Barbarism – user manual for the 21st century

The image s/d. Bombing of the Gaza Strip by Israel during the ongoing war against the Palestinian territory. Telegram Reproduction


Capitalism gets drunk at regular intervals with enormous doses of barbarism


The restless Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm warned us back in the early 1990s that capitalism was getting drunk at regular intervals with huge doses of barbarism. As this systemic disorder ages, the more grotesque and harsh forms of inhumanity become part of the existential mood of capital, with various forms of violence, brutality and torture being naturalized.[I]

Eric Hobsbawm writes the “User's Manual” of barbarism reflecting our old unknown 20th century, a fragmented time with various forms of slaughter and cruelty, but also of temperance and reconstruction. Barbarisms are projected, this is true, throughout the history of this cavernous, but largely cordial, species. Humanity is shuffled between the taciturn “Minotaur” and the unmistakable passionate “Quixote”, with barbarism being an eternal character present in the timeline of this species.

Barbarism can be treated in different episodes, and history reflects, according to our historian, seven key episodes of barbarism in the insoluble 1945th century. Still at the beginning of the XNUMXth we had the repetitive chords of the rattles of the First World War, something marked by the putrid smell of the “trenches” and the use of “white phosphorus” bombs on civilian populations. There began a form of war that would be repeated in increasing degrees, until the unspeakable slaughter of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagazaki in XNUMX.

But even in the early years we would experience two awkward episodes: the use of the economic forces of capital as a thanatic energy to undo peoples and societies, as Keynes would say, an unquestionable herald of the power of capital, according to which the Treaty of Versailles will produce the genocidal Germany of a decade later.[ii] The second way will be the belief in the science of war as the only solution to human conflicts, thus the “League of Nations” was born dead in the early 1920s.

The subsequent known episodes are universally known: the violent Second World War and its more than sixty million deaths; the Jewish Holocaust and European massacres. Let it be said that Europe constitutes the center of historical Barbarism, far from any pride, Europeans and their by-products of cultural power and, now centers of imperial economic power (USA, Canada, Australia, Israel), are the largest producers of the most refined barbarism .

The US imperial power shows its barbaric claws at various times: it begins with the atomic bombs, the napalm bombs in Vietnam, the cruelty of torture taught by Latin American dictatorships and, finally, its most modern feature, the use of economic blockades. and fiscal logic crushing, like a torturer's tourniquet, the societies and state budgets of subjugated societies, whether Latin American, African or Asian and, in the last period of the 20th and already in the 21st, underdeveloped European societies.

The episodes of barbarism in the new century are so varied that they seem like a continuation of the previous period. In this specific aspect there is not a new existential century but, rather, a complex continuity, to a large extent entangled in growing uncertainties, so to speak, to use Eric Hobsbawm's own words (2012) who, at the end of the book Brief 20th century: “(…) the citizens of fin-de-siécle they only knew for certain that an era of history had ended [however] the world lacked (…) any international system or structure”, something that only deepened in the three decades of the current century of uncertainty, but the new faces of barbarism were only exposed as The crisis of capitalism and its form of rentier regime, neoliberalism, deepened.


What would be central to seeing the barbaric resentment of recent years: the infallible loss of imperial power and the slaughter of the Iraqi people. We had more than a million Iraqis killed and millions more subjugated to American libertarian discourse. The empire then organized itself in recent years around attempts to resolve commercial and productive limits. This, it seemed, was a solution to power terrorism, especially American ones.

The last barbaric formula came to us from a historical reality inherited from the “age of catastrophe”: Palestine! Barbarism takes on some new contours in this episode that inaugurates irrationality in the 21st century.[iii] It's been a few months since the Israeli massacre took place in Palestine, we have a new Holocaust, with the massacre of a people, the daily death of children and fetuses building this umpteenth episode of barbarism. The manual of barbarism seems to be a continuous learning of violence and dehumanization. There are four new components of barbarism that add to the forms already described and exposed by Eric Hobsbawm, let's see them in this last theater of complete death that we follow day by day.

(i) Barbarism in real time. Online information transmission technologies allowed humanity to witness, for the first time, the dehumanization of a population and the justification of violence committed against children, adolescents and women. When in “Buchenwald” or “Auschwitz” a considerable portion of humanity only became aware of the genocidal cholera years later, due to the obviousness of communicational limits. It is very different today, the killing and cruelty that is observed in Gaza is dryly watched by billions and a considerable portion of Europeans and Americans are making gestures that they are not the ones behind Israel and, in the Brazilian case, we watch the scandalized old communication vehicles, Globo in particular, rejoice in Zionist interests. Barbarism becomes a “meme" to win "likes"!

(ii) The agreed spoliation. Throughout history, the different types of genocide perpetrated have somehow had an economic logic behind them. Thus, from the massacre of Brazilian and American indigenous people, through the horrors of African slavery, the massacre in Congo and historical examples would multiply, in all cases we have the logic of “accumulation by spoliation”, a form of primitive accumulation being observed . What is new in the Palestinian case is that this happens with the agreement of international organizations.

The UN (United Nations) killed any logic of international law in its infancy, establishing the permissiveness of the spoliation of the Palestinian people, as a form of redemption for the Jewish genocide committed by the Europeans (Germans). Interestingly, now the Germans wash their hands like Pontius Pilate and say they have nothing to do with the massacre perpetrated by the new “butchers of Gaza”.

(iii) The international institutionalization of the terrorist State. The establishment of barbarism organized by the State is not a new phenomenon, as throughout the 20th century and in episodes in the 21st century, various state powers organized violence against different people and social groups. In the Brazilian case, the references are diverse, from Canudos, through the massacres of black and indigenous populations, to the current carnage in Jacarezinho and Baixada Santos.[iv]. In the present case of the Gaza genocide, we have an internationally supported state power to massacre a population that is completely unarmed and has minimal capacity to react.

Israel's terrorism takes place in three innovative forms of carnage: (a) the use of disproportionate military force and destruction of future generations, in the form of the murder of children and women[v]; (b) the use of hunger as a mechanism for eliminating the population, including deepening the idea of ​​dehumanization of the Palestinian people[vi] It is; (c) the erasure of violence through the elimination of human rights organizations, journalists and medical care institutions.

(iv) Barbarism justified by past barbarism. Here we have a grotesque novelty, in which the justification of violence and barbarism is given with the rhetorical resource of protecting a population that suffered genocide in a previous historical period, an episode of the “Age of Catastrophe”. Thus, the abuse of the logic of “anti-Semitism” became a justifying factor in the press under the control of Zionist interests covering up the destruction of a population in the current historical cycle by raising awareness of the violence that occurred in the previous historical cycle.

At the end of our “Barbarism Manual 2.1”, we can return to the original text by Eric Hobsbawm who reminds us that barbarism is “a by-product of life in a given social and historical context, something that comes with the territory” and that it has been “growing in most of the XNUMXth century, and there is no indication that this growth is coming to an end.” The Palestinian genocide seems to show us that the chapters of barbarism in the XNUMXst century will not be less than those experienced in the “Age of extremes”.

*Jose Raimundo Trinidad He is a professor at the Institute of Applied Social Sciences at UFPA. Author, among other books, of Agenda for debates and theoretical challenges: the trajectory of dependency and the limits of Brazilian peripheral capitalism and its regional constraints (paka armadillo).


 Eric Hobsbawm. Age of Extremes: the brief 1914th century (1991-XNUMX)🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012.

Eric Hobsbawm. “Barbarism: User’s Manual.” In: About the story🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

JM Keynes. The economic consequences of peace. Brasília: publisher University of Brasília, 2002.


[I] Eric Hobsbawm. “Barbarism: User’s Manual.” In: About history. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

[ii] JM Keynes. The economic consequences of peace. Brasília: publisher University of Brasília, 2002.

[iii] Hobsbawm (2012) observes that “civilization retreated between the Treaty of Versailles and the bombing of Hiroshima”, and the irrationality of Nazism constitutes a new level of “advancement of barbarism in the West”. The aforementioned author divides the “Short XNUMXth Century” or “Age of Extremes” into three periods that are not necessarily linear: “The Age of Catastrophe”, from which the current Palestinian massacre originates; “The Golden Age”, a brief interregnum of capitalist stability, but always integrated with the greater meaning of the “Cold War” and, finally, “The Collapse”, an era of crisis that, so we can say, gave birth to the current era of uncertainties.

[iv] Check article published on the website the earth is round:

[v] More than 25 children and women were killed in Gaza (, which illustrates how much the “progress” of barbarism is related, in this case, to the extermination of future generations and the model of accumulation through spoliation, as shown in the text published on the website the earth is round:

[vi] Francisco Ladeira reminds us in a recent text published on the website the earth is round ( that “the National Journal and the portal G1 – used the euphemisms “tumult” and “confusion” to report the massacre promoted by Israel, which killed around one hundred Palestinians who were waiting for the delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza”. The situation described in the so-called “flour massacre” is the most terrifying example of the escalation of barbarism in the Palestinian genocide.

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