A General Discussion of Decadence Theory

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 6 2007 12:56
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Capitalism will come to an end, as in the case of all previous social systems, through the conscious action of those who have an interest in bringing it to an end. I don't think it will collapse or breakdown economically before this happens.

I think this comes to the nub of what some aspects of this discussion is all about.

Firstly, coming back to Marx, it is human beings that make history and (because we are conscious animals) we do so consciously, even if this is sometimes a false consciousness. The end of capitalism will therefore be as a result of human action and as Capricorn says, this is the case in all previous social systems. This not in dispute. Even the collapse of the Roman Empire was a product of human activity ... but it was a product that failed to preserve much of the advances of that social structure. The Dark Ages may have been exaggerated but still represented a step backwards compared the heights of the Roman Empire. Marx described such a situation thus: "a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." (Communist Manifesto).

Both outcomes are clearly the result of human action. The point is that these humans act in a particular way which leads to a particular result. Why is it impossible that capitalism may also end its days in the "common ruin" of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie?

I'll come back to Dave C's point Marx later, but even he points out the "increasingly lethal effects" of the economic crisis. It is possible to conceive of this rhythm of crisis expanding to a point where it alone could threaten the system. If the crisis is contained, its social effects can deal equally lethal effects to the wider social body as the collapse of the Russian bloc demonstrates. Nor is the Russian case isolated as the disintegration of society across Africa and the Middle East demonstrates. There seems no reason why these phenomona don't present the possibility of a generalised collapse across the system. Such collapses would undoubtedly be followed by some form of reconstitution (as has happened with Russia and Lebanon, but not, for example, by Somalia to date) but if experience is anything to go by the results would be weaker and more unstable than the previous forms. How many such disintegrations, with progressively worsening social environments are needed before what we know as bourgeois society has effectively vanished to be replaced by a far more primitive social order?

The collapse of Rome was limited to Europe. Nor did the feudal lords that emerged from its wreckage have access to vast weapons of mass destruction or confront an ever worsening environmental crisis. The collapse of bourgeois society would have global ramifications and result in the loss of control over forces we've created with horrifying potential consequences (think Chernobyll multiplied by however many nuclear power stations are out there).

This is the reality of what the old slogan of the workers movement "socialism or barbarism" means today. Believing in an endless cycle of crisis and recovery until one day the proletariat awakens with no historical consequences seems more akin to the Hindu / Buddhist conception of an eternal cycle of suffering finally escaped by enlightenment than any truly revolutionary theory of history!

dave c
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Nov 6 2007 14:01

Capricorn, I figured someone ought to say it: Grossmann actually did not attempt "the absurd task of trying to demonstrate mathematically that one day capitalism will break down as an economic system." This is the mythological interpretation of his work advanced by almost everyone, from Aufheben to the ICC. He refutes this interpretation of his work in the following way in a 1931 letter to Paul Mattick:

Quote:
Obviously the idea that capitalism must break down ‘of itself’ or ‘automatically’, which Hilferding and other socialists (Braunthal) assert against my book, is far from being my position. It can only be overturned through the struggles of the working class. . . . Obviously, as a dialectical Marxist, I understand that both sides of the process, the objective and subjective elements influence each other reciprocally. In the class struggle these factors fuse. One cannot ‘wait’ until the ‘objective’ conditions are there and only then allow the ‘subjective’ factors to come into play. That would be an inadequate, mechanical view, which is alien to me. But, for the purposes of the analysis, I had to use the process of abstract isolation of individual elements in order to show the essential function of each element.

Aside from Grossmann himself, Rick Kuhn's book on Grossmann deals specifically with this myth. But of course I think that what you say would be justified, if that was in fact Grossmann's aim.

baboon
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Nov 6 2007 17:38

The decadence of capitalism does have an economic basis but it's not a simple numbers game.
In the ICC's "Decadence" pamphlet, it states, in regard to accumulation in decadence: "There is no halt in the dialectical movement after a society has reached its apogee. This movement is qualitatively transformed but does not end. The intensification of the contradictions inherent in the old society necessarily continues and for this reason the development of the imprisoned productive forces must contine, even if it is at the slowest rate".

The most advanced technologies, even the principles of electrical energy, the construction of the greatest monumnents of its Empire, took place in the increasingly degraded and decadent framework of ancient Rome. Took place within the economic collapse and increasing social conflict of the system based on slavery. Similarly, advances appeared in the decadence of feudalism with the enlighted despotism of the King. The tendencies of the 20th c within the decadence of capitalism, have ben the swelling of the state, the integration of the trade unions and workers' organisations into it, the development of total warfare and the means of destruction, the corruption and decay of reformism and democracy, and the specific development of state capitalism into the forms of fascism, stalinism and the democratic dictatorship.
The great scientific "advances" of the 20th c, that could be beneficial to the whole of mankind, are less and less so. Ever greater swathes of the planet are subsumed by poverty, famine, disease, unemployment, child labour (that's on the increase everywhere), growing numbers of refugees and absolute pauperisation. And while accumulation hasn't ground to a halt, the "growth" of decadent capitalism has to be seen in the context of ever greater unrepayable credit and debt.
There's also the little matter, within the "advances" of science, of the real, unfolding physical threat from capitalism to the planet's ecosystem and all the life forms thereon. Is this the nature of a system in ascendency? Is this the nature of a progressive economic system?

capricorn
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Nov 6 2007 18:08
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Capricorn, I figured someone ought to say it: Grossmann actually did not attempt "the absurd task of trying to demonstrate mathematically that one day capitalism will break down as an economic system." This is the mythological interpretation of his work advanced by almost everyone,

Thanks, Dave,. As I said, I've not read his book myself (only what others have said about it). I would point out, though, that Luxemburg pleads the same defence, ie that, although capitalism is programmed to break down eventually at some point, as this point approaches the working class will become more and more discontented and will act to end capitalism before the actual point of breakdown is reached. (The ICC seem rather less optimistic about this).
But I had another question about Grossmann. Ernie writes as if he was some sort of "leftwing communist" who set out to refute the "revisionist" view that capitalism could go on for ever. I had gained the impression that, like Prof. Tugan Baranovski, he was some sort of academic whose interest in the matter was essentially academic. What exactly were his politics?

mikus
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Nov 6 2007 19:06
capricorn wrote:
Quote:
Capricorn, I figured someone ought to say it: Grossmann actually did not attempt "the absurd task of trying to demonstrate mathematically that one day capitalism will break down as an economic system." This is the mythological interpretation of his work advanced by almost everyone,

Thanks, Dave,. As I said, I've not read his book myself (only what others have said about it). I would point out, though, that Luxemburg pleads the same defence, ie that, although capitalism is programmed to break down eventually at some point, as this point approaches the working class will become more and more discontented and will act to end capitalism before the actual point of breakdown is reached. (The ICC seem rather less optimistic about this).
But I had another question about Grossmann. Ernie writes as if he was some sort of "leftwing communist" who set out to refute the "revisionist" view that capitalism could go on for ever. I had gained the impression that, like Prof. Tugan Baranovski, he was some sort of academic whose interest in the matter was essentially academic. What exactly were his politics?

He was mostly a Stalinist of some sort, although he flirted with Trotskyism for a little while as well, as I understand it. He was a member of the Frankfurt School (although frequently not on very good terms with the rest of his members because of his Marxist orthodoxy), so obviously an academic. But before he became an academic he was very politically active in Austria, although I don't know if he was a Marxist at that point. It's likely that his lack of political activity in his later years were due to his departure from Germany to the US, where politically there was relatively little going on at the time. Also, it seems unlikely that any of the USSR friendly parties, which would have been the parties he would have joined if he could have, would have let him in, since his economic theory was considered heretical by the official economists of the USSR. (Also, as I understand it Varga, the main Soviet economist at the time and one of Grossman's fiercest critics, had an economic theory very similar to Luxemburg's, which shows that Luxemburg's theory doesn't have to be used in a revolutionary way any more than anyone else's does.)

But I haven't read Kuhn's book, so I'm sure Dave has more information about this.

Kuhn has some very good shorter articles on Grossman which you can see at the bottom of Grossman's wiki page, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henryk_Grossman . The "Henryk Grossman and the Recover of Marxism" article has more biographical information on Grossman, if I remember correctly, and the "Economic Crisis and Socialist Revolution" one has a more in-depth discussion of his economic ideas, although there is a good deal of overlap in both.

My feeling is that Grossman suffers from many of the same linguistic ambiguities about decline and breakdown as the ICC, but he actually has a workable economic theory so he is in a much better spot than they are.

mikus
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Nov 6 2007 19:11

Also, I recommend you read his book. The abridged version is extremely short, only about 150 pages and a pretty easy read (as far as these things go). In my opinion he was a much better and clearer writer than Paul Mattick. The abridged version is online here.

I have the full version in Spanish but still haven't gotten around to reading it. It's huge. I believe it's 500 pages long, and Spanish books tend to have very small margins, small print, and small spacing between lines. I've heard his empirical critique of Luxemburg in the original is very strong, perhaps one of the strongest parts of the book, but was completely cut out of the abridged English translation. This discussion has given me the urge to pick the thing up and give it a look. Perhaps when I have some time.

mikus
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Nov 7 2007 02:24
Alf wrote:
"the absurd task of trying to demonstrate mathematically that one day capitalism will break down as an economic system"

But is it any more absurd than trying to demonstrate mathematically that capitalism can realise all the surplus value it creates within the labour/capital relationship, ie that there is no reason for it to break down?

I don't think it is necessarily absurd to try and show that one day capitalism will break down mathematically. If there were any way to prove such a thing, it seems that mathematically would be just as good a way as any other. It's just that all the theories of this inevitable breakdown turn out to be -- absurd. Don't blame this on the use of mathematics.

Similarly, proving that capitalism can, in principle, realize all surplus-value by means of a numerical example is perfectly fine. It is easy to prove, as Marx did, as Tugan-Baranovsky later did, and as Otto Bauer did a third time (under the more strenuous conditions under which Luxemburg tried to mathematically prove would make the full realization of surplus-value impossible, but failed), that if capital is invested exactly as it is in the schema, all surplus-value will be realized. This proves possibility, which itself refutes impossibility. The only way to reassert the impossibility of the realization of all surplus-value in the face of those schemas is to show that there is some reason that it is impossible for the capitalists to act as the schemas demand they do. Luxemburg of course attempted to do this by means of her money argument, and the no-point-of-accumulation argument, but we already saw that both were wrong. (And I'm still waiting for Demogorgon to admit that the money argument is wrong, or else defend the view that $1 of money can realize no more than $1 of commodities.)

So until a new reason is discovered that shows that it is impossible for capitalists to act as the schemas demand, the mathematical argument demonstrating the possibility of total realization of surplus-value holds. (Which isn't to say that capitalists do act exactly as demanded by the schemas, let alone that they are always act as demanded by the schemas.)

Luxemburgians tend to hate mathematical examples because it proves them wrong, and forget that Luxemburg herself attempted to prove mathematically that there would be an unrealizable surplus of commodities if the organic composition of capital were rising. Obviously the Luxemburgians would have rejoiced if her proof were in fact correct, which it isn't. And they would have had good reason to. But instead they just dismiss all proofs that they are wrong as mathematical formalism.

capricorn wrote:
According to Luxemburg, there was a Russian professor called Tugan Baranovski who, it seems, did try to demonstrate mathematically that capitalism could, in theory, go on for ever. I don't know if it really was his view that capitalism would in fact go on for ever.

I think Luxemburg was right about this, although it's been a while since I read the chapter of the Tugan-Baranovsky book in question. Tugan-Baranovsky not only wanted to prove that capitalism won't ever break down for purely economic reasons (which I basically agree with him on, but more on that below), but also wants to reassert the validity of Say's law, which is surely wrong. He also attempts to prove mathematically that it is impossible for the rate of profit to fall due to the rising productivity of labor, which he was definitely wrong about and can be shown pretty easily by means of... a mathematical demonstration.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
Why is it impossible that capitalism may also end its days in the "common ruin" of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie?

Who said it was "impossible"? Capricorn said he didn't think it would happen for purely economic reasons. I don't think it will happen either for purely economic reasons (although I think there is a very good chance of this happening due to other political or environmental reasons), but I wouldn't be so self-assured as to say it was "impossible." I just haven't seen any evidence that it will happen, and without evidence I don't believe it. Now, evidence of course can change all the time, but that is up to you guys who say that it is not only possible, but inevitable that capitalism will break down unless the working class overthrows capitalism. I would actually be happy if you guys developed new arguments to try to prove this. Whether or not they turned out to be good arguments, it would at least increase everyone's knowledge of what there is and isn't evidence for.

And lastly, if one argues that it isn't necessary or that there isn't any evidence to think that capitalism will break down economically, that is not at all the same thing as saying that it is impossible for capitalism to break down economically. To use a slight variation of a classic example, if you said "It is inevitable that it rains in December", and I said "It's not inevitable that it rains in December", I am in no way saying that it is not going to rain in December, let alone that it is impossible that it rains in December.

This is a basic logical mistake that the ICC made in the Luxemburg debate as well, where I was accused of supporting Say's law implicitly, as if because I argue that it is possible for all surplus-value to be realized I am also arguing that all surplus-value will always be realized. Internationalist Perspective actually made the same false argument against me a while back in a similar debate (although they aren't strictly Luxemburgians).

Mike

baboon
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Nov 7 2007 12:30

Mike, here's a little job for you. Prove mathmatically that capitalism will break down (or not). Take as long as you like.

There was some question earlier about whether or not the decadence of capitalism had an economic basis. I think it's important to insist, that along with the decay of earlier societies, it does. The economy has broken down and with the infrastructure collapsing we see the effects on the superstructures. If capitalism isn't a decadent system, then what is it. Progressive? In which case reformism is back on the agenda. Or is it neutral? Where, by a miracle, each positive point is constantly and exactly wiped out by a negative - in which case it can go on for ever. Or is it regressive - in which case it's decadent. And it's here, and only here, that the revolutionary perspective comes from.

One of the superstructural effects of capitalism's decay is imperialism. This is also one of the areas that express the further decay of capitalism, the decomposition that Ernie mentions earlier. It is obvious that as a tendency the decadence of capitalism has to have a trajectory, and this trajectory is moving into the realms of further decay, which is decomposition. It can be no other in the absence of revolution.

Specifically on the imperialist arena, Pakistan shows the further decay of international relations and the growing difficulties for the US Godfather. If the tensions in Turkey have been slightly attenuated under US pressure, then the question of war in the former will never be far away faced with a de facto Kurdish state on its border. To add to its difficulties, its key ally in the war on terror, Pakistan gives the US new nightmares and ratches up instability all around the region. The US is forced to stretch itself further reaching up into the vast area of Kahzacistan (not the correct spelling) whose borders also loom over China.

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Nov 7 2007 17:51

Like Luxemburg we do not say that capitalism will break down for purely economic reasons. We insist, with her, that long before such an abstract possibility is reached, capitalism will either be overthrown by revolution or destroy itself in series of catastrophes which take place at the military, political, social and ecological levels.

mikus
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Nov 7 2007 18:11
baboon wrote:
Mike, here's a little job for you. Prove mathmatically that capitalism will break down (or not). Take as long as you like.

Are you completely mad? Did you even read what I wrote? Please go back and read what I wrote again, then see how your post has nothing to do with what I said.

Then go here and educate yourself.

Knowledge is power, baboon! I still have faith in you. If they taught Koko how to sign, then Wikipedia can surely teach you how to stop making straw-man arguments.

Best of luck,

Mike

mikus
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Nov 7 2007 18:15
Alf wrote:
Like Luxemburg we do not say that capitalism will break down for purely economic reasons. We insist, with her, that long before such an abstract possibility is reached, capitalism will either be overthrown by revolution or destroy itself in series of catastrophes which take place at the military, political, social and ecological levels.

But Alf, I already showed above that in Luxemburg's theory it is a necessity that capitalism eventually break down purely economically if it doesn't break down for other reasons first. Saying that it probably will break down for other reasons first doesn't change the essence of the matter.

I, on the contrary, think that if there is no military or ecological doomsday, capitalism will not break down purely economically.

Which do you think?

Mike

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Alf
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Nov 7 2007 19:49

I don't think there's an "if" in Luxemburg's approach to this question

In Anticritique she wrote:

"Marx's model of accumulation - when properly understood - is precisely in its insolubility the exact prognosis of the economically unavoidable downfall of capitalism as a result of the imperialist process of expansion whose specifoc task is to realise Marx's assumption: the general and undivided rule of capital.

Can this ever really happen? That is, of course theoretical fiction, precisely because capital accumulation is not just an economic but also a political process".

She then quotes The Accumulation of Capital where she says that capitalism is moving towards a situation where "the day-to-day history of capital accumulation on the world stage changes into an endless chain of political and social catastrophes and convulsions; these latter, together with the periodic economic catastrophes in the shape of crises, make continued accumulation impossible and the rebellion of the international working class against the rule of capital necesary, even before it has economically reached the limits it set for itself".

The second world war surely proved that there is no such thing as a purely economic crisis of capitalism - it unavoidably transforms itself into a military and social crisis.

lem
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Nov 7 2007 19:52

I just don't see how Marx could have forseen ecological catastrophe. Is there anything [pref short] i culd read about whether that's correct?

Tho nuclear catastrophe i do see that as Marxist.

Thanks,

lem

RedHughs
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Nov 7 2007 20:43

Hmm,

I would say that the concept "purely economic" is nonsense. Any effort to mathematically represent economic activity has to include factors unique it being an economy involving human beings rather than a flow of fluid in a coral reef - otherwise I can show a thousand "models" which prove whatever one wants.

One a practical level, capitalist certainly aims to reduce goods, labor and capital to a purely fluid quantity which can be circulated frictionlessly (this is the basis of derivative trading and such). If the capital succeeds in doing this, it will last forever regardless of a declining rate of profits or other factors. On the other hand, the economy actually contains humans. An implication of crisis theory is that capital must churn labor and goods at an increasing rate as it attempts to expand. Since we are dealing human beings and not molecules, that increasing churning leads to breakdown of one kind (revolt, anti-capitalist organizing) or another(collapse, degradation of humanity,etc).

---

This isn't a comment on Luxemburg in particular, which I am not well versed in.

Red

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Nov 7 2007 22:32

Theory of Decadence

First, I apologize if I repeat Dave C, Mikus, Capricorn, Catch, Ret, etc.

Various decadence theories are essentially an attempt to periodize capital according to phases of ascendant and descendant, in which the ascendant phase is marked by capital’s progressiveness: the inescapability of reform, the impossibility of its overthrow, the progressive character of non-proletarian politics (national liberation, unions, participation in elections) and generally its ability to develop the means of production progressively an no crisis was inescapable, while the descendant phase is marked by capital’s reactionary aspect: the impossibility of reform, the possibility of its overthrow, the reactionary character of non-proletarian politics (trade unions, national liberation, participation in unions) and the general inability to develop the means of production progressively and a tendency towards the complete economic collapse of capital.

The empirical problems associated with this are obvious:
- showing that reform is no longer possible means showing that the reforms that have most certainly taken place since 1917 are not ‘meaningful’ reforms. One must then have some standard by which to judge reforms internal to capital as meaningful or progressive. Since no reform in itself strengthens or weakens the formation of the proletariat into a class and the revolutionary transformation of society, the meaningfulness of reforms has to be found some other way.
- The idea that communism is not on the agenda in 1871 or 1905 can no more be shown structurally than it can be shown ‘after the fact’ in reference to the failures of 1917-23, 1936, 1956, 1968, 1977, etc. Since the communism has not succeeded and revolution has not even smashed the bourgeoisie beyond the frontiers of a single country, and a very backward one at that, and for a very, very brief moment, at best, it is hard to say that revolution somehow became more possible after 1914-1917.
- The argument that certain politics were progressive before a certain point and reactionary afterwards would have to show significantly different relations between the working class and other classes between say 1830 and 1914 than existed between 1914 and today, and that the relationship of labor and capital has fundamentally changed.
- As with reforms, the problem of the progressive development of the means of production ends up being rather ambiguous, looking around for what does and does not constitute ‘meaningful’ development.
- Mikus has done more than enough to show the weakness of this idea of an inevitable economic collapse, and though I feel that Grossman is more ambiguous than Mikus or others claim, exactly because his objectivism is offset by a Leninist subjectivism, Grossman does not hold a theory of the sort to which Luxemburg, Bukharin and IMO Lenin held, and to which most Marxists have held, though significant people, no doubt known to the ICCers who nonetheless omit them as anti-decadence, include Pannekoek and Korsch.

Deeper than this, however, is the internal incoherence and politically reactionary character of decadence theories.

In separating the progressive and reactionary aspects of capital, as is typical of such a mechanical comprehension of the problem, they not only condone backhandedly nationalism, trade unionism, and electoralism, and argue that under the conditions of the period from 1830-1914 the proletarians and the bourgeoisie sometimes had the same interests (one need only move the line from 1914 to wherever in order to develop one’s apology for capital to suit one’s convenience), but also display a complete comprehension of the relationship between bourgeois and proletarians, what makes the proletariat revolutionary, the dynamic of capital, and the problem of the actual dynamic through which a periodization of capital might be grasped.

The relation between proletariat and bourgeois, between labor and capital, has not changed since 1848, or since 1867, or since 1871, or since 1914. Marx’s critique in Capital either is correct in its general thrust over the entirety of the last 150 years or it has been wrong the whole time. Either the proletariat and the bourgeoisie have no interests in common and the proletariat has nothing to lose buts its chains, or sometimes, during capital’s ascendancy, such ideas were ‘premature’ or simply wrong.

And let’s be clear, the arguments of decadence I have seen are not that the material development of the mean of production only become adequate after 1914, nor that the proletariat was somehow large enough after 1914. One would be a purely technical determination, certainly possible, but in that case one would have to specify what qualifies as ‘sufficient’. Good luck. The other is a purely numerical appreciation, even where it depends on the idea of the social weight of the proletariat and replaces a qualitative comprehension of the nature of the proletariat arising out of the particular social form in which surplus is pumped out of the producers with a purely “we are numerically adequate” or “we carry enough relative weight”. The latter at least has the merit of paying attention to some qualitative aspect, but it does so in a way that begs the question of how one determines when this adequate level of social weight appears. As for its qualitative aspect, we could very well say that it has lessened since the 1930’s or the 1960’s or we could argue that is is more so, but its conceptual and mathematical specification are suspect at best.

Further, the intertwining of the regressive and progressive in capital is forsaken for a wholly undialectical binarism. Capital is progressive insofar as it develops the means of production, but also insofar as, and singularly importantly for communists, it creates a class stripped of property and properties, a class with nothing to lose, a wholly negative class of beings. Capital also, on its own terms, often sees its greatest progress through war, both technologically and in terms of re-starting the process of accumulation. This was true in 1870 and in 1939.

Decadence separates the unity and universality of the proletariat historically and politically, and it separates the progressive and regressive aspects of capital. Not surprisingly it also tends to succumb to a moralism which decries the cultural decadence of declining capital, as too do the fascists and religious reactionaries.

Not only that, it gives rise to a rather perverse treatment of the oppressed. If the bourgeois home and slavery were progressive in the 1800’s, as they most certainly were as far as the accumulation of capital was concerned, then when did one decide to oppose slavery or the bourgeois oppression of women, or for that matter, demand the abolition of capital, before 1914, unless one of course argues that somehow slavery was anti-bourgeois, IMO a very, very dubious position. Or unless one argues that before 1914 it was a question of extending bourgeois right as far as possible, to cover all peoples, at least at that time, after which the politics of rights becomes reactionary. In which case, the politics of the 2nd International were correct, and it was healthy until well into the 20th century. The end result of decadence theory is a creeping apology for bourgeois politics.

What decadence theory purports to explain can not only be better understood through the comprehension of the invariance of certain aspects of capital, that is, the invariance of the nature of capital, labor and communism, and a comprehension of its phases based on valorization and de-valorization, but it is also simpler because it requires fewer acrobatics, even as its requires greater theoretical rigour.

Unions
Why did the bourgeoisie hate the unions in 1848 but embrace them in the 1940’s and then hate them again in the 1980’s? In the 19th century, for the most part, though already in the 1870’s in Britain this was not always the case, the unions were not sufficiently established and not a sufficiently known quantity to be trusted, and prior to Fordism could often be an impediment to the functioning of the market, to uninhibited flows of labor and value, and so appeared as and maybe at first were, workers’ organizations (within capital, but not yet comprehended as such), the bourgeoisie could not but try to put an end to them, just as the workers could not help but form them to protect and defend themselves. One thing is certain is that organization and unity are organic reflexes of workers looking to defend themselves, and stripping that from them is a hard process. Formalizing those organizations and making them permanent is also a tendency, but one which implies some acceptance of capital’s social power, but the willingness to fight over who gets how much and under what conditions. Time and experience, contact and crisis, also teaches the bourgeoisie this same fact. Still an impediment to labor flows, but also a guarantor of certain levels of productivity and social peace, and patriotism and class collaboration, capital learned that as unpleasant as unions sometimes were, they were no fundamental threat to capital. A threat to individual capitalists, maybe, but then the state recognition of unions has often come more easily as the community of capital, where individual capitalists could indeed be wrecked by unionization (unions impose their part in rationalization of industries, weeding out weak companies.) However in a period of crisis of the sort today, and one which say increasing numbers of wildcats against the unions, they became a greater liability than a benefit. In all cases, unions were certainly viewed in relation to their role in the promotion or inhibition of accumulation (of the success of valorization or as an element of dis-valorization.)

Not only that, how did the unions behave from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s? In the U.S., the AFL, originally the FOTLU, was already in bed with capital and the state by the late 1880’s, and their leader, Samuel Gompers, was helping to write anti-Chinese Immigration laws, while playing baseball with capitalists. Earlier, people like Terence V. Powderly, of the much more militant Knights of Labor, had already banned the KoL from striking, and this is actually what led to their demise vis-à-vis the AFL in response to the 1886 strikes ending in the Haymarket events. Actually, the fact of the unions as always having been a part of the state is explained quite simply and clearly in James Mott and Goeffrey Kay’s book,the first chapter of which, thanks to Ret Marut, is in the Libcom Library.

The same could in fact be done with the failure of revolution before, well, ever, so far. Theorie Communiste is in fact invested in their own periodization of why revolution was impossible not merely in 1871, but in 1917, 1936, and 1968. They at least plausibly recognize that if revolution did not succeed in that period, to say that it was possible versus impossible in 1871 is somewhat silly on the basis of decadence. Materially impossible because of the position of the French proletariat and the general under-development of capital in France and on the Continent seems to have been Marx’s analysis, not some theory of capital being in an ascendance phase in which only reform was possible. In fact, I have seen nothing in Marx ever to indicate that he held anything approximating such nonsense, neither explicitly nor implicitly.

No over-arching theory of decadence is necessary to comprehend this, only the actual vicissitudes of the class struggle and a comprehension of the essence and forms of the capital-labor relation as they develop over time. However to tear apart the inner unity of the critique of capital, the inner unity of the proletariat and communism, a theory of decadence is wonderful.

The idea that capital needs to be overthrown now because of impending ecological disaster, but did ‘need’ to be overthrown when it engaged in mass enslavement of Africa, the colonization of Asia and Africa and the Americas, the mass genocide against the native peoples of the Americas, the mass starvations of millions that colonial capitalism induced in India and China and other places, is simply sickening and should not come out of the mouth of a communist, but there it is. Thanks Jaycee and the ICC for another appalling moment.

A Note on the Necessity of Communism
Necessity is a funny term. Often, as in this discussion, it is used moralistically. Capital is so bad, communism is necessary. That however is clearly not Marx’s notion of necessity. Other use it to indicate a kind of economic determinism: capital gives rise to communism out of necessity. And then all kinds of objective facts are deployed to show how increasing centralization and concentration of capital, up to state capitalism, set the stage for communism. IMO, this too has jack and squat to do with Marx. Communism is necessary for Marx in the same sense in which a child becoming an adult is necessary: the essence of being a child is that one is on the way to becoming an adult. Now, chance may intervene and the child may bet hit by a car or eaten by a bear or whatever. That however does not change the necessity of the child becoming an adult, that is, that the child has a potential which it will, as long as nothing kills the child, realize of necessity.

This notion of necessity has its underpinnings in Aristotle and Hegel, and Marx, being somewhat familiar with and grounded in, albeit critically, these two fellows, uses the notion of necessity in a similar way. For Marx, necessity grounds chance. It does not do away with it or over-ride it. Quite the contrary: chance can overwhelm necessity, especially where the necessity can only be realized in the most capricious and conflict-ridden conditions.

This notion of necessity is no more deterministic than the notion of necessity that guides the growth of a plant (which under bad conditions may die before maturing, under others may be eaten, etc.), in which concrete conditions and chance (which are closely related) can put an end to that necessity, but at the same time can only be understood as chances or accidents in relation to some constant or law. In the same way, Marx’s notion of law does not imply determination of an outcome, but a line of tendency.

Chris

ernie
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Nov 7 2007 23:49

Chriis

Whoever tried to downplay the horror of ascedent capitalism? Certainly not Marx, Rosa or US. However, as Rosa said capitalism was born pouring blood and gore from every pour. Kapital Vol 1 is a excellent denounciation of the terrible price humanity had to pay for the birth and rise of capitalism. You are right millions did starve in the colonies: if I remember correct tens of millions in India at one point. The there were the barbaric war of imperialist conquestion (The Accumulation of capital is full of such horrors). Nevertheless, this brutal and bloody process enabled the formation of the world market and the international proletariat. Then in 1914 the brutality that had marked the rise of capitalism as its spread itself across the planet erupted in the very heart of the system itself.: as capitalism destoyed a large part of the very basis of accumulation: the proletariat. This is not to downplay what happened in the colonies but to underline that what had marked the growth and spread of capitalism began to rip away at the system vital organs.

WW1 marked the turning point and the revolutionary wave certainly came out of the proletariat's revolutionary response to it, but it is important to remember that the war was a massive blow to the proletariat. Rosa and Lenin underlined; that the war was mowing down the flower of the proletariat and its youth, that it was stiring up terrible beastial passions. The was whilst stimulating the revolutionary wave also placed very heavy fetters upon it;
- the division of the class between those whose bourgeoisie's won or lost, and all of the subsequent impact of this on the class
- the physical and moral exhaustion left by the war: the terrible flue epidemic that followed it took millions more proletarians from the revolutionary forces of the class
the physical destruction of millions of years of experience of the class struggle

For us the war was not the ideal context for the revolutionary wave to arise from because of this. It was clearly the reality the class was faced with and it very graphically demonstrated that capitalism had entered a new historical phase, but it was also a contributing factor to the defeat of the revolutionary wave.

Chris you do not really analysis the meaning of the military barbarity that has marked capitalist society since 1914, how would you explain the fact that the 20th century was the most bloody in history? This is not trick or rethorical question, but one that it essential to any discussion of decadence, whether one accepts it, rejects or is not sure.

RedHughs
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Nov 8 2007 00:38

Hmm,

If the debate is ICC concepts of decadence versus ... whoever one might choose, it does seem like folks are talking past each other.

I am sure there are decadence-ist who take the position that unions were progressive in 1850 and reactionary 1950. However, the position that I hear the ICC articulate is that unions were proletarian organizations in 1850 and not proletarian organizations in 1950 - this is a big difference in my mind. The proletarian organizations of 1850 were generally not revolutionary but they were places where revolutionaries could operate - a revolutionary of 1910 would have a different relationship with the IWW of than era than a revolutionary of 1950 would have with the CIO.

Certainly, a mechanistic or moralistic "periodization" of capitalism is ridiculous. But this is the least interesting part of the discussion - ie, something of the "straw man" which Mikus is constantly raving about. What is most interesting is the question of how does one describe the present versus previous eras. I guess your answer might be the pre-Ford, Ford, post-Ford type description but this could be defined as a periodization as well (though one that doesn't imply a decline of capitalism).

Anyway, this is where I think discussion would be most useful.

Best,

Red

mikus
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Nov 8 2007 02:22
Alf wrote:
I don't think there's an "if" in Luxemburg's approach to this question

In Anticritique she wrote:

"Marx's model of accumulation - when properly understood - is precisely in its insolubility the exact prognosis of the economically unavoidable downfall of capitalism as a result of the imperialist process of expansion whose specifoc task is to realise Marx's assumption: the general and undivided rule of capital.

Can this ever really happen? That is, of course theoretical fiction, precisely because capital accumulation is not just an economic but also a political process".

She then quotes The Accumulation of Capital where she says that capitalism is moving towards a situation where "the day-to-day history of capital accumulation on the world stage changes into an endless chain of political and social catastrophes and convulsions; these latter, together with the periodic economic catastrophes in the shape of crises, make continued accumulation impossible and the rebellion of the international working class against the rule of capital necesary, even before it has economically reached the limits it set for itself".

The second world war surely proved that there is no such thing as a purely economic crisis of capitalism - it unavoidably transforms itself into a military and social crisis.

I don't think you or Luxemburg or anyone else thought that this would happen, and I'm aware that you don't even consider it a possibility.

So let me explain myself a little bit to make what I'm saying more clear:

This is a legitimate question. Imagine that a comet were just discovered right now which certainly was going to destroy the Earth, I mean blast the whole thing to smithereens, in 364 days. It would be a legitimate question to ask "if the comet were not going to destroy the Earth in 365 days, would the Earth be in the roughly the same place, relative to the Sun, as it is today?", despite the fact that it was known that the comet would destroy the Earth and it therefore wouldn't be anywhere, let alone in the place it was today.

My question is parallel to this. So imagine for a moment that there will be no political or ecological destruction of capitalism. Then reconsider my question asked earlier.

Mike

Alf's picture
Alf
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Nov 8 2007 11:48

"In which case, the politics of the 2nd International were correct, and it was healthy until well into the 20th century. The end result of decadence theory is a creeping apology for bourgeois politics".

I am perfectly willing to discuss whether Marx's policy of support for democratic rights, national liberation, trade unions etc, was reactionary all along, but why constantly argue that these policies were charactersitic of the Second International, when they were only carrying on the ideas Marx put forward in the Communist League and the First International?

This was not retrospectively made up by 'decadentists'.

capricorn
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Nov 8 2007 11:49

On Mike and Dave's recommendations, I've been reading some of Grossmann's stuff. While I can see that he does not make an elementary theoretical mistake like Luxemburg (in fact, he provides a good answer to her followers by pointing out that in Volyme I of Capital Marx assumes that commodities sell at their values, which wouldn't be able to happen unless supply and demand balanced, whereas Luxemburg assumes that in a purely capitalist society demand is always less than supply), his mistake would seem to be to have made unrealistic assumptions about the rate of capital accumulation (growth). I can concede that a continuous year on year growth rate of 10 percent cannot be sustainable for ever (or even for very long) because, in the end, not enough surplus value would be created to sustain this. His argument is like those who calculate what a sum of money deposited 500 years years ago at compound interest should be today, some astronomical figure. In fact Grossman in effect assumed, for his argument, that capital accumulates at 10 percent compound interest.

But he is definitely a breakdown-ist (as the title of his book, if nothing else, reveals: The Law of Accumulation and Collapse of the Capitalist System) and so open to the same general criticism for this as Luxemburg and her followers.

I can see why even the ICC have a sneaking admiration for him. Here's what he says of Tugan Baranovsky:

Quote:
It should be obvious that not only Tugan-Baranovsky but also the socialist neo-harmonists Rudolf Hilferding and Otto Bauer are completely hostile to the idea that capitalism contains unsurpassable economic limits. Tugan-Baranovsky says that ‘the absolute limit to any further expansion of production is given in the quantum of productive forces at the disposal of society; capitalism is defined by an incessant but futile striving to reach these limits. Capital can never actually reach them.’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1901, p. 31) Therefore ‘capitalism can never collapse from purely economic causes, whereas it is doomed for moral reasons’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1904, p. 304). Elsewhere he says that there ‘are no grounds for supposing that capitalism will ever meet with a natural death; it has to be destroyed through conscious, human will, destroyed by the class exploited by capital, by the proletariat’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1908, p. 90).

and of Otto Bauer:

Quote:
From his position it followed that capitalism would be destroyed not through any objective limits on the growth of accumulation but by the political struggle of the working class. The masses would be drawn to socialism only through painstaking, day-to-day educational work. Socialism can only be the product of their conscious will.

Actually, to tell the truth, I find myself agreeing with the conclusions drawn by Tugan Baranovsky and Bauer here even if they were "revisionists" and reformists. I don't see any necessary connection between saying that "capitalism has to be destroyed through conscious human will" or that "socialism can only be the product of the masses' conscious will" and being a reformist.

After all did not Luxemburg herself declare in December 1918:

Quote:
The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat's conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League.

I don't think she added that this "clear, unambiguous will of the great majority" would only arise as a mere reflex to the mechanical breakdown of capitalism as an economic system.

The trouble with making socialism (communism) depend on the prior mechanical breakdown of the capitalist economic system is that if we wait for this it will either never happen (Luxemburg's theory being wrong) or would only happen after many centuries (on Grossman's theory).

baboon
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Nov 8 2007 12:13

lem, on your question about ecology; Engels short work, "The part played by labour in the transition of ape to man" shows great insights into the question of how marxists looked at the question of the ecological damage of capitalism.
Mike, it can be proved scientifically that capitalism is an asendent and then decadent system. That's what Capital was all about.

jaycee
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Nov 8 2007 20:47

first of all Redtwister, fuck you

trying to argue that i support the holocaust of the native americans or the slave trade is fucking discusting. Capitalsim has always been a horrible and inhumane system, but believe it or not its got worse since then. Its got worse because it now poses a threat to the very existence of humanity itself. The ecological crisis (mixed with a bit of imperialist chaos and nuclera proliferation and some economic crisis for good measure) is a clear sign that the future under capitalism is gonna be qiute fucking short. Even scientists are amazed at just how quick global warming is occuring. This point is that the whole argument about decadence is that capitalism was never progressive in and of itself, it was only ever progressive in that it lay the basis for communism. If capitalism has a future that can ONLY be one of ecological melt down and the destruction of humanity or civilization at the very least, it is is no longer progressive.

With regards to the coal age, have we left that, in fact we are being dragged back towards Victorian style production now. In China and india it is massively used and seems to be returning to Britain and other 1st world nations. The fact that this is occuring during a period in which the planet itslef is being ruined to a point where it might never be the same again doesn't seem to bother anyone here, although it could suggest that capitalsim is a dead end for humanity. Even when it is made aware that it is slowly killing itself it can't do anything to stop it.

This argument might be a bit simplistic for some of the 'intellectuals' here who are far too intelligent to recognise simple facts like, no planet no =communism, but for me the fact that it is claer that capitalsim simply can't overcome global warming is a sure sign that it needs to be overthrown. Before we get back into a 'deep' discussion about what 'need' means, the survival of humanity seems quite a good definition to me.

oh and by the way, fuck you Redtwister

mikus
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Nov 8 2007 20:56
capricorn wrote:
[Grossman's] mistake would seem to be to have made unrealistic assumptions about the rate of capital accumulation (growth). I can concede that a continuous year on year growth rate of 10 percent cannot be sustainable for ever (or even for very long) because, in the end, not enough surplus value would be created to sustain this. His argument is like those who calculate what a sum of money deposited 500 years years ago at compound interest should be today, some astronomical figure. In fact Grossman in effect assumed, for his argument, that capital accumulates at 10 percent compound interest.

I sort-of agree. I don't think it was Grossman's mistake, though. Luxemburg claimed in The Accumulation of Capital (I cited the pages on the Luxemburg thread) that it would be impossible to realize all surplus-value if the organic composition were rising, and even gave a very weak mathematical argument to this effect that I keep mentioning and no Luxemburgian has yet acknowledged. (I might have mentioned this before, but a prominent Luxemburgian in the economics world was apparently totally unaware of this fairly well-known argument and so sent me a semi-hostile e-mail asking for citations when I made the claim on a public mailing list that she had made that argument, and then, after I provided the citations, condemned me for trying to "blow Luxemburg to Smithereens" instead of "suggesting avenues for [the] development" of her argument.)

Long story short, Otto Bauer disproved this claim with the schema reproduced at the beginning of Grossman's second chapter, where constant capital accumulates at a rate of 10% each year and variable capital at a rate of 5% (i.e. the organic composition of capital is rising, and yet all surplus-value is realized). Bauer then says that if capitalists accumulate as the schema demands, there will never be a breakdown of the capitalist system and there won't even be serious economic crises, only continual adjustments to equilibrium. He provides his own theory of accumulation based on population growth to support this claim. (A theory which is completely laughable, by the way.)

So Grossman simply took Bauer's schema, ignored the relations between departments because Bauer was indeed correct that all surplus-value would be realized within the schema, and then extended it to the 35th year. Grossman's point was to show that even in Bauer's example the schema would eventually collapse.

So even though you are entirely correct that the schema is extremely unrealistic in its assumptions (the 10% constant capital growth rate each year assumption is just astronomical), and doesn't prove anything about real capitalism itself, I do think Grossman succeeded in his purpose of showing that Bauer's schema itself predicts economic crises. Grossman did recognize the unrealistic assumptions, and even discusses them in the last chapter of the book, saying that if you modify the growth rates and the rate of surplus-value the "breakdown" (really just an economic crisis -- of which, more below) just occurs at a later date, but still occurs.

capricorn wrote:
But he is definitely a breakdown-ist (as the title of his book, if nothing else, reveals: The Law of Accumulation and Collapse of the Capitalist System) and so open to the same general criticism for this as Luxemburg and her followers.

I can see why even the ICC have a sneaking admiration for him. Here's what he says of Tugan Baranovsky:

Quote:
It should be obvious that not only Tugan-Baranovsky but also the socialist neo-harmonists Rudolf Hilferding and Otto Bauer are completely hostile to the idea that capitalism contains unsurpassable economic limits. Tugan-Baranovsky says that ‘the absolute limit to any further expansion of production is given in the quantum of productive forces at the disposal of society; capitalism is defined by an incessant but futile striving to reach these limits. Capital can never actually reach them.’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1901, p. 31) Therefore ‘capitalism can never collapse from purely economic causes, whereas it is doomed for moral reasons’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1904, p. 304). Elsewhere he says that there ‘are no grounds for supposing that capitalism will ever meet with a natural death; it has to be destroyed through conscious, human will, destroyed by the class exploited by capital, by the proletariat’ (Tugan-Baranovsky, 1908, p. 90).

and of Otto Bauer:

Quote:
From his position it followed that capitalism would be destroyed not through any objective limits on the growth of accumulation but by the political struggle of the working class. The masses would be drawn to socialism only through painstaking, day-to-day educational work. Socialism can only be the product of their conscious will.

Actually, to tell the truth, I find myself agreeing with the conclusions drawn by Tugan Baranovsky and Bauer here even if they were "revisionists" and reformists. I don't see any necessary connection between saying that "capitalism has to be destroyed through conscious human will" or that "socialism can only be the product of the masses' conscious will" and being a reformist.

After all did not Luxemburg herself declare in December 1918:

Quote:
The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat's conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League.

I don't think she added that this "clear, unambiguous will of the great majority" would only arise as a mere reflex to the mechanical breakdown of capitalism as an economic system.

The trouble with making socialism (communism) depend on the prior mechanical breakdown of the capitalist economic system is that if we wait for this it will either never happen (Luxemburg's theory being wrong) or would only happen after many centuries (on Grossman's theory).

I largely agree with what you wrote, and Grossman did definitely claim to rehabilitate the kind of breakdown argument given by Luxemburg, Kautsky, and others, but I think there are important differences here as well, and I think a lot of times what he actually did show is somewhat different from what he said he showed, and what he did in fact show is more important than what he said about it.

For example, Grossman uses the schema to claim that "breakdown" is inevitable. This is clearly a kind of Luxemburgian breakdown language, and it sounds as if accumulation will become impossible at some point in time. But in fact, if you closely examine the actual arguments he gives, there is no illustration of "breakdown" but rather of crises. Grossman himself acknowledges that even if the schema did in fact depict the real world accurately, accumulation would restart at some point in time (which is undecidable by means of mathematical illustration, because it depends on entirely contingent factors like the extent to which capital is centralized, war, devalorization, etc.). Sometimes Grossman does say that the effectiveness of the counter-acting factors which restore capital accumulation would be lessened over time but as far as I can tell he provides no argument in favor of this claim.

I should also point out that Grossman referred to the Great Depression as a "breakdown" of capitalism, so it seems that his idea of "breakdown" had more in common with a kind of business cycle theory than an absolute halt of the sort implied by Luxemburg's theory (and explicitly predicted by Kautsky, on the basis of a similar theory, before her). Grossman even criticizes this aspect of Luxemburg's theory at one point (I'd have to look for the citation).

The funny thing about all this is that if it is true that accumulation can be restarted after a "breakdown", and that all Grossman means by "breakdown" is a giant cyclical crisis, then his arguments against Tugan-Baranovsky and Bauer fail, because there are no economic reasons for a final collapse, as there are in Luxemburg's theory. So I think the only theory (that I know of) that can really be used to definitively counter Tugan-Baranovsky and Bauer's claims that socialism will be the result of conscious human action is Luxemburg's, but as we already know her theory is wrong.

And I was looking at some of Grossman's criticisms of Luxemburg in the original. They are indeed quite strong. I intend to type them up here and translate them but this may take a while as I won't have much time for at least a few days.

Mike

Mike Harman
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Nov 8 2007 20:56
Quote:
Capitalsim has always been a horrible and inhumane system

So you'd argue it never had a "progressive" period distinct from a "decadent" one, or not?

mikus
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Nov 8 2007 21:07
jaycee wrote:
This point is that the whole argument about decadence is that capitalism was never progressive in and of itself, it was only ever progressive in that it lay the basis for communism. If capitalism has a future that can ONLY be one of ecological melt down and the destruction of humanity or civilization at the very least, it is is no longer progressive.

Are you saying that capitalism is no longer laying the basis for communism and that communism is becoming less and less possible?

jaycee wrote:
The fact that this is occuring during a period in which the planet itslef is being ruined to a point where it might never be the same again doesn't seem to bother anyone here, although it could suggest that capitalsim is a dead end for humanity.

Yes, exactly, because we want to survive capitalism is a "dead end". Just don't pretend this is an ultra-objective argument that goes way beyond all the "revisionists." Their argument was the same except that they had other reasons (the end of exploitation, war, hunger, whatever) which made more sense at the beginning of the century when the destruction of all of humanity seemed less likely.

jaycee wrote:
Before we get back into a 'deep' discussion about what 'need' means, the survival of humanity seems quite a good definition to me.

Then communism was not necessary until the 1950s, or even 1960s, probably, when the threat of nuclear wear became very real.

jaycee wrote:
first of all Redtwister, fuck you...oh and by the way, fuck you Redtwister

Is this the famous civility that Alf keeps chiding me for not having? Is alibadani going to fly into a steroid-induced rage at your lack of civility as well?

Mike

jaycee
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Nov 8 2007 21:21

i'm not an icc member, although i usually agree with the need for civility being called an apologist for slavery and the native american genocide tends to annoy me a bit.

I am saying that communism is becoming less and less possible, beacuse it the revolution is not achieved within the next 30-50 years it will too late. The planet will not be able to be restored.

I was not saying that capitlism was never progressive, but that in itself it was not progressive. It was only progressive because it made its eventual overthrow and the establishment of communism possible.

RedHughs
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Nov 8 2007 21:39

Hmm,

I do agree with the anti-ICC folks that the argument "now capitalism has to be over-thrown for the sake of the planet" kind-of abandons the most worthwhile aspects of capitalism. The overthrow of capitalism was always - capitalism may have already set in motion unavoidable ecological collapse, so it's overthrow was "absolutely necessary" but not achieved sometime in the past.

But arguments around what disasters capitalism will create and the moral need to end capital have been around since the dawn of capital. The best of Marx involves ESCAPING arguments that place one outside the flow of history and instead seeing the internal dynamics of capital which can create historical change. If the ICC's theory is an excuse to go the other direction, then it is problematic.

I would say that ALF is correct that the Second International continued strong trends in Marx, trends which I think history has shown to be mistakes. Basically, the idea of the proletariat developing itself within capitalism and then seizing the economy/reins-of-power/whatever just didn't work. Marx in reacting the Paris commune saw it as the authentic form of proletarian power - a thing I'd agree with. But this recognition is a far cry from the Communist Manifesto, which essentially put forward a series of bourgeois reforms as the path to communism.

In defense of the ICC, I would agree that the struggle for communism is an collective and experimental process rather than a process of simply positing the correct line through properly interpreting Marx. Thus is it important to articulate what stage of struggle we are at even if we risk pigeon-holing the present era. Marx is significant for articulating the theoretical/practical materialist process regardless of the particular mistakes I might see in his activity. The proletariat in general will certainly go through a further series of mistakes before it gains the ability to act for itself (I have no trouble seeing anti-capitalist implications in actions not seen by many participants as anti-capital - and seeing capitalist implications in some actions which are viewed by their participants as anti-capitalist).

And, yeah, Redtwister is kind-of twisting arguments here - he could just as well accuse Marx of supporting the slave trade using such rhetoric.

Red

mikus
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Nov 8 2007 23:21
jaycee wrote:
i'm not an icc member, although i usually agree with the need for civility being called an apologist for slavery and the native american genocide tends to annoy me a bit.

Naturally. I don't remember you saying anything that made me see you as apologizing for slavery but Demogorgon did definitely seem to have a strange view of the development of capitalism a few pages back. He claimed that the 100 million dead slaves he estimated (which is a little high in any case, as far as I know, but I may be wrong) died over a period of 500 years. Firstly, that's just wrong, unless he wants to say that slaves started being shipped to the Americas from the moment Columbus "discovered" America all the way until about 15 years ago. Secondly, his point was that this wasn't as bad as the first world war. (If I remember correctly he drastically overestimated the amount of dead during the first world war as well.) Thirdly, he forgot about all the dead indigenous peoples on BOTH the north and south american continents. Fourthly, as Chris pointed out, he forgot about all the dead in India due to famines. All these things together make me think that even if we calculate the number of dead over a period of years, it will be clear that WWI wasn't as drastically different, as far as number of humans killed are concerned, as Demogorgon wants to make it seem.

And to top it all off, there was no number of killed per year given beforehand at which something becomes decadent. If you keep shifting the parameters, you can just chose a number in between the amount of humans killed year during WWI and the period from the beginnings of capitalism until WWI. But even in that case, all you'd be doing would be making "decadence" a short-hand description for a certain amount of dead-per year, and then we'd be quite justified to say that certain years since WWI haven't been decadent, some have, etc. In other words, we'd be back to just an empirical description of things that may or may not change during any year, and there'd be no way to talk about a long-term "period" of decadence.

Like I've said before, if you want to talk about how much misery capitalism has caused, how many people have died, etc., and then conclude that capitalism sucks, then all the more power to you and I don't think anyone on this messageboard is going to disagree with you. It's the transformation of that into a rigid, pseudo-scientific periodization of a supposedly inevitable trend of development that starts by stretching things a little, and ends up stretching things a lot, that I don't like.

jaycee wrote:
I am saying that communism is becoming less and less possible, beacuse it the revolution is not achieved within the next 30-50 years it will too late. The planet will not be able to be restored.

I was not saying that capitlism was never progressive, but that in itself it was not progressive. It was only progressive because it made its eventual overthrow and the establishment of communism possible.

I more or less agree with all of this, actually. But with regard to the second line, this is rather different than what Demogorgon at least (and I believe some others as well) was saying when he (they) claimed that capitalism had something positive to offer people when it was first being developed, as if it was improving living conditions or something. No, it had very little but death to offer. It is only after-the-fact that we can say that all of this suffering helped get us to an even better place (a communist society), but as you said it now looks like that may very well not happen. (Which is not to say that I don't think it's possible or desirable that it does happen.)

Mike

mikus
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Nov 8 2007 23:34

In regards to redwister's post, I will just say that there is a bit I agree with (the parts where he agrees with and/or summarizes things myself, capricorn, dave c, and others have said) and a bit I disagree with (most everything else). But I think the general focus on the political aspects of the decadence argument are a red herring. This is in fact the same strategy that the ICC was trying to use for most of the Luxemburg debate and for a large part of this debate, albeit in reverse. I disagreed with it when the ICC did it and I disagree with it just as much when redwister does it. The fact that "decadence theory" may be used to support a reactionary argument (or a revolutionary one, or whatever) has nothing to do with the validity of the theory itself. And besides, such discussions always ignore inconvenient facts, by focusing only on theorists which "prove" their point. Any serious analysis of the political and economic positions (including the theory of decadence and collapse) of Second and Third International (and council communist) Marxism, all the way up to Marxism today, will show that all sorts of mutually contradictory political positions have been supported by each particular economic theory (and vice versa). And I don't think in most cases this is due to certain groups of political thinkers mistaking the political implications of the economic theories, but rather due to the fact that a given economic theory does not necessarily lead to one political conclusion.

Mike

alibadani
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Nov 9 2007 02:01
jaycee wrote:
first of all Redtwister, fuck you

oh and by the way, fuck you Redtwister

My BOY Jaycee. HOLLA