Sunday, October 30, 2005
IKEA The Opiate of the Masses
IKEA – The Opiate of the Masses
Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto
The Manifesto talks about the incredible ability of the modern economy to produce stuff, over production becomes the problem. This leads to Imperialistic empire building:
The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, namely, to become bourgeois themselves.
I am currently reading a book called the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkin (a link to an interview with Perkins about his book http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/09/1526251). In this book Perkins describes how the NSA (like the CIA) recruited him and trained him as an EHM (economic hit man). He then became the chief economist of an engineering consulting firm. Basically, what he did was get countries to agree to loans from the World Bank or IMF that benefited the rich in the country. The stipulation to these loans was that the construction had to be done by a US company. So the money was transferred from a bank account in Washington to another one in New York and the poor people of a country had to pay for the loan (for the impact of debt on the poor see http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Debt.asp, or the big one is http://www.jubilee2000uk.org/). He would offer these countries loans from the World Bank that the country just couldn’t pay, then the IMF would take over with Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which would effectively implement policy that is favourable to US corporate expansion, making an empire. When the EHMs didn’t work, then came the real CIA kind of hit men, and when they failed (like in Iraq) then war comes.
One for Marx, but then the question I have is: if he was right about the capitalist system why isn’t there a revolutionary proletariat? The answer to this question is a lack of class consciousness. I think hierarchy and globalization have created big divisions in the proletariat. For example, the office worker in Canada isn’t fighting in an act of solidarity for the rights of the sweatshop worker in China. Both are working for a fat middle aged white man, but globalization has spread the two workers thousands of kilometres apart and the cultural and language barriers not to mention pay scale provide more differences than commonalities in even a desire for struggle against the “oppressor.” Further there is no way to communicate between the two workers. The Canadian once saw a documentary on sweatshop workers and the sweatshop worker is too busy working to try to feed herself to go to an internet café and chat with her co-worker in Canada.
So why won’t either revolt with their co-workers where they are at? The answer is dependency theory. Marx put it this way, “Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.”
The core exploits the periphery and the periphery allows its rape because it has bought into the system that the core is the centre of the world. I have seen this; I spent two months in Albania and the people I was staying with warned me not to give out my email or make promises about letting people stay with me when I got back to Canada, because they would come with their family and move into my house. Everyone wore Nike and every night the local TV station would play an American movie. This is because the American propaganda machine pumps out the utopia of America as the core, the centre of the world. I like to call this culture envy.
So how does dependency theory and culture envy relate to why the sweatshop and office workers won’t revolt. First, the sweatshop worker; the sweatshop worker won’t revolt because she will lose her job, in fact she won’t even complain about the situation because she will lose her job. And if everyone revolts or complains than the factory will just pack up and go to somewhere that will appreciate the below subsistence level job they have to offer. So why won’t her government do something about the situation? Because the government has bought the gospel of capitalism, that they have to develop through industrialization, and when they do then they will be like the core, the centre of the world.
Side note for a rant: I think Marx’s view of development as a forward march of progress is flawed first of all, it is too linear and simplistic, the world just doesn’t work that way, things are diverse and as can be seen in development theory, context is more pertinent to successful development than how the west did it. Developing countries can follow their own paths, but if they knew that then the West would no longer be the core and the centre of the world.
Finally, why won’t the proletariat of Canada revolt? It comes back to dependency theory for me, envy. The periphery wants what is at the core, and at the core is a good office job that you don’t have to work too hard and a nice house with a nice family and it can always be a little bit nicer. They keep us at work by making us want more. So subvert the system, be content. With Contentment I won’t depend on the system to give me what I want and can follow my morals and fight for my sweatshop co-worker. I’m sorry Material Girl, but maybe materialism is the opiate of the masses. Also, Sulty, a classmate, is from the former USSR, and gave a presentation on life under soviet rule. He said something that really stuck out to me, he said: “No body had a lot of stuff, but everyone was happy, and together.”