PO Box 3568
Eureka, CA 95502
In July 2003, trade unions around the world launched a boycott of Coca-Cola products in solidarity with Colombia's Sinaltrianal food and drink workers union after the local Coca-Cola bottling company used intimidation by an illegal paramilitary group to block unionization efforts. At least 9 worker deaths have been attributed to this repression. At its July 2004 Green National Congress, the Green Party USA voted to support the international Coke boycott. It was also agreed that GPUSA would cite Coca-Cola as paradigm example for the entire system of global corporate exploitation.. Below is the first of a four-part GPUSA analysis of The Company.
History of an Addiction
The great multinationals loom over us like ever-present gods. They seem 'eternal' in that many-General Motors, Texaco, Coca-Cola, for example-have existed longer than any of us have been alive. They function primarily by satisfying product-addictions they themselves have created: cigarettes, junk foods, SUVs, Nikes. From this perspective, the Coca-Cola Company, today 91 on the Fortune 500 list, can be taken as a paradigm for the entire global corporate system. The company's product is a nutritionally empty sugar and caffeine drink for which people around the world spend millions, receiving in many cases obesity and tooth decay in return. Both sugar and caffeine are 'addictive', but in its original form "Coke" was literally so.
Coca-Cola's Cocaine Beginning: Coca-Cola was invented in the 1880s by Atlanta pharmacist John Stith Pemberton as a concoction of sugar, vanilla, citric acid, cola nut extract, cocaine, and damiana ( a supposed aphrodisiac ). Pemberton, who suffered from a sever morphine addiction and was the inventor of numerous patent medicines, was obsessed with creating an ultimate 'tonic' that would make him world famous. Pemberton's immediate inspiration for Coca-Cola was an internationally popular wine-cocaine drink of the day, Vin Mariani, invented by the Corsican Angelo Mariani. Pemberton aspired to become an American Mariani. In 1885, Pemberton launched "Pemberton's French Wine Coca" but as the temperance movement gained strength concluded he needed switch to a 'temperance drink' based on similar ingredients. Thus, by substituting sugar, caffeine ( cola nut ) and citric acid for alcohol, Coca-Cola was invented. Cocaine remained an active ingredient until 1901.
The birth of Coca-Cola can not be properly understood without knowledge of its broader historical-pharmacological background. With the coming of capitalism, workers were forced into long hours of hard and tedious employment. As a reaction, various stimulants and narcotics began to find a mass market; tobacco, coffee and tea first and then in the 19th century opium, morphine and cocaine. By the 1880s, many cocaine laced soft drinks had become popular, drinks with names such as Celery Cola, Pillsbury Koke, Kola-Ade, Kos-Kola, Cafe-Cola, and Koke. The reason Coca-Cola rose to national and than international prominence out of this ocean of syrupy stimulation may in part have been due to Pemberton's special "secret recipe, but more likely it was superior marketing; a job done by other who followed him.
In 1887,shortly before his death, Pemberton sold two-thirds of the rights to his creation to associates Willis Venable and George Lowndes, keeping one-third rights as a means of livelihood for his son Charley ( who was also addicted to morphine ). John Pemberton died in 1888 leaving the fate of Coca-Cola to Charley Pemberton, Venable, and Lowndes. Venable and Lowndes, however, lacked the money to produce Coca-Cola, as did Charley ( who committed suicide or died of a morphine overdose in 1893 ). In a few months, ownership of Pemberton's discovery passed into the hands of Asa Griggs Candler, a better-off manufacturer of patent medicines who would eventually become mayor of Atlanta in 1916. Today, Candler is considered founder of The Coca-Cola Company.
The amount of active cocaine in a glass of fountain Coke at the product's beginning is something of a controversy. Apologists for Candler sometimes imply there was none. Others have suggested as much as 9 milligrams per glass, intensified by associated caffeine. This would put one glass in the range of a ordinary "snort" of cocaine. Whatever the truth, the consensus is that active cocaine was a significant ingredient in Coca-Cola from 1888 to around 1906. It is no accident that in the South the slang name for Coca-Cola for a long time was "dope".
Which brings us back full circle: how many corporate products are not in essence just "dope"?
Next Issue: The Struggles and Growth of the Coke Empire.
Reprinted from Green Politics, Fall 2004