There is no doubt about the urgency to replace the current worldwide system of socio-economic domination: capitalist – imperialism.
Imperialism is the modern form of the capitalist system. In this system all decisions about what goods and services to produce for human use and how these are produced are made by members of a tiny part of the world population. The members of this exclusive group – the capitalist class – are those who own and control society’s means of sustaining itself – its means of production,i.e. the technology, machines, factories, land and other elements.
All the decisions made by this owner (capitalist) class are dominated by their need to maximise the profits made by their own companies. Their system is based on private ownership and therefor cut-throat competition. This means every capitalist company and family must always try to keep ahead of the other members of this elite, old or new – by getting bigger profits. Only more and larger profits can give them some security within the anarchy of the market and competition. This is why their thirst for profits always remains insatiable.
Social need is never a priority, except if fulfilling some human want or need can be done at a good profit. But equally, selling something that is damaging to society can become a higher priority if a good profit is guaranteed – weapons of mass destruction and coal are just two examples. Over time the best profits can be made when key costs of production, such as labour, are as cheap as possible, i.e. when wages and the social wage (state welfare spending) are lower. Advances in technology and production are not used to meet human or environmental needs but to drive up profits. This results in an ever greater concentration of wealth in the hands of the capitalist owners alongside ever greater levels of exploitation or working people and the environment.
Over the past 150 years the capitalist system has grown into a world system of oppression, exploitation and financial strangulation of the overwhelming majority of the world’s people and countries by a handful of so called “advanced” countries.” In the 21st century a small number of countries, armed to the teeth, divide up among themselves the vast majority of the wealth they plunder from people and the environment across the entire globe. This is the system of imperialism, the highest and last stage of capitalism.
During the imperialist period – that began around the turn of the 20th century – poverty and misery has become the fate of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. Economic growth in some of the larger exploited countries has not altered this basic fact. In most societies on Earth, most people remain poor. They are left behind in terms of material consumption and access to 21st century services like modern health, education and social services.
This is true also for those countries that had revolutionary periods. Countries such countries as China and Russia, where mass movements were able to remove local capitalist classes from power and replace them with planned non-capitalist development, were able to achieve extremely important gains in their level of socio-economic development.. However, these countries had inherited a fairly low level of economic development at the time of revolution. They then faced imperial sabotage and containment policies excluding them from the imperialist club. This has meant remaining at a relatively low level of development. It also made it harder for those societies to fight off internal dynamics that strengthen bureaucratic authoritarianism.
Even inside the club of imperialist countries, the gap between rich and poor people is growing. So too is the number of people living without adequate material consumption or secure housing, health and education. This is most evident in the United States, but to some extent it is true of all the “advanced” countries.
Viewed as a world system, capitalism is a failure. Despite incredible advances in science and the obvious potential for even greater advances, the majority of the world’s population lives in either poverty or, where material consumption is adequate, in a constant state of insecurity.
But poverty and material insecurity is not the end of it. At this point in its history, the system’s dysfunction now threatens both the biological as well as spiritual extinction of the human species.
SPRITUAL AND BIOLOGICAL EXTINCTION
Thousands of other species have gone extinct in the last hundred years. One of the most common ways is through destruction of habitat. This is what now threatens the human species and its habitat, planet Earth. Scientists have long identified a myriad of ways that 20th century methods of production are killing the environment, polluting air, earth and waters and reducing the biodiversity of the planet.
At the present, beyond all the poisons being injected into the earth’s ecosystems, everybody is now aware of the danger posed by global warming; a process that a majority of scientists assess will – if it is not stopped – make the earth uninhabitable for humans in the not too distant future. Technologies that can slow, or perhaps even stop or reverse, global warming are known. A planned and united effort to discover even more alternatives, using the massive resources of humankind globally, would no doubt lead to far less harmful ways to produce energy, food and other human needs. Old, dirty technologies remain dominant because they still bring big money profits to their owners and because the current system also blocks the kind of international cooperation needed to advance the science even more quickly.
In both material well-being and habitat protection popular and grassroots campaigns demanding reforms and improvements continue to spring up and fight. Sometimes these succeed in winning limited changes before falling away. Every struggle by people to win improvements in worthwhile, both from the benefit a win may deliver, as well because it provides a school for getting experience, education and training in how to struggle against the tiny minority of capitalist owners and their political representatives.
This popular schooling is crucial. Removing the capitalist class from power means replacing the current system with a system where the population as a whole democratically decide society’s direction; democratically decide and plan what we need produced and how it is produced. Such a system (socialism) will only be possible through mass involvement in struggle.
Humanity’s spiritual survival, as well as biological survival, as under threat. Turning a blind eye to the suffering of billions of people in the former colonial world still living on desperately miserable incomes can only be poison to the spirit. Ignoring the suffering in refugee camps of people seeking refuge from the wars and economic ruin that are mostly driven by imperialist policies is likewise poisonous. Allowing to fester the belief that skin colour denotes intellectual and moral superiority will rot our culture.
The list of threats to our humanity can go on and on. And perhaps underpinning the spiritual threat is the now entrenched belief that satisfaction for the soul comes from the consumption.
There is no permanent solution to any of this except changing the social system. But there is a kind of vaccine against the spiritual threat, although it needs continuous booster shots. This vaccine can only be produced under very specific conditions. These conditions are serious joint efforts to build democratic, collective struggles and organisations. The vaccine is comradeship.It is a vaccine that works.
It is not a solution in and of itself. Only creating a new system will removal the threats to humanity. In the meantime, comradeship – created by being part of a joint struggle – is a precious thing. It can help us develop the spirit needed to wage a fight to win.
IMPORTANT REFORMS WON THROUGH STRUGGLE
In modern capitalism, popular struggles by working people have won historic improvements still enjoyed by populations today. All the big struggles, not to mention popular revolutions, have left important legacies, both materially and in the form of ideas and understanding.
However, as long as the system remains in place, any previous gains are constantly being threatened and clawed back. In the “advanced” countries, since the 1980s, there has been an extended period of dismantling “welfare state” services like public health, education, childcare and aged care. In the developing world, the picture is more complicated and uneven. After the second world war, in scores of newly independent states, after defeating direct colonial dictatorship, popular expectations were raised and mass struggles emerged to develop those societies However, they faced every kind of sabotage, containment and new methods of plunder by the imperialist countries. The success or failure of their political fight against all this has differed from country to country, leaving different mixes of socio-economic development and backwardness.
There have also been important wins in environmental struggles with poisons banned, chemicals that damaged the ozone layer phased out, and pollution levels from factories and some vehicles reduced. These advances, however, will not be enough to save the habitat because the capitalist profit motive continuously pushes businesses to find new areas of to exploit and destroy. This is clearly illustrated by the complete failure of capitalism globally to stop land clearing – or even to slow it down. In some countries, especially in the United States, certain environmental laws have been wound back – at least for now. All the same, these struggles and wins have been very important: awareness of environmental issues and the need for an environmental movement, are now widespread.
In the last few years, as global warming became widely understood, a movement demanding the end of the use fossil fuels for the production of energy has begun to emerge and demand a transition to renewables. To win, this critical struggle, will require the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people – probably millions – in many countries around the world.
A victory by a mass movement against fossil fuels would likely become a something like a social lightning rod, igniting greater mass confidence and mass struggles aimed at forcing the capitalist class to implement other measures to reduce environmental destruction an improve the lives of the majority of people. The threat of such a progressive social explosion may be one reason the capitalist class, so far, has been dragging its feet on even the most basic emissions reductions.
However even if a movement against carbon emissions was able to score big victories, on its own, it would be only buying time for our habitat. . As long as profit is left untouched as the essential way that human society is organised – all gains by mass movements against this logic are constantly being wound back and undermined. The defeat of fossil fuels would have to be followed by the defeat of capitalist power – the removal of the private owners from power and their replacement by a new power of working people.