We live in a class society. For so long as it exists, there will exist competition and the struggle for power, looting and terror, big and small wars. Any attempts to get rid of all these calamities while preserving the foundation of class society - relations of property and management in which those productive forces that belong to me do not belong to another and vice versa and in which society is divided into managers and managed - are utopian and unrealisable.
But let us ask ourselves a question. Is it worth trying to get rid of these calamities? After all, people have been living in class society for nine thousand years. They seem to have grown accustomed to social alienation and all its consequences. Perhaps it is not worth our while to engage in risky experiments in the quest for some new way of life? To accept and live by the rules of the game that are now in force, and if you do try to change them somehow then only in particular minor details - that, you know, is safer than destroying the whole world of violence and building a new world in its place. What kind of new world exactly? And how is it to be built - in accordance with what models, by what means? And what for? Of course, many do not survive in this world. Many find life in it unbearable. But most adapt somehow and live - some better, others (the majority) worse, but somehow people get by. And what if the notorious new world turns out much worse than the old? What if humanity comes to ruin in its quest?
The contemporary philistine has quite definite readymade answers to all these questions. They all boil down to the same thing: live in the society that our forebears have handed down to us and don't try to change its foundations. However, let's take a detached view and look more closely at the world in which we live. When we do that, we discover an astonishing thing. Our technology has reached a level of development at which the further existence of an alienated class society is simply incompatible with the survival of humanity. If competition and the struggle for power between people go on, in the form not only of big and small wars but also of production for the sake of capitalists' profits and managers' careers, then at the current level of technology humanity will destroy itself sooner or later. Sooner or later, but in any case quite soon, within another couple of hundred years at most. And there is no way for humanity to return to a lower level of technology. If it tried to do so, it would inevitably destroy itself in the attempt.
At the level of technological development that humanity has reached in the course of the Scientific-Technological Revolution (STR), each small war means a big ecological catastrophe. War today - even if nuclear weapons are not used - means explosions of oil and gas wells, of repositories of toxic chemicals and radioactive waste, of the factories where all this contagion is produced, of nuclear power plants... The longer that people go on fighting one another, the greater will be the irreversible losses to the Earth's natural environment. And as people will go on fighting one another so long as class society exists, it may be considered proven on these grounds alone that if within a certain time (whether one, two, or three hundred years is not so important; what matters is that by historical standards time is very short - hardly more than two or three hundred years) class society does not give way (or at least begin to give way) to some different type of social organization that abolishes competition and the struggle for power between people then there will certainly be a global ecological catastrophe and humanity will perish.
How can the threat of war be eliminated without eliminating class society? By creating a single world state belonging to the exploiting classes (economically dominant classes that appropriate the surplus product of the labor of their subjects) of the whole world? But, as anyone should be able to understand, contradictions between different groups of exploiters, their internecine struggle for money and power are ineradicable in principle (until the exploiting classes are themselves done away with). Two things follow from this. First, the very attempt to create such a state would inevitably bring about either a new world war or a series of local wars equivalent in scale, casualties, and destruction, thereby bringing global ecological catastrophe closer. Second, even if such a state were to be created (which in itself is practically impossible) it would inevitably turn out to be short-lived: contradictions between groups of exploiters would very soon tear it apart, and that would again be accompanied by big wars. As we see, so long as class society exists it will inevitably drive itself, and with it all humanity, into the grave.
Could we perhaps save ourselves from this threat by retaining class society but rejecting high technology, by throwing the productive forces of humanity three hundred years back? It wouldn't work. Even if all the states of the world - or a hypothetical world state, which in reality will never arise - were suddenly to lose their senses and begin to carry out this plan, these states (or the groups of the ruling class within the single world state) would certainly hold on to their modern armaments. (No insanity would ever shield them from this pressing necessity, born of the struggle for power and money.) And if modern armaments are preserved, that means that the entire sector of industry needed for their production will likewise be preserved. This in itself would be quite sufficient for ecological catastrophe - all the more so considering that as a result of the abandonment of productive forces famine would stalk the Earth and the struggle between people for survival acquire a terrible intensity, leading to chaos and horrifying wars. Twist and turn as you will, but class society can no longer ensure the survival of humanity.
But let us suppose that by some miracle class society manages to avoid wars and eternal peace sets in. Could it then ensure the survival of humanity? It is not difficult to prove that even in this hypothetical case class society will before long send humanity to its grave. After all, for what purpose is production carried on in this society? For the purpose of increasing the wealth and power of the exploiting classes. For industrial civilisation this means: for the sake of capitalists' profits and managers' careers. Harmonious mutual adaptation of nature and production is quite possible from the technical point of view; there is nothing utopian about it. But it requires enormous outlays of resources - outlays that cannot be quickly recouped. In a world where economic activity is controlled by competing exploitative organizations ("private" firms and states) and competing groups inside each such organization, no single exploiter can permit himself such outlays, for if he does his competitors will devour him. Nor can a firm and lasting agreement among all, or even a majority, of exploiters ever be reached, because the struggle for wealth and power is inseparable from the very essence of relations among them. Pressure from the broad masses may compel the wealthy and the powerful to cough up a little for the "protection of nature" - but only a little, and that will help only for a time. The most of which class society is capable by way of harmonizing relations between man and nature is miserable palliative measures on the part of some of the richest states, the main effect of which is the transfer of the most harmful production facilities to poorer countries. But the earth is a single entity, and any contagion released into the environment at any point will sooner or later spread throughout the globe. In short, for so long as humanity remains divided into managers and managed, until such time as it constitutes itself into a single collective the interests of all the members of which coincide, it will move toward its doom with ever growing speed. If humanity does not begin its transition from alienated to collective existence, it will very soon perish in a global ecological catastrophe.
Humanity has already known times when people lived collectively. Primitive communities were small collectives. What is a "collective"? It is not just any united group, but only one in which many managerial decisions are taken together by all members of the group, without any division into bosses and subordinates. And not even by a majority of votes, but in the way of primitive communities, where the members of the community would discuss a matter until they had arrived at a single opinion and a decision was considered taken only when unanimity had been achieved. In those cases where it was not possible to dispense with the coordinating role of leaders, they were elected (again on the basis of unanimity) and closely monitored by their subordinates and subject to recall and replacement at any time. Such relations of production, which necessarily gave rise to an egalitarian distribution of material goods and their consumption under strict collective control, created a real coincidence of interests among all members of the community. Let us add that all adult members of the community were armed, and no would-be leader had the chance to rely on a minority in order to consolidate his power over the majority. If within the next two or three hundred years humanity turns into a united collective like the little collective that each primitive community once comprised, then it will be able to dispose of its technology in such a way as to achieve the harmonious mutual adaptation of nature and production.
The development of computer technology creates the technical possibility of convening many thousands and millions of people in mass meetings to resolve the most complex issues in a few hours and take collective managerial decisions without any division into bosses and subordinates. However, this possibility will become reality only when the ordinary wage and salary earners of the whole world rise up against their lords and masters, organize under the leadership of their party, and forcibly take the means of production out of the hands of the exploiting classes. (Of course, this will happen not all at once, but first in some countries, then in others, and so on.) Should this uprising succeed, it will lay the foundation for the transition of humanity from class society to collectivism.
Of course, the worldwide violent struggle of the proletariat for power is nothing other than worldwide class war. Like any other world war at the current level of development of the productive forces, it poses the threat of the destruction of humanity. But if humanity does survive this war and the insurgents win it, then wars on earth will cease and no longer threaten people with destruction. If there is no worldwide proletarian rebellion or if it is defeated, then wars on earth will continue - and in the final reckoning will inevitably destroy humanity. In other words, today humanity finds itself in roughly the same kind of situation as a person who is gravely sick with cancer in a vital organ. If an operation is performed, the patient may die or may survive. If no operation is performed, he may live another month, two months, at most a year--but he will certainly die.
From all this there follows an inescapable conclusion. The life of ordinary people who feed their families, bring up their children, and do the daily work that this requires has meaning only if the world proletarian revolution begins in the relatively near future and in the course of time is victoriously completed. In other words, that kind of life, in and of itself, is devoid of meaning. It is given meaning by the existence on earth of consistent proletarian revolutionaries who have not fallen into any form of opportunism. The greater the number of such revolutionaries in the world, the more meaning there is in the existence of humanity. For so long as the contemporary person does not become a revolutionary, his life is devoid of independent meaning: it is infused with meaning only from without, thanks to the existence of revolutionaries on earth. By becoming a revolutionary, a person not only gives value to his own life but also infuses a little more meaning into the life of all the other people who live on earth.
To be a consistent proletarian revolutionary and through one's propaganda turn other people into the same - this is the way of life for contemporary man that is most worthy of a rational being.
Proletarian Revolution [Пролетарская революция], No. 1, fall 2001
Translated by Stefan