Elon Musk has taken possession of Twitter, claiming he will make it “a common digital town square.” What kind of town square is owned by a single plutocrat? The square in a company town—or in a monarchy. What will this mean for ordinary people who depend on platforms like Twitter to communicate and organize in the digital age?
Resolving Tensions within the Ruling Class
The conflicts that played out within the capitalist class during Trump’s presidency effectively pitted an upstart coalition of nationalists and old-money capitalists (such as the oil lobby) against the partisans of neoliberal business as usual, exemplified by the vast majority of Silicon Valley. If not for these intra-class conflicts, Trump’s effort to consolidate control of the US government for his particular brand of nationalist authoritarianism might have already succeeded. Grassroots movements spearheaded resistance to Trump’s policies and street-level support, but Silicon Valley also took a side, culminating with Twitter booting Trump off their platform in the wake of the bungled coup attempt of January 6. This underscored what had already been clear since summer 2020: Trump had not built up enough support among the capitalist class to maintain his grip on power.
What if Trump had been able to make common cause with a critical mass of Silicon Valley billionaires? Would things have turned out differently? This is an important question, because the three-sided conflict between nationalists, neoliberals, and participatory social movements is not over.
To put this in vulgar dialectical terms:
Thesis: Trump’s effort to consolidate an authoritarian nationalism
Antithesis: opposition from neoliberal tycoons in Silicon Valley
Synthesis: Elon Musk buys Twitter
Understood thus, Musk’s acquisition of Twitter is not just the whim of an individual plutocrat—it is also a step towards resolving some of the contradictions within the capitalist class, the better to establish a unified front against workers and everyone else on the receiving end of the violence of the capitalist system. Whatever changes Musk introduces, they will surely reflect his class interests as the world’s richest man.