Your Playstation Has Real Blood On It
There has been recent interest in the news lately on a report by the liberal activist group Toward Freedom around what has been dubbed the “Playstation War.” It describes how the demand for a key metal used in the Sony Playstation 2 video game console was a driving force in the ongoing wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Stories about the demand for this metal, called coltan, and the wars behind it in sub-Saharan Africa, are nothing new (1). What is new about this report is that it links one specific consumer product to this conflict.
The Playstation video game console, like others on the market, is solely used for leisure and entertainment. Priced for hundreds of dollars and purchased by consumers in Amerika and other First World nations, the Playstation is a byproduct of the leisure time and disposable income available to Amerikans. Along with the console itself there are thousands of video games that are made for it, along with fan magazines and websites. According to the Entertainment Software Association video game sales reached $9.5 billion in 2007, and tens of thousands of people are employed in this industry to meet consumer demands (2). The indirect economics in terms of research and development, sales, advertising, and marketing are also vast. Video games are just one byproduct of imperialist parasitism, and in the case of the Playstation it is a direct contributor to war and suffering.
Imperialism is a system based upon exploitation and war. The production cycle of the Playstation illustrates the rabid bloodshed and exploitation imperialism brings, and the parasitism that it feeds in the core imperialist nations.
The African World War and the Playstation
The conflict known as Africa’s World War has involved eight nations and over 25 militias. It has killed and displaced millions of people over a ten year period, and its effects still linger today. According to Toward Freedom, this war also became known as the Playstation War. They state:
“The name came about because of a black metallic ore called coltan. Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN and several NGOs claim some of the most active thieves were the Rwandan military, several militias supported by the Rwandan government, and also a number of western-based mining companies, metal brokers, and metal processors that had allegedly partnered with these Rwandan factions…. And while allegations of plundering coltan from a nation in desperate need of revenue seem bad enough, the UN also discovered that Rwandan troops and rebels were using prisoners-of-war and children to mine for the “black gold.”
“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms,” said British politician Oona King, who was a Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2005.”(3).
Coltan is used to make the metal tantalum, which in turn is used to make capacitors for tiny electronic devices. Up to eighty percent of the world’s coltan reserves lie in the DRC (4). Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of this metal has been stolen from the DRC during this war in order to satisfy the growing demand for electronic items like cell phones, laptops, I-Pods, and video games.
The report links the demand for the Playstation in 2000 to a spike in the price of coltan. At the same time the Rwandan military and its allied militias forcefully took over land in DRC that had coltan mines. A United Nations investigation alleged Western mining companies:
“…directly and indirectly fueled the war, paralyzing the DRC government, and [used] the conflict to keep the coltan flowing cheaply out of the Congo. Some companies were also accused by the UN of aligning with elements of the warring parties.”
Toward Freedom further states:
“David Barouski, a researcher and journalist from Wisconsin, says it is certain that the coltan from this conflict is also in SONY video game consoles across the world. ‘Sony’s PlayStation 2 launch (spring of 2000) was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that began in early 1999,’ said Barouski, who has witnessed the chaos of eastern DRC firsthand.”
Sony of course engages in plausible deniability, saying it cannot really know where everything it manufactures comes from. Really, gee whiz.
Congo’s Long History of Meddling Imperialists
The DRC has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world, despite being so rich in mineral resources. The cause of this contradiction is its long history of being a victim of imperialist intervention. It has long been a site of theft, plunder, and murder by U.$. and Western imperialism. It was once known as the Belgian Congo, named after its former colonial strangler. It achieved independence from Belgium in 1961. Its first leader after independence was Patrice Lumumba, who described 80 years of colonial oppression as a “humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force” (5). Lumumba, a national leader too independent for U.$. imperial interests, became a victim of an assassination orchestrated by the CIA and Belgian intelligence shortly after he took power. He was replaced by a subservient kleptocracy led by Gen. Joseph Mobutu, head of the national army. Mobutu and his cronies went on to steal billions from the nation he renamed Zaire, while starving millions of its citizens. Mobutu also allowed the CIA free use of the country as a proxy to destabilize the rest of the region for U.$. interests against the USSR during the Cold War.
After the Cold War ended Mobutu was of no use to the imperialists, and was finally overthrown in 1997. His replacement also became a pawn of the imperialists. The nation, renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, was led by president Kabila, who made deals with Western and Amerikan mining companies for access to its valuable mines. He had the backing of neighboring armies who wanted in on its resources. The five-year war that officially ended in 2003 was known as the African World War, the deadliest war since World War II. So far over 5 million people have died as a result. This is just one symptom of the long legacy of imperialism in this region.
Who Plays, Who Works? Electronic Sweatshops
Like almost all consumer products, the Playstation and other electronics are manufactured in Third World sweatshops that take advantage of cheap labor and few regulations.
News reports state that Sony is contracting with Foxcomm, a Taiwanese contractor with factories based in China, to build their new Playstation 3 (6). Other reports about Foxcomm factories that assembled the iPods give an indication of the conditions that these toys are made in. One factory in China has 200,000 workers, and advertises for workers over age 16 (7):
“Inside Longhua, workers labor a 15-hour day building iPods, for which they usually earn about $50 per month. When they’re not on the assembly lines, they live in secluded dormitories that each house 100 people and prohibit visitors from the outside world. The workers are allowed ‘a few possessions; and a ‘bucket to wash their clothes.’”
From one worker:
” ‘We have to work too hard and I am always tired. It’s like being in the army,’ Zang Lan, one of the workers at Longhua, told the Mail. ‘They make us stand still for hours. If we move we are punished by being made to stand still for longer. The boys are made to do pushups.’ ”
The report states the iPod Nano is assembled in a five-story factory that is secured by armed police officers. The super-slim digital music player is said to include over 400 parts which arrive from component manufacturers all over the world (8).
Another factory in Suzhou, Shanghai that manufactures iPod shuffles is completely surrounded by barbed wire. The workers take home $99 a month, with half of that income going to food and shelter. The factory advertises for women workers, because it considers them more honest. China, now under capitalist imperialist exploitation, is touted for its “low wages, long hours and industrial secrecy, [making] the country attractive to business, especially as increased competition and consumer expectations force companies to deliver products at lower prices (9).”
The End Game
“Amerikan imperialism takes the products created by the exploited labor of the Third World and passes it off to Amerika’s aristocratic ‘workers.’ From here, Amerikan ‘workers’ are overpaid to basically tinker around with the products before they are sold. In turn, Amerikan ‘workers’ use their inflated wages to buy these products, thus making possible the final realization of profit for the overall system. In this manner, Amerika uses global exploitation to keep its domestic mall economy afloat and enable its existence as an entire nation of parasites.”
-Parasitism: The Economics of Imperialism (RAIMD) (10)
Amerika’s economy is a service economy. The wealth of this country comes from the exploitation of resources and labor from outside of its borders, all so Amerikans can live overly comfortable lives. The Playstation is no exception. Millions have died and billions suffer for your entertainment. The world’s majority won’t stand for it for too much longer.
Amerikan imperialism will lose in the end. So join with the world’s oppressed majority and become a revolutionary anti-imperialist. It’ll be more fun than your Playstation anyway!
3). Lasker, John. “Inside Africa’s Playstation War.” Toward Freedom, July 08, 2008. http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1352/1. All info on the DRC and Playstations, except noted, is from the Toward Freedom article.