ICC position on Decadence and the Bourgeoisie in Developing Nations?

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S. Artesian
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Jun 6 2015 17:51
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What is inaccurately termed "decadence theory" on this thread - ie. broadly, Marx's materialist method for understanding the rise and fall of class societies - does not in any way imply that socialism is inevitable.

No, I don't think that's what "decadence theory" amounts to, in that Marx's materialist method for understanding the rise and fall of class societies, Marx's historical materialism does not mean that the decay of any particular society was inevitable. Marx's materialist method examines the specific relations and conditions of labor.

Who's arguing that capitalism must decline or collapse because it violates the goal of history?

Well there's this from jaycee:

Quote:
Marx saw history as a movement towards communism; or more accurately a movement towards the fulfilment of human capabilities and the unfolding of the truly human nature which communism is the path towards. History I think certainly expresses mankind’s often only semi-conscious strivings to make a world in its own image. For example the drive towards civilization, while giving rise to and being fed by a lot of the worst aspects of human nature, also expresses the human desire to unify larger and larger groups of people into a single community (this fundamentally to me represents the dream of peace which ‘civilization’ at its best moments makes possible). Capitalism represents an attempt to control the world- to overcome mankind’s dependent relationship with nature. This has a positive and a negative aspect-positive in that it lays the basis for abundance-negative because it separates and debases mankind’s relationship to nature.

Too close for comfort for me.

Maybe I shouldn't infer that much from jaycee's statement, but since we've received so little in the concrete from those who tend to support the "decadence theory," I think the inference is justified.

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Alf
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Jun 6 2015 18:44

Artesian is right to say that history “is the product of social beings reproducing themselves as social beings”. It’s in this sense that Marx insisted that “History does nothing…”, or rather is nothing but the activity of social beings reproducing themselves as social beings. But these social beings reproduce themselves through labour, and labour, as distinct from previous forms of animal activity, is indeed “teleological”: the simplest act of production demands the consciousness of a goal, something “erected in imagination before it is erected in reality”.

In this sense, it does make sense to talk about purpose in history; not History as an abstraction separate from human beings, but as the process set in motion by the strivings of human beings to create a world that satisfies their needs. Of course Marx also argues that real human history – where humanity can finally direct its productive powers in full awareness - has not yet begun; that we are still living in prehistory (he says this precisely in the Preface to a Critique…). Hitherto, all of humanity’s efforts to create a world that answers its needs have tended to turn against itself, and the consciousness that accompanied these efforts have been distorted by unconscious motivations, rooted in both material and ideological factors. Furthermore, given the enormous weight of these obstacles to a lucid consciousness in the class which alone has the potential to undertake this tremendous leap into the realm of “real human history”, there is nothing inevitable about such a transition, otherwise it would make no sense to pose the alternative between socialism and barbarism, as markyhaze points out.

Returning to the “guiding principles” Marx put forward in the Preface, and jura’s criticisms of the text in post 73: I see no trace in Marx’s text of a “techno-determinist, progressivist” approach to the historical process, even if such tendencies certainly did emerge in the Second International and above all with the triumph of Stalinism. The starting point of the passage from the Preface is not “technology” or machinery but the social relations which human beings enter into – a starting point entirely consistent with the statement in the 18th Brumaire that “men make their own history”, though they do so in circumstances not of their choosing, or the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto about history as the history of class struggle.

As for “progressivism”, as jaycee and Baboon have shown, there is a vast gulf between Marx’s view of progress and that of the bourgeoisie. Engels indeed talks of the emergence of class society and civilisation as a fall, not merely as an escape from the darkness of superstition; Marx indeed insists that capitalist social relation bring with them the most extreme form of alienation. This has nothing to do with the bourgeoisie’s classic view, which sees the past as leading step by step towards its own triumphant social order – a view that Marx rightly lampooned. Neither does it have anything to do with the rigid Menshevik or Stalinist notion of fixed stages. Marx for example, was quite willing to question the assumption of his Russian followers that Russia had to pass through a capitalist stage before being ripe for socialism, insisting that the conditions for socialism matured on a world scale, and holding out the possibility that the world proletariat could make use of surviving communal forms in the creation of a socialist society on a world scale. It was in this polemic that Marx warned against turning his theories into a “historico-philosophical” system that applies rigidly in every part of the world. And none of this is in contradiction with Marx’s definition of the various modes of production he enumerates as “epochs marking progress in the economic development of society”, or with his argument that an understanding of the transience of these formations requires a concept of “epochs of social revolution” in which the social relations no longer functions as “forms of development” but as a barrier to further advance.

It is possible that I have not understood jura’s post on the Preface. But it reads to me like a dismissal, a refusal to take it seriously as a fundamental statement of Marx’s method, and one that confirms what we have said before: that many of those who reject “decadence theory” are not so much rejecting the ICC, but historical materialism itself.

I will try to come back to Artesian’s questions about the class struggle in decadence, though I will be away for the coming week. Just to say for now: here again we have invented nothing. It was Rosa Luxemburg, above all, who saw the mass strike that emerged in Russia in 1905 as the expression of a new historical epoch in the life of capitalism and of the class struggle, an epoch where the forms of proletarian self-organisation could no longer be built up incrementally inside the shell of the old society. The text linked here, written by Marc Chirik, aims to lay out the key changes in the class struggle brought about by the onset of the period of decadence.

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/023_proletariat_under_decadence.html

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Khawaga
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Jun 6 2015 18:52
Alf wrote:
It is possible that I have not understood jura’s post on the Preface. But it reads to me like a dismissal, a refusal to take it seriously as a fundamental statement of Marx’s method, and one that confirms what we have said before: that many of those who reject “decadence theory” are not so much rejecting the ICC, but historical materialism itself.

This is bs. Jura was making a philological argument, stating that it cannot be a "fundamental statement of Marx's method" since such similar arguments don't really exist anywhere else. That's the philological argument. It is perfectly fine to make connections to the Preface (like you do saying it re-states the "men make history" argument), but it becomes pretty silly to say that " many of those who reject “decadence theory” are not so much rejecting the ICC, but historical materialism itself".

Decadency theory is a mess, and it hasn't (at least in my mind) become less of a mess from the explanations I've heard for it on this thread.

S. Artesian
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Jun 6 2015 21:28

I recommend that everyone read the article that Alf links to. It is a near perfect presentation of abstract, schematic, distinctions which in no way shape or form actually amount toevidence that capitalism is "decadent."

jojo
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Jun 7 2015 06:54

If capitalism isn't decadent then what's up with the world and human society? The ICC and Marx may have got some things wrong, but they have an explanation and even a theory, right or wrong, as to why human society is the way that it is, and present what they see as the way out of the mess through class struggle and class consciousness to communism, based on the historical struggles and experience of the working class of which they are a part.

Assuming that Jura, Khawaga and Artesian among others posting on here are right in their criticisms of the ICC, left communism, and some of the early Marxists - that it's all windy abstractionism, contradictory and probably gobble-de-gook - what do they see as the way out of the mess for humanity? Or will capitalism just be allowed to drag on and on into barbarism and beyond?

Or is their solution a generalised anarchy, a free-for-all, a spontaneous revolutionary uprising internationally in which everybody presents their own individual ideas and does their own thing, after which the state disappears overnight? This is to make a mockery of anarchism of course. But then what exactly is anarchy?

Criticism of the communist left is good sport. But what is the alternative anarchist plan?

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jura
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Jun 7 2015 09:13

Jojo, I'm baffled by your post. You make it seem as if a necessary condition of being a revolutionary communist was a belief in decadence theory. It isn't. There's nothing in the belief that only class struggle can end capitalism that requires one to subscribe to decadence theory. You also make it seem as if marxism was synonymous with decadence theory. It isn't. Of course the proponents of decadence think that it is the only logical conclusion from marxism, but every tradition tends to think that about its pet theory (the question is also what consitutes "marxism": it clearly isn't the total sum of Marx's writings, and hence there is some selection and/or interpretation at work; historically there have been many competing "marxisms" based on what was selected and how it was interpreted; of course every party, every organization, and every sect believes that their version of marxism is the only true, or at least the most marxist one).

In other words, the classic revolutionary communist conviction that capitalism is a historically transient mode of production is not equivalent to the conviction that after 1914 capitalism entered a period of terminal decay.

Anyway, I can see where such arguments are headed. "You don't believe in decadence, (and decadence is a necessary condition for being a revolutionary), therefore, you are not a revolutionary." Or Alf: "You don't agree with decadence, (and decadence is the only conclusion possible from Marx's theory of 'historical materialism'), therefore, you don't even believe in Marx's theory of 'historical materialism'." Unfortunately, the threat of not being considered a true revolutionary or a true marxist in the eyes of other self-described revolutionaries and marxists does not scare me and will not make me adopt decadence.

Note that even if the implict premises (the ones in parentheses) were true (which I don't think they are) this would still do nothing to prove that decadence theory is true. If it really is a theory (perhaps even a scientific theory), then its proponents should be able to specify a list empirical conditions which clearly distinguish the period of decadence from the period of ascendence. We could then discuss whether these empirical conditions really obtain (and hence whether the theory is true), or whether they're really exclusive to capitalism after circa 1914.

What I mean are conditions like this (quoted from Marc Chirik's text linked by Alf above)

Quote:
The impossibility of any new big capitalist units arising in this period [of decadence] is also expressed by the fact that the six biggest industrial powers today (USA, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Britain) were already at the top of the tree (even though in a different order) on the eve of the first world war.

Quote:
Particular conjunctures in the economy [under decadence] are no longer determined by the relationship between productive capacity and the shape of the market at a given moment, but by essentially political causes: the cycle of war-destruction-reconstruc­tion-crisis.

Quote:
[Under decadence,] There are continu­ous generations of the working class: only a small part of the class is recruited from the country­side, the majority being children of workers.

Now, I chose these three not at random but because I think they're particularly easy to be shown wrong.

The four biggest capitalist economies today are the EU, the US, China and Japan. Disregarding the EU, the first three remain unchanged and the fourth is Germany. So clearly there have been some changes and clearly the emergence of "new big capitalist units" is not impossible. (The idea that "The period of capitalist decadence is characterised by the impossibility of any new industrialised nations emerging" is therefore also wrong.)

The conjunctures in the economy clearly can't be reduced to the war cycle. The savings and loan crisis, the dotcom crash, the subprime crisis and the EU fiscal crisis were not preceded by any major conflict and at least the first three (we don't know for sure about the fourth yet) were not solved by a period of physical destruction of capital. On the contrary, it could be shown how the "shape of the market" was responsible for all of the crises mentioned.

Lastly, most of the new Asian proletariat comes from the countryside.

Of course, some of the other alleged characteristics of decadence listed in Chirik's text are sastisfied. I don't think they're evidence of decadence (i.e., there are other explanations for these characteristics). I do think they distinguish capitalism today from capitalism in the 19th century (like the existence of a true world market); but this is simply because capitalism develops and expands over time.

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Jun 7 2015 09:06
Alf wrote:
It is possible that I have not understood jura’s post on the Preface. But it reads to me like a dismissal, a refusal to take it seriously as a fundamental statement of Marx’s method, and one that confirms what we have said before: that many of those who reject “decadence theory” are not so much rejecting the ICC, but historical materialism itself.

My intention in that post was to argue against "arguments from scripture". I don't think the present discussion is about the relative importance of Marx's particular writings or about the empirical accuracy of Marx's theories. So it's not really relevant whether the Preface is a "foundational statement", and even if it were, there are reasons why one should be wary about that text (in my view). But anyway, if decadence theory really is a theory it should be able to stand on its own, without appeals to Marx's authority.

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Jun 7 2015 09:30

For lack of time, I can't respond in detail to jura's points about the text I linked to. I should have pointed out that it's over 30 years old, and it's true that not all the points it makes hold true today, particularly the question of the rapid development of industrialisation in China and other Asian countries. These developments do pose a challenge to the theory of decadence and one that we have been late in responding to. But whether they refute the overall analysis is another matter. The question of 'appealing to scripture' and the continuity of marxism is another big question which requires a more considered response.

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Jun 7 2015 09:29
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But whether they refute the overall analysis is another matter.

To make matters easier, can you or someone else who thinks decadence theory is true state the conditions which would refute the overall analysis? (I.e., what would have to be the case to convince you that decadence theory is wrong?)

markyhaze
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Jun 7 2015 10:38
jura wrote:
In other words, the classic revolutionary communist conviction that capitalism is a historically transient mode of production is not equivalent to the conviction that after 1914 capitalism entered a period of terminal decay.

True, but if we do accept that capitalism is "historically transient" doesn't that at least pose the question for discussion of whether it is still in its period of ascendance or decay today? Is this a question of dates rather than basic approach..?

jura wrote:
To make matters easier, can you or someone else who thinks decadence theory is true state the conditions which would refute the overall analysis? (I.e., what would have to be the case to convince you that decadence theory is wrong?)

Your question seems to imply that evidence refuting the "truth" of "decadence theory" could emerge from the current or future evolution of capitalism? I think my short answer has to be ... that you can't get away from the two world wars; ie. the onus is really on those who refute 1914 as the entry of capitalism into its epoch of decay to demonstrate how the destruction of some 80 million proletarians, not to mention the physical means of production, was a crisis of growth qualitatively similar to those we see in the 19th century.

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Jun 7 2015 12:10
markyhaze wrote:
True, but if we do accept that capitalism is "historically transient" doesn't that at least pose the question for discussion of whether it is still in its period of ascendance or decay today? Is this a question of dates rather than basic approach..?

But how do we go from "historically transient" to talking about ascendance and decay? I don't think that capitalism is historically transient because it is in decay. I don't think capitalism being in decay is necessary for it to be abolished. The important things are that 1. capitalism had not always existed, was brought into being by human action, and as such can in principle be abolished by human action, 2. some of the results of capitalism, like increased productivity etc., could in principle be used constructively in a future society, 3. other results of capitalism, like poverty, wars, crises and ecological destruction, make it an intolerable society. All of these things were clear to revolutionaries already in the 19th century. Of course they didn't live to see the whole extent of the destruction (but also increased productivity) that capitalism is capable of, but we haven't seen it all yet, either.

markyhaze wrote:
Your question seems to imply that evidence refuting the "truth" of "decadence theory" could emerge from the current or future evolution of capitalism?

Well, if it is a theory about capitalism then there has to be something about capitalism that makes it true. I first asked about what it is that makes it true. Chirik's article gives some answers (like the impossibility of newly industrialized countries etc.), but they're not very convincing. So now I'm asking what would it take for the theory of decadence to be false. In other words, what characteristics would capitalism have to have for proponents of decadence to begin to doubt their theory? (The problem is, you can't answer with things like "no wars", "no crises", "no meddling of the state in the economy", because these were effects of capitalism already in the 19th century.)

markyhaze wrote:
I think my short answer has to be ... that you can't get away from the two world wars; ie. the onus is really on those who refute 1914 as the entry of capitalism into its epoch of decay to demonstrate how the destruction of some 80 million proletarians, not to mention the physical means of production, was a crisis of growth qualitatively similar to those we see in the 19th century.

I'm not saying capitalism is unchanging. I just don't see how one can jump from speaking about the death toll of WW1 a WW2 to statements like "The emergence of big capitalist economies is now impossible", "There can be no reforms", "Most of the working class will now be recruited from families with working class parents" etc. To be honest, it seems like a leap of faith is required.

S. Artesian
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Jun 7 2015 14:28
Alf wrote:
For lack of time, I can't respond in detail to jura's points about the text I linked to. I should have pointed out that it's over 30 years old, and it's true that not all the points it makes hold true today, particularly the question of the rapid development of industrialisation in China and other Asian countries. These developments do pose a challenge to the theory of decadence and one that we have been late in responding to. But whether they refute the overall analysis is another matter. The question of 'appealing to scripture' and the continuity of marxism is another big question which requires a more considered response.

The text may be 30 years old, but it was reproduced, without criticism as far as I can tell, in 2006. And-- if this schematic presentation of the supposed difference between ascendance and decadence is correct; if these elements represent the boundaries of each, then if the boundaries no longer hold true, the categories are no longer true-- so we have a representation of a system that was supposedly and permanently decadent, but is no longer decadent, or at least not decadent in the way it was presumed to be.

To me, the decadence argument reminds of nothing so much as Hubbert's bell-shaped curve and "peak" when it comes to oil production. And... US production in the first portion of 2015 reach 9.6 million barrels per day-- the highest since 1970.

So much for peaks.

Anyway, that (peak-ism) is just an analogy, for entertainment, not analytic purposes.

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Khawaga
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Jun 7 2015 15:00

I'm also baffled by Jojo's question, especially this extremely ideological statement that actually reveals more about the ICC's sect mentality than anything else:

Quote:
Assuming that Jura, Khawaga and Artesian among others posting on here are right in their criticisms of the ICC, left communism, and some of the early Marxists - that it's all windy abstractionism, contradictory and probably gobble-de-gook - what do they see as the way out of the mess for humanity? Or will capitalism just be allowed to drag on and on into barbarism and beyond?

So decadence theory, the ICC and left communism (which BTW I am sympathetic to in general) is the only way to get out of the mess that is capitalism... There is only one way, and it's the way of the party and its line. What is even more concerning is that Jojo seems genuinely confused that there may be people not believing his party's line on the path out of capitalism. That says a lot about the ICC's internal culture. Will the next international congress be held in Jonestown?

Anyway, what jura said. S/he just puts things so much better than I ever could.

jojo
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Jun 8 2015 08:56

A reply to Khawaga. The only way to get out of the mess which is capitalism is by a proletarian revolution. Whether the majority of workers taking part in that think they are overthrowing a decadent capitalism, or just a nauseating everyday kind of exploitative capitalism probably won't matter all that much. Let's just hope they succeed.

I don't claim that there is only one way to conduct the revolution, and think there might be two. One is with the coordinating assistance of an internationally organised group of working class revolutionary militants with a clear awareness and consciousness of the aims of the revolution and a firm commitment to its successful outcome. This is the way using the proletarian party. (NB. It doesn't have to be called "the party" and could have another name.)

The other is without the involvement of a well-honed dedicated party, and in which the mass of workers internationally have to get their act together successfully, without any coordinating interference. This can result in a disorganised and messy do-it-yourself outcome rather like what happened in Germany in 1918; where a kind of proletarian free-for-all explosion took place that finally self destructed with a lot of thoughtful help and kind assistance from the bourgeoisie.

Unfortunately at that historic opportunity, despite Rosa Luxemburg and others, who had failed to get their act together in time, there was no organising body around in Germany to point out mistakes being made, the lack of working class coordination, and the traps being so cleverly laid by the bourgeoisie, who have always understood the importance of organising and organisations in the defence and preservation of class interests. And in Germany of course they won hands down. Easily.

Sadly the working class seems less convinced of the need for an organising body of class conscious workers today, possibly because of mistakes made by the Bolsheviks in 1917 which has given "the party" a bad name, but which don't have to be repeated just learned from.

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Jun 8 2015 12:41
jojo wrote:
One is with the coordinating assistance of an internationally organised group of working class revolutionary militants with a clear awareness and consciousness of the aims of the revolution and a firm commitment to its successful outcome. This is the way using the proletarian party. (NB. It doesn't have to be called "the party" and could have another name.)

I basically agree with this.

S. Artesian
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Jun 8 2015 15:11

I'm not quite sure it's that "black and white"-- between this:

Quote:
One is with the coordinating assistance of an internationally organised group of working class revolutionary militants with a clear awareness and consciousness of the aims of the revolution and a firm commitment to its successful outcome. This is the way using the proletarian party.

and this:

Quote:
The other is without the involvement of a well-honed dedicated party, and in which the mass of workers internationally have to get their act together successfully, without any coordinating interference. This can result in a disorganised and messy do-it-yourself outcome rather like what happened in Germany in 1918; where a kind of proletarian free-for-all explosion took place that finally self destructed with a lot of thoughtful help and kind assistance from the bourgeoisie.

Germany 1918-1923 was hardly a proletarian "free-for-all" disorganized because of the lack of any number of well-honed dedicated parties.

The disorganization of the German revolution has everything to do with the previous well-honed dedicated party, the SPD; the subsequent organization/disorganization as facilitated by the USPD, the KAPD, and the KPD with tons, and I mean tons, of assistance from the 3rd International. What kind of organization lets a murdering moron like Bela Kun act as its emissary?

Somehow we need to develop a more thorough, subtle, and nuanced analysis of, and program for, the interaction of party and class. My visceral support for organization-- I find it inconceivable that any class can approach this struggle for power without a combat organization-- produces an almost instinctive, but actually acquired, recoil based on the actual records of such organizations.

My personal dilemma is of course relevant only to the extent that it corresponds to what has materially taken place in the course of the class struggles. So I'd be only too happy to abandon this ambivalence........if the history is indeed different.

jaycee
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Jun 8 2015 16:35

Firstly, just to make it clear me and jojo are not members of the ICC and I would probably put things in a way that many in the ICC would disagree with or at least have some of the same criticisms I've met with here. Firstly I don't think anything I did say was necessarily 'metaphysical'( I would probably use collective unconscious more than world spirit but I don’t really mind either Khawaga) or whatever other dogmatic swear word its been labelled (sorry I don’t mean to have go but this has just always irritated me bout debate on ‘the left’-the use of political ‘swear-words’ instead of actual discussion)- But all this is probably a debate for another time.

I for my part think that the ICC have in the past tended to focus a bit too much on the idea of capitalism not functioning 'healthily' as a result of decadence. I think this has an element of truth in that the old laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century seems throughout the 20th and 21st century to be unable to develop as spontaneously and to require more and more state control but the ICC approach has allowed the illusion that decadence means no economic growth to grow. However I think that there are questions for the ‘anti-decadencists’ (and a new left-wing swear word is born, haha)to answer and I think jamal was asking similar questions to the ones I want to ask, which I don’t think were really all adequately dealt with.

First of all what do you think did change about capitalism in the 20th century as compared to the 19th? I would argue that a comparison between the highest moment of class struggle in the 19th (the Paris commune) and the highest moment of the 20th (the Russian Revolution and the global revolutionary wave) show that a maturation in the conditions needed for a world revolution and communism had reached higher levels in the 20th- do you disagree? Secondly, do you disagree that the first half of the 20th century showed that capitalism could no longer function as it had done before and the state has needed to take a far greater role in the economy than it did in the 19th century to keep it going? And related to this question do you think that there is anything more fundamentally wrong with the state f the economy today than the official media/economists tend to portray it as, i.e. does the recourse to dealing with a massive debt crisis with more and more debt not speak to you of something seriously wrong in the health of the economy? ( apologies if these questions seem leading but a) I would like to know your arguments b) I’m not great on economics so I really don’t know what many of the theories out there are)

China to me is the perfect illustration of what decadence means. There is development and a lot of the same things that happened in the industrial revolution are now going in China- but the historic moment has changed. The development going on there has no perspective to be anything other than disastrous for humanity. Climate change is the most concrete example of decadence; capitalist development is not just destructive, exploitative and oppressive as it has always been but it has reached such a level that it threatens humanities (and masses of other species) survival.

S. Artesian
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Jun 8 2015 16:56
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Climate change is the most concrete example of decadence; capitalist development is not just destructive, exploitative and oppressive as it has always been but it has reached such a level that it threatens humanities (and masses of other species) survival.

Well, your description of decadence is certainly not the description the ICC offers in its "was/is" rendition.

So the question remains, what do you mean by decadence? That capitalism has changed? Decadence does not mean change; decadence means decay, inability to maintain and reproduce itself as capitalism.

If capitalism was decadent after 1914-- how can we explain its expansion since then in value production, growth of fixed assets, and numbers of workers?

A reduced rate of profit does not make capitalism decadent. A slowing rate of growth does not make capital decadent. Continuous erosion and deterioration in the ability to meet the needs for its own reproduction would indicate decadence.

Capitalism will today, as it was tomorrow, be happy destroying the entire planet for a percentage. The argument of approaching apocalypse, whether it be environmental as is the argument today, or nuclear as it was back in the day does not amount to evidence of decadence.

S. Artesian
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Jun 8 2015 17:04

I forgot to add: The argument about state intervention really doesn't carry any weight, since 1) it imagines a condition of capitalism where the capitalist state did not intervene, did not act on behalf of the economics of capitalist social relations. This is, IMO, but another iteration of the classically liberal notions of a "golden age" of more or less laissez-faire capitalism, which capitalism is conspicuous by its absence 2) state intervention was critical to the development of German capitalism well before the advent of 1914 3) if the state acts as an executive committee of the class, the quantity of its intervention is never becomes a qualitative transformation (sorry Hegel-- or all those who misapprehend Hegel).

No, I don't think fundamentally there is anything "more wrong" with the economy today than there was yesterday that supports the argument of decadence. What's "more wrong" today is that capitalism is older, more developed.

Asking if capitalism is "more wrong" today is like asking if the Holocaust was more wrong than the Atlantic slave trade; if Vietnam was worse than the extermination of indigenous peoples.

markyhaze
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Jun 8 2015 17:07
jura wrote:
But how do we go from "historically transient" to talking about ascendance and decay? I don't think that capitalism is historically transient because it is in decay. I don't think capitalism being in decay is necessary for it to be abolished. The important things are that 1. capitalism had not always existed, was brought into being by human action, and as such can in principle be abolished by human action, 2. some of the results of capitalism, like increased productivity etc., could in principle be used constructively in a future society, 3. other results of capitalism, like poverty, wars, crises and ecological destruction, make it an intolerable society. All of these things were clear to revolutionaries already in the 19th century. Of course they didn't live to see the whole extent of the destruction (but also increased productivity) that capitalism is capable of, but we haven't seen it all yet, either.

I can broadly agree with all three of your points – although capitalism was brought into being by human action in an unconscious rather than a conscious way, in circumstances fundamentally outside of human control.

If your position is that capitalism is historically transient because it can be abolished by human action at any point in its history, does this mean that the conditions for a creating a communist society always existed? Did they exist for example when capitalism was still struggling against feudal society and creating a world market?

This is the central disagreement here isn’t it? For Marx the question of the proletarian revolution and the creation of communism is only practically posed when capitalist relations of production, wage labour, capital, come into conflict with the development of the productive forces, which is then expressed in a period of “acute contradictions, crises, convulsions”. This is why the whole question of ascendance and decadence of modes of production is so central to historical materialism.

While capitalism is still creating a world proletariat we have to say it still has a progressive task to complete, ie. giving birth to its gravedigger, and this is also why, when it starts destroying proletarians by the tens of millions in the 20th century, we have to draw some conclusions about whether capitalism is still creating the conditions for communism or starting to destroy them…

jura wrote:
So now I'm asking what would it take for the theory of decadence to be false. In other words, what characteristics would capitalism have to have for proponents of decadence to begin to doubt their theory?

Well, Alf above has already referred to the rapid development of China as posing a challenge to the theory of decadence – or at least to the way some of its basic concepts have been interpreted and used up till recently. Even this undoubtedly dramatic development still needs to be seen in a global, historical framework, in the light of what I said above about the 20th century, but that's a whole other discussion.

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Jun 8 2015 17:10

I completely agree with S. Artesian's posts above.

jaycee
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Jun 8 2015 21:43

I'm not sure I agree that my view of decadence is substantially different to the ICC's but my emphasis might be. My question about the Paris Commune vs the Russian Revolution would I think be seen as the main point about decadence that as the Bolsheviks and the 3rd International said we entered the era of 'social revolution'. That has obviously taken longer than we would have liked but historic eras are not dealt with in the scale we are talking about there. This is an important point I think, when we talk about the 'rise' and 'fall' of capitalism or any civilization we are attempting to view the present through a prism of the 'trajectory of history' not just the present itself.

Like I said I personally don't think that crisis theory and decadence are necessarily the same, decadence is an argument about historical epochs and trajectory- crisis theory is at most a part of this. I tend to think it has some validity but as I said I'm useless at economics.

I don't think it is just 'an argument of approaching apocalypse' its being realistic, what are the chances that capitalism can completely reorganize itself, put aside the race to the bottom of competition between nations and actually do anything to stop the catastrophic results of climate change- when what we see now is a head long rush precisely the other way- full steam ahead towards the abyss. Capitalism may happily go on, humanity cannot. This is the point of decadence, capitalism offers nothing to offer humanity, at the time of the Renaissance it offered something important (although this can be overstated too), as it spread around the globe- yes it offered most people what it offers them today (slavery/death) but it also as i said earlier built the foundations for the global community of communism.

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Jun 8 2015 17:42
markyhaze wrote:
although capitalism was brought into being by human action in an unconscious rather than a conscious way, in circumstances fundamentally outside of human control.

Yes, absolutely.

markyhaze wrote:
If your position is that capitalism is historically transient because it can be abolished by human action at any point in its history, does this mean that the conditions for a creating a communist society always existed? Did they exist for example when capitalism was still struggling against feudal society and creating a world market?

Well, that it can (in principle) be abolished does not mean that what replaces it is necessarily communism. But I agree that the creation of a communist society, at least as understood by marxists, presupposes a fairly high level of productivity of labor, a high level of socialization of labor etc.

Already in the 19th century, socialists were saying that the development of productivity had reached a point at which it would be possible to provide for everyone. I think some even tried to prove this by calculation. Ultimately, it's an empirical question. If anyone wants to argue that that period only came sometime around 1914, they'd better have some evidence for that.

markyhaze wrote:
For Marx the question of the proletarian revolution and the creation of communism is only practically posed when capitalist relations of production, wage labour, capital, come into conflict with the development of the productive forces, which is then expressed in a period of “acute contradictions, crises, convulsions”.

Sure, but Marx also clearly thought that capitalism could have been abolished already during his life, i.e. long before the beginning of the supposed period of decay. I think somewhere he even mentions the 1825 crisis as a first sign of the forces-relations conflict. That would make the decadence periodization off by almost a century. I disagree with the ascendance and decadence terminology as such, and I don't like the progressivist framework it is built on, but if I'd have to make a choice, I'd side with Marx's 1825 over the decadence theorists' 1914 (although obviously I don't think that capitalism ceased to develop after 1825, nor that it was "progressive" pure and simple prior to that).

markhaze wrote:
While capitalism is still creating a world proletariat we have to say it still has a progressive task to complete, ie. giving birth to its gravedigger, and this is also why, when it starts destroying proletarians by the tens of millions in the 20th century, we have to draw some conclusions about whether capitalism is still creating the conditions for communism or starting to destroy them…

This is a strange argument. I think the number of new proletarians created in the 20th century far exceeds the number of people destroyed in the World Wars, not to mention all the development of productive forces. And many millions of people were destroyed by capitalism in the 19th century.

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Jun 9 2015 02:29
S.Artesian wrote:
A reduced rate of profit does not make capitalism decadent. A slowing rate of growth does not make capital decadent. Continuous erosion and deterioration in the ability to meet the needs for its own reproduction would indicate decadence.

This may be true of capitalism as a freely functioning economic machine, not connected to humanity, and not interested in the effects it has on human beings. But unfortunately for capitalism it does require people. It requires a working class to exploit, and a bourgeoisie to defend, support and protect it So we don't only have to look to capitalism the economic machine for signs of sickness and decadence, but to the condition of the class who love, protect and thrive on it. The bourgeoisie! And surely they are living through one of the greatest crises ever to have effected a ruling class, and thus humanity at large.

We need to look for the indications of decay in the life and doings of the bourgeois class itself, bent on pursuing the preservation of a capitalism on which they completely depend for the continuation of their rule.

It took two massively destructive World Wars in the 20th. Century to restore the "health" that is the proper functioning of capitalism, after a dramatic period of growth in the 19th Century when world markets were effectively all shared out between the major powers, and no room for expansion was left. Capitalism had hit an iceberg.

In order for capitalism to escape this predicament, in order that capitalism should be able once more in Artesian's words "to meet the needs for its own reproduction" it's human representatives in the form of Nationally organised bourgeoisie's was required to indulge in massive destruction of resources, competing opponents and a reorganisation of markets world wide. In short World War One. This provided a wilting capitalism with a short breather. This is seen by some as the onset of the bourgeoisie's and thus capitalism's decline.

Capitalism is a diamond studded computer of Oz-like breath-taking splendour. It requires constant attention however by a solicitous bourgeoisie who depend on it for sustenance and life, and without whose almost religious devotion it would cease to function at all. It has no autonomy and no existence seperate from that of its devoted beneficiaries. It is a parasite. The bourgeoisie are able to use the mechanics of capitalism as a means to screw profit from the working class and thus perpetuate both themselves and their life devouring economic system.

That the bourgeoisie were reduced to initiating the catastrophic wars of the 20th. Century - as opposed to the wars of liberation from feudalism they pursued in the 18th and early 19th centuries - is surely a sign of the onset of their decadence as a class of human beings regardless of whatever impressive monetary computations their economic system may still be able to spew out.

jura reminds us above of the millions destroyed by capitalism in the 19th century, but surely the triumphant record in this field of bourgeois endeavour is held by the 20th?

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Jun 9 2015 03:35
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So we don't only have to look to capitalism the economic machine for signs of sickness and decadence, but to the condition of the class who love, protect and thrive on it. The bourgeoisie! And surely they are living through one of the greatest crises ever to have effected a ruling class, and thus humanity at large

There's a real problem in measuring the social condition of capitalism by the "moral" condition of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie indeed are living through the crisis. Other classes are dying through the crisis.

Here's the thing: if we're going to use "stages" of history, ascent and descent, to categorize modes of production-- that as the feudal relations in Western Europe decay, other relations fill the gap, other classes, or sectors of emerging classes, aggrandize power; another mode of production emerges in the daily activity of those laboring-- like for example the "putting out" mode that emerges in England.

Do we see anything like that going on in capitalism in its dotage? A new mode of production developing interstitially within the cracks and crevasses on this supposedly crumbling body?

EDIT: CLR James thought he did, saw that development, (The Invading Socialist Society)but then again James also worked for the Eric Williams government in Trinidad and Tobago (briefly and not happily), and doesn't have exactly a sterling record when it comes to understanding what's going on with capitalism.

Re the bourgeoisie's need for paying constant attention; that's different from pre-1914? That's what the bourgeoisie do; that's what the bourgeoisie are. That's what accumulation means.

jaycee
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Jun 9 2015 10:27

S. Artesian said: Here's the thing: if we're going to use "stages" of history, ascent and descent, to categorize modes of production-- that as the feudal relations in Western Europe decay, other relations fill the gap, other classes, or sectors of emerging classes, aggrandize power; another mode of production emerges in the daily activity of those laboring-- like for example the "putting out" mode that emerges in England.

Do we see anything like that going on in capitalism in its dotage? A new mode of production developing interstitially within the cracks and crevasses on this supposedly crumbling body?

Well the process does not always happen in the same way- in Feudalism capitalism could gradually emerge. In Roman society which is much more similar to capitalism than Feudalism was the next social formation (largely) came from outside forces. This isn't cut and dry because the Feudalism was a mixture of Roman and 'Barbarian' society- also 'Barbarian society had been influenced by Rome by that point, but my point still I think stands. Capitalism will as Marxists have said for over a century now most probably go one of either two ways- it will be destroyed by the proletariat who will create communism or it will most probably collapse as Rome did. The 'Barbarism' that will take its place will not be like Feudalism in the past for the simple reason that capitalism has destroyed every other social formation that could be the basis for a new society- my guess would be some kind of mad max scenario/extinction through nuclear war and climate change.

In terms of the question earlier about what would make me doubt the idea of decadence, its difficult to say but if I could live long enough to judge I'd say if capitalism makes it out of the 21st century 'alive'... but the likelihood of that is I think minimal to say the least (capitalism surviving the century, not me although that is technically even less likely).

Apart from that for me personally I guess it would have to be based on a theoretically new understanding which I felt made more sense in terms of understanding history, I haven't really found one yet.

also, with regards to claims made in the 19th century about it being technically possible to provide for everyone; this surely would have only been in some areas of the world and even then only some areas of the 'developed' world; which brings me back to my earlier question about the difference between the possibilities of the Paris Commune vs the Russian Revolution.

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Jun 9 2015 15:46
jaycee wrote:
In terms of the question earlier about what would make me doubt the idea of decadence, its difficult to say but if I could live long enough to judge I'd say if capitalism makes it out of the 21st century 'alive'... but the likelihood of that is I think minimal to say the least (capitalism surviving the century, not me although that is technically even less likely).

But then "being decadent" reduces to "being close in time to its end". Capitalism is decadent because it is unlikely that it will survive the 21st century. My breakfast is the more "decadent" the closer I get to finishing it. Every film enters a "period of decadence" as we get into the second half.

I asked the question (what would capitalism have to be like for people to begin doubting decadence theory) to get at the basic conditions that characterize the period of decadence. But it looks like there's not much substance behind the idea of decadence after all.

jaycee wrote:
also, with regards to claims made in the 19th century about it being technically possible to provide for everyone; this surely would have only been in some areas of the world and even then only some areas of the 'developed' world;

But the infrastructure necessary for a communist society is still not present everywhere even today. Even if there were successful revolutions in the developed and developing countries, a lot of work would still be necessary to provide sanitation, health care, communications and other necessities to the most backward regions of the world. The argument (as it was used already in the 19th century) is that in principle, it would be possible to provide all that through a concerted effort if production was planned according to human needs and not profit.

slothjabber
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Jun 9 2015 23:02

What capitalism would have to look like to be convincingly 'not-decadent' would presumably what factors were to considered to prove capitalism is decadent. So, for example, if the capitalist economy is decedent because it cannot find and develop new markets without taking those (potential) markets out of the control of another territory, or if decadence is signalled by the massive involvement of the state in the economy, or if it's the notion that feudalism has been defeated, then presumably, there would have to be some new markets discovered that weren't part of someone else's trading bloc, or there needs to be am economy that's expandding where the state is a tiny player, or there needs to be some feudalism around somewhere that capitalism's busy revolutionising.

It seems that there's an empirical difference between capitalist development in the 19th century and capitalist development in the 20th-21st. In the 19th, I'm not really aware that the development of German or US capitalism (for example) came at the expense of British capitalism; capitalism was still able to expand production without mass unemployment and industrial decay; but the development of Chinese and Korean capitalism, especially since the 1960s, seems to have come at the same time as the US and many European states have experienced mass unemployment and industrial decay. I'm not aware that there was much 'post-industrial' society in the 1860s.

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Jun 10 2015 01:27

Many of the "new markets" of the 18th and 19th century were taken from "somebody else's" trading bloc. Jamaica, Santo Domingo, Barbados, sections of Brazil, portions of Africa, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. all changed hands, some more than once.

As for new markets, how about China? Nobody's trading bloc right? 1949-1972? And now?

Thing is, I don't agree that massive state involvement is an indicator of decay. It's certainly just as much, if not more so, an evolutionary development in the advancement of capital.

Capitalism able to expand without massive unemployment in the 19th century? Not really. There was indeed massive unemployment at moments in the capitalist cycle, and a permanent sector of unemployed-- that's where the reserve army of labor comes from, remember?

Chinese capitalism and Korean capitalism at the expense of US capitalism and European capitalism?

Really? The shift in China comes in 1979 with Deng's 4 reforms. How has it come at the "expense" of US capitalism? And how relevant can that be even if true, when the claim is that decadence sets in around 1914?

Korea? At the expense of US capitalism? Exactly how has Korea's development, financed by US capitalism, come at the expense of US capitalism?

You need to a)quantify your claims and b)show the causal relation, otherwise all we're left with is ideological assertions, not critical analysis.

jojo
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Jun 10 2015 06:40
jura wrote:
But the infrastructure necessary for a communist society is still not present everywhere even today. Even if there were successful revolutions in the developed and developing countries, a lot of work would still be necessary to provide sanitation, health care, communications and other necessities to the most backward regions of the world. The argument (as it was used already in the 19th century) is that in principle, it would be possible to provide all that through a concerted effort if production was planned according to human needs and not profit.

.

The infrastructure to satisfy the needs of humanity as these needs would develop in a society moving towards communism may never finally be perfected because communism may never be fully achieved.

What I mean is that after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and it's political and economic system, the working class sets upon the task of building the new non-exploitstive society: that is communism. Freed from the alienating mental and physical restraints brought about by capitalism - and the society-of-the-commodity it unintentionally brought about - isn't humanity going to enter a period of enormous growth in all the fields of human endeavour, especially in those of science and creative thought? This will be a result of the unleashing of long suppressed human potential and the joy of human life lived in companionship and solidarity, becoming freed at last from class ridden society.

There is no reason to suppose there are limitations to the future evolution of humanity, apart perhaps from an asteroid strike. (But even an asteroid stands a better chance of being adequately dealt with under communism than it ever would under the present mess, where the question of who'd foot the bill would require prior attention and might even spark a war!)

In a society based on the satisfaction of human need, and where the axiom "from each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs" is the order of the day, human evolution is sort of cut loose and set free. And the awful situation of decadence, or even the decomposition of society as the ICC has explained it, that we try to survive in now, will be so apparent to our grand-children looking back, that they will wonder how we managed to survive at all.