Monday, August 2, 2010

Descent into barbarism?

Book Review from the August 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism or Barbarism. From the 'American Century' to the Crossroads. Istvan Meszaros. (Monthly Review Press 2001)

In the forward to this book it is stated that in 1992 Meszaros expressed his conviction that 'the future of socialism will be decided in the US' and that it – socialism – has to assert itself universally and in a way that embraces all areas or it won't succeed. As the title suggests the emphasis is on his violent antagonism to capitalism, imperialism and globalisation US-style. He denounces the 'free political choice' of multiparty democracy for what it is – an ever-narrowing political consensus, and points to the increasing downward pressure on pay and conditions worldwide which is having negative impact right across the board. The fact that capitalism is failing in all aspects for most citizens worldwide as, for one instance cited, in India and China where capitalism occurs in enclaves with vast 'non-capitalist hinterlands' and in which populations outside the legitimate economy have to find their own ways to make a living.

Meszaros views the current phase of US imperialism as 'potentially the deadliest phase' because of the self-stated aims of achieving world domination through policies of 100 percent self-interest, imposing arbitrary decisions on the rest of the world whilst accusing others who attempt to do likewise of nationalism. Its willingness to break international laws and enter into war or invasion to protect its own interests is well known. Regarding the structural crisis of capital he details examples of worsening conditions in the US and the UK such as the ever-increasing numbers of children in poverty and the widening gap between the top one percent and the multitude at the bottom.

In a section on the challenges facing the socialist movement he calls for international solidarity oriented towards the creation of an 'order of substantive equality' – especially in these times of 'extraordinary environmental threat’. Labour cannot share power with capital (that has been proved time and again) which has to be a top-down authoritarian management of business.

Part II titled 'Marxism, The Capital System and Social Revolution' is an interview for a quarterly Iranian journal in which he gives his version of globalisation as 'total social capital' and 'totality of labour’. The capitalist system logically has to be global to complete itself. Global labour, on the other hand, is forced to fight amongst itself to stay afloat within the system, and so competes instead of confronting capital. Capital's dependence on labour is absolute; however, labour's dependence on capital was created and is surmountable even if the conditions are not currently favourable. The only way to overcome capital and institute an alternative, socialist system is with the 'totality of labour ' as the 'irreconcilable antagonist of capital' through a process of 'profound social transformation’.

There is a short section in the interview on the hows and whys of a social revolution but overall the emphasis throughout the book is on it being an all-embracing and truly social revolution, with which we can agree. In the few years since the book was published, as general conditions of employment have continued to deteriorate, capitalism has again shown itself to be indifferent to the impacts of its policies. It would seem, however, that, if we were to rely solely or even largely on US labour to be the catalyst then we might be waiting too long and societal breakdown and barbarism may well win out.

Janet Surman