Decadence theory

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alibadani
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Mar 26 2006 12:19
Decadence theory

Admin - this discussion was split from here: http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=8795&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=0

Does it boil down to joint action between revolutionary workers form different tendencies, forming this organisation on a permanent basis? You know the major groups of the communist left couldnt even come together to write a joint declaration about the Iraq war. Heck they can't even agree to organise a conference. So good luck I guess.

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Devrim
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Mar 23 2006 19:52

Yes, it does. There are more people with left communist ideas that the ICC, and The IBRP. I know that they can’t work together. Also lots of anarchists hold positions very close to left communism.

I don't know what happened with your name. I used cut and paste as I wrote the post on the word processor so maybe my spell check auto corrected it.

alibadani
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Mar 25 2006 23:18
Devrim wrote:
how is it that I am consistently arguing this position, and have been doing so for nearly twenty years without the theory of decadence.

I wish you would go ahead and answer that question yourself: why are you consistently arguing the anti-union position. We know unions are the enemy, but has that always been the case? Of course not. So what changed, and when did this change happen? That's what this whole decadence thing is about.

There are some who argue the anti-union position from the perspective that unions have always been anti-worker. I'm guessing you don't share that perspective.

Decadence is central to marxism. Marxists don't believe that the revolution has always been possible, just like marxists don't believe that the bourgeoisie has always been reactionary. The workers' revolution is only possible after capitalism has completed its progressive functions historically; when capitalism becomes decadent.

I realise that you defend communist positions, but what is that based on? Without decadence, how are you different from an anarchist who defends such positions?

Nick Durie
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Mar 25 2006 23:59
Quote:
Decadence is central to marxism. Marxists don't believe that the revolution has always been possible, just like marxists don't believe that the bourgeoisie has always been reactionary. The workers' revolution is only possible after capitalism has completed its progressive functions historically; when capitalism becomes decadent.

Well certainly if you get your Marxism from Engels, Lenin and the communist manifesto.

In what way was a people's world not possible one hundred years ago? And if that was the case what were groups of peasants doing fighting feudalism and trying to install communism 700 years ago? Maybe they just should have been happy with their lot, living in brutal tyrrany, because in reality there was not much point in bothering to struggle until 1929 or something.

Really this smacks of the Soviet Union's embrace of trade with brutal latifundistas and slave owners in latin America, because they claimed they had to support an emerging mercantile class to build a bourgeois revolution there.

It's a crude and flawed analysis.

alibadani
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Mar 26 2006 00:27
Nick Durie wrote:
Really this smacks of the Soviet Union's embrace of trade with brutal latifundistas and slave owners in latin America, because they claimed they had to support an emerging mercantile class to build a bourgeois revolution there.

Nick,The "soviet" Union might have claimed to be waiting for bourgeois revolutions, that was thier way of using some marxist verbiage to justify thier acts. If capitalism is indeed in its decadent phase then only the world proletarian revoltion is possible. There is no progressive bourgeoisie any longer anywhere.

Nick Durie wrote:
In what way was a people's world not possible one hundred years ago? And if that was the case what were groups of peasants doing fighting feudalism and trying to install communism 700 years ago? Maybe they just should have been happy with their lot, living in brutal tyrrany, because in reality there was not much point in bothering to struggle until 1929 or something.

Well the peasants perhaps could have overthrown the aristocracy in some place in Europe or another, but they could not have installed communism. Another system of exploitation would have emerged because the basis for communism (the capacity for abundance, a global ecomnomy etc.) was not yet in place.

A hundred years ago was communism possible? I would say that decadence had probably begun by then, so maybe. THe key date is 1914, The world war was the definite sign that capitalism's progressive era was over.

Nick Durie
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Mar 26 2006 06:38
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Well the peasants perhaps could have overthrown the aristocracy in some place in Europe or another, but they could not have installed communism. Another system of exploitation would have emerged because the basis for communism (the capacity for abundance, a global ecomnomy etc.) was not yet in place.

I rest my case. "[Y]ou get your Marxism from Engels, Lenin and the communist manifesto." This is historical materialism; it is utter nonsense.

Just one question tho - in what way was there not a global economy 3000, let alone 700! - years ago? You'll of course be aware of archaeologists' discovery of neolithic handtools in Britain that could only have been made in the far corners of Eatern Europe and all that? Or perhaps the reasons for the Roman conquest of what is now England, namely that grain produced there was in such happy abundance that the place was termed 'the bread basket of Europe'?

I mean in what way was communism not possible if the Roman Empire and China (which by the way abolished feudalism around the year 900 BC at one point due the emergence of a powerful mercantile class!) were? And if that raises questions what about the societies of Latin America who built cities of hundreds of thousands, and in some cases millions?

You Engelsians piss me off so much.

Barry Kade
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Mar 26 2006 06:57

Perhaps its because communism is either imposed by scarcity (primitive communism) or is made possible by abundance (post-capitalist communism)?

Nick Durie
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Mar 26 2006 07:47

Abundance is not only existant in capitalism.

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Devrim
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Mar 26 2006 12:02

First can we cut this to another thread. It is a bit off topic. Maybe from alibadani’s post onwards. Secondly I actually asked the ICC about decadence before:

Quote:
I actually wanted to discuss the ‘Theory of Decadence’ on that thread as I feel that it is interesting. I am not convinced by all of it especially the way it justifies Marx’s support of the North in the U.S. civil war for example. I think that that was just another imperialist war, but I feel that the ‘Theory of Decadence’ is a useful framework.

and:

Quote:
How do we know what material conditions are necessary for Communism? Was a pre-industrial communism theoretically possible? I know that it didn’t happen, but it hasn’t happened yet either. Even if it wasn’t, were workers right to back different capitalist factions, or should they have struggled for their own interests?

I think that these interests include, not being slaughtered in a war. This is not moralism. I am wondering why it was in the interests of the working class to die for the interests of the capitalist class.

In your opinion, would a communist organization at the time have supported the war? (I think that the answer to this one is yes) Would it have called upon workers to join up and fight to further the development of ‘the material foundations of communism’? (Please answer this last question specifically, and remember that this is exactly the position that you argued against on the decadence thread, and I argued on the Quebec thread (http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7412 if you haven’t seen it. It turns to Iraq about half way through.))

To which Baboon replied:

Quote:
"Why should workers die for capital?" you ask. Again it is essential to put this in the framework of ascendency/decadence. Why should cotton workers strike in support of the Union in the US civil war, why lose money and jobs? Because they saw themselves as part of a historic class, still wage slaves of course, but part of a class, that despite continuing antagonisms with them (and these always existed and that is important to bear in mind) willingly and consciously supported factions of the bourgeoisie in its revolutionary wars.

Then the thread got really abstract, and theoretical, and I lost interest in it. Now I have never heard about cotton workers striking in support of the Union in the cival war, so I would need more information, (at least mention which country it was in) though I have heard about English dockers blacking Southern ships. Was this because they saw themselves as part of a ‘historic class’? I don’t know. It is equally likely that they had vague liberal anti-slavery sympathies, which actually tied in very nicely with British imperial interests at one point.

Anyway the point about ‘Decadence’ is that while it is an interesting discussion, I don’t think that it is that central. The ICC is always talking about the ‘proletarian political milieu’. If there is a ‘proletarian political milieu’, the basic defining point is its internationalism, and its attitude to imperialist war, not its attitude to ‘decadence’ theory. I am sure there are some ‘Marxist’ groups who have a theory of decadence, and support any national liberation movement that waves a red flag at them. Internationalist positions are not limited to Marxists. In fact most ‘Marxist’ groups don’t hold them. I would call myself a ‘Left Communist’, but I don’t see that this is a current exclusively tied to Marxism. If you look at the history of the movement in Britain, you will see that one of the foremost proponents of an internationalist position on the Second World War was Guy Aldred, who called himself an anarchist.

Yes, at times anarchists have turned against the working class. Those who supported the first world war for example, but so did a lot of ‘Marxists’. I think that the ICC are tarring all anarchists with the same brush. They look to Proudhon, and they dismiss the anarchists as petty bourgeois. They would be outraged by an anarchist argument that dismissed Marxism by focusing on Kautsky.

I am not sure about this, but I believe that there are some Bordigist groups in Italy, who support national liberation movements, and work in the unions, and the ICC still considers them to be part of the ‘proletarian political milieu’. If this is true, why do you consider them to be revolutionary organizations, and not some anarchist groups that oppose these things. Is it because you come from the same tradition? I don’t have a fetish about labels.

The ‘Theory of Decadence’ might be right or wrong. I do not think that it is central though. For the ICC, it is important. It allows them to claim a line of unbroken continuity back to Marx. For me, I claim, as the heritage of the revolutionary movement, all currents that were revolutionary, whatever they labeled themselves as, and discard the rest, whether it called itself Marxist or not.

In solidarity

Devrim

alibadani
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Mar 26 2006 18:06

Devrim,

TO clarify some points first. I know for sure that the ICC doesn't paint all anarchists with the same brush. There is a clear distinction between those who defend revolutionary traditions and those who don't, and the ICC consistently makes that distinction clear.

Secondly if there are Bordiguist groups who hold the views you claim they hold, and if the ICC is aware of this, then the ICC certainly wouldn't consider them a part of the proletarian milieu. So you are mistaken on that point.

I agree with you that the communist programme and the positions matter. A group could call itself whatever it wishes to-- marxist, internationalist, etc.-- and still defend ordinary left bourgeois positions. However does it matter what the basis for one's positions are, or are you simply satisfied with the fact that the positions are held?

Decadence is central primarily because it helps us explain things. It helps us explain why the role of the party has changed, why the role of unions have changed etc.

So imagine I'm a worker searching for answers and I ask you why we should reject the unions. What do you tell this worker?

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Alf
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Mar 26 2006 20:03

Council communism derives from the communist left in Germany and Holland. The KAPD/KAPN had no criticisms at all of one of the founding positions of the Communist International to which they initially adhered that the first world war marked capitalism's entry into its epoch of war and revolutions. On the contrary, they insisted on the need to consistently put into practise the consequences of the new period with regard to questions like parliament and the trade unions.

Devrim you may be able to defend a clear position on the unions today, but hasn't your view been profoundly shaped by currents which founded this position on the basis of marxism and of the theory of decadence?

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Mar 26 2006 23:07

Why was I sidestepping? My point is that the position that trade unions are now opposed to the interests of the working class has a precise history, based on the theoretical conclusions communists drew from the workers' struggle in the period of the mass strike; that today's revolutionary position on the unions only exists because of those conclusions; and that these conclusions were developed above all by the German communist left on the basis of recognising decadence. See for example the KAPD's interventions on the union question at the Third Congress of the CI. In other words, without that historical work by our predecessors, Devrim's (or the ICC's, for that matter) present clarity would not exist.

Furthermore, decadence theory was not restricted to the Bolsheviks prior to the emergence of the communist left. Its clearest defender was Rosa Luxemburg. So to avoid this discussion sidestepping into another exchange about Lenin and the Bolsheviks, it might be more fruitful to focus on her views.

bastarx
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Mar 27 2006 07:34

I'd be interested to hear what ICC members or supporters think of this article by defunct British commie group Wildcat:

http://www.againstsleepandnightmare.com/wildcat/w16-tradeunions-1842.html

It's about the origins of trade unionism in Britain and how right from their earliest days unions worked to pacify the class struggle.

Maybe the unions were right to do so because communism was impossible at the time but it's hard to imagine that revolutionaries at the time would have taken that view.

cheers

Pete

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Demogorgon303
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Mar 27 2006 08:56

Hi Peter

You may find this article by Engels of some interest.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/05/28.htm

In it, he clearly presents trades unions as a positive step for the working class but nothing more than a first step in its goal to organise itself. He notes the tentative way that the union movement acted and seems to consider this a question of the unions structural place in society i.e. that they "they enforce the economical law of wages against employers".

He also makes the point that unions can only remain useful to the working class as long as they represented the most radical and advanced layers of the working class:

"More than this, there are plenty of symptoms that the working class of this country is awakening to the consciousness that it has for some time been moving in the wrong groove; that the present movements for higher wages and shorter hours exclusively, keep it in a vicious circle out of which there is no issue; that it is not the lowness of wages which forms the fundamental evil, but the wages system itself. This knowledge once generally spread amongst the working class, the position of Trades Unions must change considerably. They will no longer enjoy the privilege of being the only organisations of the working class. At the side of, or above, the Unions of special trades there must spring up a general Union, a political organisation of the working class as a whole." - Engels, Trades Unions, article from Labour Standard, May 1881 (emphasis mine).

It is clear that the Marxist wing of the workers movement never took the unions - or any other form of workers organisation for that matter - at face value. They praised its successes but also critiqued its timidity and its errors. The article also clearly contains precursors to the positions that would be later taken up by the Communist Left by noting the tendency to conservatism in the unions and the conception of a larger organisation of the working class as a whole which clearly prefigures the idea of soviets, not to mention the tension between negotiating for a better position within capitalism as opposed to organising for its destruction.

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Mar 27 2006 11:37

Peter - Demogorgon has begun the response to your post at the general level but the question you raise about the role of the unions in the 19th century is important and there is a lot more to say. We will return to this in due course.

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Mar 27 2006 13:17

Alf of course I realize that the positions that both I, and you hold today are influenced by people who agreed with decadence theory. As I said on another thread:

Quote:
Let’s look at the positive side of the ICC though. For the past 31 years they have maintained a organization, and produced publications, which have influenced many people on these boards. Possibly the history of the German Left Communists, and many other things would have remained a lot less well known without them.

Alibadani, if you asked me to explain it to you, I would start from empirical evidence. I think the theoretical side is interesting, but only interesting. I don't think it is essential. I think that most of the positions of the left communists can be derived from one line in Marx:

Quote:
The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.

It is just wink a question of working out which organizations defend the working class.

Can I have an answer from the ICC itself to my main post, please?

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Mar 27 2006 16:35

Devrim - can you remind me which post you are referring as your main one?

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Devrim
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Mar 27 2006 20:41

This one:

Quote:
First can we cut this to another thread. It is a bit off topic. Maybe from alibadani’s post onwards. Secondly I actually asked the ICC about decadence before:

Quote:

I actually wanted to discuss the ‘Theory of Decadence’ on that thread as I feel that it is interesting. I am not convinced by all of it especially the way it justifies Marx’s support of the North in the U.S. civil war for example. I think that that was just another imperialist war, but I feel that the ‘Theory of Decadence’ is a useful framework.

and:

Quote:

How do we know what material conditions are necessary for Communism? Was a pre-industrial communism theoretically possible? I know that it didn’t happen, but it hasn’t happened yet either. Even if it wasn’t, were workers right to back different capitalist factions, or should they have struggled for their own interests?

I think that these interests include, not being slaughtered in a war. This is not moralism. I am wondering why it was in the interests of the working class to die for the interests of the capitalist class.

In your opinion, would a communist organization at the time have supported the war? (I think that the answer to this one is yes) Would it have called upon workers to join up and fight to further the development of ‘the material foundations of communism’? (Please answer this last question specifically, and remember that this is exactly the position that you argued against on the decadence thread, and I argued on the Quebec thread (http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=7412 if you haven’t seen it. It turns to Iraq about half way through.))

To which Baboon replied:

Quote:

"Why should workers die for capital?" you ask. Again it is essential to put this in the framework of ascendency/decadence. Why should cotton workers strike in support of the Union in the US civil war, why lose money and jobs? Because they saw themselves as part of a historic class, still wage slaves of course, but part of a class, that despite continuing antagonisms with them (and these always existed and that is important to bear in mind) willingly and consciously supported factions of the bourgeoisie in its revolutionary wars.

Then the thread got really abstract, and theoretical, and I lost interest in it. Now I have never heard about cotton workers striking in support of the Union in the cival war, so I would need more information, (at least mention which country it was in) though I have heard about English dockers blacking Southern ships. Was this because they saw themselves as part of a ‘historic class’? I don’t know. It is equally likely that they had vague liberal anti-slavery sympathies, which actually tied in very nicely with British imperial interests at one point.

Anyway the point about ‘Decadence’ is that while it is an interesting discussion, I don’t think that it is that central. The ICC is always talking about the ‘proletarian political milieu’. If there is a ‘proletarian political milieu’, the basic defining point is its internationalism, and its attitude to imperialist war, not its attitude to ‘decadence’ theory. I am sure there are some ‘Marxist’ groups who have a theory of decadence, and support any national liberation movement that waves a red flag at them. Internationalist positions are not limited to Marxists. In fact most ‘Marxist’ groups don’t hold them. I would call myself a ‘Left Communist’, but I don’t see that this is a current exclusively tied to Marxism. If you look at the history of the movement in Britain, you will see that one of the foremost proponents of an internationalist position on the Second World War was Guy Aldred, who called himself an anarchist.

Yes, at times anarchists have turned against the working class. Those who supported the first world war for example, but so did a lot of ‘Marxists’. I think that the ICC are tarring all anarchists with the same brush. They look to Proudhon, and they dismiss the anarchists as petty bourgeois. They would be outraged by an anarchist argument that dismissed Marxism by focusing on Kautsky.

I am not sure about this, but I believe that there are some Bordigist groups in Italy, who support national liberation movements, and work in the unions, and the ICC still considers them to be part of the ‘proletarian political milieu’. If this is true, why do you consider them to be revolutionary organizations, and not some anarchist groups that oppose these things. Is it because you come from the same tradition? I don’t have a fetish about labels.

The ‘Theory of Decadence’ might be right or wrong. I do not think that it is central though. For the ICC, it is important. It allows them to claim a line of unbroken continuity back to Marx. For me, I claim, as the heritage of the revolutionary movement, all currents that were revolutionary, whatever they labeled themselves as, and discard the rest, whether it called itself Marxist or not.

In solidarity

Devrim

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Mar 28 2006 21:01

thanks. A lot of big questions there. Will send a few initial thoughts, but as with Peter's question (which essentially covers the same ground), this deserves a more developed response, which could take a while

petey
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Mar 29 2006 18:39
Nick Durie wrote:
in what way was there not a global economy 3000, let alone 700! - years ago? You'll of course be aware of archaeologists' discovery of neolithic handtools in Britain that could only have been made in the far corners of Eatern Europe and all that? Or perhaps the reasons for the Roman conquest of what is now England, namely that grain produced there was in such happy abundance that the place was termed 'the bread basket of Europe'?

grin

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Mar 30 2006 08:15

Devrim

In this first post, we will take up the latter part of your contribution, on the composition of the proletarian milieu. Alibadani has already responded to the idea that we lump all anarchists together, but we can cite our website directly

“Internationalist anarchism

We use this term to distinguish between the "official anarchists", who are virtually indistinguishable from Trotskyism in their support for all the typical leftist causes (national liberation, work in the trades unions, etc), and those groups which, although they identify with the anarchist and not the marxist tradition, remain nonetheless on the internationalist side of the class frontier”.

http//en.internationalism.org/taxonomy/term/82

And of course formerly marxist currents have betrayed the working class – that’s part of the whole drama of the history of the proletarian movement. But when it comes to founding internationalist positions on solid theoretical foundations, there is surely no comparison between the good instincts of internationalist anarchists and the coherent political framework offered by the tradition of Marx, Luxemburg, or the German and Italian left communists.

With regard to the Bordigists, it’s worth noting that at the beginning of the international conferences of the communist left in the late 70s, some comrades in the ICC looked at the Bordigist positions on unions and national liberation and concluded that they must be leftists. This gave rise to a debate in the organisation which eventually led to the adoption of a resolution on proletarian political groups (International Review 11). The key argument of this resolution was that you can’t determine the class nature of an organisation just by taking a static photograph of its positions. What’s vital is to understand the dynamic if an organisation, its past history and its present direction.

On the historical level, it is important not to prematurely reject organisations which have their origins in the proletariat. Judging whether an organisation has definitively betrayed the working class can only be done in the light of major events such as imperialist wars, revolutions, and so on, which provide a clear test of whether an organisation stands with the working class or the bourgeois state. Despite their attempts to maintain the outmoded positions of the Communist International on the national and union questions (which are not the same as the leftist positions on these questions), the Bordigist groups in general have not abandoned the fundamental principles of internationalism or participated directly in the bourgeois state.

On the other hand, once an organisation has gone over to the other side, like the Trotskyists, there is no turning back. They are dead for the working class. And as such, it is virtually impossible for them to give rise to new proletarian organisations. If new groups do appear which are trying to make a break with such forms of leftism, we have to assess whether there is a real movement towards clarification, a serious effort to make a complete break with the past, an open attitude to the genuine organisations of the proletariat. Again, it’s not simply a question of the positions they hold at a given moment, but of where they are heading.

This method applies equally to groups which call themselves Marxist or anarchist.

In another post, I will try to begin the answer to your questions on ascendance and decadence, but I’m going to be busy over the next few days.

baboon
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Mar 31 2006 11:12

Devrim, I think the theory of decadence is absolutely essential to understanding the revolutionary perspective. This is not a matter of learning by rote an abstract formula. The main battalions of the working class, millions and millions of workers, clearly understood the "theory" of decadence from the early 1900s onwards - much more clearly than some so-called revolutionaries understand it today. A real revolution is impossible unless the objective conditions exist for it to take place, unless, within a general framework, the old world cannot go on as it was before. The perspective of socialism or barbarism was clearly understood and acted upon by the advanced forces of the international proletariat in their organisations and their millions. "Turn the imperialist war into civil war" and "All power to the soviets" were slogans that encapsulated and expressed the essence of decadence and were shared and acted upon by the organisation(s) of the working class..

The framework of the analysis today is again essential for understanding the role of the unions, parliament, national liberation and, not least, the class struggle, in both ascendency and decadence.

The civil war in the US was one of many civil wars in the heartlands of emerging capital (France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, etc) which represented an advance for the proletariat and another nail in the coffin of decayed feudalism (let alone the elements of slavery)and the emergence of generalised wage labour. Workers were right to fight in these wars on the side of capital - though they were used and abused by the latter, these movements were overall very positive for the immediate situation of the working class and the longer term revolutionary perspective, whatever "blood and iron" capitalism brought with it. Engels himself fought with revolutionary troops in the state of Bremen.

Hundreds of thousands of cotton workers in Lancashire, England, struck for at least weeks in support of the Union in the US civil war. These "stupid", "know nothing" workers made valiant sacrifices within the framework of an international, historical perspective. A lot of positions which abuse marxist theory are actually nothing more than contempt for the working class. Many aspects of anarchism are very good at this latter.

The action of the cotton workers didn't at all coincided with the interests of the British bourgeosie, tied as you said by, "vague, liberal, anti-slavery ideas". The British bourgeoisie were very pleased to get their cotton cheap (coming from slavery made not a whit of difference to them) and they were very much opposed to the actions of the Lancs. cotton workers.

alibadani
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Mar 31 2006 15:22

Baboon,

You don't like anarchists do you? They are responsible for this very forum you know?

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Apr 1 2006 20:09

Baboon, I don’t think at any point I used the words:

Quote:
"stupid", "know nothing" workers

In fact what I actually said was:

Quote:
Now I have never heard about cotton workers striking in support of the Union in the cival war, so I would need more information, (at least mention which country it was in) though I have heard about English dockers blacking Southern ships. Was this because they saw themselves as part of a ‘historic class’? I don’t know. It is equally likely that they had vague liberal anti-slavery sympathies, which actually tied in very nicely with British imperial interests at one point.

Workers are forced to struggle by their position within capitalist society. Not every striking worker sees himself as part of a historic class. Actually in my experience most don't. If you had said that they acted as part of a historic class, the argument would have been more understandable.

You said:

Quote:
Hundreds of thousands of cotton workers in Lancashire, England, struck for at least weeks in support of the Union in the US civil war. These "stupid", "know nothing" workers made valiant sacrifices within the framework of an international, historical perspective. A lot of positions which abuse marxist theory are actually nothing more than contempt for the working class. Many aspects of anarchism are very good at this latter.

I said I didn't know much about this. The phrase

Quote:
at least weeks

makes me think that you don't either.

When you say that they:

Quote:
struck for at least weeks in support of the Union in the US civil war.

What the hell does that mean? It sounds like a very abstract demand to raise to me.

Alf, I actually want to discuss this, and will reply to your point latter.

Baboon, I am willing to discuss this with you, but I don't see much point if you are going to distort what I say. Of course if you want you can just dismiss me as another anti-communist anarchist, and forget about it.

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Apr 1 2006 22:08

Devrim and Alibadani, I think you're being a bit oversensitive about Baboon's phraseology. He can answer for himself, but I don't think he's accusing Devrim of saying the workers were stupid and know-nothing, it's just a way of talking about the way the bourgeoisie sees the workers Pannekoek for example explains how to the bourgeoisie the sacrifices workers made to defend their organisatioins last century was totally irrational and stupid

OK, Baboon's descriptions of the anarchists are a bit scatter-gun sometimes, but there's not much doubt that there are plenty of anarchists who express real contempt for the working class. I would say Bakuninism, with its tendency to identify bandits and lumpens as part of the revolutionary subject, typifies this whole attitude. But I don't want this thread to get bogged down in that.

The key question we're talking about here is about decadence in particular about whether communism has always been possible or not, and thus whether or not capitalism ever played a progressive role. It's a fundamental difference between anarchism and marxism.

Nick Durie's posts on this thread have the merit of taking the 'communism has always been possible' argument to their logical conclusion. Communism was possible in neolithic times (when primitive communism was already beginning to give way to class divisions...), Roman times, feudal times, during the ascendant period of capitalism... It could have been brought in by slaves or peasants just as easily as by the working class. And this whole notion of historical materialism, of the historical progress and thus of the historical decline of social formations, is just Engels, not Marx.

I don't want to get into quotation-swapping but there are any number of passages from Marx which showed that he considered it absolutely necessary for capitalism to fulfill its revolutionary mission, and that communism as the all-sided development of the human being could only be based on the material advances effected by the capitalist mode of production. So if anyone is going to attack that entire notion, attack Marx for it, not just Engels, with whom Marx always worked extremely closely.

Consider this quote, from Marx's polemic with Gottschalk in 1849 (Nueue Rheinische Zietung 21.1)

"We say to the workers and the petty bourgeoisie rather suffer in modern bourgeois society, which by the development of industry creates the material means for the foundation of a new society which will free you all, than step backwards into an obsolete form of society which, under the pretext of saving your class, will plunge the whole nation back into mediaeval barbarism".

On this basis, the working class had to support the bourgeois revolution, which was the only possible one at that time.

Gotteschalk's reply to Marx was "What is the purpose of such a revolution? Why should we, men of the proletariat, spill our blood for this? Must we really plunge voluntarily into the purgatory of a decrepit capitalist domination to avoid a mediaeval hell, as you, sir preacher, proclaim to us, in order to attain from there the nebulous heaven of your communist creed?"

Which pretty much sums up the ahistorical vision of all those who reject historical materialism as some kind of bourgeois apologia.

This is not to say that the strategy Marx put forward was easy to apply. In our series on communism we wrote an article (International Review 73) on the lessons Marx drew from the revolutions of 1848, showing that he had recognised that the Communist League had made some serious mistakes in the 1848 revolutions, had veered too far towards dissolving itself into the general democratic opposition. In the 18th Brumaire, which tries to draw the lessons of the whole experience, Marx insists on the need for the working class to maintain its own arms and organisations even when supporting the bourgeois revolution, because the bourgeoisie will inevitably turn its fire on the working class. But the fundamental problem Marx posed was correct how to develop the autonomy and self-awareness of the working class in an epoch when the communist revolution is not yet on the agenda.

There's a lot more to say about this and I think you and Peter have pointed to the need for the ICC to write at greater length about this issue. But I will leave it there and hope you will be able to repond soon.

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jef costello
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Apr 2 2006 00:10
Alf wrote:
Devrim and Alibadani, I think you're being a bit oversensitive about Baboon's phraseology. He can answer for himself, but I don't think he's accusing Devrim of saying the workers were stupid and know-nothing.

He did imply that it had been said by using quotation marks.

Devrim's points were valid, I am consistently impresed by his posts.

If communism can only happen when there is decadence, and going from your posts, that would mean that as long as there was one country in the world that wasn't decadent then there could not be a revolution.

Quote:
The main battalions of the working class, millions and millions of workers, clearly understood the "theory" of decadence from the early 1900s onwards - much more clearly than some so-called revolutionaries understand it today. A real revolution is impossible unless the objective conditions exist for it to take place, unless, within a general framework, the old world cannot go on as it was before.

So why wasn't there a revolution?

Either people can realise that there is a way to avoid exploitation or they cannot. I'm fairly sure that it was theoretically possible for a feudal serf to realise that his life could be better, and I'm sure if we could explain communism to them it would work. Before you criticise this point answer me this, if you could explain communism to peope now would it work?

alibadani
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Apr 2 2006 01:46

To clarify a few things. Capitalism ought to be seen not merely as an socio-economic system, but as an era in human history. An entire epoch which is in turn characterised by certain socio-economic traits.

During the ascendant phase of capitalism, the amazing growth and development of the system was fueled by constantly (and forcefully) dragging the pre/non-capitalist world into the fold, by expanding the geographic reach of the system, thus creating an entire globe within one historical epoch. In this ascendant phase the international proletariat was also created,giving us the class that could bring mankind into a communist era, a new epoch in history. The fact that capitalism really has no where else (geographically) to expand into, no new markets to conquer means that the progressive role of capitalism has already been accomlished. WW1 was a result of the fact that since the market was already saturated, all that was possible was a redustribution of zones of influence and a never-ending economic crisis.

Therefore there can be no communism in just one country or just a handful of countries, and, Jef, there can also be no country that isn't decadent because it is the entire era that is decadent. The reason the revolution is possible is because the material basis for a communist globe exists. Willing it to happen isn't enough. The reason the revolution is necessary is because the system is dying and leading mankind into the abyss.

The class struggle itself takes on a radically different character in decadence. THe system is no longer capable of bieng reformed. That is material basis for the role of unions today.

Devrim, my point is that empirical evidence alone is not nearly enough. The trots of the WSWS (World Socialist Wesbiste) are the most anti-union leftists out there. They base thier claims on empirical evidence alone. However they also claim that unions under their control could be revolutionary.

Empirical evidence can explain that unions as they are, and as they have been until now, are obstacles to our struggles. But it cannot explain why unionism itself is problematic. One can always come up with new ways to to make a union democratic/rank-and-file.

Boy that was long.

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Lazy Riser
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Apr 2 2006 09:04

Hi

Quote:
Therefore there can be no communism in just one country or just a handful of countries

I can certainly entertain this position. Do the Internationalists advocate localised socialist governments on a nation-by-nation basis leading up to the international revolution and the creation of communism? I kind of got the impression that they did from the ICC’s programme as published on their website, but would appreciate clarification.

Love

LR

Mike Harman
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Apr 2 2006 09:28
alibadani wrote:
To clarify a few things. Capitalism ought to be seen not merely as an socio-economic system, but as an era in human history. An entire epoch which is in turn characterised by certain socio-economic traits.

The fact that capitalism really has no where else (geographically) to expand into, no new markets to conquer means that the progressive role of capitalism has already been accomlished.

You don't think it's expanding pretty fast in large areas of China, India, Vietnam, sub-saharan Africa isn't a potential new market?

Bookchin talks about the material preconditions of communism having been achieved (and says as much from the mid '60s iirc). The material basis of communism isn't here though - there's massive work needs to be done on international energy, food and water supplies for a start. I don't think very much meaningful can be done under capitalism, but 'decadence' doesn't seem to deal with those issues.

bastarx
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Apr 2 2006 09:42
alibadani wrote:

During the ascendant phase of capitalism, the amazing growth and development of the system was fueled by constantly (and forcefully) dragging the pre/non-capitalist world into the fold, by expanding the geographic reach of the system, thus creating an entire globe within one historical epoch.

I'm no autonomist but I think their arguments that neo-liberalism is a period of renewed enclosure are pretty convincing. For instance the 800 million peasants in China are facing dispossession from their meagre lands and being thrown to the tender mercies of the labour market.

cheers

Pete

Mike Harman
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Apr 2 2006 09:55

Even in the UK, a lot of areas are being cleared and rebuilt upon- the Pathfinder scheme which will replace tens of thousands of victorian terraced houses with breezeblock flats, and the Olympic village which will clear a lot of people out of East London and 'regenerate' the 'derelict' Lea Valley. That's geographical expansion if anything is.

Then you have the shifting of people off benefits and pensions, and into work - no matter what the work actually entails - incapacity benefit, pensions.