Just on its own, the overconsumption needed to satisfy the reproductive needs of overpopulation will push humanity toward ecological catastrophe. It is an evident fact that as workers’ antagonism to the wage relation rises, capitalists need to produce more real goods for workers to consume, and at the same time they need to ensure that the reserve army grows so as to drive down workers’ demands. But this extension of the reserve army engenders, of course, greater excess consumption. It gets worse. For capitalists to ensure that workers are more dependent on the wage relation, the nature of their consumption must be distorted so that as great a part of workers’ consumption is directed toward “distorted needs” or, better named, “wants”. This has obvious implications for “overconsumption” because – as is evident – if a society consumed only those products that served its needs rather than its wants, it would not need to produce as much as with distorted needs or wants.
Consumerism is, as it were, the sugar-coating that allows workers and the proletariat at large to swallow the bitter pill of capitalist exploitation and lack of real participatory democracy in liberal parliamentary bourgeois regimes. How so? The wage relation is one of violence in that workers would never accept to sell their living activity in exchange for the dead product of their living labour - that is surely an “exchange” that amounts to fraud (if unwitting) or violence (if workers are aware of it). Of course, the very fact that workers are willing to work for “a fair wage” means that the capitalist mode of production does have a minimum of legitimacy (Weber). Nevertheless, legitimacy does not mean absence of conflict: capitalist society is founded on social antagonism between capitalists and workers - and specifically on the antagonism of the wage relation. It is at this level that the reality of alienation (of workers and all of society) from control over production and of reification (the global extension of alienation to the commodification of all social relations) – it is at this level that Lukacs’s notions (developed in History and Class Consciousness and critically reviewed by us earlier) come into their own – that is, not at the point of production but rather in the sphere of consumption. The third aspect of consumerism is therefore the ideological component – “marketing”. Hence, the pervasive bombardment of workers through “advertising” and the relentless emphasis on “consumer choice” as a substitute for true participatory democracy is tantamount to the collective brainwashing of our “democratic” societies.
The result is that workers’ consumption is distorted in two very nefarious ways, deleterious to society and to the human environment. The first aspect is that capitalists cannot produce goods that emancipate workers from wage labor – this occurs indirectly through wage-push and demand-pull inflation. The second aspect is that capitalists must employ marketing to persuade workers to spend their wages on the repressive goods they force them to produce. This obviously results in the most horrendous irrational waste!