Buying Out Capitalism

Seemingly, the aim of any particular political economy should be the satisfaction of individual and social needs. But in capitalism the aim of the market is simply the perpetual expansion of capital itself.  What was meant to be a means towards reaching other ends, the circulation of money itself comes to be the true end of the economy. In order to facilitate this endless continuation of expanded credit capitalism addresses and interpellates individuals  as consumers, “subjects of desire, soliciting in them ever new perverse and excessive desires (for which it offers products to satisfy them)” (Žižek, Parallax View, p. 61). Eventually, desire itself becomes an end in itself, the “desire to desire ever new objects and modes of pleasure” (Ibid).

Marx and his epigones (contemporary followers) theorized many strategies to overcome this movement of capital. Chiefly, most included some form of revolutionary movement stemming from the working classes who were severely exploited by the whole capitalist machinery. The basic critique of standard labor theory—what Marx believed held the key to understanding and overturning capitalism—was that commodities produced value greater than their own use-value, which in turn could be appropriated by capitalists as surplus. Marx theorized that if workers became self-conscious of this fact then history would inevitably render capitalism effectively useless.

Of course, capitalism did not reach the crisis that Marx had predicted. In order to account for the lack of revolutionary movement many of Marx’s disciples, from the young Lukás through Adorno up to Fredric Jameson, blamed “the seductions of consumerist society and/or manipulation by the ideological forces of cultural hegemony” as the cause of obfuscating the workers’ consciousness (p. 50). This explanation, however, gives far too much credit to the business elites who supposedly hold the reigns of consumerism and ideology. A more effective description is to understand that consumers themselves provide “the key leverage from which to oppose the rule of capital today” (p. 53). Given that surplus value is realized only when workers buy back what they produce, the unique point at which to upset capitalism is with the buyer. This is, Žižek argues, where proletarians should focus their attack. By doing so, capitalism would be forced to court the demands of the proletariat [read consumers].

If workers can become subjects at all, it is only as consumers (p. 53)


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