23:43 GMT28 November 2020
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    Zinoviev Club member Pavel Rodkin considers why consumption remains an absolute and uncontested value for Russian society.

    Non-productive consumption today encompasses not only the economy but also culture, politics and society as a whole. The ideological (and even geopolitical) context of consumption in its social dimension has shown up in the sanctions war between the West and Russia. Consumption remains an ideology, which is a component of what Alexander Zinoviev described as "Westernism."

    Ideological functions of consumption in the 20th century

    Although the reciprocal Western-Russian sanctions are unfolding in a purely economic sphere, the liberal segment of Russian society perceived them in their ideological dimension. The creative class and the intelligentsia vulgarized the economic analysis of the need and consequences of retaliatory sanctions, reducing it to hysteria over what have now become proverbial and rather tiring jamón [dry-cured Spanish ham] and Parmesan cheese.

    The issue of "hunger," addressed in social media, boiled down to the idea that the limitation or replacement of Western products with any others is, in principle, inconceivable and impossible. In reality, this situation is a consequence and continuation of objective socio-political processes.

    Modern consumption evolved and developed during an era of ideological confrontation between the USSR and the West. In the second half of the 20th century, consumption helped achieve not only the purely economic goals of making a profit and then, as humanitarian and communication technology developed, also super profits, but also fulfilled important ideological functions, becoming in effect a showcase of the Western system.

    The ideology of consumption, primitive in and of itself, has become a universal instrument of globalization, or according to Zinoviev, "Westernization." This enabled it to continue performing ideological functions even after the breakup of the USSR, when the visible conflicts between the two systems lost their relevance.

    According to Naomi Klein: "…when the cold war ended and this ideological backdrop was yanked away, the grander meaning behind the shopping evaporated. Without ideology, shopping was… just shopping. When US politicians urge their citizens to fight terrorism by shopping, it is about more than feeding an ailing economy. It's about once again wrapping the day-to-day in the mythic."

    However, what is acquiring an increasingly hypertrophied and caricatured form in the US commands fawning admiration in Russia, even despite the fact that consumption involved the fundamental and devastating breakdown of the entire social system.

    Consumption dialectics in the 21st century

    Consumption remains the absolute value of modern society, crowding out all other values from social life. Consumption today is a criterion of public wealth and civilization. This is how it remains in the public consciousness.

    The phenomenon of consumption is perceived and imposed regardless of any dialectics. Dialectics is the enemy of the ideology of consumption.

    In the neo-liberal discourse (in the logic of ideological Cold War confrontation), consumption does not have a negative dimension. From this perspective, consumption can be opposed only to the collective image of totalitarian regimes, while any reduction or limitation of consumption means an inevitable return to the notorious "Soviet realm."

    The ideological image of consumption excludes its downsides, such as dehumanization, overexploitation and social stratification, and the blurring of social needs for affordable education, healthcare, housing and intellectual development. Consumption expends too many intellectual and human resources, which could be used to ensure social, technological and humanitarian progress.

    Consumer society inculcates an over-simplified picture of the social system. Unsurprisingly, the discussion around consumption is reduced to a mundane day-to-day level, while the overall situation remains beyond comprehension.

    The ideology of "Westernism" considers it natural and fair to literally exchange a country for petty consumerism. After all, the availability of fast food is equated to civilization.

    The paradox of consumption in Russia is that even once they become habitual and affordable, consumption targets do not cease to be desirable and remain an absolute value. Thus, consumption becomes an internal phenomenon (and problem) even though it was brought in from the outside.

    Nationalization of consumption

    In effect, only Western consumption is considered to be correct and possible. So sensible arguments, for example, regarding the importance of retaliatory sanctions for the domestic agricultural producer, hold no weight with the proponents of Westernism.

    It is obvious, however, that Russia today has no intention of abandoning consumption, which has become the norm and is no longer "off limits." What, then, is the way to deal with the problem of modern consumption, which remains an essential element of the economy (regardless of whether real or virtual)?

    Consumption has become a part and continuation of global politics, and to a very large extent, it has turned into politics. This means that the development of the national economy and national politics is directly connected to the need to nationalize consumption.

    Without national consumption, which includes not only an economic component in the form of purchasing power of the population, but also a humanitarian component in the form of ideology, it is impossible to develop national production. To this end, Western consumption should be de-mythologized, not only for the elite but also for the masses.

    In order to maintain consumption at the same level as in the West, primarily in the United States, it is essential to achieve the same level of befuddling the masses as in the US. In Russia, this lack of freedom in society has not been achieved yet. Therefore, there is a chance that consumption "fatigue" will penetrate the public consciousness.

    Otherwise the country will once again be sold for distressed jeans and cheap fast food, especially considering that the Western colonial tradition has centuries-old experience of trading in aboriginal territories for glass beads.

    Pavel Rodkin (PhD, Art History), expert on branding and visual communications, and member of the Rossiya Segodnya Zinoviev Club

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