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12 July 2023

Why the EU has out-Trumped Trump

Europe has proved far more adept at building walls than the former US president was.

By Yanis Varoufakis

The week started ominously with a French journalist asking me whether the Greeks have turned cold-hearted, alluding to the apparent apathy over the drowning of hundreds of refugees off the coast of the Peloponnese and to the murky role played in this tragedy by our coastguard. Yes, I replied without a second thought. A population that has been brutalised by 13 years of economic crisis, whose median real incomes are now 40 per cent lower than in 2007, and whose democracy was crushed in 2015 (when their brave referendum vote against the terms of the EU bailout was ignored), have become too numb and cynical to care even about their own rights. How else can one explain the recent electoral triumph of a prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, whose intelligence agency has been caught spying on political opponents, his own cabinet and the top brass of our armed forces?

[See also: The remarkable range of Glenda Jackson]

Built the wall

Pollsters informed me that a chief reason our party, MeRA25, fared badly in the recent general election was our opposition to the border wall with Turkey. My mind raced to the 2016 US rallies at which Donald Trump exclaimed “Build the wall!” at the top of his voice. Back then, Europeans looked at him with disdain. Ever since, Europe has proved far more adept at building walls than Trump was. On the Greek-Turkish border, in Spain’s Moroccan enclave, on the eastern borders of Hungary and Romania, in the midst of Libya’s desert, the EU has funded the erection of abominations that should fill Trump’s heart with envy.

Are we not great hypocrites? And for what? For a thousand years we exported millions of migrants, often armed to the teeth, to the globe’s four corners. Now that Europe is ageing, the flows have reversed. We have a pressing need for many migrants every year. Instead of welcoming people willing to spend thousands and risk life and limb to get here, we fence them off and push their boats back into the stormy seas. Nothing but racism can explain this.


I spent most of the week locked up in a studio recording the audio version of my forthcoming book, Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism. It was great fun to read aloud a book which, while written from a Marxist analytical perspective, is bound to annoy leftists just as much as it annoys fervent capitalists.

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At the heart of my thesis is an irony that may seem contradictory: capitalism has been killed by… capital itself. Not the capital we have known since the dawn of the industrial era, but a new form, cloud capital – a mutation so toxic that, like an overzealous virus, it has killed its host. Upon hearing this, a lovely friend from the Socialist Workers Party put it to me angrily: “If the system we live under is no longer capitalist, why is it not socialist?” Quite!

[See also: Brain surgery in a warzone]

Cloud capital comprises our networked machinery: thousands of miles of fibre-optic cables on the ocean floors, AI-driven algorithms and communications hardware. Like railway tracks and industrial robots, it is a form of capital. But rather than being a means of production, cloud capital is a means of behaviour modification. It turns us all into a type of serf, by inciting us to work for free so as to build up capital (such as when we post TikToks). It speeds up proletarian labour in factories and warehouses. And, crucially, it replaces markets with platforms such as Amazon, which resemble but most certainly are not markets.

Its owners, “cloudalists”, extract gigantic rents from conventional capitalists (such as the 35 per cent cloud rent that Amazon, Apple and Alibaba charge vendors). Our technofeudal world runs on rent, just as medieval feudalism used to. Cloud rent is made possible via the ownership not of land but of this form of capital – our era’s enclosed digital commons.

Unhealthy competition

A student at the University of Texas once asked me, “If Amazon ain’t a capitalist market, what are we stepping into when we enter” A type of digital fiefdom, I replied instinctively; a post-capitalist one, whose historical roots remain in feudal Europe, but whose integrity is maintained today by a futuristic, dystopian form of cloud-based capital.

But, you might say, TikTok has drained Facebook’s users and revenues. Isn’t this exactly the market competition that Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse faced? No. Battles and rivalries were integral to feudalism but we should not confuse this with market-based competition, which is shaped by prices and product quality. Under technofeudalism, the rivalry between members of the technofeudal class is determined by a power that transcends markets.

[See also: Rishi Sunak’s “grown-up” austerity is a gift to the wealthy]

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This article appears in the 12 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Tabloid Nation