12 July 2007

Thoughts on rereading the Communist Manifesto and Faction Paradox at the same time

The major difference between now and Marx's time (apart from globalisation having advanced to the extent he foresaw) is that it's no longer true that capitalism bases itself entirely on the cash nexus and brute force. The commodification of all human existence led to consumer capitalism, where the mass of the working class have to buy the products that are produced. Capitalism destroyed all the old myths, but then had to create new myths to continually expand consumption and win our consent to the system. It's no accident that psychology was born at the same time as mass consumer society and universal suffrage. Psychology was born because it was useful to try to manufacture our consent and get us to consume.

All citizens of an advanced capitalist state are socialised as consumers and citizens as well as workers. The mass media is used to socialise docile obedient and exploitable workers, and citizens who identify with "their" state, and at the same time wild, crazy and independent consumers. The marketing industries induce wants and needs which can only be satisfied by consumption, or to dress the psychic wounds left by alienation in the workplace. If your job sucks, you get to have retail therapy, or pay to be pampered by a service worker. One side of the apparatus says TERRORISE, the other BENEVOLISE, at the same time. This is what we call a contradiction.

Consuming a good or service is explicitly intended to fill psychic gaps. Consumers pay for the burying and disavowal of labour - not just the sign of people working, but the signs that their goods or services are brought to them by other human beings. The promise of the market economy is that workers are your own "personal slave", with no thought except your pleasure. This is what you get for your money (which is usually earned by *you* having to take your turn in the barrel, so to speak). As Zizek says - everyone knows this isn't literally true, but acts like it's true, and are angry and disappointed when the facade isn't kept up. Note also that in modern capitalism needs healthy, well-fed, educated and skilled workers, so it can't starve us, which means we've crawled up Maslow's hierarchy of needs a ways.

This is one of the reasons state capitalism fell over. Not faced with cutthroat competition, their propaganda apparatus fell way behind that of the bourgeois capitalist countries. The West looked desirable not because of freedom but because of consumer goods. (Of course, this wasn't just appearance - Western consumer goods *were* better, for all the reasons that Tony Cliff explained, plus in the 80's the growth of a true global market.)

Propaganda - both aimed at feelings of citizenship or consumerism - is increasingly filling the cap in the apparatus of social control and manufacturing consent that organised religion used to. Of course, there are "bottom up" ways that people fill these gaps - with subcultures, etc - but even those end up being harnessed to sell more products. Lawrence Miles is 100% correct that the biggest problem with modern consumer culture is that the arts of marketing have advanced to the point where demographic categories have a stranglehold over any mass media culture which gets released. A subculture which does not put itself in opposition to the system quickly becomes a demographic category (hippy, punk, sci-fi nerd, fetishist, goth, etc) and thus incorporated. Ben Watson, too, has noticed that "community" has come to mean "marketing category" in modern jargon.

Members of a demographic category are not in a position to revolt. "The proletariat" is not a product of the demographic-category machine. It's like an evil waste product that corrodes the system from the inside. At least potentially.