FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

National Socialist Furniture: Ingvar Kamprad and the IKEA Vision

It seemed to be an act of counter-intuitive genius, one framed in a manner that could have been deemed both insulting and flattering.  You, dear customer, would be the one expected, not only to fork out for a product; you would also be expected to assemble it, to envisage the functioning of its parts, to have the means by which to realise a vision.

Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, who died last Saturday, was certainly on to something.  A love of labour’s products might not have been accidental. The issue of self-realised productivity might well have had traces in fascist sympathies, a particularly national socialist view of furniture and living.

Kamprad came from a family of Sudetenland immigrants. Both his paternal grandmother and father were avowed Nazis, while Kamprad would, in time, express more than a passing commitment to the Swedish fascist movement.

The Stockholm Police, in fact, took note of a certain Member 4,014 of Socialist Unity, Sweden’s far-right party which was active during the Second World War.  He showed a continuing interest in Per Engdahl, a notable anti-Semite and Holocaust denier who kept up his work even after the guns had fallen silent in Europe.  In an uneasy contradiction, one that baffled Elisabeth Åsbrink, he could still maintain a friendship with Otto Ullman, a Jewish refugee whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz.

Kamprad’s vision of modular furniture, the combination of no-frills, industriousness, and self-reward was sparked even as European Jewry was being exterminated in the apocalyptic realisations of the Third Reich.  He had his mind both on business and finding recruits for Socialist Unity.  “Ingvar Kamprad’s image and Sweden’s,” concludes Åsbrink, “continue to reflect each other: without shadows, without disgrace, and without any ambition to come to terms with their past.”

Kamprad did make small steps towards acknowledging a course of life which he “bitterly” regretted.  In 1998, he wrote of those wayward “delusions” of youth.  During a speech at the book release at an IKEA store in suburban Stockholm, he claimed to have “told all I can.  Can one ever get forgiveness for such stupidity?”

His near ascetic view of life, combined with a democratising vision of furnishings, is recalled in The Testament of a Furniture Dealer (1976), a pamphlet that has a curiously fascistic tone of self-preservation with a fundamental “duty to expand.” In it, Kamprad stakes the mission of his company to offer “a wide range of well-designed functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible can afford them.”

The great ambitions Kamprad writes about are expansive, involving influencing “practically all markets” while also being “able to make a valuable contribution to the process of democratisation outside our homeland too.” A set of values are then outlined: simplicity is touted as virtue; profit endows the company with resources while good results can be attained “with small means”.  If the Kamprad outlines were followed religiously, a “glorious future” awaited.

In time, IKEA also realised shopping as a collective ideal, the Volk who needed to be invigorated even as they went about their journey in the centre.  Customers could dine on meals specific to the IKEA brand using IKEA cutlery and crockery. They could consult merchandise even as children were being looked after at IKEA day care facilities.

A few accounts of his passing have also shown a clean, unreflected vision, only momentarily dipping into his right-wing nourishing.  Note is taken of his frugal living, his tendency to plunder the salt and pepper packets from restaurants, his generally miserly disposition.

For the chief executive officer of the IKEA Group, Jesper Brodin, “His legacy will be admired for many years to come and his vision – to create a better everyday life for the many people – will continue to guide and inspire.”  The Los Angeles Times wrote admiringly over the “boyhood business of selling pencils and seeds from his bicycle in Sweden” while Brodin nostalgically noted how he “started as a 17-year-old with two empty pockets, but a ton of entrepreneurship.”

By shifting the focus away from the ready-made and cutting costs with a flat-pack vision of distribution, the IKEA view became a global phenomenon.  In time, it even collected a name on the way, the “IKEA effect” technically defined by Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely as “the increase in valuation of self-made products.”

Norton et al do make the relevant point that having it all, a product readied, available and easy to use, might have made things too elementary.  The introduction of instant cake mixes during the 1950s, for instance, was billed to be a revolution of ease for the US housewife.  Yet scepticism was expressed: “The mixes made cooking too easy, making their labour seem undervalued.”

To foist assembly costs on an individual, to effectively suggest to a consumer who will still pay a premium for the relevant product that can only be realised with his or her labour, suggests a reduction of value, not a gain. The IKEA effect postulates the opposite, a sort of Lockean vision of imbuing a good with one’s labour, thereby adding value to it.

With the 1956 invention of flat-pack furniture by IKEA employee Gillis Lundgren, the company could also add to its own value, cutting shipping costs by astonishing margins.  An explosion, and in fact, a conquest of taste, was imminent.  The innovation would be sold, not as a profitable advantage to the company, but a sensible one to the customer.  All would be happy.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Susan Block
Cucks, Cuckolding and Campaign Management
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
David Yearsley
Smoke on the Water: Jazz in San Francisco
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail