It's "socialism or barbarism." So wrote the brilliant German Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg in 1915. The 20th and 21st centuries have borne her out. The list of barbarian horrors that have disfigured the human record under the class rule of capital across the last century is daunting indeed.
Now, however, we have to say that Luxemburg put things too gently. Marx and Engels got closer to our contemporary reality in 1848. They wrote in "The Communist Manifesto" about how the long-standing class struggle between producers and appropriators always ends "either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."
It's socialism or barbarism if we're lucky. To be more precise, its eco-socialism or annihilation as capital turns the planet into a giant greenhouse gas chamber. The earth science is perfectly clear. The "common ruin" of all is precisely where humanity is headed after half a millennium under the rule of a system that relies on permanent unsustainable expansion to avert collapse. "The rich," the French ecological writer Herve Kempf observed 11 years ago, "are destroying the Earth." Well, not the earth itself, just the chances for a decent and organized human future.
The 21st-century global bourgeoisie isn't doing this because it is loaded with malevolent ecological Scrooges who need to be visited by ghosts of the environmental Christmas past, present and future. Capitalists are driven to pillage and poison and rape the common good, including the ecological commons, by systemic imperatives compelling them to relentlessly commodify everything under the sun and to drive infinite growth on a finite planet.
For Marx, and I think for any authentic left today, the moral predisposition of bourgeois "elites" was and is of little concern. It's not about speaking truth to wealth and power. Beseeching our capitalist masters to be nicer and smarter for the common good of all is a fool's errand. We're not trying to write a Charles Dickens novel in which rich Mr. Brownlow saves the day for poor Oliver Twist or the bad capitalist Scrooge becomes the good capitalist Scrooge. We know there's no appealing to capitalist chieftains' better angels where money and profit are concerned.
Real leftists know that five people owning as much wealth as the bottom half of the species while millions starve and lack adequate health care and half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor is capitalism working.
We know that giant corporations buying up every last family farm, tapping every new reserve of cheap global labor, raping the Congo's raw materials in alliance with warlords, purchasing the votes of nearly every elected official, extracting every last fossil fuel and driving the planet past the limits of environmental sustainability is capitalism working.
We know that a giant military-industrial complex, generating vast fortunes for the owners and managers of high-tech "defense" (war and empire) firms while schools and public parks and infrastructure and social safety nets are underfunded--we know that that too is capitalism working.
I could go on.
The only solution, a real left would know, along with Marx, is for workers and citizens to organize collectively to overthrow the amoral profits system and take control of what they produce and how society is organized.
Power to the people. Power to the workers. And power to the commons, whose enclosure was and remains among other things the making of modern capitalism and its wage-enslaved working class.
That is what I have always understood to be the basic irreducible bottom-line perspective of anything that deserves since the time of Marx to be called "the left."
I'm always amused when I hear mainstream U.S. media reporters, talking heads or pundits refer to "the left" in statements like "the left won't like Trump's tax plan" or "the left is gearing up for the 2018 midterms." What left are they talking about?
In the reigning U.S. media-politics culture, "the left" refers first and foremost to the Democratic Party and its many allies at places like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, most of academia and a host of other elite sectors and actors. But for anyone who knows anything about the history and meaning of radical movements, calling the dismal dollar-drenched Democrats and their many media allies "the left" is like calling the National Pork Producers Association vegan. As the multimillionaire House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told a young CNN town hall questioner last year, "We're capitalist and that's just the way it is."