The notion that capitalism must inevitably decline and, by implication, that history is on our side, has been a dominant idea that has shaped much marxist and revolutionary thought, particularly that of Trotskyists and left communists. In the wake of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc it has become more important than ever to challenge such notions of capitalist decline and decadence. In the first part of our critique we examine the development of the various theories of capitalist decline that emerged out of the collapse of the Second International up until the end of the Second World War.
The theory of decline or the decline of theory?
We are subjects faced with the objective reality of capitalism. Capitalism appears as a world out of control - the denial of control over our lives. But it is also a world in crisis. How do we relate to this crisis?
One understanding that has been dominant among critics of capitalism is that capitalist crisis, especially a prolonged and severe crisis such as we are presently in, is evidence that capitalism as an objective system is declining. The meaning of decline is either that it has created the basis of 'socialism' and/or that it is moving by its own contradictions towards a breakdown. Capitalism, it is said, is a world system that was mature in the Nineteenth Century, but has now entered its declining stage. In our view this theory of capitalist decline or of the decadence of capitalism hinders the project of abolishing that system.