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Monday, 30 May 2011

125 Years of Coca-Cola.

A Sip of Capitalism.

You must have come across the new ads for Coca-Cola. When you can't buy a bottle of Coke you've passed the borders of civilisation, either that or you've been kidnapped and taken to North Korea where you'll be making films written by Kim Jong-il. The story of Coca-Cola might be understood as a microcosm of the rise of American corporate power and consumerism throughout the world. In global politics the company has carved out a history, which is unique and disturbing whilst also reflective of the level of power corporations have garnered over the past century. Since corporations were given the legal status of human beings, in the aftermath of the abolition of slavery in America, the power of the corporation has increased enormously. Except corporations are immortal and amoral in nature, only profit matters and the law requires them to place the financial interests of their owners above all other interests.

The way Coca-Cola has been marketed over the decades have been important in the development of public relations and advertising. As Žižek has pointed out, ideology does not work by saying "no" but by providing the masses with sanction to particular modes of enjoyment. The slogan of Coca-Cola "Enjoy!" is the most perfect demonstration of the way that consumerism buys the passive support of the people. Even in mainstream economics, the stimulation of demand through consumption is a part of the means to securing economic growth. There is no need for calls to maintain inhibitions, save money and resist temptation. The promise of Real enjoyment is the key. The shape of the Coca-Cola bottle was originally designed to remind male consumers of the curves of a woman's body. The constant and obscene injunction to enjoy, obligatory jouissance, comes from the superego. We experience this as a transgression when we indulge, as we worry about the sugar content of the drink, the affect it has on our teeth and son.

The Coca-Cola Company emerged in the early 20th Century just as Edward Bernays pioneered the use of propaganda on a corporate scale, whether it be for advertising or political subversion. By now the stern calls for self-denial by the paternal superego, the Protestant ethic of the Victorian era, has been superseded by a maternal superego which enjoins us to relax and enjoy ourselves. The short-circuit of this obscene injunction (which requires us to feel as though we are not being coerced in anyway) is depressive, self-punitive hatred and the anxiety that we have not enjoyed enough or that others have enjoyed more than us. In consumerism the position of agency is taken up by objective knowledge, which concern our health, appearance, sexual and social needs etc. The advertisers claim to have psychological insights into the target market, what the consumers truly want to become happy, well-adjusted and successful people. Thus, the phrase market Stalinism.

It all began in the American Civil War, way back in the 1860s, when the Yankee North battered the Confederacy of the South in order to abolish slavery. The rural South was torn apart in the process, one of the most prominent cities Atlanta was practically torched to the ground and there was widespread humiliation, along with melancholia, guilt and hysteria. The quack doctor would come around to offer potions of mysterious ingredients and promises of a better life with such potions. One such fellow was John Pemberton, a druggist and a veteran Confederate soldier, with his 'ideal brain tonic'. With the rise of temperance Atlanta went dry and Pemberton sold his 'brain tonic' as a soft-drink Coca-Cola off for $2,300. The tonic, which was part cocaine at the time, would be marketed as the symbol of American wholesomeness. At the time Coca-Cola was part cocaine and had just the right colour to disguise a slug of whiskey. So Coca-Cola became the temperance drink in the 1890s  as the South was in the grips of Christian revivalism and prohibition.

Coca-Cola first transcended the borders of the US after the Spanish-American war when Cuba was claimed by the US and Coca-Cola was soon on the island, with the first bottling plant open by 1906. At the time the formula could not be patented at first as that would have forced the company to hand over the product to the public domain after 50 years at the time. It was vulnerable to competitors, the company only maintained the product through strict secrecy as well as a systematic legal war against all the competition. Pepsi Cola being the only rival to survive, as it emulated the franchise model of Coca-Cola. By 1919 Coca-Cola had been bought for $25 million by Robert Woodruff, who also owned a consortium of Northern banks. The temperance movement turned against Coke after Woodruff snatched the company from the Christian Right. Woodruff led the company to infiltrate Pepsi with 'soda spooks' and took the company to court over the use of the word 'Cola' and lost.

Under Woodruff the company went even further to launch itself into foreign markets and penetrated markets in Britain and France, as well as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. The Second World War gave the company the chance to distribute bottles of Coke all over the world. As it marketed itself as the drink of patriotism in the US, it was being sold in Nazi Germany throughout the 1930s. Early in the War, Coca-Cola's man in Berlin Max Keith was made the Head of Soft-Drink Production by the Nazis. The company was given priority in distribution throughout all of occupied Europe, the Nazi state allocated the corporation trucks and petrol. Fanta was invented for the Nazi market when the Allies' embargo against Germany obstructed the company from importing Coca-Cola syrup into the country. There were bottling plants on both sides of the War, subsidised by the US War Department and the Third Reich.

There have even been Coke Presidents and Pepsi Presidents, which is indicative of the interests invested in the White House and the importance of business in policy-making. Typically the Democrats have been closer to Coca-Cola, from Franklin D Roosevelt onwards, whilst Republicans were closer to Pepsi. Dwight Eisenhower is a notable exception among Republicans, even Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon were Pepsi men in a sense. Coke was too "red" for McCarthy, who sat on the Senate Sugar Committee, who also received $20,000 from a Pepsi lobbyist and concluded that it was un-American to ration sugar. Richard Nixon worked as a lawyer for Pepsi Cola and as Vice President to Eisenhower he flew out to Moscow on a trade fair to meet with Nikita Khruschev. Before hand he had been taken aside by Donald Kendall, the future President of Pepsi. Kendall wanted to get a bottle of Pepsi into the hand of the Russian premier and Nixon was more than willing to do so. It was an instrumental moment in the introduction of Pepsi to the Soviet Union years later.

Pepsi would later be the first American product to be made and sold in the Soviet Union. Pepsi sought to profit by association with a possible future President as Nixon was traveling around the world in the 1960s. Pepsi-Cola partially financed the traveling as the company would later contribute to the Nixon campaign and on the campaign trail Tricky Dick flew in a Pepsi plane. Soon after his inauguration Richard Nixon was grateful and appointed Donald Kendall, by then the President of Pepsi Cola, head of National Alliance of Businessmen. In 1971 there was an American trade mission to Russia at which Donald Kendall met Alexei Kosygin, second only to Leonid Breznev, and secured a deal to flood the Russian market with Pepsi. It was part of a bid to combat alcoholism in Russia, but it only succeeded in turning Pepsi and vodka into one of the most popular drinks in Russia. This is the essence of detente, which was mocked by Ronald Reagan and the neoconservatives for that reason.

It was also under the shameless administration of Richard Nixon that Salvador Allende, the democratically elected President of Chile, was overthrown in a military coup on September 11th 1973. Allende was seen as a threat to American corporate power at a time when the US government was looking to establish detente with the Soviet Union. The socialist Salvador Allende was killed, General Augusto Pinochet seized power and began to reverse the reforms of Allende. All opposition was eliminated, trade unionists were dumped into the Atlantic from helicopters, thousands simply "disappeared", citizens were detained without charge and tortured. The military junta led by General Pinochet kept the Chilean markets open to penetration from American corporations and investors. In the run up to the constitutional crisis, which led to the coup, the bottler for Pepsi Cola in Chile was Augustin Edwards and he was also the publisher of El Mercurio. The newspaper became a front for the CIA and was instrumental in the coup which installed a dictatorship that would run Chile until 1990.

Jimmy Carter was a Coke President, he even appointed a Coca-Cola lawyer to Attorney General and Chairman Paul Austin shuttled secretly between the White House and foreign statesmen like Anwar Sadat. On the campaign trail, Carter brought on Tony Schwartz who had made over 300 adverts for Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola was banned in Portugal until Carter gave the state a $300 million loan. The product was introduced to China as the economy was opened up for the first time by Deng Xiaoping. Mao had kicked Coke out of China in 1949 and for years all the Chinese had was Happiness Cola. The alliance signed with Coca-Cola was announced publicly a week after it had actually been signed as to not embarrass Jimmy Carter. The President had just secured a trade alliance with China just after the company was welcomed back into China. It was a symbolic gesture to the Soviet Union, which had just forged a pact with Vietnam.

Today the company is known to take out "dead peasant" insurances on employees, so when an employee dies the company can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Trade union leaders have been killed at bottling plants in Guatemala and Colombia where the organised workers pushed for better pay and better working conditions. Just like other corporations the Coca-Cola Company is defined by white privilege in its' upper echelons, in which women and black people are almost entirely excluded. In spite of all of this, it is practically impossible to boycott the Coca-Cola Company effectively without mass-organisation. As the strange history of a soft-drink corporation is indicative of corporations and the tendencies which guide them. So the only means through which the problems created by corporate structures are revolutionary in nature and at a fundamental level the battle against corporations is a battle against the capitalist system.

1 comment:

Vancouver Networking Professionals said...

It has made its mark on the International arena, and bought huge economic benefits to US economy.