ICC position on Decadence and the Bourgeoisie in Developing Nations?

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LiberArchie
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Jun 16 2015 02:09

Advanced capitalism in the Western nations has the effect of subduing socialism in the rest of the world, one of it's main ways of protecting itself, and all the NGO workers and charities just make it worse, most are little better than parasites!

noclass
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Jun 17 2015 14:00

I agree with LibreArchie.

In addition, I think, it is easy to see that they even try to slow down development of capitalism in other cultures by politics and by other means like war, terror or sanctions. Capitalism develops technology because organizing huge mass of wage-slaves for strictly scientific production of material is profitable; profitable means creating huge amount of surplus-value, which partially is in form of wealth for individuals. It is clear that those who are ahead don't like the others to reach them. Thus, we saw violent nationalistic capitalist revolutions (some under the name of communism, like in China and like Stalinism) in order to let local capitalism - large scale wage-slave mobilization - to take place.

If "progress" means development of technology and science, yes, capitalism is progressive, but, as technology is destructive too, like in 19th century wars, both world wars in last century and current wars and environment deterioration, capitalism is regressive at the same time. Even at the beginning, capitalist development was based on colonization and destroying welfare of serfs and other poor farmers. Marx documents this development in Capital.

There is nothing magical with capitalism, it does not carry communism in its womb. We have to throw away this myth. Capitalism, like its previous forms of class society, is bad, just bad for humanity. Enslaving other humans is simply bad, there is nothing good in it. The only progress that I know, is when workers of the world become aware that they are really slave and they have to do something about it. If they don't do much about it, they shouldn't whine, they shouldn't expect much.

How about workers in this forum? I love you all in this forum and others, because you are "presence". You are all my comrades, people like you are rare in our planet, we should know it.

noclass
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Jun 17 2015 14:00

One more comment:
Science, technology and generally culture, developed very fast in ancient Greek. They fought mysticism with philosophy, they theorized work of nature, they developed advanced art, but their social system was based on slavery. Were they "progressive-regressive" ? Yes? They were bad? As ruling class, yes.

jojo
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Jun 18 2015 04:04
noclass wrote:

If "progress" means development of technology and science, yes, capitalism is progressive, but, as technology is destructive too, like in 19th century wars, both world wars in last century and current wars and environment deterioration, capitalism is regressive at the same time. Even at the beginning, capitalist development was based on colonization and destroying welfare of serfs and other poor farmers. Marx documents this development in Capital.

There is nothing magical with capitalism, it does not carry communism in its womb. We have to throw away this myth. Capitalism, like its previous forms of class society, is bad, just bad for humanity. Enslaving other humans is simply bad, there is nothing good in it.

I agree with the sentiments expressed above by noclass. Capitalism is both progressive and destructive simultaneously, especially today. Since World War Two it has made huge leaps forward in terms of financial gains, and science and technology. But at an almost insufferable cost to humanity. This is why we can declare it a decadent system. Capitalism now is bad, just bad for humanity.

It underpins the spread of a vicious and crippling insanity within the human race. This is a madness in which we are compelled by the mechanical system itself to suspect and loathe each other and work for each others' and our own destruction through the imposition and acceptance of incessant and gnawing competition which causes wars and endless violence and fear.

Added to which we are crushed by the demands of Imperialism, Nationalism, Religious Fanaticism and capitalism's insistence of austerity for the working class. To add insult to injury we are also expected to suffer silently the wholesale corruption and devastation of the planet and its various life forms.

And all this just to preserve the production of capital's profit. The surplus value we create. A profit which only the smallest few of humanity - the bourgeoisie - are permitted to benefit from, at such a huge cost to everybody and everything else.

But noclass is mistaken not to see that capitalism does carry the seeds of its own destruction and replacement with something better buried deep within itself. This is the working class. This is the proletariat. A class brought into being by capitalism itself. A class that is no myth, no myth at all. The only class that has the possibility of ridding us all of this demonic capitalist system for ever.

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Jamal
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Jun 18 2015 20:48
markyhaze on the ICC forums wrote:
Link, I’ve been reflecting on the libcom discussion as well. I agree with much of what you say.

The main problem in the discussion with the opponents/sceptics of what they inaccurately term “decadence theory” is that they don’t just disagree with capitalist decadence; they don’t believe it was ever ascendant either. In fact there seems to be disagreement with the entire framework of examining modes of production in terms of their rise and fall/youth and senility at all.

Since, as was pointed out, this is at the heart of historical materialism, this leaves us without a shared framework, to say the least…

For LBird’s benefit, this whole question is dealt with in some depth in this series of articles.

In fact I was left wondering whether the opponents of decadence have a framework for understanding the evolution of capitalism at all. It’s as if capitalism just … appeared in the midst of feudalism and since then has just … evolved and developed, gone through cyclical crises, got better, got worse…

As far as I can see you are left with empiricism. If not, what?

The bourgeoisie of course believes that capitalism is eternal. While we don’t believe it will inevitably collapse, and will have to be consciously destroyed, we are able to use our understanding of historical materialism to expose and undermine this central lie. As a class society, capitalism goes through a phase of ascendant growth before the relations of production it has brought into existence, capital and wage labour, inevitably begin to conflict with the further growth of the productive forces. If this point is never to be reached, or is a meaningless concept, how and why is capitalism not eternal?

Moving on to some of the points you raise, I did begin to feel in the discussion that there was some confusion of terms. Inevitably the use of terms like decadence and decay, especially if you resort to dictionary definitions, tends to give the impression that we are excluding the possibility of growth – which is of course not our position. This is why I particularly like Marx’s description of decadence as an epoch of acute crises, convulsions and struggles – none of which excludes the possibility of growth as well.

Link wrote:

Im quite happy however to ask what the issues/problems are with decadence theory and how has it changed and developed? I think these are useful questions. For example in its early days – say the first half of the 20th century, it was easy to use phrases like collapse, a permanent crisis, a period of revolutions and wars, no reforms, impoverishment & pauperization, no new imperialist powers. They now feel like shorthand terms – they have value but don’t describe accurately what has happened and as a result don’t help persuade others of the value of decadence theory. After a century of decadence, society has experienced not only the wars but massive industrial development, massive technological development, massive social change, massive changes in daily life, living standards, cultures. It is understandable hard to persuade anyone that these changes are signs of collapse/decline etc.

Yes I think these are good points. Actually, re-reading the decadence pamphlet, which of course says very clearly that decadence does not mean a total halt in the productive forces, it also says “... above all, living for competition alone (on a national and international scale), capitalism cannot exist without developing."(my emphasis)

100 years into capitalist decadence we need to place more emphasis on this central point.

Lastly it seems to me that a missing element in the discussion is a comparison between the rates of growth that capitalism has achieved in decadence and those it might have been expected to achieve if it had not entered decadence; in other words, while we might see rapid or spectacular signs of development in decadence eg in China and India, how much more rapid or spectacular would such signs have been if ascendance had (hypothetically) been able to continue? (see the graph in the Decadence pamphlet showing estimates of hypothetical growth). This may be worth expanding on.

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Khawaga
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Jun 18 2015 22:20

Talk about the ICC zealot completely missing the points of our critique of decadence theory. It's simp!y that it is not needed. Capitalism's evolution is best accounted for as an abstraction that correspond to surface concrete phenomena. Marx made such an analysis; whatever the ICC has built on from him has just resulted in an ideological line that is confusing to everyone; even its proponents who cannot even explain what decadence is in simple terms. And then rather than critiquing their pointless theory, the zealots take solance in the mistaken belief that others just don't have a theory of capital's emergence and evolution. It must be blissful being in the ICC.

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Jamal
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Jun 19 2015 14:18

Not sure about that. I hear the inside of the ICC is like a mad house right now.

What really urks me is that if you disagree with decadence theory, or are critical of it, you're immediately against the framework of historical materialism and therefore apparently not a Marxist.

This whole thread is being misrepresented now on the ICC forums, in order to provoke people into debating them there. Apparently we can't have a "real debate" here on Libcop, where the ICC are as evenly represented as everyone else.

Discussing with the ICC is like a Latin mass.

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Alf
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Jun 19 2015 15:51

There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't continue this debate on both forums. I certainly intend to come back to this thread on the question of Marx's historical method.

And we don't agree with describing libcom as "libcop", as Jamal does, unless that is a slip of the keyboard. We made this clear in our article on the Aufheben affair

http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201305/7746/aufhebengate.

The article certainly expresses our criticisms of the behaviour of the libcom collective over 'Aufhebengate'. But using the term 'libcop' really would imply that there is no possibility at all of discussion on this forum, since it would be entirely in the hands of the class enemy.

As for the inside of the ICC being like a madhouse, we will have to respond to that claim elsewhere.

S. Artesian
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Jun 19 2015 21:11

Well I have no intention of migrating this debate to the ICC forum. I did check it out and finally we get a definition of what determines, according to ICC, the decadence of capitalism:

Quote:
"The [irresolvable] crisis of over-production [meaning]... war... dehumanisation... decomposition of... ideology... values... art."

Well, that's just swell. So I think those who link decadence to permanent crisis theory are justified by ICC's own definition to do so, and I think that definition shows how abstract, schematic, rigid, and incapable of accounting for the real changes in capitalism's trajectory decadence theory is.

By which I mean, there is not a continuous, permanent, irresolvable crisis of overproduction. Crisis is a moment of capitalism, an expression, when its underlying conflicts become critical, i.e. acute. There are also moments when the crisis recedes, is not manifest, is latent. That's why for example, the 1930s were different from the 1920s; when there was a world war in the 1940s and not a world war in the 1950s and 1960s; that's why there was a structural change and downturn in the 1970s, but actions in response in the 1980s, and indeed a "recovery" in the 1990s. That's why 2008 was different than 2005.

Maybe those differences don't matter? In that case why do we see differences in the activity of workers in opposing the system?

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Red Marriott
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Jun 19 2015 21:51

Everything that has happened since can be explained by a landmark shift in capitalism 100 or so years ago. Everything that will happen will only confirm that. Obviously...

I guess another reason decadence theory seems so dubious to many is that it seems so out of sync with most people's historical personal experience. Until the late 70s-early 1980s most people - in the 'advanced' countries at least - expected material conditions of life to keep improving, as they had been throughout the post-war period. In fact throughout most of what is claimed to be the 'decadent period' the material conditions of Western proletarians steadily improved. If that's decadence, the proletariat - in its present weak, increasingly impoverished condition - could do with winning some more of it right now.

baboon
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Jun 20 2015 12:02

The "decadent period" Red, involved two unprecedented world wars, the second more destructive of proletarian and oppressed life and the means of production and culture than even the first and an almighty economic crisis that reduced millions to misery and opened the way to the development of militarisation and imperialism more than ever before. If the working class doesn't move effectively Red, we will certainly be "winning some more of it", that is crisis, decomposition and imperialist war. You must have an inkling of what the capitalist perspective is given the developments of war since 1945 and particularly since the "victory of capitalism" in 1989. Washing machines don't really come into it.

For all its faults, the concept of decadence gives us an explanation of events and a perspective from it.What is the argument on the other side? It is that capitalism will last forever - in fact there is something of a suggestion that it has existed forever and there is no real possibility of a proletarian revolution.

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 12:58
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For all its faults, the concept of decadence gives us an explanation of events and a perspective from it.What is the argument on the other side? It is that capitalism will last forever - in fact there is something of a suggestion that it has existed forever and there is no real possibility of a proletarian revolution.

That's complete, utter nonsense, and deliberately dishonest. Nowhere has anyone disagreeing with "decadence theory" indicated that capitalism will last forever. Capitalism will last until it's overthrown, and its ascendance or decadence is not the determinant of the prospects for revolution.

Nowhere has anyone disagreeing with decadence theory indicated that capitalist has existed forever. Quite the contrary, I, and others, have argued that the strength of Marx's critique rests on its specificity, on its identification of the particular historical conditions enabling the social relations of capital.

Nowhere has anyone disagreeing with decadence theory argued that there is no real possibility of proletarian revolution. On the contrary, there are and have been real possibilities throughout capital's history.

You want to flog your ideology as some sort of revolutionary theory? I'll just point out to everyone else where you wind up with this "theory"--- lying. Perfect example of decadence theory.

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Khawaga
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Jun 20 2015 17:33
Quote:
For all its faults, the concept of decadence gives us an explanation of events and a perspective from it.What is the argument on the other side? It is that capitalism will last forever - in fact there is something of a suggestion that it has existed forever and there is no real possibility of a proletarian revolution.

1. No it doesn't. It explains nothing and is a needless perspective that doesn't set anything in relief. 2. Completely incorrect and one of the most ideological statements made on this thread. The fact that the latter seems to be the ICC's "line" on the critics of decadence really reveals that theory to be a party line, and at best the glue that keeps the ICC together.

I'm still waiting for a clear explanation of what decadence theory is and what new that theory adds to what Marx already wrote on capitals development.

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 18:03
Quote:
I'm still waiting for a clear explanation of what decadence theory is and what new that theory adds to what Marx already wrote on capitals development.

And I think, many times, with many elaborations, the answer to this has been given, from Marx:

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression of the same thing - with the property relations with¬in which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution...” (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

But, this isn't good enough. Much easier to denigrate those who defend or elaborate this statement. Please improve on Marx, on history....

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Jun 20 2015 18:23

Yes, because that is just placing up some quote. And it's quoted as so as to be some "proof" for decadence theory when it is nothing of the sort. Just reread what you just posted. I ask for an explanation of decadence theory and how it adds to how Marx conceived of capitalist development. And then the answer to that question is a quote from Marx? Why if this passage is some smoking gun, is there any need for decadence theory? What does it explain?

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 18:39
Quote:
But, this isn't good enough. Much easier to denigrate those who defend or elaborate this statement. Please improve on Marx, on history....

Quit the whining. Nobody's denigrated those arguing for decadence theory. We've challenged you, and others, to demonstrate concretely the evidence for decadence theory adding anything to the critique of capitalism, other than moral approbation. And to every concrete challenge, you and the other defenders have responded, up to this point, with abstractions. Now the defenders resort to deliberate misrepresentations, and when called on that, the defenders play the aggrieved party, the offended champion.

Swell tactics. Nobody would ever guess you can't answer the questions; nobody will ever see the real bollocks behind the phony outrage.

When Alf linked to the ICC's "was/is" schematic, and the "anti-decadents" challenged the assertions contained therein, you didn't bother to show concretely how in fact the schematic was accurate.

When I produced, and challenged, the ICC quote of the "irresolvable crisis of overproduction"-- as if there has been a continuous crisis of overproduction since 1914(?), you didn't say a word. You can't offer anything concrete.

I would love it if you would take a moment and explain your irresolvable, and continuous, crisis of overproduction.

But you won't even attempt to do that. You'll give us a quote from Marx 160 years ago and expect that to suffice; you expect that we will take it on faith, like you do, as if Marx's name is an incantation to be used to ward off the intrusions of the real processes of accumulation, and the fact that the productive forces are not always in conflict with the relations of production that circumscribe them; that the eruption of the conflict isn't an indication of decadence but of the conjuncture, the convergence, of the very processes that define capital as capital, regardless of its trajectory.

What you, and the others who subscribe to decadence theory, don't know about Marx's critique of capital would fill volumes.

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 18:43

"Quit the whining."

Quit the insults: "That's complete, utter nonsense, and deliberately dishonest."

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 18:52

I would love it if you would take a moment and explain your irresolvable, and continuous, crisis of overproduction.

Hmm. Wish this was an ICC invention but...

Whern you, Artesian, argued that the method of marxism, was an understanding of the specifics of this mode of production, of commodity production for the world market, did not the question of overproduction appear in his analysis? Show us how this is not the case?

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 19:01
Lurch wrote:
"Quit the whining."

Quit the insults: "That's complete, utter nonsense, and deliberately dishonest."

That was no insult. That was an accurate assessment of what baboon did. He deliberately misrepresented what people argued in this thread.

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 19:05
Lurch wrote:
I would love it if you would take a moment and explain your irresolvable, and continuous, crisis of overproduction.

Hmm. Wish this was an ICC invention but...

Whern you, Artesian, argued that the method of marxism, was an understanding of the specifics of this mode of production, of commodity production for the world market, did not the question of overproduction appear in his analysis? Show us how this is not the case?

Come on, quit being a poser, you poser. I know what overproduction is. I know how Marx analyzed it. I want your and the ICC's explanation.

Where did Marx ever argue that a crisis of overproduction was irresolvable or continuous? Nowhere. He argued that overproduction was resolved and the resolution set the stage for its reproduction again and on a broader scale. Where did Marx ever argue that a crisis could be permanent, or continuous? Nowhere. Crisis was an interruption, inherent in capitalism.

I want your explanation of overproduction because I'm will to bet when push comes to shove your so called theory reduces itself to "underconsumption."

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 19:19

You reckon? I disagree. So what? This discussion is bigger that what a) says b) says c) says.

Is the element of overproduction a specific phenomenon of capitalist social relations: yes or no?

Is the marxist method both very specific and very general?

Does it englobe the particular and the general? Is it an examination of the specifics of capitalist social relations, or an examination of capitalist social relations within the context of the evolution of class society, and human social organisation as a a whole?

I repeat: stop with your petty insults. They don't help the evolution of an honest, open debate.

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Jun 20 2015 19:40

Lurch, why don't you explain what decadence theory purportedly explain? It should be easy if you adhere to it. Despite all the "explanations" I still don't really get what supposedly explains, what it adds (if any) to what Marx already wrote and why it's even worth while pondering.

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 20:16

S Artesian wrote:

"I want your explanation of overproduction because I'm will to bet when push comes to shove your so called theory reduces itself to "underconsumption."'

Really? Please. Weren't you once cooperating with Loren Goldner? Didn't he teach you anything about the history and positions of the left communists?

Suffice it so say that this political marxist current of the 20th and, now, the 21st century, does not and never has defended the idea that the proletariat can develop its revolutionary praxis through appropriating a greater share of capitalist accumulation: that precisely corresponds to yesterday's men: to the idea of carving out a position within capitalist society, rather than overthrowing it. Are you still carrying that baggage?

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 20:28

Khawaga wrote:

"Lurch, why don't you explain what decadence theory purportedly explain? It should be easy if you adhere to it. Despite all the "explanations" I still don't really get what supposedly explains, what it adds (if any) to what Marx already wrote and why it's even worth while pondering."

Fair post Khawaga. Hopefully I, or someone more erudite, will have another go of presenting what many of us regard as an important marxist framework for understanding, and thus transforming, reality.

jaycee
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Jun 20 2015 20:50

At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression of the same thing - with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution...” (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

I have made the point already but here we go again, the above quote is not proof of the 'permanent crisis of overproduction' or any 'permanent' economic crisis. This quote does however I think prove quite clearly that Marx held to the idea of modes of production becoming decadent, or entering into “an epoch of social revolution”. Decadence and the crisis of overproduction are not identical.

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Jun 20 2015 21:02

I have also been trying to fuck with people in offensive ways in the hope that would "break" them from their ideas.

We're all just behaving like experts here. This is too much of a contentious issue for that kind of attitude. Some ICC comrades are behaving like it's not. But clearly this thread of over 200 posts, most of which are very polemical, is evidence of the controversy.

So essentially I have to agree with Lurch and some others on the ICC forums. The insults aren't getting us anywhere in this discussion. We should focus on the issues and try to behave more fraternally (when you think about it we all really are acting like bickering brothers).

Some comrades here have already been doing that. Because when push comes to shove, we all want to remain comrades, correct? Let's try some understanding, that goes especially for myself, baboon, S., and everyone else.

One point of contention; Lurch, and the ICC, never post the full quote so here it is again:

Quote:
At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

Lurch
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Jun 20 2015 21:28

S Artesian wrote: "Capitalism will last until it's overthrown, and its ascendance or decadence is not the determinant of the prospects for revolution."

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Capitalism will last until it's overthrown or until its evolution results "in the ruin of the contending classes."

The marxist perspective does not envisage an everlasting capitalist mode of production, things as they are. It envisages capitalism not as a machine but, as you yourself correctly pointed out earlier in this discussion, as an historically determined human social relationship.

Mankind never rejects a tool (form of social organisation) until it has proved its uselessness. Marx said that. The perception - the class consciousness - of the current mode of social organisation as something beneficial, or detrimental, to the future of humanity is therefore part and parcel of the equation in determining the future of humanity. Reject that, and you reject the role of human - and in this epoch, collective, historical, proletarian class consciousness - in determining the course of history.

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Jun 20 2015 21:42

I think it is worth going back to the question of Marx’s method, because there are clearly severe doubts, even by those who refer extensively to Marx’s writings, about whether he even posed the central issue here: was capitalism in historical ascent or had it become an obsolete mode of production? Is it true, as Khawaga wrote, that such a concept is simply not needed and that Marx himself had no need for it? On this point, there’s still plenty to say about the Preface to the Critique of Political Economy and the criticisms of the way myself and other comrades have made use of it, but for the moment I am going to deal with a few other passages where Marx deals explicitly with the problem which, in many ways, is similar to the one posed in Jamal’s OP: the relationship between the stage reached by the ‘advanced’ capitalisms of the west, and those in the ‘peripheries’ of the system.

The first reference is in a letter to Engels from 8 October 1858.

The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process. For us, the difficult question is this: on the Continent revolution is imminent and will, moreover, instantly assume a socialist character. Will it not necessarily be crushed in this little corner of the earth, since the movement of bourgeois society is still, in the ascendant over a far greater area?

Several remarks:
- Marx has the idea that capitalism has a kind of historic task or ‘mission’. Does that make him a teleologist?
- The ‘task’ involves the achievement of a process of ‘globalisation’, of forming a world economy, which make communism possible
- In his view socialist revolution was already possible in Europe. And yet at the same time capitalist society was in the ascendant across wide areas of the planet. And this posed a serious problem as far as he was concerned.

Conclusion: it was very important, for Marx, to determine whether capitalism as a whole had reached a stage where socialist revolution was possible.

The second reference is from Marx’s writings on the Paris Commune.

Remember that, initially, and despite his above-stated idea that socialist revolution was already on the cards in Europe, Marx had responded to the Prussian-French war from the same starting point as he viewed other ‘national wars of the period, eg the American civil war. Did it have a progressive content in the sense of getting rid of anachronistic vestiges which stood in the way of a full flowering of bourgeois relations of production? And indeed the International initially considered that Germany was fighting a war of self-defence, as long as it did not turn into war of conquest. However, after Prussia’s war aims became clearer, and above all after the experience of the Commune, which had been crushed through the connivance of French and Prussian military forces, Marx declared that national wars were over in Europe:

“That, after the most tremendous war of modern times, the conquering and the conquered hosts should fraternize for the common massacre of the proletariat – this unparalleled event does indicate, not, as Bismarck thinks, the final repression of a new society up heaving, but the crumbling into dust of bourgeois society. The highest heroic effort of which old society is still capable is national war; and this is now proved to be a mere governmental humbug, intended to defer the struggle of classes, and to be thrown aside as soon as that class struggle bursts out into civil war. Class rule is no longer able to disguise itself in a national uniform; the national governments are one as against the proletariat!”

So Marx was prepared to use the evidence of a major historical event, such as the Commune, to judge whether significant changes in the proletarian programme needed to be made– not only the rejection of the old idea that the workers must conquer the state machine, following the way the Parisian workers had organised themselves, but also that, henceforward, national wars in Europe were reactionary.

Of course, the problem of what to do in the areas of the world where capitalism was only superficially implanted remained. And towards the end of his life, in answering Vera Zasulich’s question about the Russian peasant commune, Marx was led to consider this problem again.

Some of Marx’s ‘followers’ had already begun to abuse his method. With the development of imperialism and colonisation, some began to argue that the working class should support the imperialist expansion of ‘its own’ bourgeoisie because this led to the elimination of archaic modes of production and paved the way for the development of capitalist ‘civilisation’. In Russia, there was the idea that for a socialist revolution to become possible, it was necessary for capitalism to take root, get rid of Tsarism and the other pre-capitalist remnants (including the peasant commune), and establish the rule of the democratic bourgeoisie.

Marx’s answer was an anticipated critique of what later became the Menshevik view. He rejected the idea that every country had to go through the same mechanical process on the road to communist revolution. Capitalism had arisen in Europe because the previous mode of production - feudalism, based on a form of private property linked to personal relations on exploitation - had been more favourable to its emergence than would be countries like Russia or China where private property was far less developed because of the persistence of ancient communal forms. And Marx welcomed the possibility that, if revolution broke out in the ‘advanced’ countries, countries like Russia would be spared the nightmare of capitalist development, and the old communal forms could be reintegrated into a global communist society, itself a revival, on a higher level, of the archaic primitive community.

At his point, how does Marx assess the historical point reached by capitalism?
On the one hand, capitalism had already become a fetter on the development of the productive forces:

“On the one hand it has marvellously developed the social productive forces, but on the other it has betrayed [its transitory character] its own incompatibility with the very forces it generates. Its history is no longer anything more than one of antagonisms, crises, conflicts and disasters. Lastly, it has unveiled its purely transitory character to all except those who have an interest in remaining blind”.

But he also has an intimation that capitalism is not quite there yet: “Although the capitalist system is past its prime in the West, approaching the time when it will be no more than a regressive social regime”.

So now capitalism is only approaching the time when it’s become a “regressive” social regime (another term that could replace decadence if it is so offensive)

Of course both quotes are not from the short letter that was finally sent to Zasulich. They are from the second draft. Marx was not in good health and was not able to complete the longer response he had initially started writing. But they still give an insight into the way Marx was thinking. And they also show that he could contradict himself. But these contradictions were above all reflections of the contradictions of an epoch where the signs of decay were already visible in the most advanced countries, and which yet had vast areas of the planet available for its conquest.
All the debates about the maximum and the minimum programme which animated the workers’ movement in the period of the Second International were a product of the fact that capitalism was in a kind of transitional phase. This was the period of the rapid development of imperialism across the globe, presaging a profound crisis of the system, but for a certain period giving capitalism a tremendous lease of life. Rosa Luxemburg expressed this in her response to Bernstein (Social Reform or Revolution), written in the 1890s:

"The world market is still developing. Germany and Austria only entered the phase of actual large industrial production in the 1870s; Russia only in the 1880s; France is still in large part in the stage of smallscale production; the Balkan states, for the most part, have still not stripped themselves of the chains of a natural economy; and only in the 1880s did America, Australia and Africa enter into a large and regular exchange of goods with Europe. Thus, on the one hand, we now have behind us the sudden and large opening up of new areas of the capitalist economy, as occurred periodically until the 1870s; and we have behind us, so to speak, previous youthful crises which followed these periodic developments. On the other hand, we still have not progressed to that degree of development and exhaustion of the world market which would produce the fatal, periodic collision of the forces of production with the limits of the market, which is the actual capitalist crisis of old age. We are in a phase in which the crises are no longer the accompaniment of the growth of capitalism, and not yet that of its decline".

This was why World War One and the ensuing world revolutionary wave were such vital turning points for the revolutionaries. They were clear signs that the “the actual capitalist crisis of old age” had dawned. Imperialist expansion, which had previously guaranteed a military and social peace in the advanced countries, now brought the catastrophe of war back to the heart of the system. Using the same method Marx had applied in the wake of the Paris Commune, Luxemburg concluded that national wars were over not only in the old capitalist countries, but everywhere, given the global domination of imperialism.

The Third International proclaimed the beginning of the “epoch of wars and revolutions”, although it was the left communists who were most able to deduce the programmatic consequences of the new epoch; and this historical shift was understood better by the Italian communist left than much of the German left, who did indeed tend to confuse the conjunctural crisis of the years after 1918 with the ‘death crisis’ of capitalism, whereas the Italian left understood that the epoch of social revolution was precisely that – an epoch.

Of course, they could have got all this wrong. Maybe, like the man who claimed he had been turned into a toad by an alleged witch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, capitalism “got better”. And of course, none of this has ever been a problem for the followers of Bakunin, for whom historical materialism is bunk and revolution has been possible at any time, more or less. But for those who think Marx has something to teach us – even when he got a lot of things wrong – there is a real question here. And Marx – followed by the Marxist currents who best exemplified his method - spent much of his life trying to resolve it.

Apologies for the length, and I am now going away again for the next week or so.

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 21:58

The issue was/is not what Marx thought but what ICC contends is an accurate analysis of capitalism.

As for insults....the only insult I read here is baboon's dishonest rendering of what was written by the critics of decadence theory.

Lurch finds it insulting that someone thinks a comrade of his is a liar? OK, find the evidence to back that comrade's assertion. If there is no evidence to back baboon's assertion then the characterization of him as a liar is no insult, but an accurate assessment.

Oh yeah, I am friends with Loren, and friendship has got nothing to do with this. I think his "economics" such that it is, is completely dead-ass wrong.

His view is that capitalism has been in crisis since 1970. You think 1914 so you can sort out your differences with him. Mine hinged on the fact that you cannot, do not, and never will have a crisis lasting 45 years. "Permanent crisis" is a nonsense phrase. If there is such a thing as a permanent crisis now, when there was no permanent crisis before, then capitalism has to be not structurally, not quantitatively different than it was; but qualitatively, essentially different than it was, meaning it not longer has the same determinants-- not to go all Hegelian on you, but that's exactly how Marx analyzes capitalism-- explicating its determinants, and why every manifestation, every facet of capital's reproduction is an expression of those determinants. Cyclical crisis is an expression of the determinant of wage labor; of the expulsion of living labor from the production process. Permanent crisis? You tell me: how does enhancing the productivity of labor create a permanent crisis without simultaneously triggering the famous offsetting tendencies?

Structural tendencies are not permanent crises.

I would like some answers to the concrete questions. Is the decadence of capitalism indicated by some sort of permanent, continuous saturation of "the markets"? If so, how does decadence theory account for the periodic changes in rates of growth, real expansion, actual increases in production, real incremental advances in profitability.

Is the decadence of capitalism indicated by the lack of new geographic territory to conquer? If so, why was capitalism decadent in 1914? Why was it decadent in 1960?-- both periods being prior to the penetration of China, the development of the Asian economies.

Where does this notion of "markets" being geographic entities come from? Certainly not Marx.

Regarding the ICC "is/was" matrix, how do you account for the fact that the "is" characteristics of your category of decadence do not accurately describe the current condition of capitalism, nor do the "was" characteristics accurately describe the "pre-decadent" capitalism?

I'm sure you'll ignore all those concrete questions and give us more abstractions-- more quotes where Marx said humanity never rejects X until conditions Y and Z-- as if that can substitute for a concrete analysis of the real terms of class struggle in the here and now.

Whatever. Just please spare us the preaching about "Mankind" never doing this or that; and Marx saying this or saying that 160 years ago which tells us why capitalism has been decadent since 1914.

S. Artesian
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Jun 20 2015 23:47

Alf says Marx thought national wars were no longer "progressive" after 1871, but that "capitalism wasn't quite there yet." Alf indicates that until that point Marx thought national wars were or could be progressive and that the outcome of the Prussian-Franco was marked some sort of sea change in capitalism as the war changed into a war of aggrandizement on the part of Prussia.

There's so much wrong with this it's hard to know where to start. First and foremost, it doesn't matter what Marx thought. We (the anti-decadents) are not arguing that because Marx said it, it must be right. What matters is if what Marx remarked accurately describes the characteristics of capitalism as a system here "positive" "progressive" "ascendant," there negative, regressive, decadent.

Secondly, we have to be aware of how dangerous it is to characterize a system as "ascendant" or "decadent" based on some sort of notion of "progressive wars." I mean Engels flat out whole hog endorsed the United States in its invasion of Mexico and seizure of Mexican territory, thinking that the industrious Yankee saber was exactly what was needed to propel the "lazy" Mexicans to "progress"-- the progress of capitalism. The fact that the war was fought in the interests of jingoists, slaveholders, etc seems to have escaped Engels.

Marx also said capital is contradiction in motion. I'm much more comfortable with that as we can see that capitalism is all- positive, progressive, ascendant, negative regressive decadent, sometimes all at once-- but it is never, and has never been one without the other; if we understand positive, progress, ascendant to mean what it means to the bourgeoisie-- able to extract value, able to intensify the exploitation of labor, able to expand the exploitation of labor-- at the same as we know what it means to everyone else-- which is creating, and actualizing, the means for reducing human beings to muck; preserving, absorbing, adapting the most regressive forms of property relations within its supposed "advanced" framework, expanding, or creating enclaves of advanced production by marginalizing masses of people.

In that motion capitalism has been remarkably consistent throughout its entire history.

One, and only one, of the problems with decadence theory is that indeed, as Rosa did, it substitutes geographical limits for social relations-- so that now capitalism has expanded throughout the globe, and therefore it has, more or less, run out of room, and must begin to contract.

Well, if that is the case now, and Alf himself is the one who produced the 30 year old was/is matrix, what does that say about those arguing capitalism was decadent in 1985? You mean it wasn't decadent in 1985? Or it was decadent in 1985, and still managed to accumulate massive enough profits to invest a trillion dollars in China?

Or look at Africa. Africa is supposed to be everybody's poster child for the once and future development through capital investment. Hasn't worked out that way, with Nestles for one cutting back drastically on investment because the "market" just isn't there. That should tell us that markets aren't territory; they are social constructs.

So capital can't develop that market, and why? Because it (capital) is now decadent? But then why couldn't it develop Africa in the 1890s? In the 1880s? Because there are limits to capitalist expansion, and those limits have nothing to do with some mega-trajectory of capital, its "ascendancy" or its decadence. Those limits have everything to do with profitability; with the limits of capitalist property; with the accumulation of capital, and the cycles of accumulation.

To participate in the markets, there must be something to exchange; you have to be able to absorb the labor you dispossess, and reconstitute it as labor-power, and this is the fundamental limit to capital, which limited has existed everywhere, always, sometimes more acute, sometimes less acute.

If one wants to make a modest description of the change in capital, and indeed there have been massive, but not qualitative changes, then you could try saying that where before capital embarked on conquest as the resolution of its conflicts; today the continued accumulation means capital tends to offset declines in profitability by destroying the very components of its existence-- the means of production constituted as private property, and living labor by driving the price of labor below its cost of reproduction.

But that's not what ICC's "was/is" matrix wants to accomplish. It has a far more grandiose purpose, which is providing succor and satisfaction to those who embrace it, regardless of its accuracy.