Rosa Luxemburg's question remains unanswered despite the fact ' that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk."
In the opening scenes of Ridley Scott's 1982 film Bladerunner, we are introduced to a nightmarish Los Angeles of the future.
The social and economic infrastructure of society has effectively collapsed while the environment has been exploited and destroyed by a profit-driven economic system. The beneficiaries of this exploitation are the rich, many of whom have left Earth for other planets and other sources of exploitation, leaving the working class to struggle for survival in the muck and the acid rain.
It is a world where the vast Tyrell Corporation dominates and prevails, protected by an ever-present police force and widespread surveillance. The working class live in slums while Eldon Tyrell lives in a palace.
This is often described as a dystopian vision of the future but I like to think of it as Luxemburgian although it has probably been said before.
But, unlike the term 'Orwellian', 'Luxemburgian' is unlikely to become part of the popular vocabulary. While Orwell's 'Big Brother' has become part of popular culture, Luxemburg's 'Socialism or Barbarism?' has not.
It was Fredreich Engels who wrote "Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism." but it was the revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg who, again and again, warned that if the socialist movement failed in its historical task, capitalism would destroy the world.
She wrote that Humankind was facing a stark alternative: 'Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World.)
We, the people of this world, either win this world for us or we allow it to be exploited and destroyed by the global corporations and the bourgeois governments that do their bidding. Either socialism or barbarism. That is the stark choice we are confronted with.
It was a theme that was picked up by Hugo Chavez in 2006 when he said in a speech:
“The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now.”
Is this not but true when we look at the condition of the world today and the conditions that people are forced to live in?
Last year some of the world's leading expert's on global environmental change said in statement: "Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk."
In 2006 the United Nations estimated that more than one billion people were living in slums in the cities of the south. In his brilliant book Planet of Slums (2002), Mike Davis writes: “Global inequality, as measured by World Bank economists across the entire world population, reached an incredible GINI coefficient level of 0.67 by the end of the century—this is mathematically equivalent to a situation where the poorest two thirds of the world receive zero income, and the top third receives everything”
Nearly three billion people are forced to live on less than two dollars a day. Meanwhile the rich live in protected enclaves.
Mike Davis echoes Luxemburg when he writes that reforms are not enough because they merely treat the symptoms rather than the cause: economic and political inequality. The solution, says Davis, is the transformation of capitalism by the global working class.
In his book Socialism or Barbarism: From the “American Century” to the Crossroads (2001), István Mészáros writes that in its pursuit of profit capitalism has abandoned any larger historical cause and that even in the supposed more 'prosperous' western countries unemployment has become structural and conditions of life have become more onerous for most of the population.
So the choice is, as Luxemburg wrote, either socialism or barbarism. There is no third way. There is no 'kinder and gentler' capitalism. There is no green capitalism. There is no 'reformist' path to a better world - the view of social democrat Eduard Bernstein that Luxemburg so brilliantly demolished in her essay Reform or Revolution? Capitalism cannot cure itself.
We choose socialism or we choose barbarism. But the continuation of capitalism, as Luxemburg writes,can only lead to a new Dark Age:
“The collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration — a great cemetery.” (The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis in German Social Democracy).