The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Socialism or Barbarism

Feb 14, 2021

Senile capitalism in crisis is vomiting up countless problems, old and new, in different parts of the world.

In the United States, white supremacist militias have been showing their faces for some years now. But they have become more strident and focused since the protest movement against racism and police violence erupted in May. In its decay, capitalism has caused modern-day versions of the Ku Klux Klan to spread and has given rise to a whole range of conspiracy theories, a modern variant of the mystic currents that proliferated in the wake of the plague epidemic of the Middle Ages. And yet, the obscurantist ideas that these currents take up are not a survival of the Middle Ages.

This is not the past grabbing hold of the present. It is the product of a society that was able to send men to the moon, but which is incapable of mastering its own economic and social life. Almost one century ago, Trotsky noted the anachronism between the ideas and institutions of the Catholic Church and the fact that the Pope’s words could arrive at the healing shrine of Lourdes via radio waves: “And what could be more absurd and disgusting than the union of proud technology with the sorcery of the Roman chief druid? Indeed, the thinking of mankind is bogged down in its own excrement.” (Diary in Exile)

In France, a teacher was assassinated by a young fanatic, inspired by a fascist current which claims to act in the name of Islam, and seeks to control all Muslims (or those it considers as such). This abomination is matched by the attacks on mosques and immigrants carried out by the fascist extreme right. These two currents feed off of each other. All those who identify with the working class and the social emancipation it can bring must fight against both.

It’s necessary to combat them, not in the name of the Republic, not in the name of Democracy, not even to defend freedom of expression, but from the viewpoint of the interests of the workers, with a clear consciousness that the power both these currents wish to create would be dictatorial. It would weigh on all of society and, above all, on the exploited classes. Its function would be to protect the social order based on exploitation, at crucial moments when the “republican” and “democratic” forms of capital’s dictatorship prove unable to do so.

Even before these currents achieve their goal of enlisting troops, each into its own camp, they are dividing the workers’ movement, pitting workers against each other. Even before they grab a stranglehold on power, they exercise it on people’s consciousness.

Capitalism is in its death throes. It threatens to drag human society along with it. Despite all that, it will not disappear on its own. It will not disappear until the proletariat becomes conscious of the essential role which it must play to transform society, until it leads the fight up to its end, up to the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie.

All those who claim to oppose the increasing barbarity of social life in the name of the Republic, of Democracy, of Secularism, of Justice help hide the reality of class society, which has always been ferocious in the poorest countries, but which is becoming increasingly ferocious in the rich, imperialist part of the world as well. The worst regime of the 20th century was not one of the countless dictatorships in the poor countries: it was Hitler’s Germany, the richest country in Europe, with the highest level of culture and education.

The enduring economic crisis, which gets worse, has already resulted in noticeably greater poverty, even in the richest countries. This crisis—after having stunned all the classes and social layers who are its victims, generating anxiety and distress—will give rise to anger. Economic instability will inevitably lead to social instability. When the imperialist bourgeoisie feels that the social order which it dominates is threatened, and much more so if its power is challenged, it will fight tooth and nail to preserve it. It will make use of whatever political instruments which the situation and the development of the class struggle will put at its disposal.

Political currents, which today aspire to govern within the framework of capitalism, put themselves forward as enforcers of order for the bourgeoisie. In the imperialist countries, the far right, even while it integrates itself into the parliamentary game of bourgeois democracy, shelters and gives cover to fascistic currents. In the poor countries, religious fundamentalism—whether it be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Jewish—presents itself as an agent to preserve the world’s imperialist order. (And not only in the poor countries. Witness the weight of the evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists in the United States.) The very Christian Bolsonaro in Brazil or the Wahhabi princes of Saudi Arabia already play this role. All the old colonial powers that divided up Africa made use of ethnic nationalism, which is brought back into play today, including in the old colonial powers themselves.

The crisis will bring about more and more changes in social relations. First of all, it will alter those between the ruling big bourgeoisie and the working class. The pseudo‑democratic façade of the imperialist countries, unable to deal with the crisis, is tearing apart at the seams. Underneath the democratic forms in which the imperialist countries clothe themselves today, an authoritarian and conservative evolution is already taking shape.

In the United States. Trump is not just an accident in the political evolution of the main imperialist power. Even though he was not reelected, the troops that supported him and who recognized themselves in him are still there. There are the evangelists and other religious fundamentalists who played a role on the electoral level before Trump came on the scene. But beyond them, there is a whole milieu of the extreme right, more or less organized, and committed to arms. What about all these forces—will they remain just at the level of electoral support? The future and the evolution of the crisis will tell. The increase in the sale of firearms, reported to be on the order of 70% over the last year, is not simply an anecdote. Such forces weigh on the political situation, with all their crass prejudices, with their claim to defend the Second Amendment, behind which is their aspiration to defend “law and order.”

In France. The health crisis and the government’s measures to combat it are a means to indoctrinate the population, getting it in the habit of obeying. Not only do the pandemic and the state’s actions to stop it allow the state to conceal its past and present responsibility for the criminal lack of material and human resources for the public health system—they are also being used to prepare a more authoritarian future. Through an entirely different route, more overtly political, the measures taken in the name of the struggle against Islamist terrorism go in the same direction. No matter how removed the government’s reaction to the health crisis and its reaction to terrorism seem from each other, they are both being used to create “national unity” with an authoritarian overtone.

The crisis will also change the balance of forces between the different social layers and categories which are the victims of capitalism.

We should not overestimate the reactions of that fringe of the petty‑bourgeoisie—owners of bars, restaurants, gyms, concert halls, etc.—who loudly protest against the measures that damage their income and which they consider to be unjust. But one must also not fail to heed the warning that this holds for the future. Perhaps those petty‑bourgeois categories which are making the loudest noise are not prepared to fight right now. But they could take action well before the working class does so with its own means.

The future depends in large part on the capacity of the working class to react, to mobilize itself, and to fight capitalism with its own class weapons. Everything depends on the perspective and on the policy around which the proletariat mobilizes. This is where the role of the revolutionary communist current can be decisive. No matter how much of a minority it may be today, only it defends the perspective that represents a future for society: the overthrow of the economic and state power of the bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoisie will continue to attack, the more fiercely, the slower the working class is to react. Times will be difficult if the reaction comes mainly or even entirely from the petty‑bourgeoisie. Even though history does not repeat itself in exactly the same way, the bourgeoisie can use this petty‑bourgeoisie to defend the capitalist system.

It is vital that revolutionary communist ideas be present in the working class. It is vital that they not be perverted and compromised by bourgeois currents, some of whom do not combat capitalism, others who openly defend it. At a certain point in the class struggle, these two currents will supplement each other: one of them, the reformists of all types, to fill the workers with illusions, putting them to sleep; the other, to force the workers to fall in line.

All those who identify with the revolutionary communist current must be proud of their ideas, proud of representing the consciousness the working class, and they must carry on with their activity.

It’s necessary to hold fast to the communist banner and above all to the perspectives which it represents. It is the only alternative to falling into barbarism, the future into which capitalism is pulling the human race.