by Tumin and Parson Young
Photo Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Reuters
IN 2014, Alibaba shocked the world with two things: It claimed the record for the largest US-listed initial public offering (IPO) and on November 11th, Singles’ Day, a shopping event similar to Black Friday in the United States, resulted in the transaction of over 10 billion RMB within thirty-eight minutes. In the US, shopping hours have prolonged year after year as the convenience of shopping has greatly increased with the help of social media. Social media and e-commerce done through social media has transformed consumerism in a way never seen before.
The History of Singles’ Day
EVERY NOVEMBER 11th, known as the Singles’ Day in China, we see a dramatic demonstration of the rise of Chinese purchasing power through the increased competitiveness of its technology service industry. Initially, this day originated to provide single men or women a reason to purchase a present for personal consolation of their single relationship status. Yet Singles’ Day has transformed instead into a massive shopping orgy, where single men are now encouraged to remain single in order that they do not have to endure the tragedy of having their partner empty their pockets for this day.
As quoted by a married man in China, “This day is now a tragedy for me, as now it has provided a reason for my wife and me to splurge.” Nonetheless, it is the Alibaba Group—China’s biggest online retailer, and the biggest beneficiary of the phenomenon—that is largely responsible for creating this insane shopping phenomenon. Now, Single’s Day in China is comparable to the United States’ Black Friday Shopping, Pre-Christmas season shopping, and Post-Christmas Cyber Monday shopping.
Photo credit: China Daily
China and the US are by far the world’s leading e-commerce markets, combining for more than 55% of global internet retail sales in 2014. Of course, none of this would be possible without globalization and China’s gradual economic transition from its manufacturing sector to its service sector. In fact, the possibility of this insurmountable amount of transactions is made possible through the third party payment system known as Alipay. This third party system allows for cross-border payments, which means transaction can occur globally, reducing the barriers in purchasing goods. Wechat, a popular Chinese messenger system has more functionalities than other similar messenger platform such as Line and Facebook Messenger. Not only does Wechat allow for easier and quicker payment, it has also allowed for more interactions between suppliers and consumers, as the cost of advertising is greatly reduced.
Taiwan is Not Exempt From the Craze
POSTERS FOR “Singles’ Day” sales are seen at subway stations in Taipei and Taiwan’s e-commerce website are also following China’s craze by launching similar campaigns and discounts. Taobao.com launched a special platform for the day for shoppers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, promising fast and reliable delivery. This is possible is the result of signing the ECFA, which reduces trade tariffs and allows for easier import of goods.
As a result, the Taiwanese customs service set up a special squad to cope with the imminent increased in imported goods. In last year alone, Taipei office received 1.5 million applications for customs clearance of small imported goods. China’s economic encroachment will become stronger, and under reign of capitalism, it is inevitable that Taiwan becomes even more dependent on China’s economy. This not only means that Taiwan will be increasingly vulnerable to the influence of Chinese capital, but also linked to its crises as well.
All About Shams, Consumerism, and Capitalism
INDEED ALL of these supposedly occasions are but ideological shams marketed to delude consumers into selling themselves to the joyous atmosphere of the season.
But behind these festive seasons of overproduction and exploitation lies the economic argument that if such irrational buying fevers satisfies the desires of individuals, the market is essentially still efficient and rational as a system. Who cares if this unrestrained consumerism is, in fact, a product of capitalism? This brings us to the understanding that essentially, our identities are constructed for us by two things in the present: politics and marketing.
Jack Ma standing in front of an electronic display showing real-time sales of Alibaba. Photo credit: Reuters/Stringer
While we marvel at the rampancy of consumerism during Singles’ Day, it is useful for us to reflect on the reason for the existence of commercialized holidays as one of the warning signs of capitalism’s crisis of overproduction. Here, we might work with a starting point of the Marxist observation of overproduction of goods under capitalist mode of production, the need for creation of demand through a variety of means, and the invention of commercialized holidays as an advertising method.
Marx’s Theory of Overproduction
MARX EXPLAINS that, far from efficiently responding to the real demands of the market, capitalists’ enterprises often produce far beyond demand as a way to sell as much of the commodities they produced as possible. The capitalists buy the worker’s labor power, but an average worker in a day’s worth of labor makes value equal to his wages and benefits, plus additional value, called surplus value. This means that more value is being produced than can be purchased by the working class. Surplus value is then separated into rent, interest and profit. In an expansion period of capitalism, most of the profit is reinvested.
Competition among capitalists means that the only viable strategy for increasing profit is to maximize the surplus value they gain from sales. Hence capitalists must aim to fully exploit the productive forces they own, which lead them to develop, improve and expand the means of production in a way that cuts the costs spent on labor power (the workers). Eventually, the result is that too many commodities are being produced, while the working class, constituting also the majority of consumers, cannot possibly afford to purchase all that is manufactured. 
Overproduced commodities are a liability for the capitalists, as they were produced for the sole purpose of being converted into surplus value through sales. The problem is that they can not realize the surplus value if the commodities are not sold. As a result, capitalists seek to create more demand among consumers and one of the avenues for this is advertising, which is a behemoth global industry. However, advertising does not give the working class money to buy commodities, it just influences how they spend the money that they have.
One of advertising’s most celebrated “achievements” is, of course, the commercialization of holidays.
Holidays and Commerce: The Case of American Society
WHILE THE case of Alibaba’s Singles’ Day in China astounds us, we should examine how advertising, as capitalism’s coping mechanism for overproduction, permeates societies where capitalism reigns for far longer than in China. It is no surprise that we see the most extreme case of holiday commercialization in the United States, the citadel of global capitalism.
Superbowl 2015 logo. Photo credit: Superbowl XLIX
An American year is punctuated with a handful of holidays, either federally observed or celebrated informally by the public, many of which are coupled with lengthy and almost ubiquitous advertising campaigns and sales events. This is particularly acute for Thanksgiving and Christmas, two traditional holidays that account for 24.4% of the annual advertising budget for US retailer companies in 2013 (out of a whopping $171 billion of that year). Significant sports events such as the Superbowl (American football) are also intimately related to certain holidays, or are considered quasi-holidays themselves. They are of course, are occasions for lavish advertisements.
US companies are perhaps trailblazers in appropriating or inventing holidays into commercial purposes. In fact, the terms for these kind of holidays are “Hallmark holidays” which include Valentines’ Day, Grandparents Day, Mother’s and Father’s day, and maybe most amazingly of all, Boss’s Day.
“Socialism with a Chinese Characteristic,” Or Just Market Economy Like Everywhere Else?
IT IS TELLING that privately owned Chinese companies are now embarking on the same techniques to clutter the calendars of the Chinese people in the name of profit. These efforts will only become more extreme as time goes on as the problem of overproduction becomes more and more apparent in Chinese economy. At the same time, the problem of overproduction, along with other typical problems such as an aging population, are surfacing in China.
Since the revisionist era of Deng Xiaoping, the official party line has claimed China to be a “Socialist State with Chinese Characteristic” or the oxymoronic “Socialist Market Economy,” in which the benevolent authoritarian state believes that state power can simply subordinate capitalism to its whim. Reality has shown that this theory is being disproved everyday with all the contradictions of capitalism becoming more endemic in the Chinese economy. This will only get worse if China remains on the capitalist path. Under the boot of the hypocritical “socialist market economy” lies the wailing Chinese proletariat, who are not permitted to unionize at all, and face increasing work hours without pay and diminishing labor rights.
As the consumers across the Strait celebrate Singles’ Day, we do well to remember that this is a sign of a future far more terrifying than a lonesome heart. In order to stop it, the world and the Chinese working class must stand in solidarity to overthrow capitalism with a Marxist program. We need to do this together.
 Marx, Karl. “Theory of Profit.” Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 32: Marx 1861-63. Vol. 32. S.l.: Lawrence & Wishart with Electric Book, 1991. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <https://mecollectedworks.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/marx-engels-collected-works-volume-32_-ka-karl-marx.pdf>.
Tumin (勄杜) is hoping to stay young and forever Taiwan.
Parson Young (楊進) is an M.A. student at New York University. He is a member of the International Marxist Tendency.