“If we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at present: the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.” — Karl Marx

Consumption and Consumerism in Capitalism:
Myths and Reality

An editor of the German Marxist quarterly GegenStandpunkt
Lecture and Discussion in Copenhagen, Denmark (in English)
November 9, 2010

Marx once wrote that in capitalism, workers have “nothing to lose but their chains.” But whoever makes that claim today only makes a fool of himself. After all, nowadays, everybody seems to agree that even in the case of the working class, we live in a consumer society in which consumption is the goal and the “customer is king.”

If there is any debate on the issue at all, it is over whether that is a good or a bad thing. The one side maintains that despite undeniably “hard times” and the sacrifices required by globalization, “demographic change,” etc., capitalism has allowed even the working class an unparalleled standard of living. The other side counters that the reign of consumerism is in fact tyranny: Greedy corporations and the advertising industry invent “artificial needs,” tricking consumers into thinking that the way to happiness lies in consuming more and more stuff. And consumers, with their chronic materialism, are viewed as a threat to third world peoples, the environment, their own health, and the long term stability of the economy.

So which is it? Should consumers thank capitalism for putting them on such a well-furnished throne? Or is consumerism to blame for the harm that capitalist growth inflicts on the third world, the environment and people’s health?

This talk aims to show that both sides are wrong. It explains the true role of consumption in capitalism, the purpose of advertising and the advertising industry, as well as the ideologies of “consumerism,” “anti-consumerism,” and the power of the consumer to undo the harm done by the capitalist system.

Sponsored by: Gruppe Arbejde og Rigdom, København