McDonald’s at the Louvre: the end of civilisation?
McDonald’s is going to the Louvre.
The new outlet to be opened in one of the stations of the Museum has outraged some of the cultural elite who view art as their domain, not ours.
The Louvre was once a palace filled with the art works of kings and queens.
French Revolutionaries made it a museum for the public in 1793. Art was at last accessible to the masses.
Since then, although the Louvre is sill accessible to those who can afford to travel to France, it has become a symbol of both French nationalism and ruling class cultural superiority.
The lesson the 8 million people a year who visit the Louvre learn is that great art is the preserve of the select few, and seeing that art is a privilege bestowed on you (for a small fee) by the great and good in society.
As to really appreciating the artworks, well, for another fee, we can explain it to you. But as for really understanding it, that is something only we elite, trained for many many years, can do.
In other words the Louvre reflects the class divisions in society.
AS class society developed seven or eight thousand years ago the social surplus enabled a select few to rule and some of them to become artists. The rest of the community became producers of goods and services.
Specialisation of work has been the order of the day for labour ever since, irrespective of the type of class society.
It means that most of us who work to produce the social surplus don’t have time to become artists let alone great artists. Those who do have that time live off the surplus value we create.
A society which recognises itself, ie a socialist society, will not impose these constraints on labour. As Marx put it:
… as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
It probably needs updating to include artist and blogger/critic but you hopefully get the idea.
French nationalism has expropriated the global art that is in the Louvre.
The stereotype of ‘ French difference’ is in fact a late 19th century capitalist construct, one typical of all national bourgeoisie. It helps tie the working class to the ruling class and is part of the structure that defends the extraction and appropriation of profit from workers.
In France the power of the petit bourgeois farmers as a bulwark of reaction against revolution saw the ruling class favour its survival and development with concessions that have until now kept French small scale agriculture at a level not seen in other developed countries of Europe for decades.
But that is changing. For a start globalisation has radicalised many small farmers. In 1999 Jose Bove drove through McDonald’s in Agen, literally.
Bove is of the left, opposing not globalisation but those who control it and profit from it at the expense of peasants and workers.
He has stood for example in solidarity with the Palestinians, against GMO crops, for farmers’ control of production and with third world farmers against the rapaciousness of agribusiness.
He is now a member of the European Parliament with Europe Ecologie, an umbrella group of French environmentalists.
In damaging McDonald’s with his tractor, he drew attention to the anti-small producer logic and reality of big business.
McDonald’s has responded in part by sourcing 75 percent of its produce from French farmers. But still McDonald’s dominance of French gastronomy grows.
EVERY ruling class has its lies and the French are no different. But globalisation is undercutting some of those lies.
The image of a French gastronomic paradise, of a culture par excellence, crashes against the reality of capitalism and its demands on French workers. The battering ram of global capitalism is destroying the idea of national difference. Let me quote Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
And so it is with McDonald’s. The business model is simple – cheap, mass produced meals for families. Have the French been able to resist this heavy artillery of cheap family meals?
Not at all. France is the second most profitable country for McDonald’s in the world. It has the fastest growing number of customers and of outlets. Why?
Maybe the French working class don’t believe the lies of a French gastronomic paradise, or, more likely, can’t afford it. French pensioners and students for example make up a huge consumer base for McDonald’s.
So too do French working families. Despite the 35 hour week in France, working hours have been increasing there just as they have in every other country. Families have less hours in the day to prepare meals and spend time together.
One solution is to go to McDonald’s and have some time together while eating a cheap meal.
The Golden Arches won’t undermine the Louvre. They’ll feed hungry tourists.
Jose Bove had the right idea, although in attacking a symbol of economic oppression he didn’t challenge its existence.
French workers earlier this year responded to the economic crisis with two general strikes, but the respectable Socialist and Communist Parties and their kin in the trade union movement stopped the momentum before it got out of hand.
Memories of May 1968 began to well up and the trade union bureaucrats wanted no threat to capitalism to arise, no tiny spark of resistance to grow. So they carolled the anger with a May Day strike which they hoped would be the end of the movement, not its beginning. They succeeded.
McDonald’s at the Louvre is not the end of the world. It is but a logical expression of the undemocratic globalisation that sees capitalism spread across the world. As Marx and Engels said presciently over 160 years ago:
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.
But McDonald’s in France is an example not of the spread of capitalism across the globe into France but of the destruction of old relations of production within an established capitalist country. Marx and Engels again:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society… All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…
The task for the Left in the face of this internal and external globalisation is to build a mass movement of workers to harness the potential that capitalism has created, for the benefit of all humanity, by extending democracy into the realm of production.