A General Discussion of Decadence Theory

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lem
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Oct 31 2007 19:05

well the only thing i posted that was nonsense was my tone.

what chances are there of a decutive refutation that consists of several tens of propositions? not ime.

apologies, but no seriously i have work, maybe one day..

mikus
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Oct 31 2007 19:11
lem wrote:
well the only thing i posted that was nonsense was my tone.

what chances are there of a decutive refutation that consists of several tens of propositions? not ime.

apologies, but no seriously i have work, maybe one day..

It is not a deductive refutation.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 19:15

i mean 100%, i don't know what the word is. but yeah thanks for that i guess it must be kinda complicated, maybe worth the time wink

eta i mean if it's not "deductive" then you would expect the debate to continue on, and on, etc.

Mike Harman
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Oct 31 2007 19:32
lem wrote:
eta i mean if it's not "deductive" then you would expect the debate to continue on, and on, etc.

Unless one side gave up.

lem
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Oct 31 2007 20:01

indeed. or driven away wink

Leo
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Oct 31 2007 20:16
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Well I could say "it was possible, but it didn't happen internationally, and that's why it failed"

Thus we return to the initial and still unanswered questions. Why didn't it happen internationally?

Being international is the premise for a proletarian revolutionary wave for it to have a possibility to succeed. Of course all the struggles before built up to the process. Yet in all of them, something was missing. Something to push the international proletariat to acting together. Something that would make it possible to have an international revolutionary wave. Might this be a necessary catalyst? Might this be an epoch of war and crisis? Might this be the need for socialism kicking in every workers door?

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or that because 1917 failed "it wasn't possible, because it failed" (as some do)

Yet what makes it possible or not possible? What is the argument behind it? I say the reason why it wasn't possible before is because an international revolutionary wave wasn't possible before. Those who say it wasn't possible in 1917 because it failed say that because they think that the national conditions were not fit for it to be possible. It is a matter of analysis between saying the success of a revolution depends on the international situation and national conditions.

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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.

Yes of course there was a development, it was building up. The difference is sort-of in between working towards something and working for something.

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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

The unification of the world market, the problem of expansion, running out of colonies...

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Mikus has shown the 'lack of external markets" thesis to be a complete fallacy

To be honest that seems like a rather ambitious thing to claim. In the bottom line, proving that lack of external markets thesis to be a complete fallacy means that all the colonial expansion and wars for colonies (which really was what triggered capitalism) were done for the sake of the beauty of Caribbean islands rather than economical need to do so.

[PS: I will try to read the discussion you linked on this issue later, unfortunately I don't have enough time to do so right now.]

capricorn
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Oct 31 2007 21:13
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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."

Demigorgon, Luxemburg is here saying what I thought you were saying, ie that socialism has to be mechanically inevitable due to the inevitable breakdown of capitalism, otherwise it's just a pious wish, a "utopia" that may be desirable but has no chance of coming into being. But when I made this point Alf bit my head off and denied that this was your view (and ended up taking up the moralistic view that socialism was desirable because this was the only way to save civilisation).
Luxemburg's argument here against "revisionism" is not a valid one. Just because capitalism won't breakdown economically, does not mean that it can therefore be reformed so as to work in the interest of the working class. Even if capitalism could last for ever (which it can't, if only because nothing can) it could still never be reformed to work for the benefit of the working class since it's based on their exploitation. That's the real argument against "revisionism" and reformism generally.
Luxemburg was trying to prove too much. And so are you.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 1 2007 08:48

Capricorn

The problem is that capitalism did work in the interests of the working class to some extent. It freed them from the chains of serfdom, for one thing. If a serf could get to a city and remain there for a year and a day, he was freed from his lord. Hence the expressions Stadtluft macht frei, city air is free air, etc. It also created the need for universal education, reduced the working day, created the potential for material abundance never before seen in human history, etc. Capitalism was able to increase the living standards of the working class dramatically and act in its own interests by increasing relative exploitation.

This clearly changed in the 20th century. To some extent, the improvement in living conditions in the West improved but this occured mainly in two periods: the war economy of the 30s and the post-war reconstruction. Further, this improvement has been largely limited to the central countries. Outside of these periods there has been mainly economic crises and wars of varying severity. Capitalism's economic growth has become insolubly linked to war - its growth is dependent on rampages of destruction never before seen in history. In the current period, where the path towards generalised war has been blocked by a number of factors we've seen increases the working day both in the central countries and (much more dramatically) in the "developing" countries by using the infamous outsourcing. Permanent mass unemployment now exists at all stages of the accumulation process and real wages are declining. The only way out for capitalism is another orgy of destruction. Whether you see this as a "devaluation of capital" following Mattick's crisis theory, or the annihilation of competitors on the market as per Luxemburgists, the result is the same: human civilisation couldn't survive a Third World War.

Even if the only product is laying the bases for communism, this is still a progressive thing is it not. And, if it reaches a stage where it no longer does this or begins to destroy those bases then it is no longer progressive. You yourself said earlier that you agreed with the idea that capitalism had a historic mission - your main difference is where you place that end-point: for you its 1870.

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Demigorgon, Luxemburg is here saying what I thought you were saying, ie that socialism has to be mechanically inevitable due to the inevitable breakdown of capitalism, otherwise it's just a pious wish, a "utopia" that may be desirable but has no chance of coming into being.

As per the Luxemburg quote, I think you're also confusing two points: the breakdown of capitalism is inevitable - this does not mean a communist revolution is inevitable.

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But when I made this point Alf bit my head off and denied that this was your view (and ended up taking up the moralistic view that socialism was desirable because this was the only way to save civilisation).

I'll have to read back but I suspect there may be a misunderstanding here. I don't think the idea of saving civilisation is, in itself, a moral view though. Morals are a product of civilisation. Saving civilisation is desireable simply because I don't want to have to wipe my ass with radioactive newspaper scavenged from the burnt out husks of nuked cities ...

capricorn
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Nov 1 2007 11:51

You don't have to convince me, Demigorgon, that capitalism is better than feudalism. I must say, though, that I'm a bit surprised at your eulogy of 19th century capitalism:

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Capitalism was able to increase the living standards of the working class dramatically

Going by Engels's "Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844" and other similar books, I don't think it can be said that life in the towns was an improvement. Of course conditions improved for some workers in the course of the 19th century but historians are still arguing as to whether or not they improved for most workers. Perhaps you should re-read Jack London's "People of the Abyss" about conditions in East London at the beginning of the 20th century or Sinclair's "The Jungle" about conditions in Chicago at the same time.
You offer as an explanation:

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Capitalism was able to increase the living standards of the working class dramatically and act in its own interests by increasing relative exploitation.

and add:

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This clearly changed in the 20th century.

Actually, I think most people would think that your explanation would apply more to the 20th than the 19th century. You seem to concede that conditions improved for some workers in the 20th century but say this is only confined to workers in Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan whereas workers in the rest of the world are living in conditions which, to me, seem like those suffered by workers in Europe and North America in the 19th century, when you say workers benefitted from capitalism.
That capitalism in the 19th century was better for the workers than capitalism in the 20th century is the absurd position you are driven to defend by your dogma that capitalism supposedly became economically "decadent" in 1914 due to the exhaustion of non-capitalist markets.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to defend capitalism, merely to point out that your making 1914 some dramatic breaking-point in the development of capitalism is not borne out by the facts.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 1 2007 12:51

I'm not sure you can get more dramatic than the first world war in history. And - I really get tired of saying this - the 1914 war was simply the final expression of internal limits that had been building up within the system for a long time. There had already been the Long Depression which showed the growing economic difficulties of the system, the Franco-Prussian War which showed the rise of imperialism and the end of "progressive" wars (that is, wars that acted as a stimulus to the system).

And whether its the exhaustion of extra-capitalist markets, or the reaching of a certain threshold in the organic composition of capitalism or other mechanism is not really the topic of this discussion.

You seem to be conflating a number of different issues. Saying that capitalism was progressively improving the lot of the working class is not the same as saying everything was fine and rosy, it clearly wasn't. The point is that living standards did improve and they improved without capitalism having to engage in orgies of destruction.

As for workers in the 3rd world, their conditions are probably worse today than they were in the 19th century. But more to the point, they have no real prospect for long-term improvement. In the 19th century workers could fight and win improvements without having to worry about their jobs being sucked away to China. The expansion of "developing" countries caused hundreds of factories to open in Britain and the rest of the capitalist heartlands in this period. Today the expansion of China, India, etc. is at the expense of workers in the West who find themselves rotting on the dole or eking out a living in part-time, temporary jobs.

Today, workers have no such luxury. Already countries like China and India are themselves outsourcing to even more impoverished parts of the world economy and this process will continue ad infinitum, with every round of attacks on the majority of workers across the world getting worse and worse. And this is the best the workers can hope for today, in a period of "fabulous" growth i.e. not a state of open crisis. When the next recession comes it'll unleash a round of bloodletting unseen even as yet.

And, as I pointed out in my previous post, the great expansions of the 20th century were based almost entirely on the annihilation of millions of human beings, not to mention capital. Capitalism can only grow today thanks to unbridled destruction or on the illusory ground of debts that will never be repaid. And even this growth is limited in scope compared to the actual potential of the productive forces.

yoshomon
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Nov 1 2007 13:23

I find the argument by Os Cangaceiros about the beginnings of the factory system and industrialism in 'Industry As The Origins Of Modern Domination' to be fairly compelling. They also contend that unions acted against the exploited from the beginning, which also challenges decadence theory.

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Most of the technological innovations that allowed factories to develop had previously been discovered but remained unused. Their widespread application was not a mechanical consequence, but stemmed from a historically timed choice which was made by the dominant classes. And this choice was not so much a response to a concern about purely technical efficiency (which was often doubtful) as it was a strategy of social domestication. The pseudo-industrial revolution can thus be reduced to a project of social counter revolution. There is only one type of progress: the progress of alienation.

Under the previously existing system, the poor still enjoyed a considerable amount of independence in the work they were obligated to perform. Its dominant form was the domestic workshop: capitalists rented tools to the workers, provided them with raw materials, and then bought the finished products dirt cheap. For the workers, exploitation was only a moment of commerce over which they had no direct control.

The poor could still consider their work an "art" over which they exercised a notable range of decision making power. But above all, they remained masters of their own time: they worked at home and could stop whenever they felt like it: their work time escaped any calculation. And, variety, as well as irregularity characterized their work, since the domestic workshop was more often than not a complement to agricultural activities.

The ensuing fluctuations in industrial activity were incompatible with the harmonious expansion of commerce. Thus the poor still possessed considerable leverage, which they permanently exercised. The rerouting of raw materials was common practice, and fed a parallel market. Above all, those who worked at home could exert pressure on their employers: the frequent destruction of looms was a means of "collective bargaining by riot" (Hobshawn). Come up with the bucks or we'll break everything.

Factories Modelled After Prisons

It was in order to suppress the poor's threatening independence that the bourgeoisie saw itself obliged to directly control the realm of production. This therefore, is what governed the spread of factories. "It isn't as much those who are absolutely idle who wrong the public, but those who only work half the time," Ashton had already written in 1725. The military arts were applied to industry, and factories were literally modelled after prisons, which in effect made their appearance at the same time.

A vast surrounding wall separated the worker from everything that was external to work, and guards were assigned to turn back people who, at the beginning, found it natural to visit their less fortunate friends. On the inside, the initial goal of draconian regulations was to civilize the slaves. In 1770, a writer envisioned a new plan for making the poor productive: The House of Terror, in which the inhabitants would be obliged to work for 14 hours a day and controlled by keeping them on a starvation diet. His idea was not far ahead of its time a generation later, the House of Terror was simply called a factory.

It was in England that factories first became widespread. Here, the dominant classes had long overcome their internal conflicts and could thus devote themselves without restraint to the passion of commerce. The repression which followed the millenarian assault by the poor- had also paved the way for the industrial counter-revolution.

It was the sad fate of the English poor to be the first to be subjected to the unmitigated brutality of this developing social mechanism. It goes without saying that they considered this fate an absolute degradation, and those who accepted it were scorned by their peers. At the time of the Levellers, it was already commonly considered that those who sold their labor for a salary had abandoned all the rights of "free-born Englishmen." Even before production began, the first factory owners were already experiencing difficulty recruiting workers and often had to travel long distances to locate them.

Next, it was necessary to force the poor to remain at their new jobs, which they deserted en masse. This is why the factory owners took charge of their slaves' dwellings, which functioned as the factories' antechambers. A vast industrial reserve army was constituted, bringing about a militarisation of the totality of social life.

Luddism was the poor's response to this new order. During the initial decade of the 19th century, a movement dedicated to the destruction of machines developed in a climate of insurrectional fury. It was not only a question of a nostalgia for the golden age of the craftsman. Certainly the advent of the reign of the quantitative, of mass-produced shoddy merchandise was a major source of anger.

...

The resistance of the first factory workers manifested itself primarily over one of the rare things that belonged to them, and of which they were being dispossessed: their time. It was an old religious custom not to work on either Sunday or Monday, which was called "Holy Monday." Since Tuesdays were dedicated to recovering from two days of drinking, work would not reasonably begin until Wednesday. Wide spread at the beginning of the 19th century, this holy custom subsisted until 1914 in some trades. Various coercive methods were employed by the bosses, without success, to combat this institutionalised absenteeism. It was with the introduction of trade unions that Saturday afternoons off from work were substituted for "Holy Monday.'' This glorious conquest meant that the work week was extended by two days.

http://www.eco-action.org/dt/inddom.html

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Alf
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Nov 1 2007 15:41

The original postulate of this thread (by Red Hughes) was that some kind of ‘theory of decadence’ is inseparable from the historical materialist approach to history. A number of posters have challenged this by claiming that there is no ‘theory of decadence’ in Marx, even when they claim to support his general approach to history. I am posting three passages from the Grundrisse which in my opinion clearly refute this argument.

“In accord with this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all the barriers which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all-sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces.
But from the fact that capital posits every such limit as a barrier and hence gets ideally beyond it, it does not by any means follow that it has really overcome it, and, since every such barrier contradicts its character, its production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited. Furthermore. The universality towards which it irresistibly strives encounters barriers in its own nature, which will, at a certain stage of its development, allow it to be recognized as being itself the greatest barrier to this tendency, and hence will drive towards its own suspension
” (p 410 in the Penguin and Marxist.org version).

The above passage leads on to a long and profound reflection on the question of overproduction, which Marx refers to here as “the fundamental contradiction of developed capital”. Like many passages in the Grundrisse, it’s a pity that Rosa Luxemburg was not able to see it and incorporate it into her arguments (it was not published until 1953). I would urge that those on this thread who think that mikus has, by doing a few sums, proved the whole problem of effective demand as posed by Rosa to be founded on a “fallacy” should reflect on this whole section (‘Capital as unity and contradiction of the production process and the realization process’, pages 401-423), but I will have to come back to this elsewhere, because my aim here isn’t to prove the validity of Luxemburg’s analysis of capitalist decadence. It is to show that whether or not you follow Luxemburg’s argument, and whether or not you situate the overt beginning of the period of decline in 1914, the basic concept is clearly there in Marx, who argues here that, having striven to impose itself as a global system, the very process of capitalist expansion must “at a certain stage of its development” pose insuperable barriers which will lead to capitalism “suspending itself”. It is also clear that while he talks about capitalist production moving “in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited”, there comes a point where quantity turns into quality and capital passes a definite point of inner collapse or “self-suspension”.

The next passage relates to Marx’s examination of the question of the falling rate of profit; here he stresses the centrality of this contradiction in leading capitalism to a point where wage labour will be as much an anachronism as serfdom and slavery in their epochs of decay. Once again, the key point here is that capital is pushed by its own contradictions towards a point where it becomes historically obsolete, transforming itself into a fundamental barrier to the real evolution of humanity’s productive powers:

“Hence it is evident that the material productive power already present, already worked out, existing in the form of fixed capital, together with the population etc., in short all conditions of wealth, that the greatest conditions for the reproduction of wealth, i.e. the abundant development of the social individual—that the development of the productive forces brought about by the historical development of capital itself, when it reaches a certain point, suspends the self-realization of capital, instead of positing it. Beyond a certain point, the development of the powers of production becomes a barrier for capital; hence the capital relation a barrier for the development of the productive powers of labour. When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage labour, enters into the same relation towards the development of social wealth and of the forces of production as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter. The last form of servitude assumed by human activity, that of wage labour on one side, capital on the other, is thereby cast off like a skin, and this casting-off itself is the result of the mode of production corresponding to capital; the material and mental conditions of the negation of wage labour and of capital, themselves already the negation of earlier forms of unfree social production, are themselves results of its production process. The growing incompatibility between the productive development of society and its hitherto existing relations of production expresses itself in bitter contradictions, crises, spasms. The violent destruction of capital not by relations external to it, but rather as a condition of its self- preservation, is the most striking form in which advice is given it to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social production” (p 749).

The final passage seems to me to offer a profound framework for analysing capitalism’s transition from ‘free enterprise’ to state capitalism:

As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches, and moves in accordance with its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense itself and become conscious of itself as a barrier to development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition, seem to make the rule of capital more perfect, but are at the same time the heralds of its dissolution and of the dissolution of the mode of production resting on it” (p 651).

In this analysis, we have an early period (primitive accumulation) where capitalism is still tied up with feudal or pre-capitalist forms; a second period of expansive confidence when it can allow almost unmitigated free competition; and a third period where its tendency towards dissolution gives rise to the need to suppress free competition in favour of an attempt to direct (and distort) the laws of the market.

Again, you may differ with us about the starting point of the period of capitalism’s “inner disintegration” as the Communist International put it in 1919, but it is surely impossible to argue that Marx did not anticipate such a period and base his perspective for a revolutionary transformation upon it.

As Demogorgon points out, undermining such a perspective was central to the revisionist attack on marxism. As against the fraudulent arguments of Aufheben, who present ‘decadence theory’ as an invention of the ‘objectivist’ and mechanistic Second International, the real theoretical drama in the workers’ movement of the last part of the 19th century revolved around the defence of ‘decadence theory’ against those who tried to argue that capitalism was always and ever the same, if not actually getting better all the time.

And once again: contrary to Capricorn’s repeated charge that Rosa Luxemburg’s insistence on this point was based on a vision of mechanistic economic inevitability, the marxist view of capitalism’s tendency to collapse is only that it tends to reveal the urgent need for a higher form of social organisation, not that it spares the working class the necessity to develop its struggles and above all its consciousness, because left to itself, without the conscious eruption of the masses onto the stage of history, it will result in the “mutual ruin of the contending classes”, in barbarism. .

capricorn
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Nov 1 2007 16:41

Demigorgon, Dave C warned that you would use the defence that while 1914 was the turning point between the ascendance and the decadence of capitalism (I'm tempted to say the cusp) things started to go wrong for it from about 1870. But we're turning in circles. You re-assert, without any supporting evidence, that any capital accumulation since 1914 has merely been to replace the physical elements of capital that have been destroyed in wars. This is quite simply not true. And if you won't accept this there is nothing the rest of us can do.
Actually, I can accept that 1918 was a significant turning point in that it was the year that the last dynastic empires in Europe (Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tsarist Russia and the Ottoman Empire) were destroyed, giving way to purely capitalist political forms. In other words, it represented capitalism coming to dominate the whole world politically and economically. The beginning not the end of capitalist world domination.
As to what Marx speculated in the 1860s about the theoretical limits of capitalism I imagine he would be extremely surprised to learn that capitalism was still in existence 140 years later. What needs to be explained is why? I suggest that the explanation is social and political: that the working class has not been moved to end capitalism because capitalism has been able to bring about a small but noticeable improvement in their conditions from one generation to the next; most workers feel better off than their parents were and so are not discontented enough to risk undertaking a revolution against capitalism (which might fail or end up like in the ex-USSR).
In any event there is no flaw in the economic mechanism of capitalist that will lead to its economic breakdown (certainly not the flaw Luxemburg imagined she had detected), so we can't rely on this to provoke the workers into revolutionary action. There may well be limits to capitalism as an economic system, but I don't think that we can argue that this has yet been reached or need necessarily be for many years to come. It could be more plausibly argued that there are ecological limits to capitalism and that these will be reached first.
I don't accept that if we can't demonstrate mathematically the economic breakdown of capitalism that this means we should give up and become reformists. Why can't capitalism be ended before any theoretical economic limit is reached and independently of whether or not there is any such limit? After all, not even the ICCers here, challenge the view that the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of communism has to be the conscious act of the working class (even if they do tend to see this as a mere reflection of the economic breakdown of capitalism they imagine is happening).

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 2 2007 08:32
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You re-assert, without any supporting evidence, that any capital accumulation since 1914 has merely been to replace the physical elements of capital that have been destroyed in wars. This is quite simply not true. And if you won't accept this there is nothing the rest of us can do.

I have never claimed this and nor has the ICC. What I said was that these wars temporarily removed the blockages on further accumulation by allowing a reconstruction. It's so blindingly obvious that production after wars and reconstruction occurs on a much higher level (otherwise there would be no accumulation) I didn't think I needed to say this!

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Why can't capitalism be ended before any theoretical economic limit is reached and independently of whether or not there is any such limit?

Because ... "the working class has not been moved to end capitalism because capitalism has been able to bring about a small but noticeable improvement in their conditions from one generation to the next; most workers feel better off than their parents were and so are not discontented enough to risk undertaking a revolution against capitalism"?

dave c
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Nov 2 2007 11:22

Alf:

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The original postulate of this thread (by Red Hughes) was that some kind of ‘theory of decadence’ is inseparable from the historical materialist approach to history. A number of posters have challenged this by claiming that there is no ‘theory of decadence’ in Marx, even when they claim to support his general approach to history.

Let me be clear about what I have been saying.
1) A theory of decadence is not inseparable from Marx's "materialist conception of history." Here is Marx on the materialist conception of history:

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The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way. (The German Ideology, Prometheus, 36-37)

This is in contrast to Hegel, who believed that his philosophy was presuppositionless, and for whom method and system were identical. You and your clique proceed in a manner more akin to Hegel than Marx. The method you call "historical materialism," which you claim consists of certain historical claims, is what you apply to capitalism. You think that you can make historical claims about capitalism that are separable from any analysis of capitalism. Marx understood the essence of his materialist conception of history to be the exact opposite of this. Marx rejected any "general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical." (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/11/russia.htm) Yet this is precisely what "historical materialism" means to you. So I think that on a very basic level, your "method" is the direct opposite of Marx's. Paradoxically, this explains why whenever your specific claims are challenged, you are quick to praise the importance of the proper Marxist method.

2) There is no "theory of capitalist decadence" in Marx. Remarks about capitalism reaching a point where it "suspends itself" were made in the context of his actual theory of capitalist accumulation. You quote Marx on capitalism: "The universality towards which it irresistibly strives encounters barriers in its own nature, which will, at a certain stage of its development, allow it to be recognized as being itself the greatest barrier to this tendency, and hence will drive towards its own suspension.” What is that phrase "allow it to be recognized" doing in there? Could it be that Marx thought of capitalism's decline as identical with the class-conscious struggle of the proletariat that abolishes capitalism? Clearly, you think that a period of counter-revolution and capitalist recovery (not the proletariat abolishing capitalism) can be a part of capitalism's period of decline. So in one interpretation, the two things (decline and social revolution) are more or less identical, and in the other the two things are clearly not. I see no compelling reason to exlude the former interpretation, especially since Marx presents no economic theory of absolutely necessary collapse, which would make the level of class consciousness irrelevent. You are welcome to continue repeating the same thing, and I do not doubt that you are ready to quote the Communist International's words of 1919 a few more times for us to marvel at, but the quotes from the Grundrisse, which I am familiar with, do not prove that Marx had a theory of capitalist decadence in the sense of an epoch of decline distinct from social revolution. Here is the Marx you quote: "When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage labour, enters into the same relation towards the development of social wealth and of the forces of production as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter." It is necessarily stripped off? I thought you didn't think communism was inevitable? But Marx is still linking social revolution and decline, and provides no actual theory of decadence (aside from his theory of crisis), which would seem to require more than a few phrases. If I disagree with Marx here, it is no more than you do, and it is on nothing essential.

3) It all comes back to Luxemburg. If we are discussing "decadence as such" and not "capitalist decadence," I think we are talking about nonsense. If we are talking about "capitalist decadence" then I think such a theory needs to be economically grounded and not based on moral necessity or material possibility (which we all seem to agree on anyway!). While I don't agree with what has been said about body counts or the debate surrounding revisionism, I think it is utterly irrelevent to the question of capitalist decadence.

baboon
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Nov 2 2007 15:59

Just caught up with this discussion (not quite) and Mike's 29.10th post. It's the second time he's told me to get out of the discussion because I'm not up to it. Elitism goes hand in glove with academicism. Who are these anarchists, he asks, who see capitalism as an eternal system? Good question. Some individuals on these boards hide the positions they seek to defend, are maybe embarrassed by them. I don't know. Mike himself has finally come out of the political closet and that should help to take future discussions further.
The seven years of the 21st century has fully confirmed the expressions of the decadence of capitalism throughout the 20th. While the first world war was an important beacon if you like in the decadence of capitalism, the revolutionary wave of 17 to 23 was just as important, if not more so. If WWI doesn't butter the parsnips for you then what about WWII - or was this a progressive war?
In the discussion on the present economic crisis, started by Joseph K around August, many posts saw no problem. The bourgeoisie could get out of the crisis, capitalism could just print money, the law of value had been transcended, in short, the general idea was put across of the eternal nature of the capitalist system. Even if revolution was supported it was purely on moral grounds (that describes anarchism to me). Two months on from the beginning of this particular phase of the economic crisis and we are beginning to see that the bourgeoisie cannot simply print their way out of the crisis and it is much more serious than was generally understood. Mike defends the idea of printing money by saying that Marx supported it. But Marx supported credit as a short term measure within a basically expanding system that was able to pay it back. That's the difference with capitalism's decadence - it cannot even pay off the interest on what it's borrowed from itself. State capitalism - democracy, fascism and stalinism has been the response of the bourgeoisie to the permanent crisis of capitalism and the evidence of it and its consequences litters the last 80 years. The extension of debt and credit as palliatives to the crisis have deepened particularly over the last 40 years.
No one on here appears to be openly defending capitalism in the sense of vote for this or that party for a better life, and so on. But to say that this system can go on for ever, that there's been no effective change for the last hundred, three hundred, whatever number you like years, is equally a defence of the system in that the implication is that it can go on for ever.

yoshomon
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Nov 2 2007 16:11
Quote:
In the discussion on the present economic crisis, started by Joseph K around August, many posts saw no problem. The bourgeoisie could get out of the crisis, capitalism could just print money, the law of value had been transcended, in short, the general idea was put across of the eternal nature of the capitalist system.

That's ridiculous. Stating that capitalism can overcome the present economic crisis is not the same as saying its an eternal system. Do you really think it's impossible for capital to overcome the present crisis?

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 2 2007 17:13

Dave C

I've read your post through several times and it seems that you're conceding that Marx, in your words, links social revolution with decline. You then go on to say that this is nothing important, because he does not have a developed theory of decadence. And yet Marx talks about the revolt of the productive forces being the cause of social revolution in every major piece he ever wrote. Marx himself clearly thought it was important.

The fact that it usually occurs in discussions about crises is hardly surprising because it's the conjunctural crisis of capitalism that reveals the inner motor forces of the capitalist economy and the way its contradictions are actualised as opposed to being mere potentialities. But this doesn't mean that capitalism's historic crisis (a generalised bursting of the capitalist integument) is identical with conjunctural crises. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx points to the conjunctural crises as a sign of capitalism's historic crisis (he's careful not to conflate the two), although he jumped the gun a bit as capitalism had plenty of life left in it.

But in Capital, Chapter 32, he again charts the historic development and decline of capitalism concluding in this famous passage: "Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated."

Marx's point here seem to assume a victorious revolution by the working class. And the working class certainly made the attempt in 1917 (i.e. around the general timeframe when myself, the ICC, the IBRP, Luxemburg, the 3rd International generally, etc. place this point of no return for capitalism). But the revolution was defeated and capitalism remained. Does this mean that the incompatibility of the forces of production with their capitalist integument simply miraculously vanishes? Or rather does it not continue to wrack the foundations of capitalism independently of the proletariat's ability to respond? How would you expect this problem to express itself in the economy, society, etc. given the crushing of the proletariat?

mikus
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Nov 2 2007 18:01
baboon wrote:
Just caught up with this discussion (not quite) and Mike's 29.10th post. It's the second time he's told me to get out of the discussion because I'm not up to it. Elitism goes hand in glove with academicism.

The ease with which someone who knows so little can try to vindicate himself by tossing out charges of "elitism" and "academicism" is absurd. Apparently your friends were seriously bewildered by the eliticism and academicism on the Luxemburg thread, so much so that they forgot how to make coherent arguments. Perhaps your response is more effective, however.

In any case, it is just nice to see that you have come back on here, making an attempt to redeem yourself as useful member of your centralized political organization. Let's see how you fare.

baboon wrote:
Who are these anarchists, he asks, who see capitalism as an eternal system? Good question. Some individuals on these boards hide the positions they seek to defend, are maybe embarrassed by them. I don't know.

Wha? Let me get this straight: You "don't know" if people are hiding the positions they seek to defend, yet you nevertheless make the claim that people are hiding the positions they seek to defend? Hmm... You might be aware of the famous nonsensical sentence: "There is a fire in this room, but I don't believe there is a fire in this room." Perhaps we can get this slight variation named after you: "There is a fire in this room, but I don't know if there is a fire in this room." We can call it "baboon's paradox" or something like that.

baboon wrote:
Mike himself has finally come out of the political closet and that should help to take future discussions further.

No. As I've pointed out repeatedly, my political positions have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not my position on decadence theory, or Luxemburg, is correct or incorrect. None of you people have challenged that point yet you still exhibit an obsession with jumping into the political debate.

baboon wrote:
The seven years of the 21st century has fully confirmed the expressions of the decadence of capitalism throughout the 20th. While the first world war was an important beacon if you like in the decadence of capitalism, the revolutionary wave of 17 to 23 was just as important, if not more so. If WWI doesn't butter the parsnips for you then what about WWII - or was this a progressive war?

Who in the world are you even talking to here? No one has claimed that either war was "progressive". As I said before, please don't debate figments of your own imagination on a public messageboard.

But I do give you props for getting your group's message out.

baboon wrote:
Even if revolution was supported it was purely on moral grounds (that describes anarchism to me).

Your point is weak given that your leader has already tacitly admitted that the "necessity" of destroying capitalism pointed to by your clique is not an amoral necessity, but one based on our own desires, values, etc. (At least, a kind of pragmatic moralism -- i.e. if we want to survive and end exploitation, etc., we must overthrow capitalism.)

In fact, even assuming that your decadence theory were correct, and that capitalism had two very distinct period of progress and decay, your position would still be just as moral as anyone else's, because your support of revolution would presuppose a value-judgment that it was good to support progress, oppose decay, and so forth.

Normally, I would say the above sentence made you good cadre due to your bash of anarchism, but since you contradicted your own leader I think you have made a serious mistake. To make up for this error, some serious sloganeering is in order!

baboon wrote:
Two months on from the beginning of this particular phase of the economic crisis and we are beginning to see that the bourgeoisie cannot simply print their way out of the crisis and it is much more serious than was generally understood.

You don't know this yet. It may in fact be the case in the future, and it may not be. Usually people don't use predictions as evidence. You're supposed to wait until your prediction has actually come true.

But by treating your own group as fortune-tellers you demonstrate just how strongly in favor of their position you are. Good work.

baboon wrote:
Mike defends the idea of printing money by saying that Marx supported it.

I don't know what it even means to "defend the idea of printing money." I claimed only that printing money can alleviate crises to some extent depending on various contingent circumstances. I never claimed that all crises could disappear if sufficient money were printed, nor that Marx said that.

baboon wrote:
But Marx supported credit as a short term measure within a basically expanding system that was able to pay it back. That's the difference with capitalism's decadence - it cannot even pay off the interest on what it's borrowed from itself. State capitalism - democracy, fascism and stalinism has been the response of the bourgeoisie to the permanent crisis of capitalism and the evidence of it and its consequences litters the last 80 years. The extension of debt and credit as palliatives to the crisis have deepened particularly over the last 40 years.

If you hadn't noticed before, printing money has nothing to do with credit, since that money does not need to be paid back. Rambling on and on about credit does not help you here.

At first I was going to say this argument was too weak to work in your favor as cadre, but perhaps it does, since it shows your willingness to switch things up to try and confuse readers (unless, of course, you are simply confused yourself), which in its turn shows a strong commitment to your party's line.

baboon wrote:
No one on here appears to be openly defending capitalism in the sense of vote for this or that party for a better life, and so on. But to say that this system can go on for ever, that there's been no effective change for the last hundred, three hundred, whatever number you like years, is equally a defence of the system in that the implication is that it can go on for ever.

Making an invalid deduction from a view that your opponents don't even have, in order to try to show that they are reactionaries -- jackpot!

You have indeed proved yourself useful cadre, if not the brightest of minds. You may yet get far along in the ranks of your party.

Or are you not yet even a member? Perhaps after a few further rounds of public self-humiliation you will finally become a member.

lrnec
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Nov 2 2007 19:19
mikus wrote:
baboon wrote:
Mike defends the idea of printing money by saying that Marx supported it.

I don't know what it even means to "defend the idea of printing money." I claimed only that printing money can alleviate crises to some extent depending on various contingent circumstances. I never claimed that all crises could disappear if sufficient money were printed, nor that Marx said that.

Reluctant to get involved just asking a question, I felt that had to be said before someone accuses me of something or attempts to jump up and down on me, this threads not the most temperate.

but anyway Keynes style economic policy/philosophy for benefit? Is that the kind of thing your getting on about when talking about printing money to allviate crises?

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OliverTwister
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Nov 2 2007 20:12
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unions acted against the exploited from the beginning, which also challenges decadence theory.

What swill. In what you've quoted they blame "unions" (whatever that means) for swapping out Monday and Tuesday off, for Saturday afternoon off.

Fucking garbage. One doesn't have to be a decadent theorist to notice that "unions" didn't drop from the head of Zeus fully formed as pillars of the existing order.

Anton Pannekoek and Sam Dolgoff were both able to point out the general narrative. The root of unions was the common interest of workers: when workers in one area went on strike, workers in other areas struck in sympathy or sent donations; eventually this activity solidified. The new organizations, whether called "unions", "combinations", "brotherhoods", often (though not always) had very anti-bureaucratic cultures and stood for the overthrow of capitalism (as Rudolf Rocker points out, the birth of revolutionary syndicalism was in England). Of course there was a general process, influenced by wider capitalist social relations as well as the interests of petty politicians (esp. the socialist ones), of building a strong bureaucracy which could oversee the unions role as mediator between labor and capital; from there it is only a hop-and-a-skip, or perhaps it is a simultaneous process, that the union as a whole becomes the organization of the bureaucrats and not the workers, and is a staunch defender of capitalist social relations.

As I said, one can accept all of this without believing in decadence theory per se. There were certainly the roots of bureaucracies in many of the early 'combinations', especially as they began to unite on a national level - the Knights of Labor tried to dissuade many of their local lodges from striking, and the AFL was clearly a pillar of capitalist society far before 1914 or even 1905. Of course there was also the maneuvering of socialist politicians who thought that the working class should pursue reforms within capitalism; the syndicalist movement in Germany was born out of reaction against the SPD's control of the union bureaucracy.

But the idea that unions were some sort of trick dreamed up by the bourgeoisie to trick the workers is reactionary, as it takes all agency out of the hands of the exploited.

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Alf
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Nov 2 2007 20:55

Very good post Oliver, even if we differ on decadence. We've recently published an article arguing against the 'unions were reactionary from the beginning' argument: http://en.internationalism.org/wr/305/reply-to-wildcat-on-unions.

I'll try to get back later to Dave C's interpretation of the Marx passages, although Demogorgon has posed the question very well.

I thought mikus has given up discussing with the ICC. Then again, perhaps he has, because the last post was just a series of insults. Give me Revol's cussing any day.

It does occasionally 'bewilder' me that people who consider themselves to be revolutionaries should be so passionately committed to arguing that capitalism is anything but an obsolete, senile, rotten, decaying, putrid, declining social system that has had its day, gone past its sell by date, and become a barrier, a fetter, an obstacle to human progress. And that they should never notice how similar is what they are saying to the official economists who tell us that capitalism is still full of youth and vigour, still the only framework for progress, still capable of regenerating itself, globalising itself and offering mankind a bright and shiny future.

As Demo pointed out, Marx did indeed 'jump the gun, when he announced in the Communist Manifesto that the cyclical crises of youthful capitalism already meant that "the productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeoi society are too narrow to comprose the wealth created by them"

But how much revolutionary was Marx's impatience to see the advent of such a period than the weary scepticism of those who have been born into it and yet fight tooth and nail against recognising it!

dave c
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Nov 3 2007 02:22

Demogorgon:

Quote:
I've read your post through several times and it seems that you're conceding that Marx, in your words, links social revolution with decline. You then go on to say that this is nothing important, because he does not have a developed theory of decadence.

I don't know what to say. You read my post several times and you still do not understand what I have written out very clearly. It is impossible to go forward if you do not even comprehend this. What you think I consider to be nothing important, is explicitly my main point (aside from my point about your idealist method)! Marx does not talk about decline without talking about social revolution. The ICC has been claiming that at the very heart of Marx's theory is the claim (so important that I am not a Marxist for rejecting it) that capitalism inevitably enters an identifiable epoch of decline which is theoretically distinct from the period during which the proletariat abolishes capitalism! Why Marx never explained this theory is known only to the ICC. So, either concede that you are wrong, or defend this claim. The arguments advanced so far have been downright absurd: they are pathetic strawmen: assuming that capitalism has no progressive role to play for those against decadence; mystical nonsense: I see decadence with my own eyes; irrelevant appeals to tradition: The Communist International said. . ., etc. etc. I have noticed this all along, and so I have conceded nothing to such absurd arguments.

Here is how I am interpreting Marx: the decline of capitalism is prepared by the increasingly contradictory character of capitalist development. The contradiction at its heart, between value and use-value, expresses itself in the way it "presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth." Thus, "Its [capital's] production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited." Constantly overcome, until. . . the working class brings about the decline of the capitalist system. My interpretation makes sense of Marx's texts, and it understands the conflict of forces of production and production relations as central to the unplanned, topsy-turvy nature of capitalist production in which the productive forces of social labor appear as the productive forces of capital. With your interpretation, you strain to find vague support for a theory you claim to be so central to Marx . . . . Either revise your claims, or do not be surprised when you are dismissed as cultists without any capacity for critical thought, endlessly repeating dogmas immune to criticism.

So I ask you, and I ask Alf, is this actually supposed to be an argument against my position?

Quote:
And yet Marx talks about the revolt of the productive forces being the cause of social revolution in every major piece he ever wrote. Marx himself clearly thought it was important. (Demogorgon)

Seriously?

capricorn
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Nov 3 2007 09:26
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Capricorn wrote:
You re-assert, without any supporting evidence, that any capital accumulation since 1914 has merely been to replace the physical elements of capital that have been destroyed in wars. This is quite simply not true. And if you won't accept this there is nothing the rest of us can do.

Demigorgon replied:
I have never claimed this and nor has the ICC. What I said was that these wars temporarily removed the blockages on further accumulation by allowing a reconstruction. It's so blindingly obvious that production after wars and reconstruction occurs on a much higher level (otherwise there would be no accumulation) I didn't think I needed to say this!

I think you did need to say this, so thanks for saying it. It wasn't blindly obvious to me (and still isn't, actually) how, if non-capitalist markets have been permanently saturated since 1914, production after a war over and above that to replace what was destroyed can occur unless non-capitalist markets expand at the same rate.
Of course this is a false problem since capitalism doesn't require external markets for capital accumulation to take place, as you dogmatically assert in the face of all the evidence. But, as I said, we are just turning in circles now.
Incidentally, while I've got the floor, what do our talmudic Marx-scholars make of the conclusion of Volume I of Capital as set out in the chapter on "The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation" (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch32.htm)? If it had been Marx's opinion that "the historic tendency" was for capital accumulation to slow down and eventually grind to a halt as non-capitalist markets shrank and eventually dried up then, surely, he would have said so in this, his major work and which he saw to the press himself. But, I forget, Luxemburg herself conceded that this was not Marx's view and set out to put him right. Her latter-day followers, however, seem to want to portray themselves as more-Marxist-than-thou.

ernie
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Nov 3 2007 09:47

Capricorn neither we nor Rosa have ever said capitalism will grind to a halt. What we have said, along with the early 3 international and Engels is that with the division of the world into a world markert dominated by capitalism the only perspective that capitalism had to offer was war, crisis and barbarity as it thrashed about in its constant efforts to redivid the market. Proof of which has been the past 100 years of endless and barbaric war, and economic stagnation or crisis, and even the 'glorious' 30 years after WW2 were based on the imperialist redivision of the world and the massive increase of state involvement in the economy through the war economy and direct state management. These 30 years also witnessed the wars in Korea, Vietnam (both Frnech and US stages) various wars in Africa, the brutal state capitalism of the USSR and China, aurtarky in India. As Demo said the 'benefits' of this period were mostly limited to the heartlands of capitalism. Capitalism will continue to exist until either it has destroyed the environment and humanity either through war or decomposition or humanity will be freed by the proletarian revolution. It will keep going through ever more destruction and poverty.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 3 2007 13:51

Dave C

I was trying to make absolutely sure I had understood what you were saying because frankly your post wasn't clear - at least not to me. So for you to say "It is impossible to go forward if you do not even comprehend this" when I was making sure I had understood you is rather bizarre.

I don't have to revise any of my claims because Marx talks in terms of historic periods in every major work he ever wrote from the Manifesto to Capital to his various critiques. Do I really have to start quoting all of them at you before you start engaging with them? Or will you just ignore these too, like you completely ignored my quotation from Capital and the questions that I think arise from it.

I'll ask again: when a revolutionary period opens up caused by the bursting of the capitalist integument, to use Marx's terms what happens if a revolutionary attempt is defeated? What are the consequences in a scenario where this "integument" is under threat but the system is not overthrown? Everything just returns to normal?

lem
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Nov 3 2007 13:56

Massive losses, right? Sounds plausible, another bb the other day was arguing that recession is bad for struggle.

baboon
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Nov 3 2007 15:26

"My political positions have no bearing on whether or not my position on decadence theory or Luxemburg is correct or incorrect" says Mike. That clears that up then. Does his position on WWI or WWII (the latter which has been defended as progressive war on these boards within the context of a discussion on decadence) have any bearing on anything? Probably not.
Easily identifiable anarchist positions are also appearing. Capricorn for example talks about the revolution happening at any time in the last hundred and fifty odd years making it a question of morality, of will, despite the material conditions. But of course you have to use the analysis of capitalism's ascendency and decadence in order to understand that, ie, you have to defend a marxist position. Whatever the weaknesses of Luxemburg's economic analyses, and I do think that she clarified further, questions raised by Capital of production and realisation, I think her analysis of imperialism is a major advance for the working class. The real question is posed over and over again. Is capitalism a system that is rotten ripe for revolution?

lem
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Nov 3 2007 15:34

i don't think it follows that it's all moral. the class has to be aware too, does that count as voluntarism?

i like that that's neat i'll argue that smile

mikus
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Nov 3 2007 21:39
Alf wrote:
I thought mikus has given up discussing with the ICC. Then again, perhaps he has, because the last post was just a series of insults. Give me Revol's cussing any day.

Actually, there is quite a bit of substance in that post which has not yet been answered, in between my insults of baboon. But if you and him would chose to ignore them because his monkey-brain finds such things offensive, this is not my problem.

And I'm no revol fan myself, but he generally doesn't pretend that he has made arguments in favor of points. He just says what he thinks. You guys put forth your line over and over again and then act as if you have somehow made some kind of argument. You haven't.

Alf wrote:
It does occasionally 'bewilder' me that people who consider themselves to be revolutionaries should be so passionately committed to arguing that capitalism is anything but an obsolete, senile, rotten, decaying, putrid, declining social system that has had its day, gone past its sell by date, and become a barrier, a fetter, an obstacle to human progress. And that they should never notice how similar is what they are saying to the official economists who tell us that capitalism is still full of youth and vigour, still the only framework for progress, still capable of regenerating itself, globalising itself and offering mankind a bright and shiny future.

It's this kind of bullshit that makes me feel entirely justified in making fun of your incompetent asses. No wonder that even as far as parties are concerned, you people are a pathetic bunch.

When has anyone here claimed that capitalism is not an "obstacle to human progress" (depending on certain definitions of human progress)? When has anyone argued that capitalism is "still the only framework for progress"... or that if offers "mankind a bright and shiny future"?

Please let me know where I, or anyone has here, has said this, or please crawl back under the rock from whence you came! (You might as well start crawling now.)

Alf wrote:
But how much revolutionary was Marx's impatience to see the advent of such a period than the weary scepticism of those who have been born into it and yet fight tooth and nail against recognising it!

Save your revolutionary cries for your newspaper. If anything, everyone here is more impatient than your clique, given that everyone here thinks that revolution was possible long before you and your clique do.

Mike