On Conscious Consumerism, Lifestylism: a letter from a reader
“Dear Leading Light,
I am curious about the day to day life of a Leading Light Communist in the First World.
What do you think about “conscious consumerism” and “fair Trade.” Is it bullshit?
Should we change our lifestyles? After all, corporate junk food and consumer goods, excess plastics, etc. all connect to human misery.
Most First World peoples have such an income to place them amongst the global bourgeoisie. In addition, it is from our incomes that the state receives its taxes to fund its war machine. Therefore, should we lower our income as a way to lessen the blood on our hands? Reduce our involvement in exploitation? Weaken the imperial state?
Thank you for writing.
“Conscious consumerism,” “fair trade,” etc. is the strategy that seeks to end exploitation by changing the purchasing patterns of First World peoples. The idea is that if enough First World people boycott corporate products, while at the same time purchasing products made in fairer ways, then a better world will come into being. In other words, First World people should boycott Folgers coffee, instead purchasing Starbucks’ “Fair Trade” or Zapatista coffee in hopes of reducing the exploitation in the world. The idea here is that First World people become “conscious consumers,” choosing to purchase commodities that have been produced in safer environments for workers, commodities where workers are paid a higher, fairer wage, etc. The idea is that First World people pay a bit more for Third World commodities produced in ways that involve less exploitation.
Let’s start with the more banal problems of such a strategy. There are problems of enforcement. Just because a product claims it is “fair trade” or “eco-friendly” does not mean that it is. There is no guarantee that the extra amount of money paid by the consumer actually reaches the producer. More importantly, we must recognize the limits that “conscious consumerism” has as a strategy for revolutionary change. It is rather naive to think that we can end imperialism by simply waking up First World people. It is in their First World interest to maintain their standard of living. Although there may be cases of individuals in the First World who are “conscious consumers” and engage in real solidarity with Third World people, for most, “conscious consumption” is merely a kind of feel good politics that distracts from real revolution.
“Conscious consumerism,” “lifestylism,” etc. can become an obstacle to the real struggle against imperialism. It is imperialism without imperialism. It gives the peoples of the First World yet another lifestyle option. They can largely maintain their First World lifestyle, but now they do not have to feel guilty about it because they buy Zapatista coffee. The First World liberal no longer has to deal with his own conscience, but above-and-beyond that, can boast at the cafe about how great they are for being so caring about Mother Earth since they purchased a Prius. First World people should feel some sense of guilt for the tremendous suffering they are inflicting on the planet and its peoples through their standard of living, and the bombs and death squads that maintain it. Yet now they can have their cake and eat it too. They can have their imperial lifestyle while soothing their own conscience and stroking their own ego about how great they are for being “conscious consumers.” They can partake of empire while seeing themselves as resisting it.
The same can be said of the excessive focus on lifestyle amongst First World, liberal activists. Making oneself poor may alleviate your guilt about being in the “belly of the beast,” but is not a good strategy for real change. To have the option to make yourself poor, to slum away your 20s in collective houses, for example, is yet another lifestyle option that empire has provided. Real poverty is not something one chooses, it is something forced. “Conscious consumerism,” “lifestylism,” etc. are very individualist. The whole motivation behind such politics is not “how do we really make a change in the real world?” but rather “how do I wash my hands of my privilege?” Most often, it is not a genuine caring about others that motivates such politics, but a desire to be morally clean. In this way, such strategies have come to hinder the development of real anti-imperialism and real solidarity, which requires far more than liberals changing their coffee brand, or car type, or pronouns they use, or way they dress.. What is required is nothing less than dismantling the First World, the Global People’s War, creating and seizing power. The excessive focus on lifestyle becomes a way of avoiding activism focused on revolution, creating the organization capable of seizing power. Really making a difference means getting serious about revolution, putting ego aside. It means building the revolutionary organization capable of actually winning. To do so requires accepting discipline, accepting leadership, etc. Real revolutionary activism means using your privileged position in the First World to generate resources for the struggle for communism. Friedrich Engels used his privileged position to finance and help Karl Marx. Thus he helped contribute to the breakthrough that led to the great revolutions of the last century. Would our movement have been better served had he locked his fortune away and slummed around the bohemian set of his day? First World revolutionaries can do more to offset whatever war tax is taken by the state by donating on a regular basis to movement, to the Leading Light. Christians and Muslims tithe to their causes. So too must revolutionaries. Real revolutionary thinking and action is beyond most First World individuals though. For those in the First World, the key is to get over yourselves. It is not about you personally. It is about liberating the planet and her peoples, not about assuaging guilt and stroking ego. Get organized, use your privilege against the system. Make a sacrifice for the cause; donate. Many of us have dedicated decades of our lives to this, years of income. Talking the talk is not enough. Walk the walk.
To be a Leading Light is to be organized for total revolution under the leadership of the most advanced revolutionary organization and science. That understood, Leading Lights should strive to be healthy. They should live in ways that aid the movement. It is good for comrades and fellow travelers to make ourselves examples to be followed. In other words, in our personal lives, we should try to reflect the future we are trying to create without becoming smug bullies about it. We should show people how to live, not lecture about it. We should also be aware of the communities that we operate in. We should not be so inflexible in our personal lifestyle choices that we become ineffective in our communities. We should operate with a kind of “lifestyle mass line” that neither tails the masses nor runs too far ahead. We should be humble, helpful, kind and respectful toward the people and the Earth. We should try to be egalitarian and altruistic in our daily interactions. At the same time that we serve the people, we must also lead. We must not be afraid to lead, educate, stand up to loud mouths and wreckers, etc. We should not be afraid to act against counter-revolutionaries when it is required.
Organization. Discipline. Loyalty. Leadership. Sacrifice. We need to make these words live if we are ever to really win. Red Salute! Long Live the Leading Light!