On the stupid slogan: “Socialism or Barbarism”
Postone ends his critique of Michael Hardt with these words, the last sentence of which I find to be as theoretically repugnant as his critique of Hardt was sublime:
These brief considerations suggest that a future beyond capitalism would require a fundamental transformation of the division of labor and that, without movement in that direction, increasing numbers of people will be rendered superfluous, susceptible to hunger, disease, and violence. They will increasingly become the objects of militarized control. On this level, the current crisis can also be understood as a crisis of labor interwoven in complex ways with a crisis of the natural environment. Against this historical background, the old slogan of “socialism or barbarism” acquires new urgency, even if our understanding of both terms has been fundamentally transformed.’
I have a complete distaste for the slogan “socialism or barbarism”, because people who raise it most vociferously, apparently hold to the idea barbarism is somehow a future prospective alternative to communism. Those who raise that slogan are only saying shit hasn’t gotten deep enough to make them close their mouths yet.
I just have one response: “For Christ’s sake don’t swallow, idiot!”
I find it absolutely amazing as well that Marxists question my use to the phrase “fascist state”, when we have just witnessed 10 years of bloody war crimes. What the fuck do Marxists call fascism, if it is not the wholesale slaughter of innocents while the world stands by speechless and impotent. What do you call fascism if not when the US can dictate to the entire planet who can and cannot access the global banking system — even to the point of excluding entire nations from intercourse within the world market? What do you call fascism when every single word you broadcast on your computer is being sniffed in real time? What do you call fascism if not the ability of the US to manage the entire world economy from the basement of the federal fucking reserve?
Over the past thirty years or so, the working class in the United States just watched Washington pick up almost the entire non-critical industrial infrastructure of the United States and move it to China, Mexico, etc. Is this barbarism? Is this fascism? If this is not fascism can some Marxist please give me a fucking definition of fascism? If that is not barbarism — what the fuck is it?
Every time I hear a fucking Marxist utter the words “Socialism or Barbarism” as if we have a fucking choice, I can only shake my head in disbelief. You Marxists are fucking clowns.
The choice between socialism or barbarism was made in the 1930s, and society chose barbarism — we have been living with the consequences of that choice ever since.
The very idea there is a choice between socialism and barbarism presupposes we now exist in some limbo between the two. Nobody calls out the folks who “offer” this choice to demand they explain how what we are experiencing now is NOT barbarism. This slogan, however, has a history. One Marxist website says:
Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life.
This statement is incomprehensibly insane and gets us no closer to understanding what barbarism, or fascism, means in terms of social development. In this form barbarism is just a bogey-man employed by Marxists to scare the working class into accepting their “necessary” leadership.
According to the simpletons at Monthly Review, for instance, Marx employed the term barbarism to refer to a stage of ancient society, to refer to the torturous methods employed to increase the productivity of labor, and the periodic breakdown of capitalism during crises. Marx also employed the term to refer to the outcome produced when the capitalist can shape the world according to his own image.
…in his critique of colonialism Marx was soon to invert his treatment of barbarism, which came to stand for what the modern bourgeois of the capitalist West “makes of himself…when he can model the world according to his own image without any interference.” “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization,” Marx wrote in 1853 in “The Future Results of the British Rule in India,” “lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.” In his later writings, Marx became ever more critical of British imperialism in India as he became aware of what Mike Davis has recently labeled “Victorian holocausts”: the coincidence of the imperialistic expropriation of the surplus of Indian society with vast famines and the imposition of starvation wages on Indian workers. (The Temple wage that the British provided for workers engaged in hard labor in Madras in India in 1877 had a caloric value that was less than what the Nazis were later to provide to workers forced to do hard labor in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944.) Marx noted that British expansion was devastating India’s industry, spreading misery and degradation, while turning the country into simply a producer of agricultural raw materials for Britain. In fact, British imperialism served as a force of destruction, demolishing India’s productive forces and causing underdevelopment even as it introduced the forces of modern industry into Indian society. In his treatment of “The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist” in Capital, volume 1, Marx quoted approvingly from Colonisation and Christianity by William Howitt who had written: “The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth.”
Marxists generally use the term barbarism in this last sense of the term: the untrammeled, unhampered, rule of the capitalist. In Marx’s day this was most clearly expressed in England’s colonial policy, where the rule of capital was unmediated by a class able to resist the predatory nature of the capitalist. The implication of this in the current employment by Marxists of the slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” is that this unhampered rule moves from the “colonies”, from the periphery of the world market to the metropolitan heartland. In the racist argument employed by Marxists, when a million Iraqis are murdered by US fascist state sanctions, this is not yet “barbarism”. It is barbaric, of course, but this barbarism has not yet become a global or universal feature of capital. It only becomes a universal feature of capitalist relations when it actually penetrates into the heartland of capitalism.
The simpletons at the Monthly Review, therefore, only recognize this barbarism when it assumes the form of neoliberalist fascist state policy:
Today the world is facing … a barbarism emanating from a single powerful country, the United States, which has adopted a doctrine of preemptive (or preventative) war and is threatening to destabilize the entire globe.
In this argument, it is not the 100 million who died in two world wars, and the countless millions slaughtered in wars of aggression since then that demonstrates the barbarism of the present period already realized, but the future prospects of Bush administration policies that created the threat.
You see, barbarism has to always be kept on the near horizon of present events, as a standing threat to mankind, because, frankly, Marxists have no idea how the working class would fight a real and existing barbarism. They present the choices as “barbarism or socialism” because they invest barbarism with assumptions that make socialism impossible.
In the Marxist argument all resistance to capital is a class or political resistance, and barbarism implies such political resistance is insufficient or altogether ineffective. The realization of capitalist barbarism implies the working class never achieved the level of class consciousness and organization necessary to offer resistance to predatory capitalist class activities prior to the emergence of barbarism — and this fact alone throws light on the theoretical vulgarism of Marx’s theory that is the essential core of Marxism.
Since, for dumb Marxists, this argument is completely incompatible with their conception of a transition to a post-capitalist society, barbarism can threaten to engulf humanity, but it can never actually engulf humanity. If it ever actually engulfed humanity, the only opening for socialism is finally and completely lost. Thus we are told by the simpletons at Monthly Review,
Capitalism [does] not necessarily lead to socialism or socialism necessarily to communism. Rather both capitalism and socialism could degenerate into barbarism, which presented a brutal alternative to communism.
Capitalists, like cockroaches, can survive indefinitely, even as civilization decays into some dystopian nightmare. This is the same nightmare scenario offered by Kautsky, et al. to explain why capitalism would never suffer a breakdown as occurred in 1929. Since there could be no breakdown of capitalism independent of working class political action, capitalist breakdown was ruled impossible. Thus the Great Depression and the rise of the fascist state is defined not as the working out of the law of value, but, as Walter Benjamin wrote, require some extrinsic political explanation:
…every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.
The rise of the fascist state, therefore, can only be explained by reference to historical circumstances not given in the mode of production. These causes are political causes, since they presuppose a level of political consciousness among workers insufficient to realize the overthrow of capitalist relations of production.
The underlying assumption in this argument is that the working class can develop a political consciousness that is the exact polar opposite of its economic position in society — that while selling itself into slavery, it can act as a class of non-slaves politically. This is the sort of simple-minded thinking of the Marxist, whose irrational argument is never challenged in the academy. We are supposed to believe that the political activity of the working class can assume a form that is never assumed in its economic life. The worker can offer herself on the most degrading basis as a passive object to be employed by capital, but “wear boots” in the voting booth.
(Please, if you are sitting next to a Marxist right now, just reach over and bitch slap that idiot.)
The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” requires us to explain what doesn’t require an explanation: why society degenerates into barbarism. From its first instant of existence, capital was already an intrinsically barbaric relation; the utter degradation of labor and the laborer. This is a universal feature of the capitalist relation, already given not just in the activity of the capitalist, but more importantly in the activity and daily existence of the worker.
You cannot even get to the capitalist relationship itself without already presupposing the worker treats her own body as a passive object to be employed by its buyer. This essential apathy toward her own physical person, constitutes the mode of the worker’s existence. If you cannot on the basis of this very passivity — this apathy — of the worker toward her own body and her own productive capacities as a human being, explain how communism is the necessary result, you are not an historical materialist — you are a fucking charlatan engaged in spreading pseudoscience among the working class. The material reality of the worker’s own daily life presupposes there cannot be a political revolution by this broken mass of humanity.
It is not at all the case that barbarism begins on the periphery of the world market and invades the center — the case is the opposite: The intrinsic barbarism of the capitalist relations of production are exported from the center to the periphery and remakes the whole of society in its own image.