6.11 21st century alternatives: A descent into barbarism or ascent to a more just, sustainable human community?

Who would choose a descent into barbarism? Rather than a willful choice, a descent into barbarism is more likely to be the end result of business as usual, justified by such ostensible neoliberal aims as economic growth, employment, free enterprise, public security and balanced development. Each of these expressions of aims is typically used by the proponents or political representatives of unfettered pursuit of private profit as a code for a capitalist market economy in which private profit is the paramount right and responsibility. In practice the results include:

  1. exponential growth in material throughput and waste (because both add to the typical measures of economic growth used to guide economic policy);
  2. continued growth of a global economy based on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources (because these sectors of the economy produce most of the generated profits, creating a capitalist self-interest in continuing along this same path)
  3. concentrated political power in the hands of a narrowing circle of major owners, directors and political representatives of the associated multinational corporations, so-called "free" enterprise (in reality, increasingly oligarchic enterprises, with most of the power in each sector concentrated in a declining number of colluding global corporations and their incestuous, interlocking directors);
  4. continued expansion of poor quality jobs, including those without collective bargaining rights and benefits in a universal race to the bottom in both labor and environmental rights and protections;
  5. continued drive for the privatization of what remains of the universal commons (because encroachment into the commons is one of the last, remaining opportunities for the expansion of private-for-profit exploitation of labor and nature)
  6. continued expansion of homeland security, the armaments and prison industries, police and military forces – with corresponding curtailment of civil liberties and human rights (because such expansion has the growth of social instability and violence as both its consequence and justification); and
  7. growth in the extent of environmental destruction (because "balanced" development is understood by its proponents as meaning that each investment in environmental sustainability must be "balanced" by a corresponding license to add to the above unsustainable trends).

While environmental destruction and growing income and wealth inequality within and between countries is each likely to have multiple causes, they converge in a growing risk of descent into barbarism. As resources decline, a scramble for these resources has the potential for generating civil and international strife. It becomes more difficult for the forces of reason and peaceful resolution of problems to constrain the forces of ignorance, fear and aggression, particularly if the overwhelming balance of global political-economic power were to shift in support of the latter.

In the 20th Century, a handful of capitalist states embarked on fascist barbarism, but were ultimately defeated by a coalition of states, including the USSR, who put their differences temporarily aside to defeat this threat. Nevertheless, fascism left in its wake the greatest destruction of people and the environment yet experienced.

There is no guarantee of a further opportunity to escape a descent into barbarism in the 21st Century. For one thing, the state of the natural environment in relation to human need is more precarious. A spiral into universal barbarism from which there would be no escape is a distinct possibility. Only the development of a successful global transformation from dominant neoliberal capitalism to the beginnings of a more just, sustainable global socio-economic system is likely to reverse current opposing trends.

There is reason for optimism about the prospects for an ascent to a more just, sustainable human community. If it comes it will be a result of the convergence of the following trends:

  1. the increasingly higher levels of knowledge, imagination and problem-solving skills demanded for participation in a knowledge-based economy;
  2. the increasingly higher expectations of well-educated working people for their equal participation in decision-making;
  3. increasing labor productivity and lifespan and a demand for corresponding growth of free time (including time for participation in the non-market economy, in which people contribute voluntarily to the common good);
  4. diverse and growing movements of opposition to neoliberal capitalist policy, in defense of nature and people;
  5. the merger of the environmental, justice and indigenous rights movements within and between countries;
  6. the growing role of civic movements at the municipal and local level;
  7. the growing role of social unionism, uniting working people around the broadest conception of the working class, fighting for the rights of all employees to collective bargaining, addressing the issues that concern working people in the communities in which we live, including the rights of tenants, consumers and home owners and the issues of electoral democracy and access to educational, cultural and recreational opportunities;
  8. development of the new economy, including worker owned and managed businesses and worker, farmer, consumer and community cooperatives;
  9. the establishment of socially responsible businesses and corporations that prioritize environmental and community responsibility over private profit and executive salaries;
  10. the establishment and expansion of trusts to protect and expand the commons; and
  11. the advent of political parties prepared to champion the aims of the new movements and make their aims the leading aims of society.

With hundreds of millions of people each focusing their voluntary efforts on those movements that best accord with their abilities and opportunities, a positive outcome is attainable. Taken together the convergence of these movements into effective opposition to neoliberal capitalism constitutes what we have described as green social democracy – the long period of transition away from neoliberal capitalism to an alternate, more just and sustainable human community.

If our understanding of this transition is correct, then green social democratic rule will be the result of the success of the convergence – including a large measure of collaboration and cooperation - of its diverse constituents. We believe that such a democratic model of political-economic change, based on the pillars of democracy, education, science and imagination, is a necessary advance over the more simplistic models of the previous century, with their roots in the more authoritarian capitalist culture that needs to be replaced. In this new conception it goes without saying that our more democratic future belongs to working people, by which we mean all those who contribute, are prepared or are preparing to contribute or have contributed to the goods and services needed by the community and to the protection and stewardship of the natural environment, our planetary home, whether this contribution is in the form of participation in the market economy, the non-market one or both.

In the next and final chapter of this extended argument, we build upon the ideas advanced in the prior chapters to elaborate and argue for a set of policies which in their totality could serve as the basis for a political movement, one that could then take us towards a green social democracy.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.