6.9 The people united!

6.9.1 Sources of disunity in the fight against oppression

The major sources of disunity within our communities arose in relatively recent history. Contrary to some of capitalism's most determined defenders, neither the appearance of disunity nor those who stir it up represent an impenetrable barrier to the task of our coming together to confront and overcome the existential threats we now face from environmental degradation and growing wealth and income inequality.

From contemporary research on the deep history of humanity, briefly introduced in sections 1.6 and 2.0 of this work, we know that during most of our history we functioned communally to secure a living from nature. The corresponding behavior is now hard-wired in our physical and social makeup. Indeed, some of us need search no further back than the living memory of our own immediate families to find confirmation of our origins as a cooperative, communal species. For others, the search might need to go back at least a small number of generations. For none would it need go back further into humanity's deep history than the last 5,000 to perhaps 10,000 years of our 200,000 year history.

The record of disunity is the record of class society, likely beginning within communities first able to continuously produce a surplus beyond the immediate survival needs of their members. Slavery, serfdom and wage-slavery are the principal forms of enclosure and exclusion characteristic of these class societies, all departures from the historical norm of communal sharing.

All class-divided communities in history have also been characterized by the resistance of the exploited classes. So, how did class societies manage to endure across several generations? Stratification is clearly a major part of the answer, often by sex, sexual orientation, skin colour, language spoken, and in capitalist societies, by national origin, each defining a form of oppression. Stratification has also taken the form of ideological, security and other control functions exercised on behalf of the exploiters by part of the exploited and oppressed. The public humiliation of the exploited and oppressed by their exploiters and oppressors has also played a role, including fostering similar behaviour in those at intermediate steps along the hierarchical ladder, particularly by those seeking to maintain or elevate their relative status and corresponding advantage.

6.9.2 Savagery, barbarism and civilization: Beware the misconceptions conveyed in the language we use!

Misconceptions of our history as a species are largely the product of the justificatory stories that emerged during slaveholding, feudal and capitalist societies – chief among them the connotations we associate with the words savagery, barbarism and civilization.

In a work that continues to liberate readers from many of these misconceptions (Frederick Engels 1884, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State) Engels nevertheless followed the practice of Lewis Morgan in naming the earliest periods of human history as the epochs of savagery and barbarism – designations borrowed in turn by Morgan from earlier anthropological accounts of these same periods. Studied by archeology (when it concerns the investigation of buried artifacts) and anthropology (when it concerns the study of relatively isolated communities of the descendants of ancient societies) communal societies have existed throughout our history and were dominant for more than 95% of that time.

By Engels' account, replicated in the results of contemporary archeology and anthropology, the long pre-agricultural period of our existence, and much of the agricultural period, are best characterized by egalitarian, cooperative, communal human relationships, that is by relationships we would ordinarily associate with civilized behavior. This work on origins by Engels can be read or downloaded from: http://readingfromtheleft.com/PDF/EngelsOrigin.pdf. Or for a quick introduction to the results of modern archeology and anthropology on human history the reader can use www.wikipedia.org and go to the articles on "Paleolithic", "Mesolithic", "Neolithic", "Primitive communism" and "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State". For a brief critical update on Engels' account go to http://libcom.org/history-communism-barbarism-origins-class-society-lionel-sims for an article by anthropologist Lionel Sims. The reader can also go to the additional references we included in our section 1.6.

As to Engels' use of the terms savagery and barbarism, these are more apt characterizations of the brief, misnamed period of "civilization" that has followed, based on slavery, serfdom, and wage labor. The clearly contradictory use of the terms savagery and barbarism along with the concurrent use of such descriptors as communal and egalitarian for the characteristic social relationships is one that occurs throughout Engels' and Marx's writing. Readers will recognize this common practice, regrettably, as a continuing one. It arises in part, we believe, from a focus on the development of physical tools as causal in relation to the development of society. It ignores intellectual and organizational tools, including, for example, the historically recent emergence and practice of the concept of private property, a self-evident intellectual retreat from the more accurate understanding of our relationship with nature held by communal peoples (and being relearned by all of us now engaged in the epochal struggle to move beyond capitalism in order to preserve as much as possible of nature for the use and enjoyment of future generations).

This confusion between the level of physical technology used and the purposes for which it serves is unfortunate, to put it mildly. But it is one that continues to act as a mask for the greater savagery and barbarism associated with the destructive use of physical tools and organizational arrangements characteristic of slave, feudal and now capitalist societies, this latter being the latest, briefest and most destructive form of society in human history.

As emphasized throughout this work, returning to our communal journey together, as Marx and Engels argued we should do, will require the renewal of our relationships with each other and with nature. In the first place those of us culturally furthest from humanity's communal journey will need to learn from those culturally closer to it. From the latter can be learned greater respect for each other as well as for nature. For those interested in a representative selection of the growing literature on indigenous culture being created by highly educated communicators from the world's indigenous communities, see: http://nativeharvest.com/winona_laduke, http://leannesimpson.ca and such books as that by Art Manuel (2015, Between the Lines) Unsettling Canada: A national wake-up call or, written in a more academic style, Glen Sean Coulthard (2014, U. of Minnesota Press) Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition.

6.9.3 Will capitalism end humanity or will humanity end capitalism?

Will we unite to reverse the history of enclosure and exclusion, to relegate class forms of society to the status of an interlude in humanity's deep history? Capitalism continues to pave the way for its own replacement by further developing tools that can only be used rationally and efficiently by a more social, cooperative society. At the same time, it maintains itself as a self-replicating system by continuing to expand, extensively by extending its reach to every person and every nook and cranny of the planet, and intensively by increasing the degree of exploitation of each person and each part of the planet (for example, by increasing the degree of debt-slavery).

We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to know the capitalist system as it exists now (and the direction in which it is now headed). Capitalism is no longer a system of nationally-constrained capitalists, controllable internally by a majority of working class voters, and divided between a core group of powerful capitalist states and a periphery of weaker states with less-developed capitalism. We have corrected this implication that past versions of our work may have given. Our current understanding better corresponds to that represented in William I. Robinson's published work on transnational capitalism and the transnational capitalist class. With his permission, we have included a couple of his articles on our website, www.greensocialdemocracy.org, in which he applies the new theoretical perspective, along with a review by us of his latest, most comprehensive account of the restructuring of capitalism into its current form.

Here we simply recall for the reader the following arguments that we advanced earlier. The main characteristic of this latest stage of capitalist globalization is its centralization of global economic and thus political power in the hands of a network of interlocking directors of an increasingly smaller number of powerful transnational capitalist corporations which together effectively control most of the world's capital and therefore its economic activity. In this form, global capitalism has been successful – so far - in engineering a global race to the bottom in environmental regulations and workers' rights, a race that nature and humanity must ultimately lose. Again, for the best and most complete account of this development, see William I. Robinson (2014, Cambridge University Press) Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity.

This reminder enables us to draw the following conclusions to this section of our work. It is the people of the world united who must write the end of the story of capitalism. The overlapping categories of those exploited by class and those suffering from oppression represent the overwhelming majority of humanity. The examples of popular unity across these divides abound, providing evidence of the potential that exists, as Naomi Klein has shown in her writing. The level of unity we need to defeat and move beyond capitalism is global. Each and every day, capitalism and its representatives are by their actions and example making the seeming magnitude of that task smaller. The people united can be victorious in opening the door to a more just, sustainable future for humanity than that offered by capitalism.