The advertising industry: Perpetuating wage slavery and manufacturing artificial desires 

Reins-of-Freedumb-art-by-Kevin-Rashid-Johnson-2002-1, <strong>The advertising industry: Perpetuating wage slavery and manufacturing artificial desires</strong> , Abolition Now! News & Views
“Reins of Freedumb” – Art: Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson, 2002

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson


Wage labor is slavery. To illustrate the point, let’s compare chattel slavery and wage labor.

The point of chattel slavery, which was an economic system, was to exploit the labor power of the slaves for the profit of the “owner.” Capitalism, which is also an economic system, exploits the labor power of the worker (or proletariat) for the boss’s profit.

On the plantations of Amerika’s old South, chattel slaves performed back-breaking labor for their “owners,” planting, tending and harvesting cash crops; raising livestock; clearing forests; building homes, estates, government structures; and so on. Everything that the slaves produced the owner claimed as his own, used to sustain himself and his family, and sold the surplus at a profit to become wealthy.

The chattel slave was deemed to be property (chattel) and could own nothing. So the owner provided for the slaves’ maintenance, giving them just enough shelter, food, clothing, medical care and entertainment to keep them physically and mentally “fit” to continue working to enrich the owner. The expenditures given for the slaves’ upkeep were mere crumbs taken from the vast amounts of resources the slaves produced with their labor power that was taken by the owner.

The slaves never needed the owner to survive, but rather it was actually the owner who lived and profited off the slaves. It was outright robbery. So the owner had to keep the slaves uneducated, deceived and indoctrinated into believing that they needed and could not survive or have an organized society without him and his system of rank exploitation and that the owner was ENTITLED to subjugate, use and profit off of them in this manner. An entire system of laws, cultural norms and prejudices were manufactured to justify, enforce and perpetuate these productive relations.

Of course many slaves still recognized the injustice of their horrible abuse and rebelled and therefore had to be compelled to accept it by the brutest of violence, dehumanization and terrorism.

Wage labor is slavery

Wage labor (or wage slavery) operates much the same as chattel slavery, but because the wage slave is not “owned” by anyone, the trickery that keeps them tied to the capitalist system is more subtle.

Instead of an owner, the wage worker has a boss. Because the slave was the owner’s property, like a car, the owner cared to some degree about the maintenance of the slave to keep her/him in working condition. But because the boss has no such connection to the worker, and the worker can be dismissed and immediately replaced from the unemployment line should they fall ill or become unfit to work, the boss doesn’t care about the worker’s health or wellbeing. 

And whereas the slaver assumed responsibility for his slaves’ health and upkeep to keep them fit to continue working, under capitalism the boss pays the worker a small wage (at far below the actual value of the goods and services that the worker’s labor produces), which the worker must use to buy their own food, clothing, shelter and entertainment. In the case of both slave and worker, their basic needs are met with crumbs taken from the huge amount of wealth they create with their hard labor that is stolen by the owner and boss.

In that the worker is paid only enough to temporarily meet their needs, they must return to the job and sell their labor power to the capitalist bosses day after day for their entire lives in order to live and survive. 

As in chattel slavery, under capitalism the tools, factories, offices, land and goods produced by the worker, and indeed the entire system of production, are “owned” by the boss who sells the products that the workers produce at their actual value and pockets the profit.

Also like chattel slavery, the worker doesn’t need the boss to survive, but rather it is the boss who lives and profits off the workers. Capitalism is also outright robbery. So the capitalist class keeps the workers and all of society miseducated, deceived and indoctrinated into believing that the capitalist system and its rank exploitation is the best of all possible worlds; and that the ruling class is ENTITLED to subjugate, use and profit off the workers in this manner. The entire system of laws, cultural norms and prejudices were manufactured to justify, enforce and perpetuate these productive relations.

Like the chattel slaves, workers have often seen through the exploitation of the capitalist system and rebelled. Therefore, throughout its history capitalism has had to fight against workers to force and trick them into accepting their exploitation and to counter their recognizing and rebelling against it, especially in a unified and organized manner.

So, by comparison, we see that chattel slavery and wage slavery operate almost identically, with the main distinction being that one form of exploitation ties the laborer to the system by ownership while the other does so through a wage.

Creating wants through inventing fads

A principal trick used by the capitalist class to tie workers to this system has been to manipulate them into desiring and buying back useless products that they are compelled to produce but that they would not otherwise want. This is accomplished by their creating fads, status symbols and styles and advertising them to the masses so they will desire them; but the only way they can obtain these items is by selling their labor power or otherwise hustling in the underground economy to obtain money with which to purchase them. 

The entire point of ads or advertising is to create demand among the workers to keep them locked in a cycle of buying up useless things they otherwise would not want. This keeps them psychologically tied to the capitalist system and the wage.

This scheme was often used to trick freed chattel slaves into returning to labor for their old enslavers under much the same conditions as before the slave systems were supposedly abolished. One example occurred when Britain tricked the newly freed Blacks of Jamaica back into slavery. 

The process also illustrates how capitalism is truly a system of slavery in which workers are tricked into believing their labor is given freely and fairly compensated, and how creation of fads and ads are used to trick (actually brainwash) the masses into accepting and perpetuating their own enslavement and competition among themselves.

England frees and re-enslaves Jamaica

During the early 1800s slave uprisings swept the Caribbean, like the Christmas Revolt in Jamaica in December 1831. Many of those revolts found inspiration in the successful overthrow of slavery in Haiti by armed slaves (1791-1803). With the example of Haiti, the waves of revolts convinced the various European countries that the days of slavery in the islands were numbered. So they devised to voluntarily abolish the old slave systems, while scheming to trick the Black workers to continue laboring for them “voluntarily” under much the same conditions. A similar trick was played when Europe gave up many of its colonies in Asia and Afrika in the 1950s-1970s.

Jamaica is illustrative, because Britain’s plots to re-enslave them were debated and recorded in the British Parliament. The method the Brits settled on was to manipulate the newly freed Jamaicans into desiring British luxury items which they could only acquire by purchasing them with British money. The only way they could obtain British money was by returning to work on the old sugar and coffee plantations for a wage.

But the conversion to wage slavery wasn’t entirely “voluntary.” The Brits also devised to prevent the newly freed Jamaicans from settling on the open land, which provided all the resources needed to survive and thrive, with fruit trees, fishing, fertile land and natural abundance right at hand. So the British had the island’s governors institute laws to close the land off from open settlement by the newly “freed” slaves.

These plots to “create wants” for British goods and close off the land to recapture Jamaican labor after the abolition of slavery in the 1800s are documented in Thomas Holt’s book, “The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1838,” see esp. pages 44-73. For example, on June 10, 1833, as the Brits were phasing out chattel slavery in Jamaica, British Parliamentarian Rigby Watson expressed (p. 54):

“To make them labour, and give them a taste for luxuries and comforts, they must be gradually taught to desire those objects which could be attained by human labour. There was a regular progress from the possession of necessaries to the desire of luxuries; gradually came, among all classes and conditions of men, to be necessaries. This was the sort of progress the negroes had to go through, and this was the sort of education to which they ought to be subject in the period of probation [after emancipation].”

Another member, John Daughtrey added (p. 71):

“Every step they take in this direction is a real improvement; artificial wants become in time real wants. The formation of such habits affords the best security for negro labour at the end of the apprenticeship.”

And they prevented the newly freed slaves from settling on available fertile land to compel them to go back to work on the plantations (p. 73):

“Early in 1836, Lord Gleneig [the Colonial Secretary] forwarded to all the West Indian governors a dispatch addressing one of these policy problems. He began by noting that during slavery, labour could be compelled to be applied whenever the owner desired. Now, with the end of apprenticeship, the laborer would apply himself only to those tasks that promised personal benefit. Therefore, if the cultivation of sugar and coffee were to continue, ‘we must make it the immediate and apparent interest of the negro population to employ their labour in raising them.’ He was apprehensive about their ability to do this, repeating the now familiar Maxim that given the demographics patterns of former slave colonies such as Jamaica – ’where there is land enough to yield an abundant subsistence to the whole population in return for slight labour’ – Blacks would not work. ‘Should things be left to their natural course, labour would not be attracted to the cultivation of exportable produce.’ Gleneig went on to prescribe the means by which the government would interdict these natural proclivities. It was essential that the ex-slaves be prevented from obtaining land.”

Chasing Sylvester

In a less sophisticated way I became aware of this scheme of inventing and inducing people to follow styles at a very young age, with the result that I was never one to chase fads. I have a Dr. Seuss book to thank.

I was always an avid reader. My earliest years were spent living on and learning the streets (I began leaving home at a very young age) and reading. I enjoyed literature, history, culture and such. Fiction and children’s books didn’t hold my attention. There was one exception however: a Dr. Seuss book, called “The Sneetches,” which actually became one of my favorite reads. I still remember the story today.

This book gave me my first insights into how chasing fads is a trick to keep people in constant competition with one another and wasting their time and money on meaningless items that they’ve been tricked into believing they want or need.

The sneetches were these creatures, some of whom had a star on their bellies while others didn’t. In sneetch society, stars were a status symbol. Those with stars set themselves apart from those without stars and, with snobbish airs regarded themselves as better than the no-star bellies. They had gatherings and play events that those without stars were excluded from. The no-star bellies were left to feel dejected and inferior.

Along came this guy named Sylvester McMonkey McBean who has this machine that could put stars on the bellies of sneetches who didn’t have them, making them now part of the stylish crowd. He charged three dollars a pop to allow starless sneetches to have stars applied. Suddenly those who didn’t have stars before were equals to those who did and could now enjoy the status and privileges of star belly society. This provoked resentment among the original star bellies who wanted to remain a select society.

So Sylvester schemed to play the sneetches even further to continue enriching himself at their expense. He did this by telling them that plain bellies were the new style, and for $10 each his machine would remove the stars. So droves of sneetches reversed course, eagerly rushing to pay Sylvester to remove their stars.

This drove the wedge of resentment and competition even deeper, which Sylvester continued to exploit. He began telling them that star bellies were now in style, then plain bellies, alternating back and forth, so that all day long the sneetches ran chaotically back and forth spending their money to have stars applied then removed until ultimately all their money was gone. At that point Sylvester packed up his machine and departed.

Only then did the sneetches realize that they were all equals and had been played. That they’d been tricked into chasing meaningless fads and status symbols that were invented and changed at the whim of someone whose aim was to enrich himself at their expense.

I noticed the exact same sneetch behavior in the world all around me: people chasing meaningless luxury items and constantly changing fads and status symbols that they otherwise had no need of or desire for. Items they only knew about and wanted because they had been told by ads on television and billboards that they should want them. I called this behavior “chasing Sylvester,” the very behavior that continues today with people desiring and spending their money on brand name shoes, cars, rims, clothes, tech devices and so on. Styles that change every few minutes to keep the demand alive.

To invent the desire for these things is the role and function of ads and marketing propaganda we see everywhere, day in and day out. They appear everywhere, constantly changing fads, styles and status symbols (the more expensive the items the greater the status value) promoted for our consumption through ads on social media platforms, imbedded in apps, on our communication devices, televisions, literally everywhere. In this way the masses are manipulated into accepting wage slavery and every type of hustle – often socially harmful and deadly hustles – in order to keep acquiring material things they are told they should want but that they would not otherwise know existed nor want.

It’s a world-reaching industry manned by conniving Sylvesters that have the people obsessed with generating and wasting wealth to obtain meaningless objects that go out of style and become worthless trash almost as soon as they’re bought. Only to be replaced by something else that they are told is the newest fad they’ve just got to have. While, as with the re-enslavement of Jamaica, the masses cannot seize land to live in genuine freedom. 

This is what socialist revolution aims to overthrow. Revolution is all about the workers taking ownership of the productive system – of the land, factories, equipment and machinery, the means of producing what society needs to survive – and themselves owning all the products and wealth that they produce with their labor. It’s like the chattel slaves overthrowing the slave system and taking ownership of the plantations, the crops, and all the products and wealth that they produced with their labor. The slaves then have the power and choice to produce what THEY actually want and need free of coercion by owners.

THIS is what the owners and bosses have always feared most, because they live and grow rich off the labor of the slaves and workers. And it is why they’ve always demonized, misrepresented and suppressed slave revolts and Communist revolutions.

We don’t need capitalism or its status symbols and fads! We need freedom!

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!

All Power to the People!

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