"Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change" - Karl Marx

This blog is my interpretation, I will do everything I can to change the world along those line

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Rebel Sell

After receiving the feedback for one of y recent essays on Youth Culture one of my lecturers suggested I read 'The Rebel Sell' by Joseph Heath & Andrew Potter. A very interesting read which developed the themes of an anti-capitalist counter-culture and the inherent flaws in such a tactic in much more detail than I had in the essay.

The book starts out with an attack on culture jamming as a useless tool of resistance pointing out that it is not a threat to capitalism but also and most importantly culture jamming in itself is a market with organisations such as adbusters. It goes on to point of the hypocrisy in many of these campaigns with passages like the following

Yet this animus toward Nike did create the occasional moments of embarrassment. During the famous anti-globalisation riots of Seattle 1999, the central Niketown was trashed by protesters, but videotape recorded at the scene showed several protesters kicking in the front window wearing Nike shoes.

The book goes on to explain that if Nike is this evil a company that warrants the trashing of the building so much, then how can one wear the said shoes. It also argues that whatever the shoes you are wearing generally they will have been produced in an equally exploitative way. I would argue that this has been attributed to the lack of an ideological base of any real kind to this kind of demonstration, movements or whatever they can really e described as. Although in many respects revolutionary, it poses the question how can anything be revolutionary when it has no idea where to go next. If these protesters were able to get into the room full of world leaders at any event, what would they do next? Of course there is no answer, the only thing that keeps them going is the ability to fight with the police who were inevitably hold them back and ultimately stop them from achieving their aims.

The book goes through several chapters along this strain of thought explaining that you can not uy resistance by buying into an alternative culture because the said alternative culture will always be a product of the current capitalist society and hence will end up being marketed or in some cases starts of as a marketed product simply tapping into that 'alternative culture' as their target audience.

It explains very well that we are all victims of this consumer culture in varying degrees it must be said but that it seems almost inescapable in modern society. It must also be said that aswell as pointing this out the book does not attack these forms of counter-culture as a cultural form but makes it clear that it would be deluded to see this as a form of resistance.

Although in this background there is a whole chapter dedicated uniforms and what they represent from the authority of the police or military uniforms right through to the uniforms of conformity such as the grey flannel suits. The book argues that the counter-cultural styles were a reaction against the authority and uniformity of modern capitalist society and once again whilst there is some truth in this once again this does not fundamentally challenge the system.

Whilst much of the book concentrated on North America particularly Canada, most interestingly the polemics against Naomi Klein which I won't dwell on here but will venture into in a future blog. The book however does venture both beyond North America and in other points to the past. There is section about California from the period before Europeans colonised the continent and points out that even then it was a consumer dominated society based on material possessions , the author paints the picture therefore that this was a natural development and has always existed. The author neglects to mention that this was in a class society and also neglects to mention that class society has not always existed.

The book goes on to talk about India and the search amongst some counter-culturalists for either spiritual relief or enlightenment. Though in this piece India is just one of many examples which are used. The authors point out the hypocrisy of 'rejected' outright one form of modern culture only to replace with another which for some unknown and never explained reason is different because it comes from another part of the world. It is in this section of the book where the class nature of this so-called resistance begins to unfold. It is of course obvious that the pursuit of exotic lands around the globe in research of enlightenment or resistance or relief or whatever it is in the first place, this option in general is not open to the poorest in society yet by many this is presented as our liberation!

It goes much further than this with s scathing revelation of a Canadian restaurateur who in order to source local products, hardly an option for the average person. It doesn't stop here there are many examples of this extremely middle class route of individual anti-capitalism/environmentalism which in reality serves no other purpose than to make the 'activist' feel good about themselves.

As well as these points the book goes through various many other points such as the technological advances society has made and how they have not fulfilled our hopes and dreams. But unfortunately it becomes apparent that the whole point at which the book has been getting at all along is not that the methods of struggle of these so-called anti-capitalists is wrong but the whole idea of another form of society is just wrong. The authors go out of there way to explain the benefits that capitalism can offer and indeed many of the examples they give are very good arguments of how capitalism can save our planet. Unfortunately the authors move throughout the book.

At the beginning of the book the authors have a very ridged analysis of everything that the critique and to justify some of these critiques Marx is quoted so it gives the illusion that the conclusion will be to go beyond the realms of capitalism. When it comes to arguing for a nice form of capitalism which essentially what the entire book as been leading up to, although the authors present a strong argument they are only able to do so by taking certain aspects of capitalism in isolation which of course in doing so you could prove absolutely anything. This is exactly where their entire argument comes crashing to the ground. Despite a good number of critiques against counter-culturalists and the so-called anti-capitalists the kind that never had any vision beyond capitalism in the first place. It does not go unnoticed that there is absolutely no critique of any Marxists or anarchists found within the book at all,neither is there any ideas presented in how we can go from the current capitalism to this so-called mythical nice capitalism.

One the whole the book is very thought provoking and full of valuable and interesting information a well worth read for any left-winger and others. However the book is severely let down down by the authors bind faith in capitalism and it does become apparent that the whole exercise was to paint the left as futile insignificant and has no ideas how to change society, but in doing so the authors neglected to confront the serious left. An interesting read nevertheless.


  1. sounds good comrade, will have to read it. (rae)

  2. That's got to be one of the best articles I've come across on this particular subject. I remember making a similar point in a comment about a month ago, and it's definitely something we should be discussing. Not only is it profitable to capitalise on the apparent 'alternative' cultures, but it also distracts from the real alteratives out there.
    I'll give a more in-depth reply soonest possible.

  3. (Rae) I think it is telling that (as well as what you say about them not being threatening to capitalism) these alternatives tend to be launched by the petitbourgoie who often eschew genuine political action in principle. In my personal opinion this is part of what has paralysed the envirolmental lobby. Another perfect example of course being the 1960s hippy movement. However, this rejecton of mass action can lead to only one place. If you reject the system and you reject mass opposition where does that leave you but individual terror? Modern Islamic Fundementalist terror is more complex but things like the SLA (Symbionise Liberation Army in America) were the logical conclusion of Petit Bourgoie resitence which demaned the role and rejected the masses.

  4. (Above comment continued, it wouldnt process it)
    And rejects mass struggle and creating an alternativce to capitalism.

  5. absolutely, the only other alternatives to the tactic you mention, is the indivdual lifestyle changes which ultimately do very little, never threaten the system and are only avenues open to the middle class which is then used as a stick to beat the working class for 'not doing thier bit'

  6. "Alternatives" Are Usualy Liberals In Disguise! Liberals Are Just Tories Without the Guts to stand up and admit their arseholes! (sorry i know there other stuff but basicly here we go)


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