A General Discussion of Decadence Theory

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ernie
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Oct 30 2007 22:54

alf is right this is the main point because it gives a clear bases for a discussion.
Capricorn I feel I was a little ill tempered in my reply to you, I apologise.

mikus
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Oct 31 2007 05:32
Alf wrote:
I agree with Ernie's criticisms; mikus is often ill-mannered.

Debating people who are more interested in advancing their organization's political positions than in making clear and reasoned arguments is irritating. Perhaps if your group actually addressed more of what I wrote I'd be less combative. Until then, I see no need to apologize.

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

The idea that discussions of political positions will somehow make your nonsensical economic theories more correct is ridiculous. It falls into the same trap I pointed out on the Luxemburg thread, which you and your clique chose to ignore, that frantically writing down more propositions will somehow change the validity of the original propositions. As I said before, I doubt you all did very well on grade school standardized testing, since this is a common method of asking trick questions. How you all got through highschool like this, I don't know.

So no, I'm not happy to debate those questions with you.

Mike

mikus
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Oct 31 2007 05:53
ernie wrote:
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.

I'm pretty tired of debating (if you can even call it that) with you people, so I will use this as my last post on this topic.

Firstly, the quote above doesn't address anything I've been saying on this thread. All you have done is point to more carnage. But you haven't even given clear criteria for carnage, nor do I think you can if you want to defend your position on decadence, since massive carnage existed well before the first world war. (The transatlantic slave trade, for example, generated as many dead as the first world war, at least by some estimates.)

Secondly, using the development of the world market and the international proletariat as the criterion of decadence is a losing battle, since by all indicators world trade is still growing (albeit at a slower rate now that it was 30 years ago, but this is irrelevant because the rate of growth of the world market is not the criterion you gave for judging decadence), and the international proletariat is almost surely growing as well (although I'm not aware of any actual studies on this issue at the moment).

So capitalism is not decadent even by the criteria given above.

Thirdly, it is not at all clear what you mean when you say that capitalism only survives by destruction. If you are saying that wars help capitalism survive, well then great, that's something not many people would disagree with and which would make us all decadence theorists. But if you think that capitalism is only able to rebuild to pre-war levels but not expand past them, you are simply wrong and I would be happy to prove this with economic data if you accept first that this is a legitimate test of that specific claim.

And for the record, I do think that the only choices facing the mass of humanity are socialism or barbarism. But I mean that on a purely colloquial level and a slogan does not in any way function as an actual periodization.

ernie wrote:
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.

The obtuseness of your clique is what is amazing to me. Those few sentences are a good example. Saying that Baboon has not read or understood Luxemburg is not a straw man, which leads me to believe that you have not understood the nature of basic logical fallacies any better than Baboon has understood Rosa Luxemburg. And asking Baboon whether or not he understands Luxemburg is not a good way to judge whether or not he actually does understand her, since thinking one understands someone and actually understanding them are quite different things -- I can determine whether or not Baboon thinks he understands Luxemburg by asking him whether or not he understands her, but I can only determine whether or not he does understand her by examining his arguments. In this case, Baboon fails the test.

Mike

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Alf
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Oct 31 2007 09:03

Oh, well. I certainly didn't think that discussing council communism and syndicalism would advance the debate on accumulation in any immediate sense, but it might have made the link between 'economics' and 'politics' a bit clearer.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 09:09
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If capitalism can provide a viable human society then there is no materialist reason to get rid of it that I can see.

i must disagree, there may still be a materialist reason for the working class, or for you, or for me...

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 31 2007 10:06
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i must disagree, there may still be a materialist reason for the working class, or for you, or for me...

Why? If capitalism is a developing society, improving the living standards of the working class (as happened throughout the 19th century), etc. why get rid of it? Much easier to fight for a better share within it - which, of course, is exactly what the proletariat did in the 19th century.

More to the point, given that the ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class, how will a revolutionary consciousness ever spread through the majority of the proletariat? Firstly, this ideological power springs from the bourgeoisie's material power. Unless some material process undermines this power I see no reason for it to falter. Secondly, bourgeois ideology aims to convince the working class that its own interests are identical (or at least compatible) with the rest of society. If capitalism is developing human society then there is objective validation of this claim. There is no reason for the proletariat to reject bourgeois ideology if the truth of it is seen before their eyes.

Unless capitalism reaches a point where it cannot develop human society any further, there is no reason for the proletariat to stop hanging on the bourgeoisie's coat-tails.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 10:17

i should have added in my last post: perhaps we have different understandings of the term materialism.

i certainly disagree tho. not sure if you are using this argument but i don't at all like the "communism is better because it's more productive" argument. not saying it's untrue just that i don't think the working class must make it's decisions due to the concept of productivity.

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 31 2007 10:17
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(The transatlantic slave trade, for example, generated as many dead as the first world war, at least by some estimates.)

Up to 100 million by some estimates, I believe, but that's over a period of 500 years! I've seen some estimates that put World War II at 100 million (60 million is more usual, of course) but this was in a period of five years. Leaving aside the fact that, whatever its horrors, the slave trade was an integral component of the expansion of capitalism whereas WW2 was the most singular episode in the destruction of capital in history.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 10:29

Demogorgon303:

The implication of that post is:

1. Any revolutionary working against Capital before it becomes/became decadent is "wrong" since they should be fighting for reforms instead
2. The idea that there will be no need to further develop human society once capitalism is overthrown.

Even if I thought Capitalism is doing a moderate job developing human society right now, this doesn't mean it's a desirable system, or that communism wouldn't be better.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 10:37
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Leaving aside the fact that, whatever its horrors, the slave trade was an integral component of the expansion of capitalism

So 'progressive" then?

lem
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Oct 31 2007 10:38

i sort of think of it almost as "productivity-fascism" surprised wink

Leo
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Oct 31 2007 10:39
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Any revolutionary working against Capital before it becomes/became decadent is "wrong" since they should be fighting for reforms instead

I don't think this is what it implies. I do however think that any revolutionary working class attempt against capitalism is bound to fail, because even if the subjective desire for workers to overthrow capitalism exists enough to make an insurrection, material conditions would make it impossible in that time for this revolutionary movement to find a strong enough international expression. Compare the Paris Commune with the revolutionary wave which followed world war 1, why was the latter so much bigger in size? Why didn't the massive international revolutionary wave happen before? Why didn't the workers councils take power in 1905 and succeeded to do so in 1917?

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 10:40

Why did it fail then? Why hasn't it happened since on the same scale?

Leo
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Oct 31 2007 10:48
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Why did it fail then?

Because the revolutionary struggles in the rest of the world which the revolution in Russia needed were defeated. There was a chance of them winning but they were defeated. Saying that something is possible and necessary doesnt' mean that it will definately happen. The difference is that such international revolutionary struggles didn't exist at the time of the Paris Commune.

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Why hasn't it happened since on the same scale?

There are lots of reasons to it. The weight of the counter revolution, the strength of bourgeois ideology are a few examples. However impossibility was not one of the reasons.

capricorn
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Oct 31 2007 10:52

Actually, I can agree that there was a point by which capitalism could be said to have fulfilled it's "historic role" (if you want to use such language): when it had developed the material basis for a world communist society which could provide enough for all, so that nobody need suffer from bad housing, food, clothing, etc. But I would put this point well before 1914, say, by the 1870s. This was the time when movements advocating and struggling for a communist, or socialist as it had then comme to be called, society (as a society without classes, the State, money or wages) began to be formed and take off.
I can't agree with the position of Alfie Baboon, the three-headed person we are arguing with, that the people involved in these early socialist movements were wrong to have advocated the immediate establishment of socialism/communism but should have accepted capitalism and merely sought to reform and develop it.
I don't think that this was, for instance, the position of Rosa Luxemburg when she wrote her famous "Reform or Revolution" pamphlet in 1898. I'm sure in fact that she thought that socialism could and should have been established at that time. And, in my opinion, she was right.
As to Lenin, he's got nothing to do with the working-class movement. He developed a theory for the state-capitalist industrialisation of an economically backward country such as Russia was at the beginning of the last century and also for the group (the vanguard party) that was to carry out the role of the traditional bourgeoisie in this process -- as brilliantly explained by the "Left Communist" Anton Pannekoek in his "Lenin as Philosopher". So, we needn't take any account of Lenin except to dismiss his views as irrelevant to communism. In fact, I would say that the tragedy of the 20th century was that so many good socialists/communists were misled by the Russian Revolution and its ideology, Leninism. Some still seem to be.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 10:55

hi leo! just to say that i think that various marxists bust out the terms 'necessary' or 'impossible' too easily. social forms tend not to have laws that are as critical as say gravity. imo at least, most social necessities are just definitional like "capitalists exist because the working class exists".

i think that strict regularites like "communism is impossible before x", well society is just not conducive to regularities with no exceptions. somewhat unlike the harder sciences.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 11:03

Leo, not all the struggles in the rest of the world were revolutionary even if they were big, Japan for example, the US even. You can't use the"it wasn't possible because it didn't happen" for 1871 or 1905 then completely change the criteria for c.1917. Yes it was a magnitude higher, but it partly so because the working class had the experience of the 12 years beforehand (and earlier) - a continuity of struggle in many countries during those years.

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 31 2007 11:13
Quote:
Any revolutionary working against Capital before it becomes/became decadent is "wrong" since they should be fighting for reforms instead

There was a distinction between the minimum and maximum programme in the 19th century workers movement. Even the revolutionary currents supported the minimum programme (their great failing was that they didn't manage to completely jetison it and retreated back to it once the revolutionary wave had passed). So it doesn't make it "wrong" to call for revolution, simply utopian.

The difference between the revolutionary and reformist currents was precisely the latter's rejection of capitalism's ultimate doom. Luxemburg summed it up thusly: "Without the collapse of capitalism the expropriation of the capitalist class is impossible." By adopting reformism and rejecting revolution, Bernstein and the reformists were simply following the logical conclusion of rejecting the "collapse of capitalism".

Luxemburg sums up this whole question in Reform or Revolution: "Revisionist theory thus places itself in a dilemma. Either the socialist transformation is, as was admitted up to now, the consequence of the internal contradictions of capitalism, and with the growth of capitalism will develop its inner contradictions, resulting inevitably, at some point, in its collapse, (in that case the "means of adaptation" are ineffective and the theory of collapse is correct); or the "means of adaptation" will really stop the collapse of the capitalist system and thereby enable capitalism to maintain itself by suppressing its own contradictions. In that case socialism ceases to be an historic necessity. It then becomes anything you want to call it, but it is no longer the result of the material development of society.

The dilemma leads to another. Either revisionism is correct in its position on the course of capitalist development, and therefore the socialist transformation of society is only a utopia, or socialism is not a utopia, and the theory of "means of adaptation" is false. There is the question in a nutshell."

Leo
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Oct 31 2007 14:01
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hi leo!

Hello lem!

Quote:
just to say that i think that various marxists bust out the terms 'necessary' or 'impossible' too easily. social forms tend not to have laws that are as critical as say gravity. imo at least, most social necessities are just definitional like "capitalists exist because the working class exists".

i think that strict regularites like "communism is impossible before x", well society is just not conducive to regularities with no exceptions. somewhat unlike the harder sciences.

Well, the way I see it, it is common, logical sense rather than a strict regularity. What is necessary for workers revolution is the struggle to gain a political aspect. Now there is a direct link between workers' daily interests and workers revolution. It didn't always exist. What pushes the masses of workers into entering the terrain of revolutionary politics? War and crisis. What makes it generally possible for masses of workers to enter the terrain of revolutionary politics? A general epoch of war and crisis, a world constantly sinking into barbarism, workers facing the question: "socialism or barbarism" everyday, and more so in every struggle. The exact date is not important - the issue itself is what is significant.

Quote:
Leo, not all the struggles in the rest of the world were revolutionary even if they were big, Japan for example, the US even.

I don't think that really proves much though. They both were, compared to 1871 or 1905, both massive and much more revolutionary.

Quote:
You can't use the"it wasn't possible because it didn't happen" for 1871 or 1905 then completely change the criteria for c.1917.

I'm not changing the criteria. For one, I'm saying that "it wasn't possible because it didn't happen internationally". For the other I'm saying "it was possible because it did happen internationally, although it failed to achieve it's goals". The criteria is the same.

Quote:
but it partly so because the working class had the experience of the 12 years beforehand (and earlier) - a continuity of struggle in many countries during those years.

But I think we are talking about different things. I am talking about the international wave, not just Russian workers experience. In my opinion the international wave has got much more to do with the war factor than the experience factor - so is the Russian revolution of course, but for that the experience was significant in that it provided a model: workers' councils.

Anyway, I'd like to go back to my initial question:

Compare the Paris Commune with the revolutionary wave which followed world war 1, why was the latter so much bigger in size? Why didn't the massive international revolutionary wave happen before? Why didn't the workers councils take power in 1905 and succeeded to do so in 1917?

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 14:16
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But I think we are talking about different things. I am talking about the international wave, not just Russian workers experience.

Me too - there was a growing cycle of international struggles from around 1900-1905. For example the rice riots in Japan 1918 were the direct descendants of the tram strikes in 1913-14, the nationalist Hibiya riot of 1907 (at the end of the Russo-Japanese war), or for that matter the massive wave of Ikki and other unrest in 1869-70 during the Meiji restoration (although that one a generation and a half removed). There are other examples in different countries of course. When you look at these I think it's simplistic to point to WWI and say - War = Decadence = communism possible = revolutionary wave. Without those precursors (some on a massive scale - Mexico for example), no revolutionary wave, the war was a catalyst for processes which were already in place, it didn't kick start things from scratch.

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Demogorgon303
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Oct 31 2007 15:07

Catch, no-one is saying there weren't precursors to the revolutionary wave. The Paris Commune itself was clearly a precursor to the revolutionary wave, a sign that something had changed in the nature of capitalism and the class struggle. Because of this Marx drew the lesson from the experience of the Commune that national struggles in Europe were now completely reactionary.

But Leo is right when he says this struggle (and the others mentioned) took place in a period where the general foundations for a truly global revolution were not yet in place. This is no way precludes workers drawing the lessons from these struggles!

In fact, you hit the nub of the question when you say "the war was a catalyst for processes which were already in place". It was precisely the catalysis of decadence that finally pushes the working class beyond simply trying to reform the system, or launching merely local insurrectionary struggles but pushing forward to a true world revolution.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 15:08
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Well, the way I see it, it is common, logical sense rather than a strict regularity

right that's very sensible.

mikus
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Oct 31 2007 17:47
Mike Harman wrote:
You can't use the"it wasn't possible because it didn't happen" for 1871 or 1905 then completely change the criteria for c.1917.

Exactly. But shifting criteria is the only way that any decadence theorists are able to make a case.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 18:26
Mike Harman wrote:
You can't use the"it wasn't possible because it didn't happen" for 1871 or 1905 then completely change the criteria for c.1917.
leo wrote:
I'm not changing the criteria. For one, I'm saying that "it wasn't possible because it didn't happen internationally". For the other I'm saying "it was possible because it did happen internationally, although it failed to achieve it's goals". The criteria is the same.

Well I could say "it was possible, but it didn't happen internationally, and that's why it failed", or that because 1917 failed "it wasn't possible, because it failed" (as some do). What you'd need to do to prove your assertions is actually show the changes in capitalism between 1870 - 1905 - 1917 that made it possible, or not. Not just this, 1870 was a bit international what with the massive crisis in Japan at the same time, St. Louis commune shortly after, IWMA just formed. Probably more examples we could cite. 1905 even more so.

Alf and Demogorgon will say "but WWI, that was the signal that capitalism had become decadent" - but even if we were to accept the 1914 point, you'd still have to show what was different - i.e. the underlying crisis that WWI was the symptom of, and prove that the crisis was the beginning of a final crisis for capitalism, not just one of it's many periodic ones. Mikus has shown the 'lack of external markets" thesis to be a complete fallacy, and nothing's been offered in its place.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 18:37
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Mikus has shown the 'lack of external markets" thesis to be a complete fallacy

sorry to be a pain but surely that proof's worth repeating here.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 18:39
lem wrote:
Quote:
Mikus has shown the 'lack of external markets" thesis to be a complete fallacy

sorry to be a pain but surely that proof's worth repeating here.

No it's not, there's a thread about it: http://libcom.org/forums/thought/fictitious-capital-beginners-imperialism-anti-imperialism-continuing-relevance-rosa-luxemburg-27082007

lem
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Oct 31 2007 18:44

well ok [but i don't have the time to read a 9 page thread for what should be what 2 or 3 tight propositions].

mikus
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Oct 31 2007 18:53
lem wrote:
well ok [but i don't have the time to read a 9 page thread for what should be what 2 or 3 tight propositions].

No, there is no reason it should be 2 or 3 tight propositions, especially considering the fact that the theory being criticized is much more than 2 or 3 propositions.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 18:55

so it's not a completely consistent refutation, is what you mean [at best wink ]?

eta

mikus on decadence theory wrote:
nonsense on stilts

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 19:02

lem, if you've got time to post rubbish on this thread, you've got time to read the other one.