socialism or barbarism?

Jorn Andersen ccc6639 at
Fri May 17 20:42:40 MDT 1996

Michael Luftmensch wrote:

> socialism or barbarism?
> A century ago, marxists posited that the choice facing humankind
> was one of either socialism or barbarism.

The choice is still valid - now even more than ever.

> History worked out a compromise:  social barbarism and/or
> barbaric socialism.
> Inevitable as history is, it does not seem to go forward or
> backward so much as sideways.

Haven't you forgotten the barbarism of WW1 + WW2?
Barbarism doesn't necessarily mean the total destruction of
humanity - though this seems to be one possible form of coming
barbarism today.

After WW1 workers of the world had the chance to choose
socialism instead of barbarism, but even when they failed to
do so it took fascism in Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain etc.
and Stalinism in Russia to smash working class resistance.
This *was* barbarism - killing thousands and thousands of workers,
subjecting the rest to harsh discipline, and cutting down real
wages and living standards badly.

This was necessary for them to fight out their class-internal
rivalries in WW2 - the worst barbarism ever in human history.

So that leaves us to post-WW2 capitalism. Here capitalism
- in the form of industrial mass production controlled by
ruling classes competing and rivalling against each other -
has expanded to a world scale. And with barbaric costs:

- thousands starve to death every week
- those who don't spend all their life to avoid it (except
for a small minority)
- food is getting poisonous, the air we breathe and the food we
eat make us sick
- the threat of large scale warfare hangs over us every day,
week or month etc. etc.

It is true that for a small generation after WW2, capitalism
seemed to offer a way forward - at least for some - and that
through this period capitalism offered the highest material
welfare ever for a large part of world population.

But even given this all of the four points I mentioned has
been a part of capitalism thoughout this period. And for
those who had fogotten: For the last 20 years it has been
clear that even this was only temporary.

So "the choice facing humankind was [and is] one of either
socialism or barbarism". But looking back I think we have
to see it in both short term and long term ways:

The long term: There is no probability whatsoever that
capitalism "left to itself" (....) will end up with barbarism
of the worst sorts: The common destruction of the contending
classes. All attempts at finding evidence for this has failed.

The short term: When Luxemburg wrote about "Socialism or
barbarism" she was right: Socialist revolution failed in Germany
and barbarism came to rule. On the short and medium-long term.

And generally today we will see on the short term that where
social crisis erupts and workers fail to take the lead the
result is barbarism.

Today we see barbarism unfolding itself in Yugoslavia, Chechnya,
etc. This is a warning about what we might see on a much larger
scale in the coming years. But we should not let this lead us to
fatalistic doom and gloom predictions. We are not witnessing the
immediate collapse of capitalism. Rather are we seing a long,
drawn-out crisis with small upturns included.

In each of these social crises there is a working class trying
to raise its head. There lies the hope for the other option to
win: Socialism - workers power.

Talking about "barbaric socialism" when you mean "barbaric
stalinism" is analytical confusion. Marxism enables us to put the
blame for this on capitalism itself, so I think we should use the
term "socialism" for societies where workers are actually in
control, don't you?

PPS: History is *not* inevitable.


Jorn Andersen


     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list