U.S. and World Politics

“Consumerism” and the Self-Destruct System of Capitalist Production

By Bonnie Weinstein

The destruction of our planet’s environment through pollution and endless wars are built into the very system of capitalism—a system where the accumulation of private profit comes before everything—including life on earth.

A mass movement for the preservation of our planet must be anti-capitalist. A true “green revolution” must be an anti-capitalist revolution.

Before transitioning to capitalism’s “green revolution” we must understand that it is not green, at all. A prime example is “planned obsolescence,” i.e., wasting huge amounts of labor and resources to produce products that self-destruct.

Millions of research dollars are spent designing products to break down so we must replace them repeatedly. It results in stupendous amounts of waste and costs huge amounts of fossil fuels to manufacture. This practice is driven by capitalism’s irrational profit-driven mode of production and should be criminalized, and the personal profits paid to the CEOs confiscated, and used to clean up the environment they have destroyed and profited from.

Ending planned obsolescence and ending capitalism must be the rallying cries of the entire environmental and social justice movements. This would reduce the extraordinary waste and harmful-to-life-pollution it generates—which would drastically reduce the need for fossil fuels in the first place—giving us time to develop real environmentally safe energy resources.

In an April 20, 2023, article in the New York Times by Mark O’Connell titled, “Our Way of Life Is Poisoning Us,” the author reports that microplastic particles are found everywhere including inside our bodies:

“There is plastic in our bodies; it’s in our lungs and in our bowels and in the blood that pulses through us. … bits of water bottles, tires, polystyrene packaging, microbeads from cosmetics—is washing through us… Maybe this has been our fate all along, to achieve final communion with our own garbage. … The whole subject of microplastics is possessed of a nightmarish lucidity, because we understand it to be a symptom of a deeper disease. The unthinkable harm we have done to the planet—that is done to the planet on our behalf, as consumers—is being visited, in this surreal and lurid manner, on our own bodies.”

The author calls our society—the capitalist system of private profit and ownership of the means of production—a “consumerist society.”

By “consumerists” he means us—the working class who must pay just to survive. But he is placing blame on the wrong guilty parties. He’s blaming we, who must buy new things all the time because they self-destruct—instead of blaming the people who force us to—those who own and sell “disposable” products and spend huge sums to convince us that we need them. This is not limited to the United States, it’s endemic to capitalism all over the world.

The implanted fetish of choice and fashion

The working class can only afford the least expensive items available in the marketplace—the ones that self-destruct the fastest—then we are blamed for not taking care of them properly when they do break down. Meanwhile, trillions upon trillions of tons junk are piling up, polluting our environment, and wasting our natural resources—for one reason only—to increase the rate of profits for the wealthy.

Daily we are bombarded with vast dollars in advertising to convince us that we need things that are new, up to date and stylish. We believe it because our experience tells us that nothing is built to last, anyway. And further, that what we own defines our worth as human beings.

This is beat into our psyche from birth to the grave—from the first toy advertisements interrupting Saturday morning cartoons, to when we become adults and must compete in the job market. And when we’re too old to work left to the human junk-heap of poverty.

It is instilled in us that in order to get a decent-paying job, you must present yourself to your prospective employer wearing the best clothes, having the best education, the best resume, best credit score, living in the best neighborhood, driving newest model car, having the right color skin, being the right gender and, being the right age—as if we don’t need a job at all.

All these judgements employers use are against the law and discriminatory—but are employed by them all the time.

So, the incentive for workers to buy more, better, newer is based in the concrete for the working class—it’s what you must do to survive under capitalism—we have no choice in the matter.

The “green revolution” under capitalism

The biggest polluter and destroyer of the environment and waste of raw materials is the military. It is the most profitable industry in the world—the U.S. leads the world in military production, sales, and profits. However, the so-called “green revolution” under the control of capitalism is anything but green. It is, rather, a new reason to exploit exotic resources and to create new products that use these resources in a different way, like electric vehicles, thereby increasing profits in the sale of new, supposedly “greener” products.

In a March 15, 2023, article in the New York Times by Diva Amon, titled, “A Rush to Mine the Deep Sea Is Underway. It Must Be Stopped,” the author stated:

“Nauru, one of the world’s smallest nations, with a population of around 11,000, is the sponsor of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, the Metals Company. That company wants to mine parts of a region known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, between Hawaii and Mexico, for polymetallic nodules. These nodules contain many of the base metals now required to make batteries, and the Metals Company says they offer ‘the cleanest path toward electric vehicles.’ … Huge machines would be sent down to the ocean floor that scrape up minerals—and everything else in their way—creating plumes of sediment that would spread for many miles into the surrounding waters and emitting noise and light that disturb dark, quiet ecosystems in the deep seas that took eons to develop. (Companies must be sponsored by a country under the treaty to engage in mining.)”

Does this sound, in any possible way, like a better way to develop clean energy? For one thing, they don’t even know how to recycle dead batteries, let alone the daunting task of providing the charging stations to service all these new electric vehicles.

And how can giant machines scraping the ocean floor be safe for the environment—our oceans and all the life they hold? The “green revolution” under capitalism is just another giant profit venture that will have to be protected by even more military buildup and power-grabs to ensure that the U.S. commanders of capital get control over these necessary resources for this new, profit-driven industrial venture.

Criminalize planned obsolescence!

Workers’ control of industry!

The environmental justice movement must become a mass movement of workers from all industries demanding control over the safety of all aspects of production by placing it under the democratic control of workers themselves.

We are the ones who do the work. We are the ones exposed to toxins on the job and in our homes. We are the ones who are forced to pay for things over and over—and for the things that poison us like pesticide-contaminated food and food full of chemicals and preservatives. We are the ones who are the cannon fodder for their wars and victims of their cheap and unhealthy products.

Under capitalism, workers have no control over the pollution that is engendered by the military, or by greedy corporations that spew their poisons into our land, air, and water to make a buck.

They are now destroying the environment under the guise of inventing new, “green” industries instead of building things to last in the safest way possible using the smallest number of resources and, of course, ending the most destructive industry—war.

This can only be done if our economy is based upon the production for need and want—a socialist society—and not for the private profit of the tiny few.

From each according to their abilities to each according to their needs.

The wanton destruction that the capitalist profit motive engenders can only be stopped by ending capitalism and building a socialist world economy based upon production for the needs and wants of all—not profits for the few.

This is the only way we can build a world of both social and economic equality. We will never have peace, justice, or freedom until we rid the world of capitalism.

Workers’ power

We have been brainwashed into thinking we are powerless and worthless. We have been convinced that the only way to get ahead is to get rich ourselves—which means that we must be believe that it’s good to profit off the oppression and suffering of others. We have been convinced by capitalist propaganda that our differences are insurmountable, and that war and violence are natural to human nature.

War and violence are only natural to capitalism’s class-oppression-driven society. It is the modus operandi of capitalism.

Socialism, workers’ democracy, equality, freedom, and justice for all!

Workers have the power to change the world and bring capitalism to its knees! Without workers, capitalist production cannot operate and, therefore, can’t make a profit.

The capitalist class has no power without our cooperation—this includes the workers involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction and the entire military/prison industrial complex.

Workers have power—even over the military and the police—the power to shut them down forever!

We also have the numbers. United we are the overwhelming majority dwarfing the capitalist class and rendering them powerless if we so choose.

We have common interests across all our superficial differences, which are in direct opposition to, and in contradiction of, the whole capitalist system.

We can only stop the destruction of the planet by ending capitalism and building a democratically structured socialist society based on production methods that preserve the health of the entire planet.

A socialist world is one where each person contributes to the good of all according to their abilities and talents, and production is designed to satisfy the needs and wants of all—a world where everyone can develop their potential to the fullest.