Marxism 101: Globalisation, Culture, and the Coke Studio India

So what might “Zariya” – a composition by India’s foremost composer AR Rahman, which brings together a traditional chant by Nepalese Buddhist nun, Ani Choying, traditional lyrics sung by Jordanian Farah Siraj, and a Hindi chorus – tell us about globalisation? As an audio-visual cultural offering, readily available via social media, it is an exquisite piece of hybridisation and connection across place, space, and time. Note also the backdrop (and indeed foreground), the Coke Studio India, which was a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. Moreover then, what might an unhappy story of Coca Cola in India tell us about globalisation and does this taint “Zariya” (a commodified song about compassion, motherhood, and happiness)?

The Coca Cola Company entered the Indian market in 1956 but left in 1977 when it refused both to comply with the country’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and to disclose its secret recipe to the Indian Government. Coca Cola returned in 1993 in the context of market liberalisation. Since its return, a mass movement has developed in India against the Coca Cola Company to demand it is held accountable for the contamination of groundwater and soil, water depletion and shortages, and land grabs.

CocaColaIndia

(Wikimedia Commons)

The Guardian newspaper noted in 2003: “The largest Coca-Cola plant in India is being accused of putting thousands of farmers out of work by draining the water that feeds their wells, and poisoning the land with waste sludge that the company claims is fertiliser.” The Ecologist reported in 2009 that while: “not all such disputes are as simple as ‘corporate giant versus local community’. What they do have in common, according to Tom Palakudiyil of Water Aid, is that it is ultimately the poor who lose out. ‘What we have seen happening with Coca-Cola has been happening all over the country, largely between the well-to-do and the not-so-well-to-do. The richer side is able to acquire powerful pumps and extract more and more water with no limits. In the case of big corporations like Coca-Cola, or other big industries that have a lot of power over the local government, they are able to get their pipelines to bypass the villages altogether,’ said Palakudiyil.” Most recently (again reported in The Ecologist) is a case from the state of Uttar Pradesh, where, in line with popular protest, officials have moved to demolish an ‘illegal’ Coca Cola bottling plant from community-owned land.

In Chapter Fifteen of Volume One of Capital, Karl Marx states a conclusion apt for the present-day: “Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the labourer.”

Back to “Zariya”, a composition by AR Rahman and a production by the Coca Cola Company and MTV India. In Grundrisse, Karl Marx argues that the appropriation of human culture in the commodified form cannot simply be regarded as capitalism’s quest to exploit to the detriment of our social being and development, neither can it be celebrated as offering an unconditional sphere of freedom. Marx draws an analogy of capitalism as an autonomous “animated monster” (or leviathan) able to lead us, as workers, “by an alien will and an alien intelligence”. He recognises that individuals increasingly feel isolated from one another, and indifferent to their work, through the capitalist-driven fragmentation of the labour force. What Marx calls “the great civilizing influence of capital”, an explicit recognition of the radical potential within capitalism, is of most interest here. He recognises that individuals identify themselves ever more through the tunnels of cultural complexity penetrating within capitalism. It is by the use of a continually differentiating production/consumption process that individuals are open to a new kind of wealth, social wealth, with capital offering a cultural dynamism on both a politico-economic and an individual level. “[N]either bound to particular objects, nor to a particular manner of satisfaction”, individual consumption (whilst a reaction to production) is “not qualitatively restricted, only quantitatively”, thus it has the possibility of “fall[ing] outside the economic relation” . In other words, the relation of capital to labour exploits us socially, however it does not crudely determine the inner configuration of new use-values.

In sum, in its use-value “Zariya” is ours, and what is ours too is the struggle against social and environmental exploitation by global capital like the Coca Cola Company. Marxism 101.