Consumer or Class

Stephen Von Sychowski

Ever since the theory of scientific socialism was first articulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and subsequently proven correct by history, there have been those who deny its most basic tenants. They deny the fundamental irreconcilable contradiction between social production and private appropriation, between the interests of the working class and that of the ruling capitalist class. They deny the necessity of class struggle, and with that denial they deny all the proven truths of Marxism and instead move for attempting to reconcile class antagonisms, for reforming capitalism. While reformism has never been completely defeated, it is always changing to find new ways to win over different social strata and different segments of the working class. Today it takes on many forms, one reformist current which has recently swept the “left” in the last few years, especially progressive youth, is the “ant-consumerism” current. This current is that of the replacement of class struggle with the struggle against consumerism.

Petty-bourgeois Reformist Ideology

In rejecting the class struggle and seeking reproachmant of classes, the anti-consumerists prove that either they have no comprehension of classes or their significance, or they would rather not mention it for opportunist reasons. They at best may recognize a set of classes composed of “upper, lower and middle”, the favorite line of all petty-bourgeois and bourgeois ideologies. It is nothing to them that class is determined by relationship to the means of production. Marxism is “old left” and is ignored as such and replaced with even older bourgeois lies. But something had to replace the class struggle in this new ideology. In this case that something is anti-consumerism. This “anti-consumerism” pits “activists” against “consumers”, "consumerism” and “corporations” although no real effective anti-corporate activity takes place. As it reads on the website of Ad Busters, the company/magazine which remains at the forefront of “anti-consumerism” (despite the fact that it’s a company which sells consumer goods)…

“We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century” (1).

You may notice that while workers are not mentioned, entrepreneurs are. The working class is abandoned as reformism rears its ugly head. They testify further on the Blackspot Sneakers Website…

“Join us in this quest to create an authentic, non-corporate cool and reassert consumer sovereignty over capitalism” (2).

Quite a quest indeed! Not to defeat capitalism, but rather to “reassert consumer sovereignty”. If there were ever an empty phrase, that is it. Here the class struggle and socialism are abandoned, reformism wins, and so does the ruling class.

Of course, you can’t recognize the nature of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat or class struggle if you can’t even recognize classes and class antagonisms. As a result, the anti-consumerists are left flailing at the air at “corporations” for all the wrong reasons and without any understanding of their nature under the current capitalist relations or at “consumers” most of which are the working class themselves who are really exploited at work, not when they go shopping. In this way the anti-consumerists often tell the working class something along the lines of “you don’t need things, don’t consume, having nothing is for the best,” a great message as far as the bourgeoisie is concerned as it pushes more and more towards the increased exploitation of the working class globally in a struggle to maximize profits and combat falling profit margins. And while it’s true that companies make many useless goods and shove them down the throats of “consumers” we must not be fooled into believing that this is a major issue or fundamental contradiction in our society.

Besides all of this, the very act of putting “consumers” on a pedestal as such denies class and class struggle. All human beings consume, this is without exception true. What human being does not? Some consume more and some less and on average this can probably be correlated closely with their class and therefore how much they can afford to consume. But in the end we all consume, or we die. This puts everyone in one big “consumer class” and as such effectively eliminates class from the ideology. Furthermore, since most consumers are working class it turns workers who consume less against more wealthy workers who can afford to consume more and divides the working class, which can only be in the interests of the ruling capitalists.

Petty-bourgeois Reformist Tactics

It should be no surprise that and ideology that comes to us from petty-bourgeois elements will be likely to be accompanied by petty-bourgeois tactics and forms of struggle. Logically, the favored tactic of our anti-consumerism crusaders is the tactic of boycott.

“For 24 hours, millions of people around the world do not participate -- in the doomsday economy, the marketing mind-games, and the frantic consumer-binge that's become our culture. We pause. We make a small choice not to shop. We shrink our footprint and gain some calm. Together we say to Exxon, Nike, Coke and the rest: enough is enough. And we help build this movement to rethink our unsustainable course” (3)

A frightening proposal indeed, the bourgeoisie surely trembles at the very thought of “millions” (more likely only a few thousand) people not purchasing their goods for a day, only to come in the next day and buy the stuff then instead. The idea that such an action could bring down capitalism is absurd, even if one assumes the ridiculous and supposes that every person will co-operate with the boycott. Even assuming that full co-operation was sustained for days, such a notion ignores the fact that the bourgeoisie owns the means of producing and distributing goods and without destroying capitalism that will not change. Since people need to eat, drink and live their lives they would be compelled by necessity to surrender their useless struggle and crawl back to their hated class enemies once again. It could be no other way. And why would it when the manufacturers of this ideological trend are petty-bourgeois themselves and have no interest in over-turning a system which works ‘ok’ for them, but rather in turning forces against the corporate monsters that threaten their petty-businesses.

“In the Alternate Economy, there is an emphasis on personal relationships. Instead of everything being monetized with a price tag and "savings" being the only criteria for choice of business one patronizes, the currency of loyalty and reciprocity is used along with cash”(4).

The above quotation sounds a lot like the free-competition capitalism of the past rather than a glorious new future. Of course that past developed into the current imperialist system not by chance or because that’s what people wanted, but rather than because of concrete laws of development, which were spelled out by V.I. Lenin in his work “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” and have been proven true by history. The so-called “Alternate Economy” is merely the dream of a dying petty-bourgeois class clinging to the past while being dragged kicking and screaming into the ranks of the working-class by the economic conditions of monopoly capitalism.

“This is something quite different from the old free competition between manufacturers, scattered and out of touch with one another, and producing for an unknown market. Concentration has reached the point at which it is possible to make an approximate estimate of all sources of raw materials (for example, the iron ore deposits) of a country and even, as we shall see, of several countries, or of the whole world. Not only are such estimates made, but these sources are captured by gigantic monopolist associations. An approximate estimate of the capacity of markets is also made, and the associations "divide" them up amongst themselves by agreement. Skilled labour is monopolized, the best engineers are engaged; the means of transport are captured — railways in America, shipping companies in Europe and America. Capitalism in its imperialist stage leads directly to the most comprehensive socialisation of production; it, so to speak, drags the capitalists, against their will and consciousness, into some sort of a new social order, a transitional one from complete free competition to complete socialization”(5).

The tactics of Anti-Consumerist Reformism are petty-bourgeois in nature and constitute a blind attack against the social class which is thrusting the petty-bourgeoisie more and more into the ranks of the proletariat. This attack is blind in that it is impotent to affect any real change. It is incapable of bringing down the capitalist system because it fails to recognize class struggle and organize working class struggle against capitalism.

The Petty Bourgeois Origin of “Anti-Consumerism” Reformism

A particularly striking contemporary example of the origin of this type of ideology is found in the Ad Busters Blackspot Sneaker. Ad Busters, the popular anti-consumerism magazine, which originally spent all it’s time turning corporate advertisements into comical spoofs in an attempt to create “consumer consciousness” has now branched off into shoe production. This development has swept the “left” in North America and caused great controversy, not without good reason.

The company makes several claims regarding the moral integrity you will apparently be instilled with if you happen to purchase a pair of their glorious sneakers. A handy marketing tool no doubt. Their shoes are composed of “organic hemp” and “vegetarian leather”, which sounds very nice and “left” but is of very little relevance to class struggle. They are supposedly made in a “worker friendly union shop”, which indeed an useful to know, yet very odd considering the anti-union statements that reportedly have frequently come from Kalle Lasn, Ad Busters founder and boss. The same Kalle Lasn, who when asked if Ad Busters was unionized, replied…

“no... and we never will be, cheers, Kalle”(6).

A finer example of a bourgeois attitude to the rights of the working class could not be found.

Blackspot intends to give one share of the company to each individual who purchases a pair of sneakers from their company. A better way to ensure that petty-bourgeois ideology is instilled resolutely in these “consumers” could not have been thought up. And of course the key to the reformist ideology behind the whole project,

“1 pair=1 vote” (7)

With each pair you even get a “Blackspot Anti-Corporation Ticket”. What makes it an “anti-corporation” other than just the rhetoric it uses is unknown as evidently it seems very much to be just another shoe company which happens to have a clever marketing scheme and the old re-hashed lies of reformism behind it. The notion of “worker capitalism” has been around for a long time and this is not much more than a new twist of this idea. . The idea that the ability of workers to purchase shares in a company eliminates class antagonisms and creates a friendlier form of capitalism has not panned out, this should come as no surprise. While wealthier working people may be able to invest in shares of companies, this does not imply any real ownership or control of the actual company in question. The majority of shares remains in the hands of the owner of the business in question and with it remains the control of the company. The capitalist takes the workers money, and in return the worker gets a false sense of ownership and becomes that much more susceptible to bourgeois ideologies. Furthermore, the idea of share holding does not deal with basic realities that workers face under capitalism such as exploitation, surplus value or oppression. Indeed, this form of “worker capitalism” is merely a trick of the capitalists to keep the downtrodden working class in check. The whole thing seems quite suspiciously like a handy marketing tactic more than a struggle against capitalism.

While this is only one example, it is nothing out of the ordinary by any means for our anti-consumerists. Of course, all of this will merely be written off as “old left” rhetoric by Kalle Lasn and the rest of the consumer activists in the “new left”. This is despite the fact that it is far from “new” as reformist ideology dates further back than Marxist ideology by a long shot, indeed it is Marxism which is “new”. Indeed, upon close observation we can see that this “new left” is in fact the “new left” is really a petty bourgeois left, whipped up by petty-bourgeois and bourgeois individuals to disarm the working class ideologically and make a pretty penny selling shoes and magazines in the meantime. Meanwhile, the “old left” which they so vehemently denounce is indeed the working class left including progressive trade unionists and communists.

An ideology formulated by business people, handed to the working class but opposing class struggle, working peoples organizations and working class ideology; that’s why this writer suggests readers spend their Buy Nothing Day reading “The Communist Manifesto”, “Imperialism” or “State and Revolution”, and if you don’t have one don’t be afraid to go right ahead and buy one!


1. Ad Busters Website, “Join the Movement”,, 07/11/2004

2. Blackspot Sneakers Website, Main Page,, 07/11/2004

3. Ad Busters Website, “But Nothing Day”,, 08/11/2004

4. Over-Coming Consumerism Citizen-Activists anti-Consumerism Site, “Alternate Economy”, 07/11/2004

5. Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism, V.I. Lenin, Chapter 1 “Concentration of Production and Monopolies”, 07/11/2004

6. E-mail received to authors account from on 10/20/2004

7. Blackspot Sneakers Website, “1 share=1 vote”,, 09/11/2004