“Socialism or Barbarism”? What the Communist Manifesto says about climate change

April 8, 2019

Regular readers will know that my columns sometimes take a philosophical turn. I do this because, as any writer must, I am constantly reading to supplement and refine my knowledge of the world and of ideas.

Today I want to return to one of my favourite short books that will be familiar to some of you and perhaps horrifying to others. I am, of course, as the title of this piece suggests, referring to The Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and first published in 1848.

manifesto cover

My interest in delving back into this text flies in realising the value and importance of a particular passage that is often overlooked. Perhaps this particular paragraph is not considered important because it occurs very early, before the main arguments are fleshed out, but it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about revolutionary struggle.

[In] a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

It is the final stanza here that has caught my attention: “the common ruin of the contending classes”. What Marx and Engels want us to know at this point is that while the class struggle is inevitable, there is no certainty as to the outcome.

Engels returned to this point in his 1878 work critiquing the ideas of the German social democrat Eugen Dühring, funnily enough in a pamphlet published as Anti-Dühring, in which he argued that the bourgeoisie could no longer determine the exact course of history, as it had done during its own revolutionary period:

its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution.

Other Marxists have since taken up this point, Rosa Luxemburg famously coined the aphorism ‘socialism or barbarism” to describe the stark choice facing the European working classes during the First World War. According to reliable sources, Luxemburg was paraphrasing another German revolutionary, Karl Kautsky who wrote in 1892, who wrote:

“As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

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Karl Marx fails in the university annual review

May 18, 2012

[Hat-tip Peter T of Wellywood]

I wrote briefly the other day about the life of a grey collar intellectual and how it is measured in terms of research outputs in a Taylorist way.

My friend Peter sent me a link to this strange little text-to-movie piece that explores what would happen to Karl Marx today in higher education.
Welcome to the Department of Omnishambles in the Faculty of Inhumanities.

The Department of Omnishambles. Click image to load video and hear Karl’s review


Respec’, Karl, Paul and the Iraqi Communists

October 11, 2008

Post-it Note: I’ve been having a bit of difficulty accessing wordpress for the past week or so, but finally found an empty draft that I could canibalise.

A couple of weekends ago I visited Highate cemetery, near Hampstead Heath in north London. There’s a five pound entry fee, but the grounds themselves are worth the price of admission and the place is run by volunteers. The whole graveyard is overgrown with elms, beech and other very British trees. It’s a real urban jungle and it’s also over-run with grey squirrels. Apart from the first couple of metres either side of the paths, the trees have been allowed to regenerate and the older gravestones are hidden in the undergrowth. When I was there it was a lovely autumn day and the dappled sunlight through the forest gave the whole place a serene and gentle feel.

A restul grove in Highgate cemetery, north London

A restful grove in Highgate cemetery, north London

The purpose of my visit was to stand next to Karl Marx memorial headstone and have my picture taken. What i wasn’t quite prepared for was the mixed company in which the brilliant socialist theorist and agitator is resting [his remains were moved to the current spot many years ago].

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