The Conditions of the Global Digital Working Class: The Continuing Relevance of Friedrich Engels to Theorising Platform Labour

  • Shahram Azhar Bucknell University
Keywords: digital labour, Friedrich Engels, political economy of the media and communication


This paper examines the conditions of the global digital class of platform labourers by drawing on the theoretical paradigm proposed by Engels in his pioneering contribution, The Conditions of the Working Class in England (CWC). Using a host of empirical sources – surveys, oral narrations, medical and legal journals, and journalistic accounts – the paper develops a political-economic understanding of the working conditions of contemporary crowdworkers while paying close attention to the national and gendered disparities within them. Following Engels’s dialectical mode of presentation in the CWC, the paper proposes a framework that contextualizes the lived experiences of crowdworkers in relation to: 1) the technological infrastructure of platforms, 2) emerging contractual and managerial modes of exploitation, 3) the gendered and racial articulation of labour extraction via Engels’s notion of inter-worker competition, and 4) the macro dynamics of “surplus population” that push workers into precarious employment. The paper argues that the four qualitative attributes of capitalist labour identified in the CWC have experienced quantitative transformation under digital capitalism and at the core remain fundamental to a theoretical appreciation of the impact of digital capital on the lived experiences of the global digital working-class.

Engels@200: Friedrich Engels in the Age of Digital Capitalism