The Years When Anything was Possible: a Marxist Analysis of the Twentieth Century

World War One

The Rise of Communism

The Rise of Fascism

World War Two

The Building of the Nuclear Bomb

The Polarisation of International Politics

The Threat of Global Annihilation

It seems like a lot to have happened within 100 years, but this was the twentieth century; ten decades which would change the course of humanity. The wars, genocides, revolutions and discoveries that took place between 1900 and 2000 demonstrate, for better or for worse, just what mankind is capable of. Sometimes, these included great technological feats, others, great atrocities, yet the twentieth century also saw something never before seen in history: man’s brilliance and creativity catching up with him.

The question is, however, why were these years so dramatic?

Take, World War One, for example. This was a war which Germany predicted long before it occurred, the causes of which, as most agree, were rooted in the geopolitical situation at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, it would appear that this event was the result of years of tension, and that tension was released in the form of a battle. Many argue that it is because of this war that World War Two occurred, or that Hitler and Stalin came to power. If this was true then it would seem that the entirety of the drama that followed was a result of nineteenth century politics.

I, however, believe it goes deeper than that, and that the root cause of the 100 year long epic was not a singular war. The Russian Revolution is a good example, for it is an event which divided the political scene for the next seventy-four years. It may seem that this revolution only took place because of the damage done to Russia during the war with Germany, but I believe it’s more complicated than that; the ousting of the tsar was almost inevitable, and when the Bolsheviks took power, they were riding on the back of 200 years worth of social change. Perhaps the conflict provided an opportunity for revolution, but revolution would have occurred regardless.

Given that this is the case, events such as the rise of fascism and the Second World War need re-examining. There are certainly reasons that suggest the war was involved, but most agree these two events would have not happened had Europe been stable. This is why I believe that the primary cause of this 100-year-long epic was economics, or more specifically, capitalism.

The war, in fact, ties into this, for World War One was a conflict between the imperialist powers of Europe, all fighting for their own colonial interests, all in, as Lenin called it, the ‘Highest Stage of Capitalism.’ This would mean that the damage done to postwar Germany was as a result of their loss in a financial conflict. After the war’s conclusion, communism should have followed imminently, given the state of the capitalist world, and it very nearly did. The red flame was ignited in the Russian Empire, and spread to Central Asia, Eastern Europe and would have spread to Germany (look at events such as the Spartacist Rebellion), but failed.

This was because Germany’s decaying capitalist system yielded not to socialism, but fascism (or capitalism in decay, to quote Lenin). This led to another conflict, allowing other capitalist countries to strengthen military, and halting the revolution at Berlin. A great percentage of the drama, triumphs and disasters that followed are the shockwaves of the great tension in the world, as capitalism and communism stood side by side, and humanity teetered on the brink of revolution.

Yet the revolution never came, and by the early 1990s, the international bourgeois had prevailed. This was largely due to a number of factors, but perhaps the primary reasons were the immaturity of the revolution, alongside the evolutionary ability of capitalism to change and adapt. But Cold War tensions still exist in the world, and NATO still fears the morals and potential of the Russian Federation. It seems that, after communism’s departure, fresh tensions have arisen in its absence, tensions which have increased in recent years.

Should this continue, the unrest that marked the previous century may spill over into this one.

‘Naturally Selfish’: Does Human Nature Make Socialism Impossible?

When discussing socialism, hearing others discuss socialism and looking at the various pro/con arguments on the topic, I’ve come across several ideas as to why communism is a flawed system, why there will never be a revolution and why, at the end of the day, we’re better off how we are. Some cite certain atrocities in various communist countries and make a conclusion about their inevitable presence in such a system, whereas others will simply tell you that it’s an unrealistic goal which will never be achieved in the real world. There are also those who will object on moral grounds, defending their right to private ownership, but perhaps the most interesting proposition I’ve come across is the idea that communism is rendered unachievable by human nature itself. 

I can understand how this argument would appeal to many, as it seems to make logical sense; humans have a longstanding tendency towards selfishness. This can be seen in both a social and a biological manner, with mankind’s survival being based on Darwinian principles, and its prosperity on socially Darwinian ones. It would appear that competition is both an innate and necessary component of human wellbeing, which suggests that building a collective society based on the principles of equality is impossible. I’m going to argue the opposite, or, more importantly, I’m going to approach the issue from a Marxist perspective.

In Marx’s eyes, mankind has progressed through various historical epochs, each based on the dominant economic class in the era, which have managed to control and utilise the means of production for their own gain. So far, we have seen society progress from slavery to feudalism, and later, to capitalism. Regardless of your views regrading Marxism generally, a study of global history tells us that this progression is more-or-less accurate, and it provides a solid basis for historical analysis in this case.   

Each of the epochs described here are based on the principles of inequality and exploitation, but there is, in fact an earlier stage in this model of human development, referred to by Marx as primitive communism. These were the days of man’s tribal history, where hunter-gatherer societies roamed the planet, and when socialism was the accepted norm. The tribes man formed in the ancient world exemplify society devoid of exploitation, or in other words, a communist lifestyle, that totally defies the judgement of many who claim this isn’t possible. 

Several indigenous peoples like these have survived in the present era, such as the Penan people of Borneo, who live under the principles of equality, have no actual  leaders (only spokespeople who wield no power) and are known for practising ‘molong’, (never taking more than is necessary). The Adi people of India and the Maasai tribe of East Africa also provide examples of preserved tribal socialism, and Israeli Kibbutzim, alongside various anarchist communities today, serve as successful attempts to recreate this lifestyle in the modern world. They remind us that our condition in the past is not reflective of that today.

Maasai tribesmen

It’s also telling that this was our earliest state of being, for the fact that our first and most basic attempts at civilisation were not based on greed or self-indulgence (rather the reverse) shows that not only are selflessness and collective organisation possible, but they are natural to mankind. Only after individuals took over the productive means did the focus shift onto individual, rather than communal gain, meaning economic exploitation and unequal distribution are learned habits. This argument is further supported by the fact that humanity is still struggling to find happiness, no matter how much wealth we accumulate. Statistics on contentment or satisfaction in developed countries demonstrate this, showing that endless buying and spending do not make us any happier, and suggesting that it is not an innate desire to strive for ones own gain at the expense of another. Needless to say, this kind of consumption is also incredibly unsustainable, meaning that, like it or not, capitalism must give way to a better economic system.

Coming back to Darwinism, I understand that if societal competition is not natural to mankind, this would seem to contradict the competitive biological nature of mankind’s development, based on the principle of survival of the fittest. However, it may surprise the non-Marxist that Marx was a great admirer of Darwin’s, and saw his ideas on the evolution of organisms, through the process of natural selection, to be at one with his own ideas of society’s evolution, through the process of class struggle. It also isn’t necessarily counter-evolutionary that humanity’s natural state is a collective one; it has merely evolved from this condition in the same way that cells and organisms repeatedly do, and nor does the belief that man will ‘return’ to socialism contradict the ideas of competitive evolution, for, with the rise of communism, we are simply seeing the end of an evolutionary process. In a way, we’re seeing something similar in the natural world today; survival of the fittest has determined humanity’s evolution since it’s birth, yet with advances in the medical sciences, we’re now able to preserve ‘unfit’ characteristics and curb natural selection. Should this continue in the future, humanity may never need to adapt, and evolution would no longer occur.

This is why I believe that human nature does not contradict equality, but rather allows for it. True, we have a tendency to put our own needs above others, but at the end of the day, our earliest efforts at working together show that these unhealthy behaviours aren’t innate or fixed, even if they fuel the exploitive economic systems of modern society. In a debate on the benefit and rationality of religion, I once heard it remarked that, unlike squids, which apparently spend almost their entire lives in isolation, humans are social creatures. However unsociable capitalist society may make us seem, I believe this is certainly something to remember.

For more information on the socialistic structures of tribal society, I recommend the following, an online chapter from David Maurer’s book:

The image depicting the Maasai tribe was provided by User:Helga76 from Wikimedia Commons (though I added the caption), and was licenced under the following:



Capitalism’s Evolutionary Phases

I’ll start by saying that this entry may be quite dense. The purpose of writing it is to explain and convey an understanding I’ve developed of how capitalism has adapted to survive over the years, a question I’ve been considering for a while now. I suppose you could call the ideas proposed here a theory, (if I was to name it, I’d call it the Theory of Three Ages), and that’s all it’ll be for the moment; any advancement of this idea will only follow a lot of research on my part. 

But, given that this is me explaining my ideas so far, I’ll hopefully give you a good description of these three ages, and of how I believe exploitation has evolved over time. To do this, however, everyone needs to know what we’re dealing with, so I’ll start by asking you the following question:

What is capitalism?

It’s often seen as the embodiment of free trade and economic liberties as opposed to state control. Because of the challenge communism presented in the twentieth century, it would also be easy to cite capitalism as simply one of two political and economic currents in the world, and, after various failures in the communist countries, it’s far too often associated with freedom and harmony. Predictably, I’m going to tell you that this is wrong: it’s the single most sly, destructive, exploitive concept that has dominated the world throughout modern history. 

So here’s a Marxist appraisal of our great nemesis.

The European Age 

In terms of where it all began, capitalism arose roughly three centuries ago, taking its first breath in Italy. I wrote a more detailed entry on its origins a few months ago, but I’ll cover the basics here. The system that takes precedence over all inhabitable continents is a relatively recent one; it developed in Europe, perhaps the most socially advanced corner of the Earth at that point, out of the decaying feudal system that formerly retained supremacy. Yet unlike feudalism, capitalism existed to provide industrial (as opposed to agricultural) production, and with its rise, the focus of the economy was no longer upon the farms, but the factories.

The European countries soon grew in power and influence, and rose to colonise great swathes of Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, allowing them to exploit imperialistically. Imperialism has crept its way into history throughout mankind’s many different epochs, and it has always been a tendency of the strongest individuals to dominate the weak, yet this can be viewed as the rise of capitalist imperialism. The new European empires sought to utilise the people and the resources of the colonised nations for capitalistic purposes, and thus expanded their field of economic influence to the far corners of the Earth.

These powers were thus able to sustain dominance, by widening their field of exploitation beyond national limits, yet it couldn’t continue forever. You could perhaps think of this period as the climax of capitalism, at which point exploitation had advanced humanity greatly, yet had reached a critical level and was growing ever harder to maintain. Even after the establishment of a vast imperial network, the ruling elites of Britain, France or Germany were struggling to control those whose labour they relied upon. The system was, quite literally, falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions.

The American Age

Three significant changes took place in the world throughout the twentieth century. Firstly, the rise in power and influence of another giant, the United States, changed the international dynamic of the capitalist world. Secondly, economic changes allowed exploitation to take place to a less severe extent in the western countries, allowing many concessions to be made to the working population, and causing the working class to actually decline. Finally, the rise of Bolshevism threatened to end capitalism altogether. 

These changes may not seem as though they’d benefit capitalism, but, with the economic system on the very verge of collapse, they perhaps managed to save it. 

One reason why this happened was  the fact that the western countries found a common enemy in Soviet Russia and, later, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba and communist Indochina; they were forced to unite against them. This can be seen most clearly in the Cold War, yet was also present prior to 1945. It demonstrates the development of a capitalist ideology, through the willingness of these nations to fight for motives like democracy and human rights (it is, in a Marxist sense, the tendency of capitalism to allow for greater political freedom) under the new guidance of the United States. It was then a question of whether or not the western proletariat would side with the communist world, or the world run by their employers, and this sense of ideological unity helped allow for the latter. Tales of failures, inefficiencies and abuses in the socialist countries helped strengthen this ideology, and helped keep the workers from revolting, temporarily keeping them occupied and holding capitalism in place for longer.

Yet whilst ideological control helped distract many, the economic contradictions in the capitalist system were still such that it could not continue, and immediate reorganisation of the economy was needed if it were to do so. Economic variation took place in the form of de-industrialisation, causing the working class to shrink in size, and the outsourcing of industry to other parts of the world. This gave rise to a new form of international domination, where brands and corporations, as opposed to armies and governments, became responsible for the unofficial and shadowy exploitation of the third world. Imperialism in the traditional sense, the official establishment of foreign authority in the region, was on the decline, again very much in tune with the tendency of capitalist society to progress in the direction of liberty and freedom, yet a new form of imperialism was developing. It was purely economic, and dodged the need for a military invasion and the controversy that such invasion causes, and yet it was more effective, and could allow the western proletariat to both decline and grow in affluence. They would thus lose their revolutionary character, and so capitalism was kept alive in the developed world. 

Thus an interesting dynamic fell into place, where the capitalist world, led by the United States, relied upon the undeveloped regions for economic purposes, and the communist world, led by the Soviet Union, wished to bring an end to such western domination. This gave way to third-world Marxism, a tendency in communist thought influenced largely by Mao’s teachings, which retains popularity today. It may also be no coincidence that, outside the communist bloc, all the new revolutions occurred in undeveloped areas of the planet. 

The International Age

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the communist empire fragmented and the majority of socialist states gave way to a shifting political climate, allowing capitalism to expand across Eurasia, consuming Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. This led to further changes in the international dynamic, and paved the way for a future in which America may not be the leading capitalist power. As some of the still-officially-communist countries resorted to capitalism, the rise of China presented a further challenge to the United States.

At the same time, the third world, which the capitalist world had become increasingly reliant upon, was developing at an astonishing rate. India, Brazil and Indonesia, whilst locked in the depths of poverty, all have the potential to become superpowers, which suggests that soon our imperial ventures in these parts of the world may no longer be tolerated. If this is to be the case, and even if not (as no format of capitalism can continue indefinitely) the capitalist world shall do what it has done for decades, and scour the Earth for pockets of resources and workers to exploit. New pockets of exploitation have already opened up, in countries like Russia, the perfect example of economic polarisation, and more will likely appear as further geopolitical changes take place.

This, it seems, is the kind of capitalism we’ve adopted. In the European Age, exploitation took place within the confines of individual countries, with certain countries exercising capitalistic rule over others. In the American Age, the division between the exploited and the exploiters began to take on national characteristics, yet now, in the age of international economics, such divisions exceed these boundaries and exist irrespective of states and countries.

Revolution, whenever and wherever it occurs, must take place on an international level to compete with this system. While famously sparse on the practicalities of revolution, Karl Marx did remark that, whilst the differences between nations and nationalities are vanishing in capitalistic society, ‘the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster’. 

Today, as capitalism grows increasingly globalised, this couldn’t be more relevant. 


The image depicting the Statue of Liberty was provided by Giorgio Martini from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following (though a newer licence is available):

The image depicting the Shanghai skyline was provided by J. Patrick Fischer from Wikimedia Commons, and was licenced under the following:



The ‘C’ Word

There is much controversy surrounding the word I’m thinking of.

You don’t hear it much out and about, but most know its meaning. It seems that it’s always used in a negative way, often as an insult, and has been known to induce attitude shock or offence (so much so that artistic expression of the concept is, in certain countries, considered so inappropriate that it’s actually illegal). This is somewhat unusual, as it acquired the power to insult when it was never originally supposed to, and became synonymous with words and ideas to which it once bore no relation. In fact, when it first came into being, it was often associated with something rather wonderful, but if you tell someone today they’re a complete c______, I doubt you’ll get a positive response.

Yes, communism has been a controversial word for a long while. Somewhere down the line, it became a well-known enemy, and we saw it as such for the remainder of the twentieth century. We even created brilliant works of propaganda on the concept; perhaps it was coming to overthrow your democracy and install a dictatorial puppet state, or maybe it was (and there is truth behind this, though aggression was obviously far from one-sided) on the verge of flattening New York with a nine-megaton bomb, but it was a monster all the same. Society came to agree that whatever the communists were planning, something bad would happen as a result.

The question is, however, when did this all start?

Ever since 1917, many saw in communist Russia a foe. This can be traced back to the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, a conflict that occurred just after the catastrophic defeats of World War One. But the communist terror and angst that would later plague Europe and North America was, at that point, largely nonexistent; in these early years, the west was largely unaware of both the political terror and the military challenge the regime would later provide, and thus, to call yourself a communist probably didn’t mean a great deal, for communism was really just another radical idea. I once read an American newspaper headline at the time of the Russian Revolution, which described the Bolsheviks as ‘extremists’, comparing them with ‘moderate governments’ before them. Whilst I definitely felt anti-Bolshevik sentiment expressed there, the article implied nothing significant or special about their cause – the only distinction it drew between the party that would later lead their future nemesis and the easily forgotten Provisional Government, which assumed power for a brief, eight month period before October, was a mere statement that one was radical while the other was moderate.

In fact, many in the west were far more open to the prospect of communism than this. George Bernard Shaw, for example, even advised the British unemployed to travel to the USSR, under the impression that they would be given a job. It’s also known that the intelligentsia in the United Kingdom were a lot more sympathetic towards the Soviet Union than you might expect, and many respected their ideals in a way that would seem unimaginable during the years of the Cold War. This continued throughout the repression of Stalin’s era, and people still managed to find sympathy with his political system. I even heard that information regarding oppression in the Soviet Union was actually covered up by those able to do so, for fear that it may soil the image of Russia that many westerners undoubtedly clung to.

Only thirty or fourty years later, however, far from withdrawing information to preserve Soviet support, western governments would dress-up and dramatize reality in the Eastern Bloc almost to an unfair level, printing McCarthyist slogans in black, probably against a red background and a hammer-and-sickle to add a sinister quality. After the 1917 revolution, tensions did occur between the communist and capitalist world, but during the war something snapped, and relationships deteriorated almost to the level of sparking a World War Three. Communism, as a term, almost became synonymous with fascism, and I’m willing to bet that plenty don’t know the difference, which is strange, given that only a few decades previously, this word would have accurately described the views of many in the west.


There isn’t one explanation for the change, nor for why it occurred at that moment, and on reflection, it may seem odd that the Cold War began in 1945 and not 1917. After all, an obvious explanation for the post-war tensions is the lack of any need preserve a situation of comradeship with the Soviet Union, once fascism had been finally defeated, but nor was there a need to maintain diplomacy throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s. It would also be easy to assume that communist aggression towards the west began only after the war, but this is again untrue; Lenin once referred to England as the Soviet Union’s greatest enemy, and Soviet military action in the then-British colony of India proves that such statements weren’t at all hollow. So, as I understand it, there is only one reason as to why perceptions of communism changed worldwide, this being military prowess.

The USSR emerged from the war a highly capable country, and, if another conflict was to occur, the prospect of a western defeat was incredibly likely. Thus, though tyranny, repression and starvation were known prior to the war, they were largely ignored. Now that the west had a reason to fear the regime, however, a hatred for communism, with the assistance of these facts, was cultivated in no time. Whilst writing, I’m aware that I’ve come across as critical towards Soviet communism, and I am (by ‘Soviet communism’, I mean the Soviet Union after 1924), yet I’m a communist nonetheless, and I’m also critical of the west during this scenario, for I feel that the demonization of communism didn’t occur due to the oppression and failures it brought about where it was attempted, but simply due to the fact that it provided a potential enemy. This highlights a disgusting aspect of the political situation in the western world, this being the opportunistic tendencies of democratic, western governments, to ally or break with the worst kinds of states or governments when it suits their own interests, no matter how authoritarian, repressive, or simply wrong they may be (I’m not talking about a credible means-to-an-end kind of scenario – although this is likely a popular justification – I’m just talking about when it suits the interests of the international capitalists). To the western world, such an ideology wasn’t evil from the start; it only became so when it threatened capitalism. This was why the ‘C’ word gathered such negativity. Not because of careful observation of socialism’s many failures, but due to the material conditions the capitalist world found themselves in. In short, it was it only when it actually stood a chance that communism stopped being cool.

Though quite different in content, this entry was inspired by the excellent post ‘The s-word’ by ‘Guts of a Beggar’, which you can find here:

If you liked this entry (or even if you didn’t!) I’d recommend reading its predecessor.