By Liam McNulty
Jérôme E Roos (Solidarity 220) rightly argues that the almost cult-ish response to the death of Steve Jobs earlier this month represents a highly developed commodity fetishism amongst fans of Apple products.
I do not share the brand identification-cum-cult membership of some Apple users, but I do own an iPhone for purely functional reasons. I find it efficient at accessing emails on the move, checking the news and, yes, organising political activity.
The development of mobile technology, facilitating the spread of social networking capacities and the means of communication is a progressive step, and I would hope that under socialism we decide to create similar devices. As Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto: “The ever expanding union of the workers... is helped on by the improved means of communication, that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralise the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes.”
Central to Marx’s thought is the dialectic of progress and destruction which characterises capitalist expansion. Under capitalism this technological development comes at a massive human cost. At its most extreme, child labour, coercion and even suicides; on a lesser but still tragic level, soul-destroying drudgery and a crippling of the human spirit. Apple is a particularly egregious offender but it is not unique.
The problem is not just individual capitalists such as Steve Jobs or for that matter Bill Gates but capitalism itself. One of the many tragedies of the Apple story is that the way society is currently organised makes the creation of useful technologies dependent on the immiseration of millions, and the leisure of some the product of the toil of others.
So shall I throw this laptop out of the window and snap my phone in two? That might assuage my conscience but it would not advance the interests of our class one centimetre. I need both devices and would end up enriching another set of capitalists by replacing them.
Following the logic of the consumer boycott within capitalism will lead us all back to the Dark Ages. Such modern day “reactionary socialism” represents an attempt to declare individual sovereign independence from the system and, by implication, moral culpability for its crimes. It’s an essentially selfish response.
We should substitute active solidarity for passive attempts to remove oneself from the capitalist system. We should support groups such as the Chinese Labour Bulletin in defending workers’ rights and help to expose the inhumane factory conditions which thrive under the grip of China’s Stalinist rulers.
We should fight, internationally, for a rational and democratic way of organising society, in which humanity’s latent creativity is liberated from the shackles of wage-slavery and “in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
In this struggle I may even use my iPhone, for as Lenin remarked: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”