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October 07, 2020



If you take Marx seriously, capitalism at its fullest development is a level societies have to complete before the classless society can be established. Feudalism and plutocracy aren't the fullest development of capitalism - far from it. This, I think, is why so much of the 2017 and 2019 manifestoes were entirely functional to capitalism, and why there's that odd - and in some eyes suspicious - meeting of minds between fringe socialists and fringe (libertarian) capitalists on such issues as UBI and LVT. As a great socialist once said, we can't go round it, we can't go over it, we can't go under it - we've got to go through it.


I guess this post suffers from a small conflation of two related things: rent extraction and feudalism. Most of the post is about rent extraction more than feudalism.
They should be kept somewhat distinct though because:

* The distinguishing, important, characteristic of feudalism is that it is based on personal relationships and personal status, rather than impersonal ones. That is its political aspect.

* While feudalism enables rent extraction, which is its economic aspect, rent extraction can also happen outside feudalism. An aside: feudalism is nothing more than the protection racket as a political system; a "duke" is just the boss of a regional protection racket, and the "king" is the boss of bosses, and a "knight" is a heavy that beats up non-payers and fights turf wars with other regional rackets.

For example K Marx argued that already in the 19th century rent extraction had lost its feudal characteristic and acquired capitalistic ones, as the rent extraction for example of peasants of a village was no longer based on the usual person-to-person "this is my turf, me and my knights will burn your village down if you don't give me half of your harvest for your protection", but through impersonal relationships via institutions like the courts, bailiffs, etc., property deeds, predatory loans.

So I would think that rather than a return to proper feudalism there is an expansion of rent extraction (what venture capitalists euphemistically call "passive income") and a shrinking of the role of profit from production within our current capitalist political systems.


«As a great socialist once said, we can't go round it, we can't go over it, we can't go under it - we've got to go through it.»

Deng Xiaoping and his colleagues largely came to the same conclusion. He was still committed to the socialist endpoint though, I am not sure that the current technocrats still are (except for Chairman Xi).



Wonderful essay and responses. China this very year is completing a program that will have allowed and assisted tens of millions to escape poverty. Aspects of the program are continually presented and discussed. Now to me, I take the Chinese poverty program as an example of "socialism with Chinese characteristics."

There seem to me to be many such examples. Am I mistaken? The Chinese leadership believes in socialism with Chinese characteristics and are implementing such socialism. I have no argument.


Perhaps the UK's problems stem from the fact that our democracy is differently structured from our neighbours. We went from monarchy to monarchy-lite. The Prime Minister and government being in effect monarch and courtiers with actors and actresses living in the old palaces. Furthermore we never changed the old landowning aristocracy or a structure that creates a perpetuating elite.

Socialism is essentially an artifact of C19th industrialisation. The old UK elite never really took to industry and socialism was a particular threat to our monarch-lite system. We now have an essentially Ruritanian system that is up against a professional and legalistic system, and losing.

Socialism must live in the same petri dish as capitalism. But the UK (and American) versions of capitalism are particularly virulent and generally overwhelm socialism or weaken it to ineffectiveness. In continental Europe the two strains seem more equally balanced.

We could apply the revolutionary approach, apply a dose of bleach and clear out the dish. Probably no need now, between them Brexit and Covid will achieve the same ends. Both represent a disastrous Tory failure highly visible to the young. Starmer has only to sit and wait and exploit the coming disaster - whilst keeping his own idiots in control. Meanwhile our royalty can join the rest of the performing arts in the dole queue.


Bingo! Really makes you want to scream every time someone mentions "The Road to Serfdom" doesn't it?


Really makes you want to scream every time someone mentions "The Road to Serfdom" doesn't it?

[ Yes. ]

Hewer of Wood Drawer of Water

This post is about the the feudal mechanisms and feudal power structures that underly rent extraction.


Interesting as usual. I'd merely add that it's a pity that Zuboff gets the reference on Surveillance Capitalism, when Monthly Review was certainly writing about the topic before the Harvard professor.



"We were therefore pleased to discover that the concept of “surveillance capitalism” has now entered the mainstream and is drawing considerable attention, through the work of Shoshana Zuboff, emeritus professor at the Harvard Business School. Zuboff first took up the issue in a 2015 article in the Journal of Information Technology, entitled “Big Other: Surveillance Capitalism and the Prospects of an Information Civilization,” where she pointed to “the new logic of accumulation of what I call surveillance capitalism.” She failed, however, to mention the prior treatment of “surveillance capitalism” in Monthly Review, despite the fact that her analysis was written in November 2014—judging by her accessing of numerous articles on the Internet on that date—four months after the MR issue was published and posted online. In a March 27, 2016, article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, entitled “The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism,” Zuboff again writes of “what I call ‘surveillance capitalism,'” while still neglecting to give even bare mention to MR‘s previous, more developed treatment of this same concept nearly two years before."


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