By Joel Sangronis Padrón
In our current social model, the social value of the individual is given in large part by his consumption capacity and by the ostentation that he makes of that consumption in front of his peers. Consumerism as an ideology has been the foundation of the capitalist project of world expansion baptized by its promoters as globalization.
“ Capitalism consumes work and wealth, making us consume ephemeral illusions in the form of objects or dreams. A strange paradox is that of consumers who are consumed when they think they are consuming "
“ The excess production of useful commodities leads to the creation of an excess of useless people ”
It has become a routine, when starting activities in my university chairs, to place an old and outdated, but still functional, second generation cell phone (popularly known as blocks or ice scraper) in a perfectly visible place on my desk. The young participants (belonging in a majority percentage to the most deprived class of Venezuelan society and who, contradictorily with the economic limitations they endure in their daily lives, have high-priced cell phones) do not take long to respond to the provocation, first with giggles, comments and whispers under his breath and later in a more direct way, questioning me with a certain air of condescension and embarrassment, about the causes and why (for most of them incomprehensible) a professor who seems serious, someone who at first glance transmits an image of normality, of a certain economic solvency, can publicly use such an obsolete and old-fashioned device.
From the jokes and questions, and as a consequence of these, we began long discussions about the use value and the exchange value of things in capitalist society, of the reification of human existence, of ideological apparatuses and of the advertising as instruments of social control, of commodity fetishism, of consumerism as an ideology of the capitalist model and of the consequences for life on earth of a system of economic and social organization that is in its own nature unsustainable, wasteful, segregationist, exclusive and predatory.
I bring this up as an indicator that, today, a large part of the Venezuelan (and world) population treasures as values of its existence the principles of consumer society, of having instead of being as an essential verb of life, of fashion and the media lifestyle as forms of acceptance and social improvement, consumption as a new religion and the mass media transmission of information as priests and officiants of this.
In our current social model, the social value of the individual is given in large part by his consumption capacity and by the ostentation that he makes of that consumption in front of his peers.
The consumerist alienation comes to be the transfer in the individual psyche of the use value of things to the exchange value (value that in my classes and for enlightening and didactic purposes I also like to call the value of social representation).
The phenomenon of consumerism does not occur, as might be expected, only among well-to-do or fixed-income sectors in society, on the contrary, this form of alienation is becoming more noticeable as the strata are analyzed and studied. most economically depressed of the population.
All domination requires a certain vision of the world, an ideology that establishes the rules and maintains the order that those rules propose; In the capitalist consumer society these rules are designed in the centers of world power and instrumentalized in dependent societies by the oligarchies and Creole ruling classes through their means of mass transmission of information.
Consumerism as an ideology has been the basis of support for the capitalist project of world expansion baptized by its promoters as globalization, a name that has also been converted by the information transmission media into consumer merchandise.
Consumerism is an ideology in the Gramscian sense of the term, as it is necessary for the very existence of the contemporary capitalist structural order. Since the 1950s the industrial-military-financial complex of the United States began an unprecedented process of expansion worldwide. The large transnational corporations, the spearhead of this process, needed an instrument of ideological penetration that would disseminate and sow deeply in the human masses worldwide the ideology of large-scale consumption that would allow them to artificially sustain the demand for their products (manufactured at an ever-increasing rate due to technological advances) and the acceptance of the logic and structures of the capitalist system as normal and natural in life: The mode of production-reproduction of capitalist civilization, to put it in the words of Inmanuel Wallerstein.
The consumerist ideology has functioned since then as the great instrument of social control of the capitalist neoliberal model, promising the masses the paradise of capitalist utopia: The "American way of life", the dream of infinite consumption that has shopping centers, the "malls", as new Meccas where you can make a daily pilgrimage in search of beauty, peace and happiness.
As Ludovico Silva pointed out at the time, ideology must be understood: “not as a system of conscious representations but as a preconscious system of representations that support and justify the dominant social system in the mind of the bearer of the ideology. By consuming the advertising discourse, the person becomes a producer of ideological surplus value, a producer of unconscious adherence to the system and, therefore, of justification, support and defense of it ”.
By starting to pay the immense historical-social debt that the Venezuelan state had (and still has) with the excluded majorities of this people, that is, by significantly improving the average income received by members of Venezuelan society (higher minimum wage throughout Latin America) without this improvement having been accompanied by a sustained and systematic process of ideological formation and awareness, the Bolivarian process has involuntarily placed itself in a contradictory situation: within the consumerist logic, the more income is obtained, the more desires are felt from spending, consuming, and the more the person consumes the more he identifies with the values and principles of said system: individualism, selfishness, absence of solidarity, all characteristics antagonistic to the principles of socialism; Here it must be noted that according to Engel's law (from the German economist Ernst Engel 1821-1896) in capitalist society as the income of a person or family group increases, it goes on to satisfy the socio-psychological needs (fashions, luxuries, etc. ) before existential needs (food, housing, education). The essential element of the ideological load of the neoliberal consumerist model is that the person not only consumes what is essential for him to live (food, clothing, communication, education) but mainly consumes objects, banal, frivolous things and in most of cases, useless and superfluous, almost always at the cost of stopping consuming what is necessary to live.
Through advertising, the world of desires is manipulated and controlled, a world in which the state has no competition, dictating fashions, creating and setting increasingly irrational patterns of behavior and consumption, stigmatizing and socially segregating those who refuse to fall or continue in that game; increasingly refining and reinforcing the techniques of manipulation, alienation and dissociation from reality.
The consumption of goods necessary for life has physical and objective limits and consequently has a saturation point (you eat only while you are hungry), but the consumption of goods that imply "status" or position or social niche can never be satisfied because advertising never ceases to create and insert new needs in the individual and collective psyche of the members of society, which is why we are faced with the absurd situation of a world with limited resources that works under a system that consumes those resources in unlimited way
It is illusory to believe that with the simple supply of goods and merchandise (popular vehicles, Bolivarian computers, low-cost cell phones, solidarity loans) people born, trained and indoctrinated in the consumerist ideology of the capitalist neoliberal model will feel happy and satisfied because, like Ramón Folch says in his Dictionary of Socioecology: “in the logic of consumerism, happiness - you just have to look at the advertisements - is only achieved by owning more and more. The important thing is what you don't have yet ... "
It should be noted that the oligarchy does not find in consumption a form of social satisfaction or reinforcement (this group generally has a clear and defined class consciousness) while the truly marginal have nothing to consume. But the middle class (the same class that Chávez predicts for the entire Venezuelan population) is the ideal subject and victim of manipulation. Years of media bombardment have made the middle class behave as a class “reflection” of the oligarchy, despite the fact that the governments representing that same oligarchy led it to extreme de-impoverishment in the 1980s and 1990s.
This situation has led to a large part of the Venezuelan middle class, possibly the segment of the population that has benefited the most from the redistributive reformism of the government of President Chávez, and the one that today consumes as never before (you just have to look at the street to see the endless queues of late-model vehicles, or the super-established shopping centers or the sales figures of items such as scotch whiskey, plasma televisions or latest-generation cell phones) is in turn the sector that adversely affects and detests it the most. virulence. The middle class, more than an economic category, is an ideological category; It is the sector of the population most alienated by the media discourse. He deeply identifies with the values of the oligarchy, which he assumes as his own, and viscerally rejects any approach or reference to marginalized sectors that he tends to ignore or even deny their right to exist, which is why terms such as socialism, community , people or “chavismo”, (a name that in this process has come to be understood as a synonym of the previous ones), generates hostility and insecurity.
The oligarchy has turned the manipulation of the collective unconscious into one of the pillars (possibly the most important) of its policy of global domination and control.
A basic objective of Marxism, as well as one of its methods of struggle, is to make the unconscious conscious, the hidden evident, within the social order, just the opposite of what fascism and bourgeois ideology claim. that it is imperative to include consumerism as a contradiction within the Bolivarian process in the debate on the construction of socialism in the XXI century.
The vast majority of the political actors of the Bolivarian revolution (with the exception of Chávez, it must be said) have come to question in theory, but not in practice, the neoliberal consumerist order of capitalism.
A revolution and a socialism of the XXI century in which the hegemony and values of the neoliberal consumerist model have not only not been dismantled, but on the contrary, they aspire to democratize them with the absurdity and demagogy that this offer entails is a contradiction that Venezuelans must resolve as soon as possible if we aspire to the survival of our process and, therefore, to the construction of a better world and society.
* Joel Sangronis Padrón is Professor at the Rafael Maria Baralt National Experimental University (UNERMB), Venezuela.