A General Discussion of Decadence Theory

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RedHughs
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Oct 25 2007 23:32
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Also, I'm amazed that you think immediate change is on the agenda. Do you seriously think a revolution will happen in one fell swoop? That suddenly everyone will become anti-wage-labor, anti-union, anti-national liberation struggle, anti-state, etc.?

Let me phrase that more clearly. I don't think that revolution will happen in one fell swoop. However, I think that movements towards revolution will not involve the building of the working class within capitalism. As Theorie Communiste says, working class' self-organization as the working class has become a fetter in the working class' movement towards communism. Certainly, any movement towards communism will be a complex and contradictory process, not proceeding linearly at all. You can look at the uprising in Argentina in 2001-2002: those aspects which aimed to self-manage individual enterprises were the lagging end of the movement - when the initial mass uprising subsided, they became reactionary, a way of capital to maintain the economy. So the point isn't that things will happen in one fell swoop but thing will happen in a series of complex upheavals and in these struggles, we will not have a reason to push the self-organization of the working class as a class within capitalist society. Oppositely, the organization of communism can and should begin at the same time as such upheavals (in direct distribution and the best aspects of enterprise "self-management", we can see communism appearing immediately in movements against communism).

This is some of what I mean by immediate change is on the agenda. These are the implications of not or no longer seeing capitalism as a progressive force. Capitalism being in serious upheaval itself certainly will play into the process of potentially revolutionary upheavals appearing.

I'm looking at this in terms of what upheavals have appeared recently as well as the direction that unions and the general development of the working class within capitalism has taken. Capitalism's mechanisms of recuperation have reached such a level that they have taken any gradual, progressive change off the agenda, so total change is all that's left (would imagine something like the historic IWW reappearing in today's America?).

While the details differ, I think that a variety of communist groups approach or approached things this way - from Theorie Communiste to the Situationists to the ICC, ICG and other ultra-left groups as well as some "insurrectionary anarchists". You may disagree but I'm not pulling this approach out of my ass. Just as much, this is more than saying conditions have changed - it is saying that conditions have changed in a rather particular way.

Anyway, how do you see the possibilities of change? I've noticed you avoiding discussion on the subject in the past.

Red

mikus
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Oct 26 2007 06:22

I haven't "avoided" discussion of practice. For a long time I basically agreed with the positions of the "anti-state communists", which to me means basically the SI-inspired modern incarnation of ultra-leftism. If you agree with those politics in full, as I always did, there is not a lot to say besides repeat ones line over and over again. (See the ICC, although their line is somewhat different.) I figured I'd let others do that, since that was never terribly fun to me.

Now I'm not so sure. I definitely don't think revolutions will occur in the way that most ultra-leftists today (I don't include the ICC in this) imagine it, basically as some kind of spontaneous uprising that gradually becomes uncontrollable. To me, aside from rhetoric, this is almost identical to the position of the "insurrectionary anarchists", which is not a position I'm comfortable with. I think all of the spontaneous uprisings pointed to by the "anti-state communists" basically exhausted all of their potential and it's a mistake to think that somehow what we need is more spontaneous uprisings.

If I had any approach at all I'd say I was something in between council communist and syndicalist. Naturally I don't think that the early 20th century can or will be repeated but I like a lot of what I understand of syndicalism (admittedly much less than I should) and I am in favor of revolutionary unionism. But I generally like the council communist vision of a communist society better than the anarchist-syndicalist one, and I'm much more inclined to Marx than any syndicalist I've ever met (although here on libcom there seem to be a fair number of anarchists who are rather friendly to Marx).

But this is something I'm still thinking through. I guess this can be my "coming out" post, so to speak.

mikus
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Oct 26 2007 06:27

And to return back to the topic of decadence:

Your post seems to define decadence as the period when communism is possible. I don't deny that in certain time periods, even after the beginnings of capitalism, the possibilities of communism were basically zero. But this is a major step back from Alf's claim that decadence is when communism becomes both possible and "necessary" (although I admit I really have no idea what Alf means when he says that communism becomes "necessary"). It is entirely conceivable, for example, that capitalism could be continuing to grow while revolution is possible, which is of course an idea foreign to the ICC. So in order to rule that possibility out it seems you have to go a bit further and make some claim about necessity and about some kind of path that capitalism does/must take, which I still haven't seen you do. I think you're trying to save the phrase "decadence theory" without actually adopting any of the specific assertions of the decadence theorists which differentiate the decadence theorists from those who don't disagree with it.

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Alf
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Oct 26 2007 08:26

When the revolutıonary generatıon of 1914-27 came to the conclusıon that revolutıon was now on the agenda they based thıs on the argument that capıtalısm had suffıcıently unıfıed the globe to make a world revolutıon possıble; they also foresaw that ıf the revolutıon was not succesful, capıtalısm would become a growıng menace to the survıval of human culture. That was what they understood by the necessıty of revolutıon and ıt seems to me that the trajectory of hıstory sınce then has amply confırmed theır prognosıs. Of course capıtalısm has contınued for far longer than they would have cared to ımagıne but the threat has not gone away - ın fact ıt has consıderably ıncreased ın ıts scope

baboon
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Oct 26 2007 12:22

Nowhere have I said that capitalism has been stagnant and that it's not expanded. This is only relative to the major, underlying problem which, as you can see from the present economic crisis, is still with us.
Capricorn, you make no mention of the destruction of the means of production during the 20th century. I would call this unprecedented, very real and easily verifiable. You also make no mention of the means of production being given over to the means of destruction. This is enough to show me that the economic system is in decay, particularly when you take into account the reality of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Your argument is another variation of "it's the same old thing" (since the 16thC in this case) a self-reassuring, conservative, even reactionary argument that's underlined when you talk about wars since WWII being "limited" and "on the periphery" (ie, they're aberrations and nothing to do with us). I'll leave you to add up the wars and the numbers of civilians killed since 1945. Don't you think that a European city being bombed from the air in the 1990s was a significant development?
The conservative nature of your argument is further underlined by your statement that wars are fought not over markets but raw materials, trade routes, strategic points and so on, and it's true this was a feature of capitalism's growth. But the first world war was qualitatively and quantitatively different from what had gone before. And war has changed over the history of the decadence of capitalism and could be said to be in a new period since the collapse of the Russian bloc. The war in Iraq for example has been costed by the US bourgeoisie as approaching two trillion dollars. There are reports that Saddam came to them three times and would have settled for exile and a few million. But like the first world, the war in Iraq is totally irrational from the perspective of the working class and humanity as a whole.

mikus
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Oct 26 2007 17:59
Alf wrote:
When the revolutıonary generatıon of 1914-27 came to the conclusıon that revolutıon was now on the agenda they based thıs on the argument that capıtalısm had suffıcıently unıfıed the globe to make a world revolutıon possıble; they also foresaw that ıf the revolutıon was not succesful, capıtalısm would become a growıng menace to the survıval of human culture. That was what they understood by the necessıty of revolutıon and ıt seems to me that the trajectory of hıstory sınce then has amply confırmed theır prognosıs. Of course capıtalısm has contınued for far longer than they would have cared to ımagıne but the threat has not gone away - ın fact ıt has consıderably ıncreased ın ıts scope

Yet capitalism was not a menace to the survival of the human species until the development of nuclear weapons. Or are you distinguishing the survival of human culture from the survival of the human species?

And as far as the necessity goes it seems something like: If we want the human species (or culture) to survive, then we must overthrow capitalism.

Is that what you mean by the necessity of communist revolution?

Mike

RedHughs
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Oct 26 2007 19:28
Mike wrote:
Your post seems to define decadence as the period when communism is possible.

There is quite a bit more than that. Organizations like the CNT or the American IWW were an authentically working class and sincerely revolutionary organizations. Even more backward organizations could develop working class revolutionary aspirations. Even capitalism itself developed the working class, in the sense of teaching literacy and (dare I say it) discipline.

Modern capitalism degrades human beings by both inflicting work and through the organized ignorance of school and television. I would agree with Camette that one might draw the line backwards and say that this process of degradation began in 1848 (even or 5000 BC) but that's another line of discussion. Just much, since capitalist development proceeds at different paces in different areas, there might indeed be some obscure part of the world where something like anarcho-syndicalism could be revolutionary - but considering the pace of capitalist development today, such a region would pass through the period in a couple of years or less.

Even in the 1800's or the 1500's, directly building communist relations was a fine thing and there are many uprisings today where building communist relations isn't a tactic that can immediately succeed. My statement is more negative than positive - the further progressive development of the working class is not something capital is likely to have an interest in currently and is not something particularly necessary for revolutionary - and this situation shapes those large, anti-capitalist struggles that we see today (In LA, Argentina, France, Iran, China...as opposed to those hypothetical struggle we might cook up entirely between our own ear based on the best of all possible ways to organize the working class). In contrast, in 1848 or 1906, the progressive development of the working could play a big part in revolutionary struggles.

Certainly, we shouldn't neglect the point that directly creating communism can have more force now than in previous eras but, again, it is only the simplest point coming out of our general approach. And this general approach of seeing capital's trajectory as first rising and then falling yields a variety of particular insights (some of which I've mentioned). As an example of dialectics, I'm sure you find the approach offensive but I think I've shown that it involves is more than a few truisms.

Anyway, your theoretical direction certainly makes this practical direction logical. What's striking is that you have come at your current positions arguing only from first principles rather than being at all interested in the interplay between theory and practice (see my earlier comments on methodology). The interplay between theory might well be called "dialectics" but it is also how theory remain relevant to present day conditions. If you are not interested the need to develop communist theory beyond what existed in 1890, it seems logical that you would be attracted to a practice which also hasn't changed since then. Uh, and if you are interested in marx-flavored syndicalism, check-out the Deleonists, who also haven't changed since the 1800's (though since your readings are far wider than mine, I'm probably telling you things you already know).

Best to all,

Red

lem
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Oct 26 2007 19:28

of course the development of immense military power was entirely predictable by Marx/ists.

Quote:
though since your readings are far wider than mine, I'm probably telling you things you already know

i for one will wait to see iof he's actually understood all he's read tho. in an entirely comradly way mind.

mikus
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Oct 26 2007 20:46
RedHughs wrote:
(In LA, Argentina, France, Iran, China...as opposed to those hypothetical struggle we might cook up entirely between our own ear based on the best of all possible ways to organize the working class).

To call LA, Argentina, France, Iran and China the real anti-capitalist struggles, and then to counterpoise these struggles to the ones "cooked up entirely between our own ear[s]" is totally absurd (although which events in France, Iran and China you are talking about are not entirely clear) given that the supposed anti-capitalist content of these struggles is almost totally conjured up in the minds of post-situs, rather than the people actually involved in the struggles. Even if you could make a case that there has been nothing going on with organized workers since the supposed period of decadence, you would only prove that things are equal between the organized and unorganized working class: nothing is going on. (Although, I don't that such a strong case could be made, anyway.)

Sure, there were struggles against some aspects of capitalist society in the riots you point to but there is no evidence that any of the people involved had a new society in mind (with the exception of Argentina, and possibly Iran and France depending on which events you are talking about). I don't view these events as bad things but they are nothing to get terribly excited about and it is a huge leap of faith to imagine that communism will suddenly come out of these kinds of things. Riots have been occurring for hundreds of years and they have never lead to communism or even a fight for communism. I see no evidence that this will suddenly be different in the future. Theorie Communiste only justifies this view with a an absolute joke of a philosophy of necessity.

RedHughs wrote:
Anyway, your theoretical direction certainly makes this practical direction logical. What's striking is that you have come at your current positions arguing only from first principles rather than being at all interested in the interplay between theory and practice (see my earlier comments on methodology). The interplay between theory might well be called "dialectics" but it is also how theory remain relevant to present day conditions. If you are not interested the need to develop communist theory beyond what existed in 1890, it seems logical that you would be attracted to a practice which also hasn't changed since then. Uh, and if you are interested in marx-flavored syndicalism, check-out the Deleonists, who also haven't changed since the 1800's (though since your readings are far wider than mine, I'm probably telling you things you already know).

This is what makes debating with you so annoying and virtually impossible. When have I ever said that I am "not interested in the need to develop communist theory beyond what existed in 1890", or that I like "a practice which... hasn't changed since then." I am fully interested in the development of communist theory beyond what existed in 1890. It's just that I'm not convinced that anyone has done very much in this direction. Just because I don't like the theory you spout, nor the theory that the ICC spouts, nor the nonsense coming out of TC, does not mean that I don't think it's possible or a good thing to develop theory.

And I explicitly said in my last post that I don't see a repeat of the early 20th century as possible. Even as far as straight syndicalists are concerned, I don't think this is anything more than a straw-man argument. The most interesting thing the IWW has done in recent years (that I'm aware of) has been precisely to organize Starbucks and other service-sector workers, which is entirely different from the steel-worker-obsessed characterization you and other pro-situs like to make of syndicalists, council communists, etc.

And as for your claim that I argue from "first principles", I have no idea what you are on about. If you are speaking of my emphasis on the critique of political economy, then you should know, as I have explicitly said to you before on anti-politics, that I don't think that economic theories can point to specific organizational forms for the destruction of capitalism. (At best, it can rule some out.) I have said this all before. Why you feel the need to repeat your completely inaccurate claims is something known only to you and God.

Mike

RedHughs
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Oct 28 2007 20:29
Mike wrote:
Riots have been occurring for hundreds of years and they have never lead to communism or even a fight for communism. I see no evidence that this will suddenly be different in the future.

Actually, I should back up. The question of riots versus, say, factory struggles, is irrelevant to this question. The factories struggles that have taken place on any scale recently validate the anti-union positions of the communist left - consider the recent events in Bangladesh.

Oppositely, even the syndicalists would admit that a serious mass directly-democratic union movement is mostly a gleam in some organizers eye. This is why most syndicalists have little interest in Marx, they take the utopian perspective that a sufficiently well-worked out plan is more important than and will trump the "march of history", which they don't make the center of their theorizing (and at least in combining all these elements they are consistent).

Mike wrote:
To call LA, Argentina, France, Iran and China the real anti-capitalist struggles, and then to counterpoise these struggles to the ones "cooked up entirely between our own ear[s]" is totally absurd (although which events in France, Iran and China you are talking about are not entirely clear) given that the supposed anti-capitalist content of these struggles is almost totally conjured up in the minds of post-situs, rather than the people actually involved in the struggles.

I'll just note that its a basic materialist position that people's activity leads them to ideas rather than ideas leading to action.

Mike wrote:
This is what makes debating with you so annoying and virtually impossible. When have I ever said that I am "not interested in the need to develop communist theory beyond what existed in 1890", or that I like "a practice which... hasn't changed since then."

Certainly, it isn't possible win or lose a debate where each discussant extrapolates an overall position to the other. So what? This is a discussion of revolutionary possibilities, not a game for ego gratification. I don't expect to "destroy" (in the sense of proving untenable) the positions of those who don't agree with me on the board, rather I intend to clarify my and their positions on my terms and third parties can make their own conclusions.

Mike wrote:
I am fully interested in the development of communist theory beyond what existed in 1890. It's just that I'm not convinced that anyone has done very much in this direction. Just because I don't like the theory you spout, nor the theory that the ICC spouts, nor the nonsense coming out of TC, does not mean that I don't think it's possible or a good thing to develop theory.

Yes, I can see how it would be annoying to have to say you want new communist theory, you just don't think that very much has actually ever come into existence. I mean, Marx had this thing about historical processes naturally generating ideas appropriate to them. Both Leninism and the positions of the communist left were responses to huge crises in the historical workers movement, back when there was a historical workers movement (that's why the ICC keeps asking you about WWI, though such questions fall off you like water off the back of a duck). Each tendency provided an idea of how to struggle for communism under the new conditions and each has had considerable influence (though Leninism much more, if more more counter-revolutionary). Marx himself didn't theorize in a vacuum but the context of the rising and falling movement of his time. Yes, it must be annoying trying to defend your position - it is so logical on its own terms yet it is has justify coming out of nowhere.

Mike wrote:
And I explicitly said in my last post that I don't see a repeat of the early 20th century as possible.

Yes, you just don't know any theory that can guide us past this period and make no reference to historical junctures that have occurred since then. Yes, the problem is that no one has been able to come up with any worthwhile theories since then... Perhaps the world is waiting for another singular genius of the caliber of Marx (oh, that's the "great man theory of history", I've wandered into the wrong room).

I could go on but I'll leave with a riddle.

IF it were true that virtually no new communist activity has happened since 1890, then wouldn't THAT constitute a critical juncture in the development of the workers movement and thus capitalist society? Could we say then that decadence began on the day of Marx's death?

I don't mean this seriously but I use it to point out the flaw in "Mikusism" - that it is a very well defended set of propositions which Mike doesn't think it has to describe itself - whereas Marx's perspective as well as the later elaboration of all revolutionary varieties (the ultra-left, Leninism, Trotskyism...) at least give a consistent theorization of themselves.

There I go, being annoying, connecting the dots in the positions you take rather than taking them as a series of isolated propositions each of which you can defend with endless quotations.

Sorry about that...

Red

mikus
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Oct 28 2007 20:56

I'm not even going to respond to this nonsense. I don't even know what the fuck you are talking about, to be entirely honest. It sounds to me like you are debating yourself more than me.

Go on, by all means...

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Red Marriott
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Oct 29 2007 01:07
RedHughs wrote:
Quote:
"Mike" wrote:

Riots have been occurring for hundreds of years and they have never lead to communism or even a fight for communism. I see no evidence that this will suddenly be different in the future.

Actually, I should back up. The question of riots versus, say, factory struggles, is irrelevant to this question. The factories struggles that have taken place on any scale recently validate the anti-union positions of the communist left - consider the recent events in Bangladesh.

Mikus; riots have occurred in many strikes, social movements and in revolutions and have been one form of expression of those movements.

Red; Bangladeshi workers' struggles may validate certain anti-union positions (though you don't say how - and it is the local ruling class' disinterest in/opposition to them so far that has mainly prevented them becoming more established). But they, for me, invalidate other left communist positions expressed on libcom. The self-identified 'communist left' here, - ICC & EKS - think riots have no potential for the working class as a form of struggle - 'they have no perspective', it's been claimed. But, often, I don't see how you can look at riots and strikes as two separate tactics in the actual struggles going on in Bangladesh. They're more like part of the same developing process. For example, one of the big problems workers face there is getting wage arrears paid by bosses. So they strike, if the bosses still won't pay up they often begin to attack his capital, his property - they riot. They are part of the same struggle, deployed, at least sometimes, tactically by proles - with one effect being that rioting that emerges from strikes, beyond a certain critical mass, begins to spread the struggle beyond one sector of workers, one workplace, or one area and become a more generalised revolt of the dispossessed. A communistic tendency, one might think, but one that the 'communist' left here denies.

I don't intend to get into another argument as to the value or not of riots - have done that at length on earlier threads.

alibadani
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Oct 29 2007 05:45

Ret,

The rioters in France were hardly attacking their bosses' property. So in what sense are they "like part of the same developing process." Burning your neighbors' cars and your siblings' schools is some proletarian tactic?

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Joseph Kay
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Oct 29 2007 09:11

ret is clearly and specifically talking about the struggles in bangladesh, not france. saying some riots can express communist tendencies isn't the same as saying every riot everywhere does.

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Oct 29 2007 12:09

I don't think this should change into a thread about strikes versus riots. It's a discussion about 'decadence'. Red's point was to contrast the left communist position on the unions - which tries to give a historical explanation for why they can't be built as real class organisations any more - with the syndicalist position, which thinks that you can still build revolutionary unions today. This is entirely relevant to the theme of the thread.

In response to the question raised by mikus further back: in the Junius pamphlet, Rosa Luxemburg specifically talks about the threat of further world wars bringing a definitive collapse of 'culture' (although the German word Kultur can mean both culture and civilisation). It's true that since 1945 this threat has now mushroomed, if you''ll excuse the word, into a direct threat to the survival of the human species. But the issue is not to speculate whether capitalism will wipe out all humans, or all life on earth. What's at stake is the threat of a historical relapse that, whether or not it involves this extreme conclusion, will still mean the burying of the communist project - for centuries, if not for good. And that still makes the communist revolution a necessity.

capricorn
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Oct 29 2007 14:11
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But the issue is not to speculate whether capitalism will wipe out all humans, or all life on earth. What's at stake is the threat of a historical relapse that, whether or not it involves this extreme conclusion, will still mean the burying of the communist project - for centuries, if not for good. And that still makes the communist revolution a necessity.

Oh dear, Alf. Mike's going to make mincemeat of you for this! Since (like the rest of us) you're making communism a moral necessity -- a choice facing the working class -- rather than an objective, economic (or as ICC put it, misusing the word, a "materialist") inevitability. Communism is "necessary" in the sense you've just used it for all sorts of reasons, of which an economic breakdown (if it really was a threat) leading to the collapse of civilisation would only be one, e.g to end exploitation, stop starvation, end the housing problem, restore community, banish wars and the waste of armaments, etc, etc, etc.

baboon
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Oct 29 2007 14:20

Looking at the theory of capitalism's decadence, its consequences and perspectives, demands a particularly thorough methodology. It's the main question facing the working class: socialism or barbarism. Like some threads on Luxemburg, the economic crisis, etc., where the "discussion" isn't just pure academicism and largely incomprehensible, there's a particular lack of method from anarchism in general. As with the crisis, its dramatic development over the last couple of months, there was an initial and persisting view that this was the "same old thing", no problem for the bourgeoisie, been going on for ever, "they will just print money and everything will be OK again", and so on. Imperialism, cut-throat competition raised to a new destructive level with all its development over one hundred years, virtually in front of our eyes - so there's no excuse for missing it, provokes the same sort of anti-method from strains of anarchism. "Nothing different", "always been wars" (pick any century from, even millenium, depends on personal taste). This conservative, at times reactionary view can not only hold no revolutionary perspective, it actually militates against it. It's a pacifist, passive view that presents capitalism, against what I see as clear evidence to the contrary, as an eternal system that just goes on and on adapting here, a war there. This view is tolerant of capitalism and already sees it as perpetually victorious.

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Oct 29 2007 14:50
alibadani wrote:
Ret,

The rioters in France were hardly attacking their bosses' property. So in what sense are they "like part of the same developing process." Burning your neighbors' cars and your siblings' schools is some proletarian tactic?

JK wrote:
ret is clearly and specifically talking about the struggles in bangladesh, not france. saying some riots can express communist tendencies isn't the same as saying every riot everywhere does.

Alibadani; the uniform party line having a supposed universal/eternal application may be how your mental processes prefer to work; but specifics and particularities of Bangladesh was what I was referring to, not any universal party line on riots always being great - as Joseph K recognised. If you're going to respond to people, address what they're actually saying.

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Oct 29 2007 16:13

Oh dear, Alf. Mike's going to make mincemeat of you for this! Since (like the rest of us) you're making communism a moral necessity -- a choice facing the working class -- rather than an objective, economic (or as ICC put it, misusing the word, a "materialist") inevitability

Capricorn: we have never, ever, once said that communism is an economic inevitability. Neither did Marx, Engels, or Luxemburg, or the previous fractions of the communist left. Yes it's a 'moral' necessity in one sense, i.e. the revolution has a profundly moral dimension just as it has a profoundly conscious dimension. But the difference is that for you, given the eternal and unchanging existence of capitalism, the communist revolution could just as well have happened in 1830 or 1848 and it can equally well happen three hundred years from now. Whereas we are saying that, however desirable it might have been, it just wasn't possible in 1830 or 1848, and that we need to make it in rather less than three hundred years or it will never happenat all

capricorn
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Oct 29 2007 16:45

Yes, Alf and Baboon, I do say capitalism was as bad in the 1840s or 1880s as it was in the 1920s and today: it was based on the exploitation of the producers and it caused all sorts of problems for them as a class as well as leading to wars and environmental pollution. And it "needed" to go.
A logical consequence of your view, if I understand it correctly, is that it is only after 1914 that capitalism became economically "decadent" and that before that date it was still "ascendant" and so "progressive" and so revolutionary communists should have supported reforming capitalism via the mass Social Democratic Parties of the day as there was not yet any "need" to abolish it since it was still capable of genuinely expanding the forces of production.
A hundred years ago, I'd still have been advocating the "need" to abolish capitalism immediately while the two of you would have been saying "no, that's premature, we have to wait till it becomes decadent" and canvassing for votes for the German SPD or its equivalent in England or America.
So don't accuse me of being tolerant of capitalism!

Mike Harman
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Oct 29 2007 16:49
capricorn wrote:
A logical consequence of your view, if I understand it correctly, is that it is only after 1914 that capitalism became economically "decadent" and that before that date it was still "ascendant" and so "progressive" and so revolutionary communists should have supported reforming capitalism via the mass Social Democratic Parties of the day as there was not yet any "need" to abolish it since it was still capable of genuinely expanding the forces of production.
A hundred years ago, I'd still have been advocating the "need" to abolish capitalism immediately while the two of you would have been saying "no, that's premature, we have to wait till it becomes decadent" and canvassing for votes for the German SPD or its equivalent in England or America.

This is the logical conclusion of the ICC's decadence theory - and they insist that capitalism was progressive during this period (although then fudge around the issue by saying it was 'becoming' decadent as early as 1870 to avoid having to support the worst results of such an analysis).

mikus
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Oct 29 2007 20:42

Alf, so as you've said before, decadence theory is basically a statement of two positions:

1. Capitalism is not an eternal system
2. Communism is necessary.

When questioned about these two propositions, you have basically explained them as the following.

1. Capitalism will not last forever.
2. If humans want to survive (or, alternatively, if humans want their culture to survive), then they (or, rather, the working class) must create communism.

In regards to the first proposition, no one on here seems to disagree.

In regards to the second, I doubt anyone would disagree either. I certainly agree.

But you create massive confusion when you say that communism is "necessary." It sounds like some kind of categorical imperative. In reality, communism is only necessary if humans want to survive, or maintain certain aspects of their culture, or end exploitation, etc. But when framed in this way, even most anarchists would agree, and you lose any specificity of the "decadence theory" which differentiates certain communist groups from any others.

In regards to the issue of what makes capitalist society "decadent", you seem to mention two points:

1. When the creation of a communist society has become possible.
2. When the creation of a communist society has become "necessary" (in the sense that "necessity" was defined above).

For the first proposition, I, as I imagine most on here, agree that the creation of a communist society was not always possible (although the dates when it is thought that this possibility developed probably differs among posters), and that it now is possible.

As for the second proposition: Given that "necessity" in the sense we are discussing is not a categorical imperative but is rather only a necessity given certain value judgments, desires, etc., how do you define when this "necessity" came into being?

Take, for example the claim about communism being necessary if we want the human species to survive. When does this necessity first begin? The human species was not in danger of extinction before the development of nuclear weapons, yet you claim that capitalism entered its "decadent" phase long before that point.

If the removal of capitalism becomes "necessary" even before capitalism is in the process of driving the human species to extinction, then where do you draw the cut-off point? Or alternatively, if capitalism becomes decadent only when it actually starts the process of driving the human species to extinction, why does the period begin early in the 20th century, long before the development of nuclear weapons, and even before the first world war?

Mike

mikus
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Oct 29 2007 20:56

This is perhaps the dumbest post to come out on this issue yet.

baboon wrote:
Like some threads on Luxemburg, the economic crisis, etc., where the "discussion" isn't just pure academicism and largely incomprehensible, there's a particular lack of method from anarchism in general.

I will dare say that if you found the discussion incomprehensible, you haven't read Luxemburg's book and aren't familiar with her theories. Even a few people who have not read her book seemed to find the discussion mostly comprehensible. Why would you support her basic theories while not being very familiar with them?

Also, who exactly are the anarchists here? I'm not. I have no idea if capricorn is. Dave c argued a little bit and I know he isn't. Red for one reason or another is on your groups' nuts but he is surely more anti-organizational than myself, and probably most others on this board as well. So please stop typing out your half-baked ideas for everyone to see until you think this through a little bit better.

baboon wrote:
As with the crisis, its dramatic development over the last couple of months, there was an initial and persisting view that this was the "same old thing", no problem for the bourgeoisie, been going on for ever, "they will just print money and everything will be OK again", and so on.

Who said that the bourgeoisie would just print money and everything would be "OK again"? I assume you are referring to me, since as far as I remember, I was the only one to discuss this issue in any depth. But my claim was emphatically not that the bourgeoisie would print money and everything would be okay again, but rather that if Luxemburg were correct (which anyone who actually read the thread would know I don't think is the case) then the bourgeoisie would be able to print money to get rid of its problems. Since I don't actually believe that Luxemburg is correct, I don't actually believe the issue is so simple as to print money to get out of crises.

I should remind you, however, that the bourgeoisie does print money to try to alleviate crises, to varying degrees and to varying amounts of success, and that it was Marx himself who claimed that the restriction of the ability to print money due to the banking act of 1844 was a major cause of crises. (Remember that he sided against Ricardo and the currency school/bullionists, and in (generally) in favor of the anti-bullionist/banking school on this issue.)

So not only are you ignorant of Luxemburg, but also of the actual measures taken by the state, and also of Marx. 0 out of 3. Not very useful cadre in my opinion.

baboon wrote:
This conservative, at times reactionary view can not only hold no revolutionary perspective, it actually militates against it. It's a pacifist, passive view that presents capitalism, against what I see as clear evidence to the contrary, as an eternal system that just goes on and on adapting here, a war there. This view is tolerant of capitalism and already sees it as perpetually victorious.

As capricorn pointed out, this is not only idiotic, but also offensive given that no one has claimed that capitalism is an eternal system, nor has anyone held any kind of pacifist views on the issue of revolution, nor has anyone here been "tolerant of capitalism". If you feel like arguing with figments of your imagination, I suggest you do it in your head and not on a public discussion forum.

Mike

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 30 2007 08:30

So just to sum up then, apart from the ICC no-one thinks that capitalism had any progressive role to play in history at all?

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Alf
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Oct 30 2007 10:35

Well, there's Karl Marx.

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Alf
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Oct 30 2007 10:47

"In reality, communism is only necessary if humans want to survive". (mikus)

"Wanting to survive" has something to do with the materialist theory of history, no? if you were living in a tribe in a particular area of the forest and the animals you depended on were moving to a distant part of the forest, you would probably want to survive by being able to catch and eat the animals. That would have a certain effect on your mode of social organisation. If you weren't able to follow the animals, you wouldn't be able to eat. No doubt your tribe would discuss the best moment to move camp and how to move it, but they probably wouldn't have a long discussion about whether or not they wanted to survive. Unless perhaps their society had already been totally ravaged by external capitalist encroachment and they had lost the will to live, which did happen to tribal peoples in certain circumstances.

I would say this is an example of material necessity. Making the revolution because we see that we have no choice except a descent into barbarism is also an expression of material necessity.

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 30 2007 12:00

I don't see that there's any abstract content to the concept of necessity being posed by the ICC here. The question is whether capitalism can provide viable progress for human society. If the answer to this is "no" then clearly it is necessary to get rid of it if human society is going to survive or progress.

If capitalism can provide a viable human society then there is no materialist reason to get rid of it that I can see. We may object to it on moral grounds, of course, which is exactly what pre-Marxist communists largely did. But unless there is a reason to actually get rid of capitalism root and branch, why not just reform it?

Say what you want about the reformists in the 2nd International, but they understood this question far more clearly than we seem to today. In order to push their focus onto reformism they realised they had to demonstrate that there was no doom facing capitalism.

Similarly, the revolutionary currents around Lenin, Luxemburg, etc. realised that the revolutionary perspective could only be justified if capitalism was indeed finished in some form or other. Luxemburg's Accummulation and Lenin's Imperialism both attempted to demonstrate that not only was this point theoretically possible but that it had actually come about - both also offered, to some extent, explanations as to the mechanisms behind it.

So my question is this: if we cannot talk in any objective sense about capitalism exhausting its progressive content for humanity where does this leave a revolutionary perspective?

ernie
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Oct 30 2007 19:02

Capricorn and catch, yes we do say that capitalism fully entered its period of decadence with WW1. There were signs of its decadence before, but only with the unheard of slaughter of millions in the very centre of capitalism it the full horror of what decadent capitalism had to offer become clear.
Capricorn your posiiton is a historical, if you cannot see the difference between a system that grow from being the dominant system in basically one country to encompassing the whole world, and the in the processs creating an international proletariat and a development of the means of production that would enable humanity to live in abundance, and a system that has been tearing society apart for 100 years, leaving a trail of destruction behind the likes of which had been unknown before that is your problem not ours.
The working class developed its conscious and self-confidence through its creation of its mass parties. When before in history had an exploited class been able to organise itself not only on a national scale but internationally i.e., the Internationals? Yes the 2nd International and the mass social democratic parties succomb to opportunism and the penetration of bourgeois ideology, but this process only took place in the context of a bitter struggle by the Marxist fraction who wanted to defend the revolutionary organisation of the working class. The working class gained great confidence in itself through its parties, through its ability to scare the shit out of the ruling class, a perfect example of which was the banning of the SDP in the 1880's, the illegal nature of the Social Democrats in Russia and elsewhere. As we have said many many times before it is very easy and 'radical' to pour forth scorn upon the mass socialist parties, but this does not change one iota of the fact that these parties were the highest expression of class consciousness at the time, which is why Luxemburg,Lenin etc militated within them and did all they could to stop their being putrified by the poison of compromise with bourgeois ideology.
Catch we are not avoiding anything we are very open in our tracing of our heritage to the 1st International and the "nd particularly the Marxist fraction within it. These organisation marked historical significant steps forwards towards the working class being able to pose itself as a revolutionary alternative to capitalism. It was only the Marxist fraction that emerged from the 2nd International that was able to put forwards an organised internationalist response to the slaughter of WW1 and which were able to understand the historical importance of the change that had taken place.

ernie
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Oct 30 2007 19:16

Mikus for us communism is a necessity because all that decadent capitalism has to offer humanity is destruction. In the 19th and early 20th century it has something to offer humanity: the development of the world market and the international proletariat i.e., the material basis for the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of communism. Barbarism or Socialism is the choice facing the working class. You may think that humanity has a multitude of choices and that is fair enough, but for the Communist Left the last 100 years have clearly shown that capitalism is a system that now only survives by destruction.
Mikus your jumping to conclusions based upon your own prejudices is amazing some times. So Baboon has not read Rosa or understood her, well at least you say so: have you even bothered to ask him? But then it is much easier to invent a nice simplistic strawman that to aask someone what they actually know or think, and reply to that.

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Alf
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Oct 30 2007 20:55

I agree with Ernie's criticisms; mikus is often ill-mannered. But I do welcome the fact that he has chosen to 'come out' about his political positions.

"If I had any approach at all I'd say I was something in between council communist and syndicalist. Naturally I don't think that the early 20th century can or will be repeated but I like a lot of what I understand of syndicalism (admittedly much less than I should) and I am in favor of revolutionary unionism. But I generally like the council communist vision of a communist society better than the anarchist-syndicalist one, and I'm much more inclined to Marx than any syndicalist I've ever met (although here on libcom there seem to be a fair number of anarchists who are rather friendly to Marx).

But this is something I'm still thinking through. I guess this can be my "coming out" post, so to speak".

We (the left commies) will be happy to debate with you about these questions. Perhaps that might help to take the 'economic' debate forward.