U.S> and World Politics

Year of the Plague: Socialism or Barbarism?

That is the question

By Chris Kinder

What is the answer to the endless question of what is to become of human society in the late-late stage of the capitalist-imperialist strangle-hold on the world, amid a disastrous pandemic, a looming and deadly environmental degeneration, and the increasingly authoritarian regimes imposing rigid, rightist responses to crises infecting nations around the world? Is it to be a future of socialism, or a degeneration into worsening barbarism?

The barbarism of
U.S. imperialism

If we define barbarism as extreme cruelty, including enslavement, incarceration, genocide and war, visited upon any people or peoples on the basis of race, sex, national identity, economic status, opposition to higher authority, or for any other reason, then all U.S. and colonial history is rife with it. This applies to all presidential administrations, though many may not see the multiple examples as anything more than the errors of one administration or other, or the result of “a few bad apples.” Yet the ripping of children out of the arms of their asylum-seeking parents, and the deportation or confinement of innocent immigrants in concentration camps—immigrants who are fleeing the murderous results of U.S. destruction of their home countries—along with repeated racist murders by police and their fascistic allies are stark reminders that the system is crumbling.

U.S. imperialism began very barbarically. After its rise as an industrial capitalist power, the U.S. went to war in 1898 against Spain in order to grab its colonies of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, after these colonies had already revolted against Spain. Claiming possession of these former Spanish colonies, the U.S. attacked the first independent Philippine Republic, waging war against it and Katipunan-led rebels until 1913—15 years of barbaric terror. The U.S. caused at least 200,000 civilian deaths, and used tortures such as waterboarding, later used in North Korea and Vietnam.

Cuba was forced into a treaty which robbed it of true independence until 1959, when the puppet regime was overthrown in a revolution which abolished capitalism. Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony. We must also remember the nuclear and fire bombings of Japan and Germany in 1945—all against civilians—when their rulers had already lost the war. While the U.S. prosecuted the Nazis for their genocidal acts in the Nuremberg trials, the crime of mass bombings of civilians was never brought up, as it would have condemned the U.S. and Britain for genocide along with the Nazis.

Barbarism is in Human history

The argument has been made that violence and war—barbarism—are inherent in our bones as humans. In his New York Times bestseller, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari focusses a lot of his analysis on how pre-historic humans, up to and including Homo Sapiens, developed violence and killing into part of our heritage today. He reviews weapons development and practices such as the killing of old or infirm people who can no longer contribute to the clan or grouping they are in, though he says they were infrequent.

An article in the New York Times Book Review section about “War, How Conflict Shaped Us,” by Margaret MacMillan, claims that war “is in our bones.”1 I found the sentiments expressed in this book—as quoted in the review—to be enraging. “War is waged by men, not beasts or gods. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss half its significance,” according to MacMillan. “War is not merely a negative force,” concludes the reviewer, “it’s an engine of change and creativity;” and, “War Helped liberate women.”—also from the reviewer. The book also notes that civilians were specifically selected as targets in the World War II allied bombings of Japan and Germany for purposes of terrorizing the population.

But is it “in our bones?”

This all sounds like a good description of the barbarism of modern warlike class society so far. But here is the kicker, Macmillan begins the book with a reference to Otzi, the pre-historic man whose body was found in the Italian Alps in 1991, well-preserved in ice for 5,000 years. This man had an arrowhead embedded in his shoulder, and has been presumed to have been murdered. This is used to indicate how war is “in our bones,” according to the reviewer.

Is murder, mayhem and war in our bones, in our DNA as human beings? First of all, note that Otzi was killed 5,000 years ago, well within the 12,000 years of the development of agriculture and of class divisions in human society. All the writers and reviewers cited here have ignored the one defining difference between modern historical society, and pre-historic human evolution—class division.

Communal, cooperative groupings

All human evolution and social development in the hundreds-of-thousands of years prior to the historical period, was based on communal, cooperative groupings.

This formed the basic nature of humanity.

Humans cooperate with each other. They survive by working together as a group. They do not fight wars or have conflicts anything like modern societies for their entire development as modern human beings. If we define this period of development as the lifespan of the genus Homo, or humans—which culminated with us, Homo Sapiens—then we are talking about approximately 2.5 million years.2 This period of human development is well over 2,000 times the length of modern historical times, which are just 12,000 years at most.

Two-point-five-million-years is the time period in which our nature as humans was defined. The recent 12,000 years is when our nature has become distorted by class division. The modern historical period, despite all its technical achievements, is barely a drop in the bucket of fundamental biological and social human development. Violent class divisions have defined only the latest, very small period of humanity on this planet, but they have fundamentally—but hopefully not permanently—disrupted and corrupted that which is our real human nature.

Human nature developed slowly, but surely

Humanity was a long-time in development, and some of this basic development happened in the pre-human millenniums. We walked on two legs as we descended from Apes as Australopiths, a pre-human hominid such as the famous fossil named “Lucy.” In the succeeding hundreds-of-thousands-of-years, we evolved as the genus Homo, starting with Homo Habilis. One of many Homo species to come, Homo Habilis pioneered the development of stone tools.

The development of stone tools was not just an instant, or a simple fact of human evolution, as it is often rendered. A stone tool requires skill. It requires knowledge of the right kind of stone, and where to find it. It requires skill to make the sharp edge that is needed to separate the furry skin from a large animal, and skill to actually acquire that furred skin for clothing (it will need days of drying after removal from the animal). All this did not evolve at once, it took thousands-of-years of development. The very first stone tools might just have been used to crack open the bones of animals that had been stripped bare, left by predator animals, and used by humans to access nutritious bone marrow.

Development of tools required language, and passing knowledge on to the youth. In a word, it required community.

This is how humans evolved

The skills needed to make stone tools are just one example of the development of human community. Humans were not as strong or as fast as most of their animal adversaries. They (we) had to work together to preserve ourselves and our families. First, we were victims of the big predators, then, after many thousands of years, we were big game hunters. How did that come about? The long-term development of a community together with a division of labor within the community was essential. Some are gatherers, some are hunters, etc. Big brain development and language was essential in this development.

How did humans begin to control fire for their use, which enabled cooking of food, and which in turn promoted better nutrition and bigger brain development? Was it just one day some person said “hey, let’s capture some fire, keep it going, learn how to restart it if it goes out, and use it to cook food, so that we can grow our brains, and sit around the campfire and look at the stars?” Of course not. This was a process of learning, over thousands of years, involving innumerable individuals with different experiences with fire, and culminating in a community solution.

The development of the big brain of Homo Sapiens is inseparably connected with the development of the human community in the past two million or more years, and the language that is the most important part of that. It is impossible to imagine the development of human community without language.

And now, how are we to imagine that today’s class divided human “community” is real? It is not.

Modern human community is a fraud

Modern human community is a distorted version of what it should be. Human communities as they appear today are frauds. Yes, it is true that people collect together in many types of communities that are apparently free of any connection to the class struggle, such as bridge clubs, golf clubs, yacht clubs, chess clubs, you name it. Humans connect in groups, as is our nature. But most such social groupings reflect status in society.

The controlling “communities” today are based clearly on the class structure of society—corporate board rooms, business confabs, police and military units. Police and military have very strong camaraderie for a reason—they are communities designed to protect property, slavery, and to repress the working class and racial minorities. There was no such thing as private property for 2.5 million years, and all sub-communities (gatherers, hunters, tool makers, etc.) were integral and cooperative parts of the whole community.

Human community did not evolve for 2.5 million years with anything like today’s class divisions. Yes, there may have been occasional adversaries, and, yes, there may have been some brutal acts in primitive communities, but there was nothing like modern war, or the conflict between sub-communities within the social group that obtains today. Today’s “communities” are based on the class struggle, which emerged only in the last ten or 12,000 years—men suppressing women, nations oppressing other nations, empires oppressing slaves, feudal lords oppressing peasants, etc. Finally, the capitalist/imperialist class exploiting the working classes of the world.

Socialism is the human answer to barbarism

Workers’ unions and revolutionary parties are the organizations we need now to correct the situation.

Humans are a community, a collective that works together. That is what we are. Capitalism, imperialism—these are all recent impositions that must be overthrown and discarded through workers’ revolution. The global human community must be united in a cooperative unit, just as we were for hundreds-of-thousands-of-years. Of course, primitive communities were small local groups, and the globe today involves several billions. But the human nature of community and cooperation is basic. We can overcome today’s crises—it is how we evolved, and it is how we must survive now. And its name today is—socialism.

1 This quote is from the review, “What Is It Good For?” by Dexter Filkins, New York Times Book Review, November 29, 2020. Unless otherwise indicated, the other quotes here are from the book as rendered in the review.

2 2.5 million years is the number Harari gives in Sapiens for the beginning of the genus Homo, or humans. Other estimates of the timing for this vary slightly.