It is at once boring and extraordinary to have to say this: we live in a world of unprecedented and accelerating destruction.
The scale of this destruction is not an accident of nature, not something that ‘would have happened anyway.’ It is the result of clearly identifiable characteristics of the society that we currently inhabit: a social division of labour that places unprecedented power and wealth in the hands of a few. The organisation of social production in this society, based on a principle of existential competition as well as accumulation, allows for an ever more sophisticated level of technical and technological exploitation of both humanity and the planet’s natural resources.
The name of this society that is structurally compelled to rush continuously forward, ripping apart the foundations of any kind of socially just or ecologically sustainable way of life, is capitalism.
Capitalism gave you the conquest of the Third World, the Atlantic slave trade, the various genocides in the Americas, colonialism, imperialism, the scramble for Africa, Indian famines, the First and Second World Wars, Apartheid, segregation, and climate change. It helps foster the countless fascisms that emerge constantly around the world to crush the socialist movements that attempt to fight it.
The relative prosperity of a few in the global north is based on the subjugation of the vast majority of the global population. For the rich, the rest of the world, its resources, societies and cultures, exist purely to be used up and exhausted.
The unparalleled destructiveness of the society in which we live is without question. Identifying the cause of this destructiveness is also easy enough: the nature of the competitive, capitalist social relations which necessitate and drive forward expanded accumulation and commodification.
There have been various attempts by mass, working class movements to place an emergency brake on this ceaseless forward movement. The danger of such attempts has been in their inability to build an equally advanced alternative to the supple, adaptive social relations that underpin capitalism’s technological growth. These attempts have often been unsuccessful. They have resulted in crippling economic crisis, political violence, inefficiency and administrative rigidity. But it remains an indisputable fact that these disasters for socialism have been no worse than the alternative.
None of these disasters affect the fundamental fact that the society we currently live in is rapidly exhausting the possibilities for the majority of people to have a reasonable quality of life.
Yes, capitalism under certain conditions - flanked by an interventionist state and a powerful workers movement - facilitates productivity growth. This is its sole, narrow contribution to human welfare. Everything else is either directly negative or has indirect negative consequences.
Those who want to claim that there is some essential connection between capitalism and democracy are being proved wrong by the increasing threat to democracy that has spread alongside intensified, global capitalist social relations. Liberal political regimes, constitutionalism, various forms of republicanism and federalism - these forms of government, which emerged in the west with the spread of capitalism, certainly provided an opening to movements led by workers which demanded and helped institute electoral democracy. That is not the only route to democracy and nor is the continued existence of democracy reliant on the economic and social relations of capital.
There must be an alternative to this for the simple reason that we cannot survive if things go on as they are. The wager that we can build an alternative is based on the diversity of ways people have lived and - in part - on the admitted complexity of social organisation permitted by capitalism. A democratic, socially controlled economy that replaced capitalism would put an end to production for the sake of private accumulation and place it at the service of the vast majority. Yes, there are risks. To continue as we are is worse.
It cannot de said often enough: capitalism must end - we have no choice. Socialism must win - we have no choice.