As the 20th September Global Climate Strike approaches why do we say that the alternative to socialism is barbarism? Why revive a phrase that seemingly was consigned to history?
Socialism is not inevitable and if the socialist movement fails, capitalism may well in all probability destroy modern civilisation. We argue that the continuation of capitalism would lead to the collapse of civilised society and the coming of a new Dark Age, similar to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire:
“The collapse of all civilisation as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration — a great cemetery.” (Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet)
She also declared, “Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World.)
That isn’t a new concept, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles…that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto.)
The present possibility of barbarism in the 21st Century is no more a far-fetched speculation. Climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. The scenarios being presented by respected experts are a breakdown in agricultural systems, crop failures, water shortages, deforestation and wildfires, mass migration from coastal regions because of sea-level rises, the increased spread of diseases and climate wars over declining resources. If capitalism continues with business as usual, 21st Century barbarism will be a reality.
We reject the euphemistic softening of the greenwashing of the brutal ecological consequences of capitalism. We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the global warming crises. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon capital accumulation—an unacceptable option for a profit system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die! The logic of capitalism defines the strategies of CEOs and politicians. All want their money assets to grow.
“Externality” is a term capitalist economists use when capitalist corporations don’t pay for the damage they cause. Pollution is the perfect example — individual corporations pollute, but society as a whole bears the cost. Adam Smith’s invisible hand, which supposedly ensures the best of all possible worlds, doesn’t work on externalities.
The popular capitalist solution to market failure is to create more markets via carbon trading and carbon taxes. Sweden’s Dag Hammerskold Foundation shows not only that emissions trading doesn’t work, but that it actually makes things worse, by delaying practical action to reduce emissions by the biggest corporate offenders. What’s more, since there is no practical method of measuring the results of emissions trading, the entire process is subject to massive fraud. Emissions trading has produced huge windfalls for the polluters — it instantly increases their assets, and does little to reduce emissions. Another “market-driven” approach proposes levying taxes levied on corporate greenhouse gas emissions. But if the “carbon taxes” are too low, they won’t stop emissions — and if they are high enough, corporations will shift their operations to countries that don’t interfere with business-as-usual. In any event, it is very unlikely that capitalist politicians will actually impose taxes sufficiently punitive that would force their corporate backers to make real changes.
Most scientists, politicians, and business leaders tend to put their hope in technology. there is a widespread expectation that new technologies will replace fossil fuels by harnessing renewable energy such as solar and wind. Many also trust that there will be technologies for removing carbon dioxide such as cap and capture and for geoengineering the Earth’s climate. Technology although possibly a valuable tool is not a magic wand to save modern civilisation. But doubts about profitability have discouraged investments.
Any reasonable person must eventually ask why businesses and their governments seek to avoid effective action on global warming other than superficial cosmetic changes when they do accept the dire threats of what the future holds. The answer is that the problem is rooted in the very nature of capitalist society, which is made up of thousands of separate corporations, all competing for investment and for profits. If a company decides to invest heavily in cutting carbon emissions, its profits will go down. Investors will move their capital into more profitable investments. Eventually the green company will go out of business. Capitalism is anarchic and its unplanned growth isn’t an aberration, or an externality, or a market failure. It is the nature of the beast.
Socialism still stands for the replacement of capitalism, a task now given an added urgency for the survival of civilisation itself. We say that capitalism is inherently unsustainable and will break down into the barbarism if our effort to build socialism proves unsuccessful. It is humanity's obligation that the struggle for socialism succeeds. Socialism is emancipatory, embracing the goal of transformation of needs, a shift toward use-values over exchange-values—a project of far-reaching significance grounded not in the sense of imposing scarcity, hardship and austere consumption. It is a society of freely associated producers, a world society in ecological harmony with nature, unthinkable under present capitalist conditions. Socialism will be worldwide and universal, or it will be nothing. Air and water doesn’t stop at borders. So long as capitalism remains the world’s dominant economic system, positive changes in individual countries will be undermined by countermoves in other countries seeking competitive advantage. Change must be all-encompassing.
Extinction Rebellion and the rest of the climate movement are demanding something should be urgently done but believe that reforms and legislation is compatible with profits and global markets. Our goal is to overthrow the capitalist mode of production. The problem is capitalism and its emphasis on growth. For the planet to stand any chance, the world's production and distribution system must be redesigned.
The Socialist Party's seeks to bring the cooperative commonwealth into existence. Only an economy that is organised for human needs, not profit, has any chance of slowing climate change and reversing the damage that’s already been done. Only democratic socialist planning can overcome the problems caused by capitalist chaos. Socialism did not triumph in the 20th Century. Today We will either see the fabric of civilisation unravel under the onslaught of an increasingly unstable climate events— or else we will construct a new society forged on a new set of global relationships. Echoing Marx and Engels and Luxemburg, we say that humanity’s choice is Socialism or Barbarism. There is no other way.