A General Discussion of Decadence Theory

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Alf's picture
Alf
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Nov 17 2007 10:57

I'm not altogether sure what Chris means by 'essentialism' and 'anti-essentialism'. Is this a discussion about human nature, for example? If it is, I would put myself in the camp of the essentialists, because I don't think man is a blank slate and that there is a 'human nature'.
I'm also not opposed to biological analogies but we have to remember that they are 'only' analogies, and bear in mind that we are talking about human beings, who are distinguished from the rest of biological nature by their capacity to consciously transform the world around them. If communism is presented as 'necessarily' growing out of capitalism then I think that leaves out Marx's warning that "real living men make history" and that "history" itself does nothing. Capitalism creates a necessity for communism in the sense that it presents humanity with an alternative of going forward or regressing; and that the choice has the character of a life or death question, brought about by very material circumstances that are beyond human control; but since communism can only be a product of conscious action (infintiely more so than any previous social transformation) there is no inevitability about the choice or about humanity's capacity to carry it through to the end.

But perhaps I have misunderstood the point here.

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Devrim
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Nov 17 2007 11:54

Actually, I do want to comment on this.

I think that there is a danger of these type of discussions running into intellectualism. I think that economic analysis is important, and I support a theory of decadence. I also think that sometimes it is elevated above the level of importance that should be attached to it.

Two points are worth remembering;

First it is possible to have the same economic analysis, but completely different politics. The most bizarre example I have come across recently was somebody using decadence theory to justify supporting Chavez.

Second, it is also possible to have a different economic analysis, and very similar politics. The IBRP, and the ICC for example have very similar politics. The differences they have are not in my opinion the result of economic theory.

The fact that the ICC, and the IBRP see their main differences as being in the realm of economic theory in my opinion shows part of the problem.

Intellectualism is the other side of the activist coin, and in our opinion, both of them are things that communist organisations should strive to avoid.

I think that participants in this discussion should remind themselves of this occasionally.

Devrim

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mikail firtinaci
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Nov 17 2007 13:36
Quote:
think that there is a danger of these type of discussions running into intellectualism. I think that economic analysis is important, and I support a theory of decadence. I also think that sometimes it is elevated above the level of importance that should be attached to it.

so how do you think we can draw the border between intellectualism and theory? What differentiate them in your opinion?

mikus
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Nov 17 2007 18:14

Alf,

I think you responded to Chris' more recent post. I was actually referring to this post:

redtwister wrote:
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

When you guys refer to the necessity of communism, do you have in mind something like what Chris says above? My impression is that Chris counterpoised his own view of "necessity" to the ICC's but that it is in fact very similar (if not identical). But I'd like to be confirmed or falsified in thinking this.

Mike

wildlyflailing
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Nov 17 2007 23:56
Devrim wrote:
Actually, I do want to comment on this.

I think that there is a danger of these type of discussions running into intellectualism. I think that economic analysis is important, and I support a theory of decadence. I also think that sometimes it is elevated above the level of importance that should be attached to it.

Two points are worth remembering;

First it is possible to have the same economic analysis, but completely different politics. The most bizarre example I have come across recently was somebody using decadence theory to justify supporting Chavez.

Second, it is also possible to have a different economic analysis, and very similar politics. The IBRP, and the ICC for example have very similar politics. The differences they have are not in my opinion the result of economic theory.

The fact that the ICC, and the IBRP see their main differences as being in the realm of economic theory in my opinion shows part of the problem.

Intellectualism is the other side of the activist coin, and in our opinion, both of them are things that communist organisations should strive to avoid.

I think that participants in this discussion should remind themselves of this occasionally.

Devrim

I agree with this in essence, intellectual striving shoudn't be another obstacle to overcome.

But isn't the problem with activism that it can lead to ignorance; and then isn't the problem with intellectualism that it can lead to inaction? No-one should try and engage with theory half heartedly in the sense of being wilfully stupid.
Rather than condemning activism and intellectualism, isn't it better to have as much of each as possible, just not at the expense of the other?

See this is the thing, without libcom lem can't find anyoe to talk to about communist theory. Which is a shame sad
And that's ignoring the whole public announcement of lem being guilyt/unlike-able. I feel like a nob for doing this again lol.

wildlyflailing
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Nov 17 2007 23:56
Devrim wrote:
Actually, I do want to comment on this.

I think that there is a danger of these type of discussions running into intellectualism. I think that economic analysis is important, and I support a theory of decadence. I also think that sometimes it is elevated above the level of importance that should be attached to it.

Two points are worth remembering;

First it is possible to have the same economic analysis, but completely different politics. The most bizarre example I have come across recently was somebody using decadence theory to justify supporting Chavez.

Second, it is also possible to have a different economic analysis, and very similar politics. The IBRP, and the ICC for example have very similar politics. The differences they have are not in my opinion the result of economic theory.

The fact that the ICC, and the IBRP see their main differences as being in the realm of economic theory in my opinion shows part of the problem.

Intellectualism is the other side of the activist coin, and in our opinion, both of them are things that communist organisations should strive to avoid.

I think that participants in this discussion should remind themselves of this occasionally.

Devrim

I agree with this in essence, intellectual striving shoudn't be another obstacle to overcome.

But isn't the problem with activism that it can lead to ignorance; and then isn't the problem with intellectualism that it can lead to inaction? No-one should try and engage with theory half heartedly in the sense of being wilfully stupid.
Rather than condemning activism and intellectualism, isn't it better to have as much of each as possible, just not at the expense of the other?

See this is the thing, without libcom lem can't find anyoe to talk to about communist theory. Which is a shame sad
And that's ignoring the whole public announcement of lem being guilyt/unlike-able. I feel like a nob for doing this again lol.

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mikail firtinaci
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Nov 18 2007 00:28
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But isn't the problem with activism that it can lead to ignorance; and then isn't the problem with intellectualism that it can lead to inaction? No-one should try and engage with theory half heartedly in the sense of being wilfully stupid.

wildlyflailing,

I don't think the problem is about ignorance and being active. The basic issue is if as a communist you-me-anybody are just trying to elaborate a nice looking theory than there is a real problem. However I think that theoretical activity is not something only done for its own sake. Communists do it to clarify their aims, their interventions, and proletariats situation - position against burgeoisie. And if there is a turnusol test for understanding whether if theory is used for these then we have to understand whether it is used in discussion between militants by opening it to clarification or not. That is why opposed to devrim I do think it is the healthiest think that ICC or IBRP do on the question on decadance. If a basic issue such as decadance is not clarified between these organisations then any unity is only an artificial one.

I think This a question what also every organisation of communist left must resolve. Theory is a practical tool. And theoretical positions are not something you accept or reject. They have only meaning if you use them in struggle against burgeoisie. To do this you must be so clear on them that every worker could be able to understand what you mean by them. Decadance -unlike parliment issue for instance- is not a clear thing for even communists. That is why it must be deeply discussed.

as I tried to imply one can not only say I accept or reject this particular theory and step aside if he/she claims to be a communist (or even anarchist!). Theoretical activity is a hard one and most of us do not have enough time or energy to devote for it most of the time. But it is also a practical necessity to clarify theoretical issues and it is a part of militant activity - at least I think so ...

ın that respect I don't see a difference between theoretical and practical activity of any organisation-tendency etc. Intellectualism is the breaking up of this dialectical unity. It is the denial to clarify theoretical understandings and rejection of discussing them. That is why it goes hand in hand so well with activisim.

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mikail firtinaci
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Nov 18 2007 00:42

By the way;

I don't think that decance is only about economic theory. In fact most "famous" communists dealt with this issue is criticised to be weak on economics (like Bukharin, Luxemburg and also Lenin-which is obvious in his case). This is why economic part of the issue is so important. In my opinion it should not remain an alien field of theory for most militants. If -of course- to say that unity of the "elements of a theory like economics-politics and historical analysis etc is a necessity" have any meaning outside the revolutionary jargon.

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Nov 19 2007 12:55

mikus
the refererence in my post to essentialism was a response to Chris's second post, but the bit about biological analogies refers to his first post, so I was expressing a reservation about his definition of necessity as it applies to the communist revolution. Perhaps I should have made this clearer. I am very rushed at the moment but am happy to discuss this point further.

baboon
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Nov 19 2007 16:40

Capricorn, the cost of the present Gulf War is now officially estimated by the US bourgeoisie to be around 2 trillion dollars and rising. They could have had a deal with Saddam securing oil supplies for a tiny fraction of this amount. This war is about imperialism, US imperialism and American military reach, the bossing of the world through geostrategic points. There is no economic rationale to it. The neocon clowns in charge of the foreign policy of the largest military state ever are perfectly representative of it and are fully expressive of the decay and decomposition of capitalism. Their insane military adventures will not end there because they are not driven by an economic rationale but by an imperative need to patch up an imperialism overall that is breaking down all over the planet.
In the 1992 Gulf war, following the collapse of Russia, the US needed to assert itself as boss. It's for this reason alone that the fallguy, Saddam was set up. He was encouraged, through US diplomatic circles to invade Kuwait. He did so and fell right into their trap.
The struggles of the working class in Poland 1980 (the shipyard you refer to I assume) were part of a wave of struggle that took place not only across the whole of Poland, but Europe and beyond. They were certainly the "cutting edge" and that's why, in conditions of heightened inter-imperialist tensions of the Cold War, the US (and British and French) and Russian bourgeoisie found common interest in facing those struggles and then repressing them.
While the Russian workers used to joke under Stalinism "they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" doesn't in any way show that the working class were involved in the collapse of the old Soviet Union. Go back and look at events - the workers were completely absent. Not only that, rendering one last service to the bourgeoisie, Stalinism, through its collapse, was a major political factor in the disorientation of the working class in the west.

lumpnboy
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Nov 20 2007 00:55

Baboon

A bit off-topic maybe, but, though I agree the invasion and occupation of Iraq was not just a War For Oil, I really don't find the evidence that the US 'tricked' Saddam into invading Kuwait very compelling. Though I do believe the US ended up helping to destroy the anti-Saddam insurgency, including by creating the Highway of Death, because of the convergence of capitalist interests in the maintenance of the Iraqi state.

More significantly, did the US really oppose Solidarity in Poland? I'd be genuinely interested in any real evidence that the US actively attempted to prevent the anti-regime movements in Poland from opposing 'really-existing-socialism'. My impression was always that the US and CIA (and Vatican) were pretty keen on the Solidarity types, like that revolting Walesa character.

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Nov 20 2007 10:05

Lumpn: the US was opposed to the mass strikes, which is why it supported Solidarity as the best way to control them. A number of official western trade union organisations were directly involved in setting it up

baboon
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Nov 20 2007 16:48

It's completely "on topic" lump. The significance of the 1991 Gulf War is that it was a real, solid, material indication of the decomposition of capitalism, ie, the trajectory of decadence reaching a certain degree. It arose out of the collapse of the eastern bloc and the establishment of the "new world order" of "peace and prosperity" announced by Bush snr., in 1990. For 50 years following WWII, a certain "stability" has been maintained within the two-bloc system of the US on one side and Russia on the other. There were moments of danger, Cuba 62 and Afghanistan 78, but, in the face of a working class unwilling to be dragooned into nationalism world war three wasn't on the cards. The collapse, the implosion of the USSR, left the USA as the only possible superpower and they thus need to make an awesome demonstration of their power and leadership.
They needed a sucker and they had one handy in Saddam. All the same stuff as 2003: "dodgy dossiers", "weapons of mass destruction", "evil dictator" and so on. Saddam had been their man in the Iran/Iraq war of the 80s, armed by them, funded by them, assisted by them in gassing the Kurds (US, Britain, Germany, France under the US umbrella). He thought the US was his ally, particularly as they had all supported his territorial claims over the Shatt-al-arab (not sure about spelling) against Iran.
At a meeting with April Glaspin, US ambassador to Iraq in early 90, Saddam asked her about his territorial claims to the Kuwaiti oilfields. From memory, Glaspin replied "the US administration would have no opinion about that", ie, diplomatic language for 'get in there and fill your boots'. For more info on this see the report of US congressional hearings in Le Monde Diplomatique May 1991.
The US needed a major war to impose its discipline on all the countries that had previously relied on the US nuclear umbrella against Russia and now didn't need it. Iraq and its population, were the sacrifice. The coalition was largely successful and the US's position established for a while, but centfugal tendencies took over and the tendency of each imperialist nation for itself. The level of the decomposition of imperialism can be measured quite accurately from the Gulf War of 1991 to the Gulf War of 2003. The US, as the remaining superpower needs to constantly exert its authority and in so doing constantly exacerabates the situation, and so on.
Today Iraq is virtually ethnically cleansed, it's hell on earth, the "new" elements of the administration are just continuing the neocons work and the borders of Iraq and the surrounding countries are fraught with growing and even more dangerous imperialist tensions.

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Nov 21 2007 12:37

I thought you were referring to April Glaspie's role, but it precisely the common idea that there was a decision made by the US to give an at least de facto green light to invasion to Kuwait, to justify US attack on Iraq, that I think is weak, at least on the evidence so far i.e. primarily partially available memos and transcripts of diplomatic communication. In context, I think the Glaspie quote is a lot less of a smoking gun than it seems.

baboon
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Nov 23 2007 17:59

For argument's sake lump, put aside for the moment the recorded fact that the United State's ambassador to Iraq virtually gave Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait and look at the context - that's what is important. Saddam had been backed to the hilt in its war with Iran by the United States. Saddam had been backed by the United States over his gassing of the Kurds (ICI provided the "fertilizer factory" the Germans provided the raw materials). Saddam had been backed by the United States in all his atrocities and repression against the Iraqi population. He was their man, their policeman of the region. The conditions of the new world order as the bourgeoisie called it, and the decomposition of capitalism as analysed by revolutionaries, demanded the US make an overwhelming show of force and power. This was the reason for the murderous slaughter on the road to Basra. This was the reason why more tonnage of explosives - all the latest explosives - were dropped on Iraq in the first Gulf War than on Germany in the whole of WWII.
The war was to try to cohere all the US's rival imperialisms in the face of the centrifugal tendencies brought about by the collapse of the Russian bloc. Saddam was suckered into the invasion of Kuwait, and the Iraqi population paid the price and are still paying the price. The fact that the US ambassador to Iraq told him that the invasion was OK with her country just confirms everything else.

lumpnboy
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Nov 24 2007 18:19

Putting aside that 'recorded fact', though, it is exactly the idea of Saddam being 'suckered' that I am suggesting lacks evidence. Iraq had its own, quite strong reasons to invade, Glaspie's comments in totality are I think a bit more ambiguous than the short quote always used might suggest, as well as not in themselves proving a conspiracy to sucker anyone, and, drawing a distinction between the US suckering Saddam into invading and the US response to invasion for a moment, I'm not even sure why your theory requires a conspiracy to entrap Hussein, rather than merely an opportunistic use of the invasion of Kuwait.

The history of the US taking out its own stooges/allies and their regimes is long and rich. Absent the conspiratorial interpretation of Glaspie, I see nothing in what you say which is any evidence for suckering, though.

baboon
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Nov 26 2007 13:53

The most important point for the working class though lump, is not the suckering of Saddam, but the break up of the blocs, the 'new world order' and the descent into decomposition. Forget about April Glaspie, the increase costs of decaying imperialism will be paid for with the wages and blood of the working class.

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Jun 10 2009 08:16

The article on decadence in the current International Review takes up some of the themes discussed in this thread

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/2009/137/capitalism-to-end-of-prehistory

Spikymike
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Jun 22 2009 11:51

I am not a fan of current 'decadence theories' but I think the discussions in the 'Internationalist Perspectives' archives on this subject are of interest to those following the themes on this thread.

Particularly in IP No's 29, 34, 42 and 44 and the related 'The Roots of Capitalist Crisis' in IP No's 30 to 37.

See: http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-index.html

They provide a good critique of both the ICC and IBRP approaches whilst still defending their own version of a Marxist decadence theory.

You could however read more into their analysis as it relates to some of the points made earlier by RedHughes as to the continuing relevance 'in some parts of the world' to methods of organisation and struggle made irellevant in the most advanced sectors of capital.

I prefer myself to try and understand how capitalism has evolved through the interplay of capitalist competition and class struggle and how that has affected the potential for, content of, and forms of class struggle over the history of capitalism, without having to categorise these in terms of 'decadence' and especially not watershed dates such as 1914.

I think Red has made some of the best points in this debate but maybe the approach s/he tried to encourage got a bit lost in the swapping of quotes from Marx et al.

RedHughs
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Jun 23 2009 23:32
Quote:
I think Red has made some of the best points in this debate but maybe the approach s/he tried to encourage got a bit lost in the swapping of quotes from Marx et al.

It is standard these days to "admit" that one spends far too much time on the Internet. However, perhaps indeed for the worse, the Internet has become both the information and the social outlet of first and last choice for "many people", whether "we" like it or not. Certainly, the debates on libcom and elsewhere have been both very instructive to me and have often left me feeling like I was just beat-up by a biker gang.

So, believe it or not, I appreciate any words of encouragement here.

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Jun 24 2009 08:54
RedHughs wrote:
Quote:
So, believe it or not, I appreciate any words of encouragement here.

Two people in Turkey, who read but don't post here, have told me how interesting and informative they have found your writing on here. Funnily enough, and I spoke to both of these people seperately, they both thought your user name was 'red[b]hugs[/b'], and were both disapponted to find out it wasn't.
Devrim