engels’s work remains topical and may provide us with the analytical tools necessary to approach contemporary manifestations of capitalist contradictions. Based on Engels’s work on political economy (with emphasis on his contribution to the labour theory of value and the articulation of the law on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall) it will critically review the concept of “surveillance capitalism” as developed by Shoshana Zuboff, in order to explain central aspects of the process of digital surveillance. In particular, it will criticise the view expressed by Zuboff that surveillance capitalism constitutes a break with capitalism’s past and can be tamed through an enhancement of democratic accountability and regulation. Marxist contributions to the critique of digital surveillance have already approached this phenomenon in a many-sided manner. This paper builds upon these contributions and suggests that the exponential growth of digital platforms can be explained as a direct result of the development of capitalist contradictions, especially the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production as expressed in the law of the falling rate of profit.
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