In the face of capitalist barbarism, socialists need to conceptualize an emancipatory alternative to alienation and exploitation, rooted in Marx’s writings and contemporary experience. – Editors
More than ever before, humanity today faces the alternatives of socialism or barbarism. Humanity is presently confronted with two critical, epochal processes. Firstly, globalization of the productive forces of technology, expressed in the emergence of highly effective, globally integrated systems of production, communication and exchange. Secondly, a complementary globalization of the destructive, disruptive powers of technology, as reflected in the massive environmental destruction/disruption — potentially lethal in the case of global warming. These destructive powers are also expressed in the extant store of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, capable of exterminating all humans and other life forms on earth.
The first process opens the possibility of starting, at the global level, a process of humanization. From the perspective of the incipient 21st century, socialism is a process of emancipation encompassing all human society — a process of real humanization of our species. That is, a process of human emancipation leaving human pre-history, or pre-human history, behind us.
The second destructive alternative opens the real possibility of falling into an irreversible downward spiral of widespread natural catastrophes and global wars. The end station of a reckless global capitalism is global barbarism — an evolutionary and moral black hole.
For socialists, the alternative of barbarism is not relevant — it is rather the hallucinatory realm of video game makers, dystopian writers and military planners. The socialist alternative, on the other hand, expresses the aspirations and longings of humankind since its first beginnings. The deepest and most universal longing is the human yearning for an end to alienation and estrangement. Since the fall from primeval innocence, humans have been alienated from themselves, from each other, and from nature. In order to avoid self-destruction, our species needs to realize the ancient and deep aspiration of recovering primeval oneness. This cannot be the result of sudden, magical illumination, but the outcome of a long process of emancipation and de-alienation. De-alienation and emancipation mean overcoming the separateness and antagonism inherent in all forms of exploitation (class, gender, ethnic/national, generational, environmental, and others). De-alienation means also overcoming commodity fetishism, a cognitive derangement by which Humanity enslaved itself to Capital, an idol of Humanity’s own making.
The task is thus immense — a total transformation of the human condition. The task is, in Marx’s words in the Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts ‘the definitive resolution of the antagonism between Man and Nature, and between Man and Man’. The aim is nothing less than human emancipation through reunification of Man with himself — the achievement of self-awareness, the unity between thought and being. De-alienation, the process of recovering Self-consciousness, is the reunification of Man with Man; the reintegration of Man into Nature (or Reality, or Being).
How will this formidable task, this Long March of humanity towards liberation, be effected?
Socialism can be realized, and private property abolished, ‘only on condition of an all-round development of individuals’, as Marx put it in the German Ideology. The condition of human emancipation is the all-encompassing development of every conceivable dimension of the human being. De-alienation will come about through the all-round realization of human potentialities, the development of every individual’s human capability. Socialization is thus at the same time individuation or individual realization — the achievement of ‘an association, in which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all’ (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto).
Increased output and augmented consumption are emancipatory only when they contribute to the realization of human potentialities. When they increase exploitation, social ‘bads,’ or environmental destruction they are detrimental to emancipation. The metric of the emancipatory process is totally different from the metric of capitalist growth. The advance of socialism can only be measured by (a still to be developed) human capability accounting, based on a new economic theory of emancipatory human growth. This in contrast to conventional macroeconomic accounting, which measures the growth of capital(ism).
The self-realization of humankind as free, universal being, is necessarily a universal, global process. Universal being takes form within a politically constituted global society. The necessary framework of realization of emancipated, universal humankind is the global polis. The global polity is the only arena in which the means of advancing human capabilities can be effectively instituted. In fact, the most basic among human capabilities have already been accorded dignity of fundamental human rights in several United Nations declarations. The natural first step of an incipient global emancipatory process is therefore to ensure the urgent fulfilment of basic human capabilities/rights for all humanity.
An incipient global emancipatory process gives also impulse to — and depends on — the emancipatory evolution of every particular society. An emancipatory process gives every particular society increased capabilities for policy autonomy and political sovereignty. In every country and in every locality, re-oriented investment capabilities could contribute to the structural transformation of production in this emancipatory process, with new redistributive rules and mechanisms ensuring egalitarian expansion of human capabilities, globally and locally.
— Jorge Buzaglo, Stockholm, Sweden
[Originally presented as a paper at the 5th Forum of the World Association for Political Economy, ‘The Crisis of Capitalism and its Solution: Socialism of the 21st Century,’ Renmin University, Suzhou, China, May 2010.]