Mark Jones: Theses on the world conjuncture

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Nov 23 10:18:41 MST 1999

Doug Henwood wrote:
>The incomparable Mark Jone wrote:
>>The capitalist world system is sinking into turmoil and chaos.
>[5000 subsequent words omitted]
>And I thought it was slanderous to say that many Marxists are in love
>with disaster. Perhaps I misread.

No, it is not slanderous to say this at all. Nikos Poulantzas's "Fascism
And Dictatorship: The Third International and The Problem Of Fascism" is a
discussion of the "catastrophism" of the early Comintern, which led to some
serious ultraleft errors judging the tempo of the capitalist crisis in
Germany. On the other hand, it is possible to make the opposite type of
mistake, namely, to hold the view that capitalism retains progressive
aspects. It is between these two dialectical extremes that Marxism must
struggle for a correct analysis and strategy.

Maoism and Trotskyism tend to emphasize the "catastrophist" aspects, while
"stagist" Marxism of the Second International or Stalinist variety tends to
find all sorts of justifications for putting one's hopes in a progressive

While ultraleft "catastrophists" can often look foolish, like the little
boy who cried wolf, they do have the right class orientation. On the other
hand, those who in the name of Marxism try to find ways to make capitalism
look like something that it isn't are our true scoundrels.

Capitalism no longer has any progressive aspects. World War One was the
great dividing line. All Marxism of the 20th century is based on rejection
of the reformism which allowed support for the war in the name of
supporting a progressive bourgeoisie. Our Marxism must be inspired by the
sort of writing that is found in Rosa Luxemberg's "Junius Pamphlet", which
to the cynical might also sound "catastrophist":


This brutal victory parade of capital through the world, its way prepared
by every means of violence, robbery, and infamy, has its light side. It
creates the preconditions for its own final destruction. It put into place
the capitalist system of world domination, the indispensable precondition
for the socialist world revolution. This alone constitutes the cultural,
progressive side of its reputed "great work of civilization" in the
primitive lands. For bourgeois-liberal economists and politicians,
railroads, Swedish matches, sewer systems, and department stores are
"progress" and "civilization." In themselves these works grafted onto
primitive conditions are neither civilization nor progress, for they are
bought with the rapid economic and cultural ruin of peoples who must
experience simultaneously the full misery and horror of two eras: the
traditional natural economic system and the most modern and rapacious
capitalist system of exploitation. Thus, the capitalist victory parade and
all its works bear the stamp of progress in the historical sense only
because they create the material preconditions for the abolition of
capitalist domination and class society in general. And in this sense
imperialism ultimately works for us.

The world war is a turning point. For the first time, the ravening beasts
set loose upon all quarters of the globe by capitalist Europe have broken
into Europe itself. A cry of horror went through the world when Belgium,
that precious jewel of European civilization, and when the most august
cultural monuments of northern France fell into shards under the impact of
the blind forces of destruction. This same "civilized world" looked on
passively as the same imperialism ordained the cruel destruction of ten
thousand Herero tribesmen and filled the sands of the Kalahari with the mad
shrieks and death rattles of men dying of thirst; [the "civilized world"
looked on] as forty thousand men on the Putumayo River [Colombia] were
tortured to death within ten years by a band of European captains of
industry, while the rest of the people were made into cripples; as in China
where an age-old culture was put to the torch by European mercenaries,
practiced in all forms of cruelty, annihilation, and anarchy; as Persia was
strangled, powerless to resist the tightening noose of foreign domination;
as in Tripoli where fire and sword bowed the Arabs beneath the yoke of
capitalism, destroyed their culture and habitations. Only today has this
"civilized world" become aware that the bite of the imperialist beast
brings death, that its very breath is infamy. Only now has [the civilized
world] recognized this, after the beast's ripping talons have clawed its
own mother's lap, the bourgeois civilization of Europe itself. And even
this knowledge is grappled with in the distorted form of bourgeois
hypocrisy. Every people recognizes the infamy only in the national uniform
of the enemy. "German barbarians!" - as though every people that marches
out to do organized murder were not transformed instantly into a barbarian
horde. "Cossack atrocities!" - as though war itself were not the atrocity
of atrocities, as though the praising of human slaughter as heroism in a
socialist youth paper were not the purest example of intellectual

None the less, the imperialist bestiality raging in Europe's fields has one
effect about which the "civilized world" is not horrified and for which it
has no breaking heart: that is the mass destruction of the European
proletariat. Never before on this scale has a war exterminated whole strata
of the population; not for a century have all the great and ancient
cultural nations of Europe been attacked. Millions of human lives have been
destroyed in the Vosges, the Ardennes, in Belgium, Poland, in the
Carpathians, on the Save. Millions have been crippled. But of these
millions, nine out of ten are working people from the city and the

It is our strength, our hope, that is mown down day after day like grass
under the sickle. The best, most intelligent, most educated forces of
international socialism, the bearers of the holiest traditions and the
boldest heroes of the modern workers' movement, the vanguard of the entire
world proletariat, the workers of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia
- these are the ones now being hamstrung and led to the slaughter. These
workers of the leading capitalist countries of Europe are exactly the ones
who have the historical mission of carrying out the socialist
transformation. Only from out of Europe, only from out of the oldest
capitalist countries will the signal be given when the hour is ripe for the
liberating social revolution. Only the English, French, Belgian, German,
Russian, Italian workers together can lead the army of the exploited and
enslaved of the five continents. When the time comes, only they can settle
accounts with capitalism's work of global destruction, with its centuries
of crime committed against primitive peoples.

But to push ahead to the victory of socialism we need a strong, activist,
educated proletariat, and masses whose power lies in intellectual culture
as well as numbers. These masses are being decimated by the world war. The
flower of our mature and youthful strength, hundreds of thousands of whom
were socialistically schooled in England, France, Belgium, Germany, and
Russia, the product of decades of educational and agitational training, and
other hundreds of thousands who could be won for socialism tomorrow, fall
and molder on the miserable battlefields. The fruits of decades of
sacrifice and the efforts of generations are destroyed in a few weeks. The
key troops of the international proletariat are torn up by the roots.

The blood-letting of the June days [1848] paralyzed the French workers'
movement for a decade and a half. Then the blood-letting of the Commune
massacres again retarded it for more than a decade. What is now occurring
is an unprecedented mass slaughter that is reducing the adult working
population of all the leading civilized countries to women, old people, and
cripples. This blood-letting threatens to bleed the European workers'
movement to death. Another such world war and the outlook for socialism
will be buried beneath the rubble heaped up by imperialist barbarism. This
is more [significant] than the ruthless destruction of Liege and the Rheims
cathedral. This is an assault, not on the bourgeois culture of the past,
but on the socialist culture of the future, a lethal blow against that
force which carries the future of humanity within itself and which alone
can bear the precious treasures of the past into a better society. Here
capitalism lays bear its death's head; here it betrays the fact that its
historical rationale is used up; its continued domination is no longer
reconcilable to the progress of humanity.

The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is
also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism,
the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for
months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving
the cold steel of murder into each other's hearts. Locked in the embrace of
death, they tumble into a common grave.

"Deutschland, Deutschland ?ber Alles! Long live democracy! Long live the
Tsar and Slav-dom! Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A
hundred thousand kilos of bacon, coffee-substitute for immediate
delivery!"...Dividends are rising, and the proletarians are falling. And
with every one there sinks into the grave a fighter of the future, a
soldier of the revolution, mankind's savior from the yoke of capitalism.

The madness will cease and the bloody demons of hell will vanish only when
workers in Germany and France, England and Russia finally awake from their
stupor, extend to each other a brotherly hand, and drown out the bestial
chorus of imperialist war-mongers and the shrill cry of capitalist hyenas
with labor's old and mighty battle cry:

Proletarians of all lands, unite!

Louis Proyect

(The Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list