Once more on decadence: What does it mean to say that capitalism is a historically transitory system?

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Hawkeye
Once more on decadence: What does it mean to say that capitalism is a historically transitory system?
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Once more on decadence: What does it mean to say that capitalism is a historically transitory system?. The discussion was initiated by Hawkeye.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Hawkeye
Capitalism is a historically transitory system ?

The article 'Once more on decadence.' certainly presents much food for thoughts. But then we need to remember that there is a considerable difference between foreseeing the demise of capitalism and advocating and recommending what is to follow. Then we are advised to regard 'communism' not just as a nice idea, but as a necessity.  We are then advised that it is too early to make plans, despite being encouraged to look forward to a planned communist economy. OK, now let's take things one at a time. A key question after a revolution will be whether or not money will continue to be used, and if it is to be abandoned, will that be done immediately or gradually ? That will have to be decided by what so far are purely aspirational workers councils ?  It is a very practical matter of knowing whether or not money will be used and needed. Try imagining London, for instance, running without any use of money (or without some sort of electronic equivalent of it.). Overproduced goods preceding abolition of money might be freely available for a while, but then when stocks of those run out, how many workers would produce more without expecting nor getting paid ? It is one thing to say that they don;t need to be paid, but quite another to clarify just why anyone would go to work. To persuade workers and everyone else that communism will work, it seems necessary to explain not just that it is supposed to intend to rid the world of wars and poverty and devastation of climatic situations etc, but that it will actually work, and work better than the chaos of capitalism. Revolution itself is mostly regarded as likely to be chaotic anyway, but to advocate it to the extent that its prospect becomes acceptable, it would probably be as well to explain that its aftermath will not just consist of something or other being sorted out when the time comes.

jk1921
Good Point

Hawkeye wrote:

To persuade workers and everyone else that communism will work, it seems necessary to explain not just that it is supposed to intend to rid the world of wars and poverty and devastation of climatic situations etc, but that it will actually work, and work better than the chaos of capitalism. Revolution itself is mostly regarded as likely to be chaotic anyway, but to advocate it to the extent that its prospect becomes acceptable, it would probably be as well to explain that its aftermath will not just consist of something or other being sorted out when the time comes.

Well, that's a good point. The council communists tried this with The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution in the 1920s and 1930s, but it is unlikely that their account of how a future communist society would solve these problems would be satisfactory or complete today. Marx for his part mostly tried to avoid such questions for philosophical and methodological reasons: i.e. "The recepies of tomorrow will be left to the cooks fo the future' (paraphrased). In other words, the epistemological vantage point of the captialist present does not permit even the most skilled and farsighted communists to describe in detail the precise features of communist society--perhaps only in a mostly negative sense is this possible, i.e. there would be no money (to answer your question about money), no nations, no international borders, etc. In this sense, the council communist efforts violated this spirit of Marxism to not bind the cooks of the future. Of course, that doesn't mean that this reluctance to not speak about the communist future (or the transitional period) in detail is a very convincing way to deal with the problem. Some might see it as a cop out. I am reminded of Zizek's commentary on the movie V is for Vendetta when the protestors storm Parliament, take it over and the movie suddenly ends. As Zizek says, he would sell his mother into slavery to see a movie called V is for Vendetta, Part II. What happens next might be the most crucial question of all that demands more than Marx's epistemological deflection.

Here is some commentary on the FPCPD:

http://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201303/6505/communism-not-nice-idea-vol-3-part-10-bilan-dutch-left-and-transitio

Demogorgon
Neglect or Fundamental to Marx's vision

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

Marx saw scientific socialism as a break with the utopian plans and their artificial preconstructed visions. It was also part and parcel of his rejection of Hegel's conception of society evolving to a predetermined outcome determined by some ultimate ideal. Communism emerged as a result of the contradictions and movements of humanity's material conditions and social activity. More importantly, communism would be the product of the workers themselves and the movement they created, not that of intellectuals fantasising in isolation.

The need for a "plan" is indicative of a certain stage of in the development of consciousness: an awareness of the need to abolish capitalism but a fear of being somehow adrift without it. A working class that is unable to overcome this fear and set about the task of creating its own plans for a new society is not a class ready to take power.

Non ex hoc mundi
No transformation before cessation

Hello to the posters here! This article and thread caught my eye and finally led to my posting. Hope it’s OK to just ‘hop on in’ here. It’s my first time posting here.

I’d like to warn you now my opinions differ widely from those here and those of traditional left communism. I avoid labels like elections. But others perhaps might describe me as of the ‘post-left anarchist’ variety. I formerly identified quite strongly with left communism.

Please do not question my allegiances to the vision of a communist future, however. Even though I’d place my interpretation of communism outside the tradition of marxism and Communism altogether, I’m still very, very much hopeful for that future and the prospect of a classless, stateless society.

Before I proceed, I’d also just like to say it does not surprise me Zizek would sell his mother for movie tickets...obviously, in Part II of V, they elect Labour, Jeremy Corbyn becomes Emperor of the Free World, and everyone goes home. (Hah.)

So.

It’s hard to know how to begin to respond to this article. The amount of issues raised, their interconnectedness, as well as their complexity makes it truly difficult to approach the discussion – I will attempt to give it a shot anyway.

For clarity, it should be pointed out the title of the ICC book being mentioned here is ‘not a nice idea’, rather than ‘not just a nice idea’. As a long-time spectator and occasional browser of ICC literature, it was wondered if there is any Bolshevist pistol-brandishing inherently implied in the ‘not’ in the title there. I use Bolshevist pejoratively because, well, communism sounds just plain great to me, and in my opinion the Bolsheviks would go on to ruin what the ICC calls ‘the first great wave’ (and come back for second servings in Spain, 1937), but I can understand that this will be unwelcomed by some here. And I digress. (Happy to continue the discussion on Lenin and co. elsewhere if need-be.)

I’ll begin by saying: I suppose one is really on the wrong track when they begin any serious rigid planning. It can only lead to empty ritual and procedure.

It’s not our task to prepare, but rather to show patience and try to increase our own (individual/collective) understandings as fluidly and rapidly as possible. The more we cling to formulas, the less relevant and more alienated we become; strong and rigid – the kinds of qualities that might be said to actually be weakness. Because what is stronger than the grip of a newborn baby? Strength, hardness, and rigidity are much more symptomatic of things that are dead than growing.

When I pointed my browser to these discussion forums today, something that happens only a few times a year, I intended on registering and starting a topic on this very subject; we’ll call it fate I found no need for that as this one was already here!

That was all because of this Paul Mattick quote from pre-1983:

‘In Marxian theory, a period of social revolution ensues when the existing social relations of production become a hindrance to the utilization and further development of the social forces of production. It is by a change of the social relations of production that the hampered social powers of production find their release.’

Which, coincidentally is repeated by MH within the article in question:

‘In an abstract, a-historical sense, of course, capitalist social relations are always a fetter on the productive forces of humanity because wage labour and capital place artificial restrictions on their potential growth from the very start. But the real question is whether the material conditions for a new mode of production exist, since in the materialist conception of history, “new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society” (Preface). Only when these conditions exist does capitalism’s continued survival become a definitive fetter on the development of all the productive forces available to humanity.’

Which is itself sourced from the oft-quoted paragraph or two of Marx’s introduction to the Economic Manuscripts. It’s a foundational sentence or two for the ICC, and it’s ‘theory of decadence’.

And so we arrive at the first point of this article where I feel provoked enough to respond in direct opposition, and surely in the minority.

Firstly, in regards to the articles attempts to disown this theory, to claim it as non-unique, indistinct, and part of the Marxist standard, that is really not a fair or honest take of the temperature. Perhaps it is true in a sense this type of determinism (not using that pejoratively here) is indicative of marxism in a wider sense, but in terms of the ‘theory of decadence’ itself… A sober look at the ICC’s positions on these matters clearly reveals they are not above the confusion which results from all revolutionaries tackling these issues head on. To claim otherwise is plain arrogance and, I’m sorry to be the one to say it – the ICC needs to make itself as humble as possible over it’s theory, and it’s understandings (or lack thereof). The consensus about the originators and main advocates of ‘decadence theory’ from the rest of the milieu is very clear. It’s disingenuous to explicitly point to it in the writings of Marx, because no such thing is possible. I’ll further support my position on this a bit later.

It makes me very uncomfortable we are using scientific socialism and communism interchangeably. If you want to truly understand the ‘science’ of Fred Engels, and perhaps Marx, pick yourself up a copy of ‘Dialectics of Nature’. You will see how utterly malformed, Cartesian, Darwinian, etc. their ‘science’ was. It would have been perhaps nearly impossible to pick-up on back then, but we can say now for sure that science, the empiricism/positivism that comes with it, is all complete voodoo.

Science is the new God. In the beginning, there was science. It is the final arbiter of issues in our time.

Science, much like democracy, is like kryptonite to the worker, yet he cannot avoid it’s shimmery-green glow.

Science, like ‘economics’, is nothing more than holy scripture used by the bourgeoisie. It is agreed upon as ‘fair’ by ‘the common man’, in order to gain the moral rights to legislate over issues such as where to employ scarce productive resources which are then used to produce and distribute commodities. It is used for nothing more than assisting in the domination of capital. It has itself been totally dominated by capital. And you might respond that science helps produce things like medicine. Well please if you don’t mind point me in the direction of this free medicine because I, like us all, could direly use it. The point is it doesn’t exist. There is not higher mathematics or physics, it’s just another measly and sensual human attempt at describing something with language. Science is the most bourgeois of poetry. Kelly-Anne was right, science is opinion, nothing more. All facts are alternative facts. There is no ‘real science’, no ‘proletarian science’, just like there is no ‘proletarian democracy’ or culture. All human activity is right now enslaved by capital (Camatte).

MH does not even deny these operative measures in the ICC article, side-skirting the issue of truth being beyond provability (as Godel’s incompleteness theorem proved in the `30s) instead claiming:

‘This rather misses the point; from the beginning, scientific socialism, as the highest theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, consciously based itself on the discoveries and best insights of the bourgeoisie’s historians and philosophers. ‘

Yes, that’s exactly correct, indeed Marxism has based itself on bourgeois insight. But that isn’t a good thing. That much should be obvious. More on this later maybe.

Moving past the issue of science briefly: my second major criticism of the ICC’s theory of decadence is that all the hoopla and debate over this or that epoch – over periodization in general – is totally pointless. It may be true in some fractured sense that all class societies have been transitory. But this is nothing more than expert misdirection that even a magician would be proud of. The history of the past 12,000 yrs or so is almost irrelevant compared with the millions of years of communism of human/hominid society experienced before civilization. That’s right: millions of years of communism. But MH simply glosses over this and calls it ‘a-historical’.

MH writes that progress ‘is the extent to which the real movement of history makes possible the liberation of humanity; not economic growth or the development of technology in itself.’ But let me remind you there is no progress needed for communism. It’s part of our human essence. Progress was needed for patriarchy, private property, etc. Marx pointed this out and stated it was perhaps possible for the small peasants in Russia village communes (‘mirs’) to reach communism without proletarianization.

Again, going back to the rest of the Mattick quote, and shifting gears momentarily:

‘Their [productive forces] further expansion might, but need not, require a quantitative increase in the social powers of production. By ending the drive to “accumulate for the sake of accumulation” and with it the various restrictions due to this type of abstract wealth production, the available productive power of social labor is set free in a qualitatively different system of production geared to the rationally considered needs of society.’

The ICC, Mattick and Marx all talk about ‘development’. And the ICC have continued the tradition of using this Darwinian model.

This notion of linear causality is ‘self-cleansing’, especially in politics. Things are not set on a path because of some unknown cause that dictates their route from start to finish. All that exists is sustained noumenally, irregardless of sense or perception. ‘Ding an sich’ to use the German of Kant. In matters of consciousness, a quantifiable level of ‘awareness’, or ‘enlightenment’ is to be obtained. ‘Trade-union consciousness’ be damned! In evolution, ‘acclivity’; in politics, ‘reform’; in the history of civilization, ‘progress’. ‘The more hygienic the form, the greater its capacity for self-forming separation. The promethean narrative of causation is directed towards its escape from causation, and this is only conceivable within the framework of incrementalism, improvability and sanitation as assertion of the self-causing form.’

...’No individual, group or class escapes its containment by the life-world. No individual, group or class is sufficiently hygienic that it may look in from outside. No individual, group or class may speak or act against its world in complete confidence that it is not also replicating the values of that world at another velocity.’ (Dupont)

One of the central tenants of the situationists, whom I reference very much in awareness of the ICC’s misunderstanding of them, was that of ‘recuperation’, or the channeling of social revolt in a way that perpetuates the dynamic forces of capitalist social relations (Debord). In a nutshell, recuperation is an ingenious feedback system that turns every attack into an energy source with which to perfect itself. The ICC even has a semi-formed critique of activism – something it places itself above (hygenic and self-cleansing, attempting to ‘look in from without’), but still engages in.

‘Just as the bourgeoisie seeks to maintain its hold on power through competitive innovation (the arms race of all terms) so Marxism seeks the objective conservation of fitting historical mutations under changing environmental conditions. However, Marxism has no effective power over environmental processes in order to secure which mutations are conserved and which are not.’ (Dupont)

We can try, as the poster Hawkeye above me suggests, try to persuade every worker in the world that communism is a great idea. But no amount of persuasion will stop capital. If class struggle is a part and parcel of the dynamism of capitalist social relations, then implosion or ‘collapse’, rather than unity and planning, seems to be the only escape trajectory.

So, yes...we are faced with understanding as best as possible the situation at hand and making the best, most rigorous analysis possible, and spreading that as far as possible. As attempted by Mattick, Marx, etc. But this by no means, though, equals definite victory. Bordiga, for example, disagreed: “Communism is inevitable, it is as though it has already happened.”And even today, if I may say so, the Bordigists are really into planning.

In closing this post, I’d like to offer one more Mattick quote:

‘Thus far, [...] revolutionary actions have occurred only in connection with social catastrophe, such as were released by lost wars and the associated economic dislocations. This does not mean that such situations are an absolute pre-condition for revolution, but it indicates the extent of social disintegration that precedes revolutionary upheavals’.

In summary:

1. No amount of consciousness-augmentation will bring us any closer to communism.

2. The collapse of capitalism is not inevitable. I have no doubt that when faced with the choice of less profit, or no profit at all, the bourgeoisie will choose the former. Profit and growth rates can slow.

3. Marx pointed out ‘the conditions themselves’ will shout ‘Hic Rhodus, hic salta!’ rather than any theory of decadence. Trotsky said in his history of the Russian revolution, the ‘immediate causes of the events of a revolution are changes in the state of mind of the conflicting classes’, but this is pure bourgeois social democratic bullshit. As Voline, one of the co-founders of the first Soviet (ever) in the days leading up to 1905, later wrote in his Unknown Revolution, it is the deepening of the crises that leads to proletarian combativity and nothing more.

How was that for a first post? 2,300 words!

LBird
Marx and democracy

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
If you want to truly understand the ‘science’ of Fred Engels, and perhaps Marx, pick yourself up a copy of ‘Dialectics of Nature’.

There is a strand of Democratic Communist thought that argues that it was Engels, not Marx, who was responsible for this adulation of bourgeois 'science'.

Quote:
You will see how utterly malformed, Cartesian, Darwinian, etc. their ‘science’ was. It would have been perhaps nearly impossible to pick-up on back then, but we can say now for sure that science, the empiricism/positivism that comes with it, is all complete voodoo. Science is the new God. In the beginning, there was science. It is the final arbiter of issues in our time.

Again, this is bourgeois 'science', which Engels mistakenly turned to.

Quote:
Science, much like democracy, is like kryptonite to the worker, yet he cannot avoid it’s shimmery-green glow. Science, like ‘economics’, is nothing more than holy scripture used by the bourgeoisie. It is agreed upon as ‘fair’ by ‘the common man’, in order to gain the moral rights to legislate over issues such as where to employ scarce productive resources which are then used to produce and distribute commodities. It is used for nothing more than assisting in the domination of capital. It has itself been totally dominated by capital. And you might respond that science helps produce things like medicine. Well please if you don’t mind point me in the direction of this free medicine because I, like us all, could direly use it. The point is it doesn’t exist. There is not higher mathematics or physics, it’s just another measly and sensual human attempt at describing something with language. Science is the most bourgeois of poetry. Kelly-Anne was right, science is opinion, nothing more. All facts are alternative facts. There is no ‘real science’, no ‘proletarian science’, just like there is no ‘proletarian democracy’ or culture. All human activity is right now enslaved by capital (Camatte).

I think that you're over-estimating existing bourgeois science, and under-estimating the potential of proletarian, democratic 'science'.

Without proletarian democracy, Marx's theories are meaningless. The alternative is always a 'knowing elite', who workers are compelled to follow. That was Engels' great misunderstanding, that the bourgeoisie have a neutral, elite, special, access to 'matter'.

Marx argues that we socially produce our world, and so can change it. It's our nature, our universe.

Hawkeye
Responding to comment #5

Your quoting from Dupont - 'that no individual, group or class escapes its containment in the life world',prompts me to remember a Buddhist piece of advice for those in very difficult circumstances, that they should ask 'What is the next thing to be done ?"  I and others can spend a lot of time on theory, whilst surrounded by all the crises of the capitalist world. The terrible fire in the tower block in London made me ask just how many tower blocks are there in London and Moscow? In a nuclear war, presumably they would be reduced to radioactive rubble, shrouded by radioactive dust and clouds. Whereas older workers in London and Moscow know what war is like, how many ordinary people in those cities want war ? Who does imagine that war could be of any advantage to themselves ? - Obviously the capitalist arms manufacturers, who make billions, both from wars in progress and the alarmist rumour that yet more wars are likely and so need weapons in waiting. So, contained in today's world, which could be turned into a paradise if only we could get hold of it, we need to do something today and tomorrow to explain to people we meet just what is needed to keep us alive and maybe even happy. Then what ? As Lenin advised the youth groups - "Organise, agitate, study !". But now, without dismissing theories, do we need to overdo study ? Time runs out, it cannot be retrieved. Communism (or whatever it's going to be called)  won't just be somewhere else, but here.

 

MH
Reply to Non ex hoc mundi

Non ex hoc mundi (=not outside of this world?) I’ll call you Nehm from now on!

Given that the article is intended to show just how and why decadence is intrinsic to Marxism it is entirely logical that your post is essentially a critique of Marxism.

I won’t reply to all your points because I think the article actually deals with some of them at length, eg. the idea that Marxism is ‘determinist’ or views human human history as linear progress. And I'm going to leave your comments on science to one side because this topic has been well aired here!

Firstly, you argue that the collapse of capitalism is not inevitable. We argue that the collapse of capitalism is not possible. Unless it is consciously destroyed by the proletariat it will persist, albeit in an advanced state of decomposition, ie. barbarism.

You also argue that “no progress [is] needed for communism. It’s part of our human essence” and refer to “the millions of years of communism” that existed before civilisation.

Significantly Marx described this as primitive communism (based on the insights of the bourgeois anthropologist Morgan...) because the conditions for the unlimited growth of the productive forces did not yet exist. Only with capitalism is the possibility of a society based on abundance brought into existence. How can you have communism, which means the flowering of human individual's full potential, in conditions of scarcity? 

Perhaps most surprisingly, you argue that “no amount of consciousness-augmentation will bring us any closer to communism” and that it is the deepening of the crisis that leads to proletarian combativity.

So you accuse Marxism of ‘determinism’ - and then apparently deny that there is any need to develop class consciousness if we are to overthrow capitalism and create a communist society?

And if combativity alone is necessary why has the proletariat not already destroyed decadent capitalism, especially in the revolutionary wave at the end of WW1?

For us supposedly determinist Marxists the development of class consciousness is the absolutely crucial factor today.

How do you square this?

 

 

LBird
Class consciousness, not Engels' 'material'

MH wrote:

For us supposedly determinist Marxists the development of class consciousness is the absolutely crucial factor today.

[my bold]

I agree with you, MH, 100%.

Perhaps the only improvement that I'd make to your statement, is to replace 'today' with 'always'.

Not 'material conditions', nor 'party consciousness', but 'class consciousness'.

The 'absolutely crucial factor' is always 'class consciousness'.

Non ex hoc mundi
Marx opposed ideology.

That's essentially correct. Indeed, there's a wider, complete critique of marxism itself. As mentioned, I'd place myself outside the tradition of communism and marxism altogether.

That's also right about the collapse of capitalism. I do not see it as 'inevitable' in the very specific way of periodization the ICC has proposed. I'm not a supporter of the luxemburgist trope of the markets being done because of 'geographically' formal subsumption. And the whole 'barbarism' thing has a racist and many times specifically orientalist origin, the term is slanderous towards indigenous people, and many including myself find it offensive -- I hope this can be respected as Rome is not the center of world history from my perspective and there are plenty of synonyms aside from savagery, barbarism, etc. I think the real disagreement here is over the question of moral determinism but once again, I digress. Oddly enough, the term is something else that can be traced back to Luxemburg.

If the argument is capitalism cannot be destroyed unless by a proletarian revolution, I am in full agreement there. Although, I have sympathies with Camatte's view that it's not as much 'prole vs. bourgeois' as it is 'humans vs. capital', especially when 6 men own as much wealth as half the world (3 plus billion people) and we've almost completely destroyed Mother Earth.

So, can you please clarify the differences, in your views, between a capitalism that is 'decomposing' and/or 'decadent' against one that's 'collapsing' (i.e. ending)? Thanks!

MH asks: 'How can you have communism, which means the flowering of human individual's full potential, in conditions of scarcity? ' Foraging wild mushrooms and hunting wild game? It's a fair question which deserves not to be written off. For me, a person with serious but critical 'anti-civ' tendencies (sorry fellas, totally not a primmo, though) 'homeostatic equilibriums' such as those found in the wild are the fall-back model. Before human civilization, basically all species on Earth were meeting their full potential. Where was scarcity then? I certainly don't advocate or at all support endless consumption and surplus for the sake of plain accumulation. Sorry to be callous, but I'd rather keep the honey bees than the melon-fucking, 24/7, 'organic' supermarkets that sell 'asparagus water' for an hours wages.

Listen, MH, the determinism thing isn't really a problem in my view. I would consider myself an economic determinist. It's not about whether I think 'determinism' is 'wrong' or 'right'; it's more that marxism, like the science it bases itself on (which LBird calls 'bourgeois'), comes across as tautological, teleological. Some have called it a 'naive' determinism and criticized it for its adherence to (non-existent, imo) 'laws' of history which at times appear to rewrite history, compressing it into a shape that fits the narrative of a reeling, sinking capitalism being brought down by a wolfpack of crises -- economic, moral, political.

MH asks 'if combativity alone is necessary why has the proletariat not already destroyed decadent capitalism, especially in the revolutionary wave at the end of WW1?' Simply because conditions aren't bad enough yet. When Denver becomes like Damascus, we'll perhaps look back on this frame. Part of me, as does part of the soul of the ICC, believes WWI was just the beginning. Hopefully not. But jesus, how can one not see things like these wildfires in Portugal and be fearful?

It's not clear to me why it's surprising I've taken the position of conditions over consciousness? You'll have to expand a bit as to why so I'll know how to respond more acutely. There are marxists like Mattick who didn't buy the Marx-Engels-Kautsky-Trotsky consciousness line; today I'd classify it more as a Trotsky-Luxemburg-Kautsky-Engels thing. But I'm splitting hairs now, mostly.

I think that 'like a blind mole, tunneling through the dark' (an actual picture of which has been included in past ICC articles dealing with the question of consciousness), when things get bad enough, the workers will learn all that's needed in the blink of an eye and the system will come bowing down. Remember Poland, `80? Remember Egypt, 3 times in the past 6 years? Communist consciousness is not needed to bring about a total cessation of production. This much we know from very obvious and well-documented past historical revolutionary events. It's a two-stage thing. Cessation before transformation. First, the conditions reach a point where the proletariat could (and would) give capitalism its coup de grace (if the conditions are truly present only). Then, a revolutionary consciousness will have to develop after this moment, in order to prevent any authoritarians from imposing any 'semi-states' and the like, or even telling anyone else what to do, even in the slightest degree. A child should not even be subject to the lectures and demands of their own parents. Nothing can be forcefully 'communized' -- at least not successfully.

Again, I'm reminded here of words that are not my own:

'Communism: Not a belief; not a commitment; not a discipline. Only a reference to what caused me to arrive at this point a decade and a half ago. My source material is the unravelling contradictions expressed by the ultra-left in the decades from the 1950's to the 1990's. These contradictions continue to frame the self-conditioning, or subjective, component of my awareness. Communism now appears precisely as the practical and imperative refusal of every communist proposal: Not the party (neither formal nor historic); Not the class itself; Not historical materiality; Not the real movement; Not the dialectic; Not voluntarist measures taken; Not determinism; Not what is to be done; Not fully automated luxury communism; Not solidarity; Not class struggle; Not dictatorship of the proletariat; Not transitional stages; Not one no many yeses; Not value critique; Not autonomy; Not accelerating the means of production; Not communising measures; Not primitivism; Not human community; Not the network; Not the reading group; Not the brotherhood or secret society; Above all, not marxism.'

That's just my take on it.

Demogorgon
Confused

"Simply because conditions aren't bad enough yet. When Denver becomes like Damascus, we'll perhaps look back on this frame. Part of me, as does part of the soul of the ICC, believes WWI was just the beginning. Hopefully not. But jesus, how can one not see things like these wildfires in Portugal and be fearful?"

"I think that 'like a blind mole, tunneling through the dark' (an actual picture of which has been included in past ICC articles dealing with the question of consciousness), when things get bad enough, the workers will learn all that's needed in the blink of an eye and the system will come bowing down. Remember Poland, `80? Remember Egypt, 3 times in the past 6 years? Communist consciousness is not needed to bring about a total cessation of production. This much we know from very obvious and well-documented past historical revolutionary events. It's a two-stage thing. Cessation before transformation. First, the conditions reach a point where the proletariat could (and would) give capitalism its coup de grace (if the conditions are truly present only). Then, a revolutionary consciousness will have to develop after this moment, in order to prevent any authoritarians from imposing any 'semi-states' and the like, or even telling anyone else what to do, even in the slightest degree. A child should not even be subject to the lectures and demands of their own parents. Nothing can be forcefully 'communized' -- at least not successfully."

I'm confused by these passages.

On the one hand you say conditions are necessary to impulse the working class to seize power (or "cease production", using your words). Yet you don't offer any explanation as to why things will get worse. Why can't they get better? Why are they going to get worse? Why is WW1 just the beginning? And the beginning of what?

Secondly, you say that you hope you're wrong about WW1 being the beginning and you're fearful of what things like the Portugese forest fires mean. But aren't these sorts of things the very factor that, in your schema, might drive the working class forward?

You mention the Polish mass strike in the 80s and the movement in Egypt more recently as examples of how the revolution can proceed without consciousness. Yet, this raises the question as why workers in those circumstances launched those movements and yet did not do so at other times. Things got much, much worse in Poland (and the whole Eastern bloc) after the defeat of the strikes in the 1980s. Why did class struggle begin to recede following this?

Then there's this: "Listen, MH, the determinism thing isn't really a problem in my view. I would consider myself an economic determinist. It's not about whether I think 'determinism' is 'wrong' or 'right'; it's more that marxism, like the science it bases itself on (which LBird calls 'bourgeois'), comes across as tautological, teleological. Some have called it a 'naive' determinism and criticized it for its adherence to (non-existent, imo) 'laws' of history which at times appear to rewrite history, compressing it into a shape that fits the narrative of a reeling, sinking capitalism being brought down by a wolfpack of crises -- economic, moral, political."

You say you're an economic determinist and then, without missing even a beat, launch a critique about how Marxism is teleological, mistakenly talks about "laws of history", and the idea that crises will bring down capitalism. This is an exact description of economic determinism! How does your determination differ from what you think Marx's is? How is it "naive"?

As for the point about crises, if these are not the factors that will compel the working class to overthrow capitalism, the "bad conditions" you seem to think are necessary then what bad conditions do you mean? And why will they happen?

Non ex hoc mundi
Response to Demogorgon

I was hoping my questions regarding my confusions on ICC positions would be answered before new ones had been raised.

I don't see much 'confusion' in this summary. I really hope we can keep this discussion in good and genuine faith. In that spirit:

① I said nothing of the 'seizure of power'. No, not at all. So let me be very clear: I absolutely and outrightly reject this underlying notion of Leninist coup d'etats, among other things which have already been listed at the end of post #10.

② I think things can get 'better' in the sense that a 'kinder' seeming capitalism could appear, one which wouldn't abuse work and nature to the degree where it runs itself into the ground. Likely? Maybe not. But it's not impossible. Has the ICC seriously not noticed that a large portion of the global ruling class has adopted the ICC's rhetoric on 'decadence'? It's probably part of the official Labour party platform at this point; everything is in disarray and of course that's why we need green energy, better social services, etc.

③ I see no reason that one cannot maintain the view that political 'economics' are the driving force of civilization, as opposed to the view the ICC holds which points to history itself and it's 'laws' as that driving force (i.e. historical determinism).

④ Demogorgon asks: But aren't these sorts of things the very factor that, in your schema, might drive the working class forward?' Yes, that's correct.

⑤ Demogorgon writes:You say you're an economic determinist and then, without missing even a beat, launch a critique about how Marxism is teleological, mistakenly talks about "laws of history", and the idea that crises will bring down capitalism. This is an exact description of economic determinism! How does your determination differ from what you think Marx's is? How is it "naive"? Again, are we conflating historical materialism/determinism with the economic kind here?

Lastly, I just wanted to reiterate my main question from before Demogorgon's latest response: Can you please clarify the differences, in your views, between a capitalism that is 'decomposing' and/or 'decadent' against one that's 'collapsing' (i.e. ending)? Thanks!

Demogorgon
I don't see much

"I don't see much 'confusion' in this summary. I really hope we can keep this discussion in good and genuine faith."

Our own positions seem crystal clear to ourselves, but it's not always the case for other people. I'm having difficulty following your line of argument or what the actual disgreements are. Hence, my questions.

To respond to your points.

1) I didn't say anything about a "Leninist coup d'etat". I mentioned a seizure of power, because that was implied in your post. To be clear, I was working on the assumption that we were both talking about the working class seizing power from the bourgeoisie, not a party.

2) Okay. So you think capitalism can, albeit with difficulty, can be transformed into a kinder version of itself. That answers one of my questions. But it then raises another. If this is possible, why shouldn't the working class throw itself into reformist struggles to improve its lot and clear capitalism to a better, safer path?

I'm not sure of the relevance of your second point here about the ruling class apparently sharing a conception of decadence. I don't think they have any conception at all concerning capitalism, although some factions have views about the future of neoliberalism. Even if they did, I'm not sure whether that has much bearing on whether decadence is a real phenomena or not.

3) In what way does the ICC suggest "history itself" has laws, as distinct from the economic foundations of society?

4) Okay, so why are they to be feared? Obviously, if I see a forest fire I'm going to run very fast the other way, but from a historic point of view surely these things, in your schema, will push things in the right direction.

5) My motivation here is to try and understand your distinction between historical and economic determinism.

On your questions, very briefly.

Decadence: society has reached a tipping point where future development comes at a price of increasing social, economic, and political convulsions which threaten the development and possibly the survival of society. There is wide disparity of opinion on the precise causes of this tipping point within the communist left and, to a lesser extent, within the ICC itself.

Decomposition: A very particular set of circumstances that arose from the inability of both the bourgeoisie and proletariat to fully defeat the other. The bourgeoisie is unable to fully impose the necessary restructuring of capital to restart its economy; the proletariat is unable to launch any more than a defensive struggle and is demoralised by its successive defeats. Unable to act decisively, the bourgeoisie fragments and the economic and political apparatus more and more escapes its conscious control, leading to the break-up of capitalist society while the proletariat has a tendency to remain passive. Decomposition is one of several possible outcomes for decadence and, at the moment, is the dominant trend.

Non ex hoc mundi
Second Reply to Demogorgon

① Ah, ok, I understand where you are coming from a bit better now, Demogorgon. But there is still heavy disagreement on this point. You would like to see workers 'seize' power -- I'd like to see them abolish it.

I see the workers 'seizing' control over production in order to bring it to a total standstill or a carefully 'induced coma' as others have called it. But after this, any clingings-on to power would be a serious threat to the chance of the second stage of this revolution: social revolution establishing communist social relations.

The dystopian novel The Foundation Pit written by Andrei Platanov, 'a Soviet Russian writer, playwright, and poet, whose works anticipate existentialism' (Wiki) and finished in 1930, but only published in 1987, is a precise picture of what would happen if the ICC and other organizations like it (any organization) facilitated some 'seizure of power'.

② Yes. The working class absolutely should throw itself into reformist struggles -- not to improve capitalism -- but selfishly, to improve the conditions of their own lives. I suspect they will fail, however.

Their have been succesful offensive struggles since the late `80s, in many places. Albeit, they weren't 'generalized' across the whole class, but through every indication I've seen, 'generalized conditions' themselves have improved greatly since WWII or so. A 'progressive development of productive forces' to use ICC lingo, although I would hope I already made clear enough my criticisms of these Darwinian concepts i.e. progress and development as to not further confuse.

③ Through it's pointless and inaccurate attempts to periodize capitalism.

④ Because we don't want to die in a fiery capitalist holocaust? I mean...what...not sure where to go with this.

Once again, I feel you are projecting your positions onto me. My schema has very little to do with catalysts 'pushing' anyone or thing 'in the right direction'. You can't get past this promethean Darwinism, huh?

⑤ Oh, that's easy, I pretty much reject historical materialism outright. See promethean Darwinism.

⑥ So...decadence and decompostion are different from 'ending'? How so?

Demogorgon
Still confused

Might as well stick with the number format:

1) I think responding here will throw the discussion about decadence off-track.

2) This seems contradictory to me. First, you say the working class should struggle for reforms. They you say it will likely fail. Then you give examples of how recent "offensive" struggles have succeeded. How have they succeeded? They certainly didn't bring about a revolution - capitalism is still here - so the only other success I can imagine is some sort of reformist one. You don't specify exactly what reforms were won, but if these struggles have succeeded in bringing about reforms, why do you think future reformist struggles will "likely fail"? What has changed?

With regard to improvement in 'generalized conditions', there's a difference between an improvement in living conditions related to improvements in the technological base (e.g. more households having access to electricity) and ones related to the social relationships of capitalism.

Our position is not that productive forces cannot improve, but that these productive forces cannot reach their full potential under capitalism and that these improvements destabilise capitalist social relationships. (Or, to put it in Marx-speak: the secular rise in organic composition of capital, lowers the general rate of profit and pushes the contradiction between production and consumption to breaking point, thus making capitalism more vulnerable to crisis.)

3) Why is it pointless to periodize capitalism? How is it innaccurate? What specific "laws of history" do you impute to us, and how are they different from what you see as "economic determinism" which you say you agree with?

4) I was under the impression you didn't think capitalism would collapse of its own accord. Your words: "If the argument is capitalism cannot be destroyed unless by a proletarian revolution, I am in full agreement there." Forests may burn, but the larger society will carry on as before. So there is no reason to fear forest fires, or wars, or anything else really, at least not from a historic point of view. By that, I mean these things won't bring an end to the current civilisation even if they cause untold misery and suffering for those caught up in them. They are not existentialist crises for society as a whole.

You say your "schema has very little to do with catalysts 'pushing' anyone or thing 'in the right direction'." But earlier you say the reason why the working class has made a revolution yet is "Simply because conditions aren't bad enough yet." Doesn't this mean if conditions do get that bad, that will drive a revolution? Aren't these two statements contradictory?

5) It's quite clear you reject historical materialism. What I'm trying to understand is your specific distinction between historical materialism and economic determinism.

6) What's the difference between a cancer patient and a dead body? What's the difference between a pregnancy and a birth? Decadence, decomposition, etc. are processes, the culmination of which is the end of capitalism. That end may be one of several possibilities: communist revolution; global (thermonuclear?) war; slow disintegration of society (i.e. decomposition). There is, no doubt, any number of specific possibilities within those broad possibilities, of course.

jk1921
AMP

Demogorgon wrote:

6) What's the difference between a cancer patient and a dead body? What's the difference between a pregnancy and a birth? Decadence, decomposition, etc. are processes, the culmination of which is the end of capitalism. That end may be one of several possibilities: communist revolution; global (thermonuclear?) war; slow disintegration of society (i.e. decomposition). There is, no doubt, any number of specific possibilities within those broad possibilities, of course.

Not to muddy the waters (about to muddy the waters)--how about a societal transformation away from captialist/proletarian relations of exploitation towards a kind of hybrid society where wage labor is more and more redundant and/or supplemented with things like debt servitude, direct transfers from the state, etc., uh, not sure where I am going here--but perhaps the world starts to look more and more like the Asiatic Mode of Production and less purely capitalist. Is this compatible with capitalism in decomposition or does the tendency for the generalization of wage labor persist?

 

Non ex hoc mundi
The Essential Proletariat & Two-stage Revolution

Quote:
[G]ive examples of how recent "offensive" struggles have succeeded. How have they succeeded?

I'm not gonna waste my time doing this because there are way too many specific examples to provide. In some cases workers win back pay, or a union, a raise, healthcare, retirement benefits, stop a co-worker from being fired, stopping someone being deported on the job, stopping unfair labor practices, stopping on the job harrasement, minimum wage hikes...the list goes on and on and on!

The problem is not a lack of quantity or quality in terms of workers acting in their own interest, neither is it due to any lack of 'unity'. The problem is something that Marx became aware of after the failure of the 1848 uprisings. He expected a quick victory via a 'battle for democracy'. He was wrong. Way wrong! More than a hundred years later, the situationists would write much on the topic of 'recuperation' -- the channeling of social revolt in a way that perpetuates capitalism. Their solution: we can 'no longer combat alienation with alienated means.' But it is impossible to escape the alienation of this society without first ending capitalist production forever.

Because of the way 'change' actually happens in the totally produced and representational world we call 'reality', everything ends up as 'reformist' -- it all boomerangs back in favor of capital and then creates new market opportunities and/or new ways of exploiting people.

I'm reminded of a quote of Feuerbach:

“But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence, . . . truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be seen as the highest degree of sacredness.”

Or to return to the language of the SI, 'Everything that was directly lived has receded into representation.'

Quote:
Why do you think future reformist struggles will "likely fail"? What has changed?

Tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Credit. Fictitious capital. Non-living labor. Overproduction. The lack of aggregate demand. Automation. Unemployment. Growing population. We've killed Nature and totally destroyed the biosphere.

Quote:
With regard to improvement in 'generalized conditions', there's a difference between an improvement in living conditions related to improvements in the technological base (e.g. more households having access to electricity) and ones related to the social relationships of capitalism.

Not sure the point of highlighting this distinction. Are you suggesting improvements in the tech base don't have a corallary effect on social relationships? C'mon...think about things like 'social' media...the Internet in general. Don't understand this.

Re: "full potential". Who cares about full potential? I care about sustainability. 'Homeostatic equilibrium'.

Quote:
Doesn't this mean if conditions do get that bad, that will drive a revolution? Aren't these two statements contradictory?

Yes. And no, not contradictory at all.

Quote:

At this point, there is some recourse to some conception of 'crisis theory' ...If class war is the dynamic force of capitalist relations, and every engagement renews those relations, then 'collapse' rather than strategy would appear to constitute the most likely form of release. It follows that, any potential collapse of a net-form set of relations would depend upon the corruption or depletion of an essential component or resource.

The most unstable factor of production is 'labour'. Not only does labour have 'objective and 'subjective' features, it is component, raw material and end product of the productive apparatus (that is, it appears as several inputs at once). Even so, labour in revolt remains capable only of replicating 'labour' and 'production for need' as the basis of its counter-lifeworld...[We] proposed that as a factor of the capitalist relation in crisis 'there will be workers' councils'. And yet, the function of 'workers' councils' defines the concept of crisis management - historically, soviets have succeeded only in maintaining the production of use-values during crisis. When the economy is refinanced and passes out of spasm, the workers' councils fade away in the glare of business as usual.

For reason of the homing instinct in revolutionaries, as they seek unprecendented rationalisations for returning to familiar forms (the revolutionary secret police; the revolutionary state bureaucrats; the revolutionary managers of production), a revolt against the form of the revolution becomes the necessary condition of escape. If the first phase of social revolution is the seizure of the produced world by one of its essential components, then the second phase involves not permitting that component its return to familiar conditions.

[Our idea] conjectures that the first phase of revolution, if it is implemented by labour, will involve a relatively small number of workers (what it calls, 'the essential proletariat'). As production passes therapeutically into an induced coma, the second phase must then be commenced - this will be undertaken 'consciously' on a 'species' scale (perhaps the only moment in all of history where consciousness, or its absence, will prove decisive one way or the other). The 'species' revolt will be directed against the possibility of a return to production as life-world. The first phase of revolt is conditioned environmentally by productive relations and realises the ideal form of production. The second phase is 'over-conditioned' by multiple crisis forms and thereby wins at least the possibility of selecting its environmental conditions - that is to say, it wins the chance to become its environment.

I think that 'decadence theory' is the flagship result of the ICC's ideological explorations since the late `70s. But the backside of that coin, something the ICC appears much less eager to debate about, is this notion of the 'subterranean development of consciousness'. This theory is the closet where all the one-off puzzle pieces and other odds and ends that don't fit into decadence theory end up. It is the 'higgs boson' or the 'dark matter' of the theoretical underpinnings of the ICC, and 'decadence theory' specifically.

The worsening of material conditions is why the Russian revolution happened (aside from the nationalist socialist German state allowing Lenin safe passage back to Russia in early 1917 and backing the Bolsheviks to help further German war efforts and imperialist ambitions).

The Soviets arose in 1905 as a direct reaction and response to economic 'privations'. They were resurrected again in the 1917 revolution completely inorganically.

The worsening of conditions only opens the possibility for for the cessation of production; for seizing the means of production; for transformation. But this whole chicken vs. egg thing gets old and boring. 'The revolution', or the move to seize the means of production in order to halt capitalist production -- it's success relies on a relatively small portion of the global working class which myself and others refer to as the 'essential proletariat'.

Quote:

Why [do we] identify an 'essential proletariat'?

A hypothesis does not seek its own realisation but only the means to escape the internalised constraints of bad procedures. The decisive move in the formulation of a hypothesis, as with any art, is the formal exclusion of extraneous content. There is much to be said on the 'essential proletariat' but much of that is also extraneous.

The plausibility of the 'essential proletariat' is less an issue...than is the ongoing attachment to conventional mechanisms for social transformation amongst those refusing the present state of things. Why should those desiring social transformation locate the engine of transformation within the processes of that which they oppose?

The 'essential proletariat' is hardly a hypothesis at all and is closer in form to a gambit. The purpose of the gambit option is to enforce radically other terms where the same pieces remain in the game.

...

The 'essential proletariat' hypothesis is framed in terms of cessation not transformation. It proposes that there can by no transformation until there is cessation. It evaluates the predominant hypothesis of system immanent transformation as a paradox: those alterations accumulated within an outline are functions of the reproduction of the same, not of change. That which is left behind may not also be carried forward (the major theorem of historical materialism). Marxism's theses on historical accumulation overlay the general propositions of evolution by natural selection, which in turn reflect bourgeois categories of expanding dominion.

Just as the bourgeoisie seeks to maintain its hold on power through competitive innovation (the arms race of all terms) so Marxism seeks the objective conservation of fitting historical mutations under changing environmental conditions. However, Marxism has no effective power over environmental processes in order to secure which mutations are conserved and which are not.

With 'the essential proletariat', [we abandon] the 'science' of history, and thus detaches itself from the ideology of realism... it has no interest in expropriating the existing apparatus and bending it to a better purpose where it conjectures that any designated better purpose is already expropriated by the apparatus, being one of its dream-products. That is to say, the 'essential proletariat' is a calculated gambit - a hypothesis made in bad faith.

[We attempt] to discover the most unlikely or outlandish outcome, a species-wide 'human community' given the containment of life-world processes, and thus human consciousness within the iron cage of production pour production. Every other theory of communism relies upon a pre-existing 'real movement' of humanisation which insists that the human species is really something more, or even something else, than it actually is. Every other theory of social transformation presumes to asset an ideal human substance against historical form: a general will; a general desire; a general activity; a general capacity for world changing consciousness. [We seek] to establish a theory of change for the better which also incorporates the sickness, the perversity, the vacillating pusillanimity of human beings. It begins not with their good but with men's capacity for evil. Above all, it strives not to express itself in conformity with that guillotine-happy, misanthropic 'love' of the People which drives so-called revolutionaries. It arrives at the theory of 'essential proletariat' as a structural defence, a sort of failsafe protection, against the traitorous villainy which has thus far constituted the 'revolutionary' activity of the communists.

The argument for the 'essential proletariat' must combine several propositions: 1. The world is literally a produced world; 2. Conscious efforts at redesigning the world end up, by way of unintended consequence, reproducing it as the same; 3. Every agency equally expresses the conditions of which it is a function; 4. Conscious agreement within populations on the precise values of in-group interest is delusory and unsustainable within an environment that generates perpetual differentiation as markets; 5. The question of transformation may only appear where the homeostatic equilibrium of environmental processes is punctuated.

Strategists for state power (and there are no other kind) calculate that any given modern population is always 3 days from 'anarchy' where life-world processes are suspended. In other words, under emergency conditions where the productive process has passed into a sate of interregnum, the subject population becomes radically divorced from what it was when constrained by productive relations. It is only under conditions of radical alienation from its host environment that an entity's exaptations come into play. And it is only through relations established via exaptations that an other environment may be adapted to and moulded into new forms.

If the world is a produced world, then the cessation of production, rather than its transformation, is the only immediate alternative given that the revolutionising of the means of production is precisely the mechanism by which the same relations of production are maintained. If production of the produced world must be interrupted before any project of emancipation becomes realisable, then it is necessary to identify the most energy efficient and simplest means of effecting the interruption. If interruption of production and not transformation itself is the basis of any project of transformation, then the interruption must not itself behave as a function of reproduction (as for example, aberrant but contained behaviours such as war, capital flight, terrorism, natural disaster, popular unrest, leftist insurgency and so on).

If the employment of labour power is an essential component of production (appearing both as production's general principle and as a function within the realising process), then any interruption of its contribution is translated into an interruption of the apparatus as a whole.

If, for reasons of perpetual divergences in consciousness, and thus for reason of the elimination of the possibility of conscious practical activity, a general strike is out of the question, then the question of an interruption of the labour process is inseperable from the identification of that concrete labour, and those workers, essential to the ongoing production of the world. Or to put it another way, the essential proletariat is not a formation of 'the masses' but is that fleshy component of production which, by implementing a refusal of work, immediately interrupts the entire system.

The 'essential proletariat' is the most capitalised, and most integrated, fraction of the workforce. It is the fraction that is least likely to act against its conditions and yet, because its numbers are so small whilst its capacities for disruption of the 'whole' so great, the 'essential proletariat' gambit still seems a more likely circuit breaker than some potential mass movement.

Given, the higher chance of aberrant outcomes amongst smaller populations, it is to be hoped, as the proletariat is progressively essentialised by accumulating forces of production, that it will eventually be reduced to a single worker, whose work consists of pressing one essential button, and who is as subject to capricious whims as any other bored prince, wearied by the collective fate of unknown millions.

mhou
Quote:I think that 'like a

Quote:
I think that 'like a blind mole, tunneling through the dark' (an actual picture of which has been included in past ICC articles dealing with the question of consciousness)

The article in question ('Notes on the Subterranean Maturation of Consciousness') isn't an official ICC text and shouldn't be viewed as such. There is a comment about that above where the article starts, but I just want to reiterate that point. It was just a contribution to discussion on SMC by a non-member (me). Your last reply has a criticism of SMC, so I thought this would be a good time to say as much.

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: Post #18, and more

Ok, I see that...so, is it incorrect to view the theory itself as an 'official theory' of the ICC?

Just a few more words on the topic while I'm here:

The 'laws of history' I mentioned before are really not unique to the ICC. It goes back to the notion of progress, development, improvement, etc. As Hegel said, despite all the bumps and 'detours', history is viewed by some linearly-- still moving in the 'right direction'. Hegel thought he had identified 'the end of the line' of history, so did Marx, and now so has the ICC.

The ICC's need for a 'theory' of decadence is partly a result of the question (and it's crises over it, which has been taken up in its press since the late `80s) of organization. In order to do everything to refute the image others paint of the ICC, that off a 'sect' or 'clique', the ICC must base it's thinking in something supposedly universal and indisputable: bourgeois empiricism.

Trump uses science to refute the realities of climate change; so does the ICC use science to refute the stark realities of the modern class struggle.

But science cannot prove one thing or another. It can only disprove. All scientific thought and learning depends on this notion-- that at some point it might be shown to be wrong. Apparently, the 'theory of decedence' is above this phenomenon? I think not. Therefore, in order to appear confident, relevant and non-sectarian, the ICC bases it's idealism in science.

Not everything is looked at. Things that don't fit the big picture are disregarded. The determinism of the ICC is naive because it ignores things that do not fit-in with it's theories.

LBird
'Science', once again

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
But science cannot prove one thing or another. It can only disprove. All scientific thought and learning depends on this notion-- that at some point it might be shown to be wrong. Apparently, the 'theory of decedence' is above this phenomenon? I think not. Therefore, in order to appear confident, relevant and non-sectarian, the ICC bases it's idealism in science. Not everything is looked at. Things that don't fit the big picture are disregarded. The determinism of the ICC is naive because it ignores things that do not fit-in with it's theories.

The problem with your formulation, Nehm, is that you have a notion of 'science' which is asocial, ahistorical, and outside the class struggle. In fact, modern 'science' is a product of the bourgeoisie.

As a political tool, 'science'  can both 'prove' and 'disprove' whatever its adherents wish to achieve with 'their science'. It's a bourgeois myth that they have a neutral, disinterested, elite method which tells them 'The Truth' (or, at least, it can 'objectively determine' non-truth, as you seem to be saying, above).

Any human science worth its name will be democratic, and I'm prepared to call this 'proletarian science', to differentiate this human social activity from constrasting human social activity like 'bourgeois science', which has both a history (we can date in from c. 1660) and a social basis (it fits with the power claims of the minority bourgeoisie). Science is always a method of social theory and practice.

In effect, 'truth' or 'fiction', 'proof' or 'disproof', 'fact' or 'value', are all human, social, creations. So, these, within a proletarian, democratic, science, would all be voted upon. That is, 'truth' will be elected within Communism, because  any 'truth' can only be a 'truth' that serves our collective needs, interests and purposes, and not 'The Truth' that serves those of a minority of an exploiting, ruling class.

The ICC is not wrong to use 'science', but it has to be clear about just what its 'science' actually is.

mhou
Quote:Ok, I see that...so, is

Quote:
Ok, I see that...so, is it incorrect to view the theory itself as an 'official theory' of the ICC?

Not at all. Just that that particular article should be viewed more like a long forum post here rather than a kind of organizational statement on the subject (unlike the other texts on SMC). That's all.

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: Post #20

Science literally cannot prove anything.

This problem is widely acknowledged by bourgeois and 'proletarian' scientists alike. It's called the problem of 'underdetermination' in philosophy of science.

All we can do to obtain evidence is to observe trends and patterns. But unless you've examined the entire universe on every level, across all of time and space, you can never say beyond doubt that something has been 'proven'.

For example, complete the following pattern:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, X

You might say, 'Look at all this evidence. I have 23 pieces of evidence. The next number will clearly be "24"'.

But here's the thing: it's not. As it turns out, I'm counting numbers on a digital clock, and the next number in the sequence is '0'.

The only thing one has to do to show a particular conclusion is underdetermined is provide a rival conclusion which is equally supported by a given body of evidence.

LBird
'Evidence' doesn't escape democracy

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
Science literally cannot prove anything. This problem is widely acknowledged by bourgeois and 'proletarian' scientists alike. It's called the problem of 'underdetermination' in philosophy of science. All we can do to obtain evidence is to observe trends and patterns. But unless you've examined the entire universe on every level, across all of time and space, you can never say beyond doubt that something has been 'proven'.
[my bold]

This is a political misunderstanding by you, I think, Nehm.

For 'proletarian scientists' (who argue, like Marx, that we socially produce 'our world'), 'proof' is determined by a vote.

So, 'proof' (like 'truth'), is something produced by social theory and practice, and if that social activity produces a product that meets our social needs, interests, and purposes, then it is 'proof' of its 'truth'. Of course, 'meets' can only be democratically determined.

Bourgeois science, on the other hand, pretends that 'objectivity', 'truth', 'proof', etc., are all 'out there', simply waiting to be 'passively discovered', by an elite of 'scientists with special consciousness', who are 'politically disinterested', and have a 'neutral method'.

Plus, what counts as 'evidence' is itself a social selection, and so must be also determined by the democracy of the social producers.

This 'democratic science' is what is meant by 'proletarian science'. It's completely politically different from 'bourgeois science'.

'Proof' is thus elected.

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: LBird & science

Useful science can only disconfirm. Psuedoscience confirms.

LBird
Whose 'science', if not workers' science?

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
Useful science can only disconfirm. Psuedoscience confirms.

Only humans can 'confirm' and 'disconfirm', Nehm.

There are not 'rocks out there' who speak to bourgeois 'scientists', and tell the 'objective scientist' whether to 'confirm' or 'disconfirm'.

Once again, I suspect that you're ignoring the social power of 'science'. It's a social activity, not a politically neutral method, as the bourgeoisie allege.

Oh yeah, and only humans can confirm or disconfirm whether any science is 'useful science' or not. 'Useful' is a social judgement.

Whilst we're at it, only humans can determine whether any science is 'pseudoscience' or not.

To sum up, your post seems to be an ideological attempt to persuade workers that they should trust bourgeois scientists, who, as an elite minority, will determine all these issues, rather than the workers themselves.

You should declare your allegiance openly - 'workers' or 'science'?

I'm on the side of 'workers', Nehm.

baboon
Another thread diverted and

Another thread diverted and derailed by L. Bird.

We have no idea if dinasours existed; we understand nothing about the fundamental properties of clay; the descent of humanity is a complete mystery that will only be solved by a future vote of the working class some time possibly in the distant future and, within this reactionary drivel posing as "discussion", science and Frederick Engels are the spawn of the devil.

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: Post #19

Me and my mates just took a vote: Dinosaurs did in fact exist.

Sorry, Baboon.

Any ICCers want to take up the points I've raised regarding the original topic of the thread, that is, the ICC's theory of decadence? Thanks and all the best.

LBird
baboon's support for elitist 'science' and 'fundamentalism'

baboon wrote:

Another thread diverted and derailed by L. Bird.

We have no idea if dinasours existed; we understand nothing about the fundamental properties of clay; the descent of humanity is a complete mystery that will only be solved by a future vote of the working class some time possibly in the distant future and, within this reactionary drivel posing as "discussion", science and Frederick Engels are the spawn of the devil.

Why do you have to always comment about something which you clearly know nothing about, and also personally insult me?

If you're opposed to proletarian control of social production, and want the power of science to remain in bourgeois hands, why not just say so, clearly, so workers reading this will know your true, elitist, politics?

Nehm was making points with which I disagreed, we've discussed it, and it's all been quite comradely. Then baboon has to enter the fray, to defend bourgeois science, as usual. If you've not got anything critically constructive to say, just keep your personal abuse to yourself.

KT
Humble....

I share Baboon’s frustration.

Comrades of the ICC and their supporters have patiently debated and argued with L Bird’s only contribution to these boards which has been on the subject of the nature of science.

Rocks – and indeed bones – do indeed speak to man. They are part of nature. Nature is man’s inorganic body, as Marx wrote.

Rocks and bones – and human interaction with them - is how Nehm is so confident that there were dinosaurs, although he denies the ‘science’ that ‘proves’ this.

Dinosaurs used to exist. Regrettably they don’t any more.

These ‘scientifcally proven truths’ imply time, measurement, human judgement - oral and written skills. In short, development. Which implies periodisation. Often, these developments are marked by various ‘sciences’ which are then modified by further discoveries and developments.

This is called method.

Humankind used it to map the stars, the blossoming of fruits and berries, the turning of tides, long before class society. It was essential to the survival and development of the species.

Nehm doesn’t like development. Or rather he confuses development with progress and the teleogical vision which is what he accuses Marxism, Dawinism and everything else under the sun of adopting.

Without development, a child does not become an adult. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Is this progress or decline? We’ll leave Nehm to worry about such issues. Are certain attributes lost in this process of ‘growing up’? Certainly. Are certain attributes gained during this development? Undoubtedly. Marxism has always recognised the forward movement isn’t necessarily progress, that ‘history’ is a dialectical process in which humankind has lost as well as gained, and that the elements which we have lost, from which we have become divorced, our inorganic body for one, must be returned to ‘at a higher level’.

Nehm wants us to debate with him. Humbly. He rubbishes Marxism, then wants to lecture us on which Marxists are better than others. He reserves special disdain for Lenin – and chimes in with the ruling class’s current campaign on the evils of the 1917 revolution in Russia. He wrongly attributes to Luxemburg the term Barbarism, in the process mistaking it for a moral, pejorative term when in fact Marxism has used it as a short-hand for a particular stage of human organisation – and one, moreover, that if we were to return to today, would promote the rapid starvation of the earth’s population.

Nehm dislikes ‘old and boring’ Marxism but brings nothing new to the table. His substitutionist, reactionary notion of an ‘essential proletariat’ (a solitary proletarian, eventually, apparently!) is presented as the product of collective discussion amongst a few friends. But who are these friends? From which publications do the long, unattributed quotes come? Why so shy? Communist don’t hide their aims or themselves.

These unattributed ‘theses’ say that nothing can come from nothing: that alienated capitalist production can and has only produced an alienated, failed revolution. These unattributed ‘theses’ are not new. They were and are the product of petty bourgeois impatience with the proletariat and a nihilistic desperation which inevitably follows. It’s not an accident that the writer drops the name of Camatte into the dialogue. Permit an attiributed quote:

“The trajectory of Jacques Camatte and the review Invariance provide the clearest illustration of modernism's underlying approach. Camatte broke from the Bordigist PCI in the 60s, having discovered that Bordigism was not the only expression of the historical communist left. But very rapidly Camatte developed profound doubts in the revolutionary potential of the working class, increasingly defining it as no more than a cog in the capitalist system. This was accompanied by a growing rejection of marxism and of revolutionary political organisations, which he characterised as ‘rackets'. Camatte's hopes turned to the eruption of a ‘universal human class' against capital; but very soon these hopes also faded and he took the logical step of retreating to a survivalist commune in the French mountains.

"This ‘modern' attempt to find a revolutionary road that has ‘gone beyond' marxism and the working class thus revealed itself as a new packaging of classically anarchist themes. When Marx criticised Bakunin in the 1860s, he demonstrated that such themes were already reactionary, that the workers' movement had left them behind. It had replaced the notion of a ‘grand social liquidation' of all the oppressed by the idea of a working class struggle for political power; it had replaced organisational methods based on affinity groups, sects, or freebooting individuals with the principle of coherent political organisations of the communist vanguard. Modernism, like classical anarchism, was essentially the ideology of petty bourgeois thinkers who considered that the working class was not revolutionary enough for them and who as a result could only slip back into the conceptions of the past”

(Review of 'When Insurrections Die': Modernist ideas hinder a Break from Anarchism')

http://en.internationalism.org/wr/230_Fbarrot.htm

Nehm can continue to roar his anti-marxist, essentially anti human species message until he is pale blue in the face. But ‘humbly’ speaking as a left communist and an ICC sympathiser, I for one am not particularly interested in reading more of his gibberish at its current stage of development. Or lack of it.

 

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: Thanks KT.

Quote:
But ‘humbly’ speaking as a left communist and an ICC sympathiser, I for one am not particularly interested in reading more of his gibberish at its current stage of development.

Why have you responded then?

You've misrepresented my positions, assailed me, engendered me without knowing anything about me, and even accused me of being 'anti-human', when clearly you'd benefit from a less authoritarian stature and an actual reading and understanding of what I'm trying to say. KT's cold attack is a lot more inhuman than anything I've done. And, by the way, I have provided enough citation to be relevant. Yes, I am an avid reader of both Jacques Camatte and the nihilist communism of Monsieur Dupont. Who is hiding here? I see KT hiding behind their machismo. That's about it.

I'm just gonna leave you lads to it. Take care.

LBird
ICC recruitment method?

KT wrote:

I share Baboon’s frustration.

Comrades of the ICC and their supporters have patiently debated and argued with L Bird’s only contribution to these boards which has been on the subject of the nature of science.

Rocks – and indeed bones – do indeed speak to man. They are part of nature. Nature is man’s inorganic body, as Marx wrote.

Rocks and bones – and human interaction with them - is how Nehm is so confident that there were dinosaurs, although he denies the ‘science’ that ‘proves’ this.

Dinosaurs used to exist. Regrettably they don’t any more.

These ‘scientifcally proven truths’ imply time, measurement, human judgement - oral and written skills. In short, development. Which implies periodisation. Often, these developments are marked by various ‘sciences’ which are then modified by further discoveries and developments.

This is called method.

Humankind used it to map the stars, the blossoming of fruits and berries, the turning of tides, long before class society. It was essential to the survival and development of the species.

[my bold]

KT, why intervene, in something that you clearly know nothing whatsoever about.

That upshot of what you've said here, is that 'method' is asocial and ahistorical. That is, that 'human method' has nothing to do with the varying modes of production, differing societies, historical development and change.

Why certain posters are reluctant to employ Marx's socio-historical method about production, including why, how and who produces particular 'methods', is a mystery to me.

I really think that an ICC moderator should have a quiet word with baboon and KT, and tell them to leave other comrades to reasonably discuss the Democratic Communist method for science. Clearly, class conscious workers won't use the same class method as the bourgeoisie.

KT wrote:

Nehm can continue to roar his anti-marxist, essentially anti human species message until he is pale blue in the face. But ‘humbly’ speaking as a left communist and an ICC sympathiser, I for one am not particularly interested in reading more of his gibberish at its current stage of development. Or lack of it.

Hmmmm... and this passes for engagement with interested workers, who visit the site to discuss their ideas?

There seems to be an intransigent element amongst the readership here, who seem to think that they know better than other workers. In my political experience, these are always Leninists, who share Lenin's ideas about 'special consciousness', only held by party members.

This is not Marxism. And I warn all workers reading, what we call 'dinosaurs' have been constructed by social theory and practice, and any study of 'dinosaurs' shows constant change since the 19th century in what 'dinosaurs' are, what they look like, eat, interact, etc.

Take my word for it, comrades, neither baboon nor KT have seen a  'dinosaur', and they don't have a 'special' time machine, which allows them alone (and not the rest of us) to visit their 'dinosaurs'.

Lastly, KT, you owe Nehm an apology. From experience of KT, I suspect that you'll have a long wait, Nehm.

Alf
continue the discussion....

I'm speaking as a member of the ICC. I agree 99% with KT's post but I think that he's wrong, at the end, to let his irritation with nehm get the better of him. It will probably mean that nehm won't try to understand the really substantive points he makes in his post. Similarly with baboon and Lbird. As Lenin said in 1917: our task is to patiently explain. I think nehm should stay and discuss further.

LBird
Revolutionary 'tasks'?

Alf wrote:

I'm speaking as a member of the ICC....  As Lenin said in 1917: our task is to patiently explain. I think nehm should stay and discuss further.

I've always found you to be a reasonable person, Alf, both here and on LibCom, where we've had political discussions, where we've disagreed, but continued to be comradely to each other. The ICC is to be congratulated on having a comrade like you as a member.

However, I suggest that 'your task is to patiently listen' to workers - the ICC does not have a monopoly of 'class consciousness'. That is a Leninist myth, my friend.

And, yes, Nehm should stay.

baboon
I know...

I know L. Bird, I know. i shoudln't get involved, it's not worth it. But put yourself in my position in the face of anti-scientific fundamentalism - one is impelled to disagree.

I haven't seen a living dinosaur face to face L, Bird, but I know from scientific evidence that they existed and where and when they existed as well as how they evolved. That's not a complete picture of course but it's fairly substantial so far.

I'm heartened to see that you seem to accept the existence of "rocks" given that "rock" is a scientific classification in itself which gives me hope that you may be able to go a stage further and see how concretely, so to speak, rocks not only speak to us about the whole development of humanity but shout, scream and swear. I don't want to derail this thread any further than iit's been derailed already so I'll come back to this on a separate thread when i have time. You are quite welcome to join in the discussion L. Bird when I do.

LBird
Are Marxist Communists really anti-science?

baboon wrote:

I know L. Bird, I know. i shoudln't get involved, it's not worth it. But put yourself in my position in the face of anti-scientific fundamentalism - one is impelled to disagree.

[my bold]

But you are not in a position, in the face of 'anti-scientific fundamentalism', baboon.

Your own 'position', is that the 'science', that the bourgeosie has created (since 1660, and reinforced ever since), is 'True Science', and so any opposition to this socio-historical construct of 'True Science' is, by definition within that bourgeois ideology, an 'anti-scientific fundamentalism'.

That is why you make your ideological claim, baboon, because you've been subject to ruling class ideas your entire life, and like many people, have simply accepted what they've been told. You have an ideological belief that, before bourgeois 'science', there was 'pseudo-science', but since then the bourgeoisie has destroyed 'pseudo-science' and replaced it with 'Objective Science', which you, understandably, given your ideological beliefs, defend passionately.

The problem with this acceptance, is that is removes history from science. If there is a scientific method which produces 'Truth' (about 'dinosaurs' or 'matter'), then this is the scientific equivalent of 'The End of History'. We now live with 'Eternal Truth', of capitalism and 'science', in which no further advance is possible. Anyone who has read Marx, and his account of the changes involved in modes of production, would never accept bourgeois ideology, which is a ruling class idea that they, the current ruling class, are the final point of development for humanity. Of course, they are not - because if they are, we can't change the world.

To keep this short, there are at least three positions:

1. pre-bourgeois pseudo-science;

2. bourgeois elite science;

3. proletarian democratic science.

Once you realise that, because you accept the myth propogated by the adherents of position 2, and you yourself employ position 2, that there are only positions 1 and 2, then your only option is to condemn any anti-2 arguments as themselves to be from a pro-1 position.

But, if you read Marx, and realise there is a history in 'science', and that 'science' is a social product, and that your 'science' is anti-democratic, anti-proletarian, anti-communist, and anti-revolutionary, then you will start to realise that embracing a revolutionary, pro-worker, pro-democratic, pro-communist science, is not to support 'pseudo-science'.

This is what sites like this are for, baboon. For class conscious workers to educate their 'parties'. There are no supposed "workers' parties" that know better than the class conscious proletariat. That is a Leninist myth, produced by elites in the late 19th century, to give a 'scientific' basis to their power over our class. It's time to re-think 'science', baboon. Especially 'yours'.

MH
non ex hoc mundi's slanders against the ICC

This thread seemed to start promisingly enough until it was derailed, yet again, by the trolling interventions of LBird.

I was going to try to respond to some of the wider issues raised by  ‘Nehm’ about the nature of science and what exactly Marxism takes from the scientific method of the bourgeoisie, as well as on the nature of economic determinism and history as a dialectical process... But Nehm’s apparently fraternal attitude didn’t last very long:

non ex hoc mundi post#19 wrote:

The ICC's need for a 'theory' of decadence is partly a result of the question (and it's crises over it, which has been taken up in its press since the late `80s) of organization. In order to do everything to refute the image others paint of the ICC, that off a 'sect' or 'clique', the ICC must base it's thinking in something supposedly universal and indisputable: bourgeois empiricism.

Trump uses science to refute the realities of climate change; so does the ICC use science to refute the stark realities of the modern class struggle.

But science cannot prove one thing or another. It can only disprove. All scientific thought and learning depends on this notion-- that at some point it might be shown to be wrong. Apparently, the 'theory of decadence' is above this phenomenon? I think not. Therefore, in order to appear confident, relevant and non-sectarian, the ICC bases it's idealism in science.

Not everything is looked at. Things that don't fit the big picture are disregarded. The determinism of the ICC is naive because it ignores things that do not fit-in with it's theories.

So the ICC’s defence of decadence is in fact part of its attempt to deal with its organisational problems and improve its image by not appearing as a sect. Not only that, the ICC uses ‘bourgeois science' in the same way that Trump denies climate change, rejecting any ‘facts’ that fail to fit its idealist theories…

This is pretty outrageous isn’t it? I agree with KT’s critique of Nehm’s politically reactionary ‘post left anarchist’ views and share their anger but would go further in saying that, for me these casually-dropped slanders against the ICC throw into question Nehm's motives in intervening here in the first place.

It's absolutely true we need to 'patiently explain' our positions. But we also need to defend the communist left against these kinds of unsubstantiated slur. 

 

LBird
Only 'sects' think 'criticism' is 'trolling'

MH wrote:

This thread seemed to start promisingly enough until it was derailed, yet again, by the trolling interventions of LBird.

....

It's absolutely true we need to 'patiently explain' our positions. But we also need to defend the communist left against these kinds of unsubstantiated slur. 

 

So, once again, I'm called a 'troll', for pointing out the Marxist commonplace that 'science' is a socio-historical human activity, which produces changeable ideas and practices. And 'matter' is one of them.

You'd be better, MH, reading Marx and modern physics, and trying to cobble together your defence of 'bourgeois objective science', than simply abusing me.

And as for calling any criticism of your political ideas as 'unsubstantiated slurs', what's the point of having a website to attract workers, and when those workers criticise your political beliefs, simply insulting them, as you have done currently with Nehm and me, and have done with others, previously.

The ICC is often accused of being a 'sect', and behaviour like yours, MH, only helps to strengthen that thesis. And belief in 'matter' simply amounts to 'Faith in God', unquestioning faith being another attribute of sects.

Demogorgon
Back on track ...

LBird's ideas have been debated extensively on these boards. As just two examples, there are threads here and here. Those interested in them can read and draw their own conclusions about how productive and useful those debates turned out to be.

On the original exchange between myself and NEHM, I'm afraid I found NEHM's responses barely comprehensible. I find myself unable to understand what his specific criticisms of decadence actually are. And I did ask.

What I found most confusing was how he seemed to veer from attacking decadence, then to making statements that seemed in continuity with it. For example:

Demogorgon wrote:
Why do you think future reformist struggles will "likely fail"? What has changed?

NEHM wrote:
Tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Credit. Fictitious capital. Non-living labor. Overproduction. The lack of aggregate demand. Automation. Unemployment. Growing population. We've killed Nature and totally destroyed the biosphere.

His response is, in principle, exactly what our theory of decadence says: that capitalism's social relationships have now made the struggle for reforms difficult at best, impossible at worst. There is, of course, a discussion to be had about the precise technical details about the ROP, etc. but the principle is the same.

At one point I stated:

Quote:
I was under the impression you didn't think capitalism would collapse of its own accord. Your words: "If the argument is capitalism cannot be destroyed unless by a proletarian revolution, I am in full agreement there." Forests may burn, but the larger society will carry on as before. So there is no reason to fear forest fires, or wars, or anything else really, at least not from a historic point of view. By that, I mean these things won't bring an end to the current civilisation even if they cause untold misery and suffering for those caught up in them. They are not existentialist crises for society as a whole.

You say your "schema has very little to do with catalysts 'pushing' anyone or thing 'in the right direction'." But earlier you say the reason why the working class has made a revolution yet is "Simply because conditions aren't bad enough yet." Doesn't this mean if conditions do get that bad, that will drive a revolution? Aren't these two statements contradictory?

In response, I was told:

Quote:
Yes. And no, not contradictory at all.

I'm still no closer to understanding the resolution of the conflict between two apparently contradictory positions:

  • the worsening of conditions provoke revolution
  • catalysts (of which the "worsening of conditions" is surely one) don't push anything in one direction or the other.

This isn't to say such a resolution isn't possible (that's what dialectics is about, after all), but it does need to be clearly and consisely explained.

I don't feel this has been adequately done.

MH
Even more fundamental

Even more fundamental in a way is Nehm’s vehement rejection of all science:

science, the empiricism/positivism that comes with it, is all complete voodoo”.

“Science is the new God. In the beginning, there was science.”

“Science, like ‘economics’, is nothing more than holy scripture used by the bourgeoisie.”

"Science is the most bourgeois of poetry. Kelly-Anne [Conway, Trump's lackey] was right, science is opinion, nothing more. All facts are alternative facts."

There’s a real discussion to be had about the extent to which Marxism bases itself on the methods and discoveries of bourgeois science, as well as the extent to which we can say Marxism is itself a science, but if we are to take these statements at face value we have no basis for clarification whatsoever; as Nehm says, there’s just alternative facts, alternative realities…

At worst this is the real effect of the decomposition of capitalist society at the level of thought and debate. Outrageously Nehm accuses the ICC of using the same approach to ‘truth’ as Trump in denying climate change, yet the views expressed here – unless we are simply to take them as tongue in cheek, mischief-making, etc – are the same as those of utterly cynical, self-serving bourgeois factions: "All facts are alternative facts." !

If we are to have a discussion about bourgeois science and marxism, etc., just a few brief points drawn from the views in the article that is the subject of this thread:

- The scientific method is one of the most important gains from the struggle of the revolutionary bourgeoisie against feudalism

- bourgeois science represents a growth of the productive forces of humanity as much as the development of industry etc, in the epoch of capitalism's acendance

- Marxism is above all a scientific, empirical method applied to the analysis of capitalist society, eg. Capital begins not with a development of concepts or a statement of ideological approach but with the empirical reality of the commodity

- The problem with bourgeois empiricism is that it is unable to recognise the reality of the class struggle or the historically transitory nature of bourgeois society

- the only general principle of Marxism is historical specificity.

 

LBird
Notes

Demogorgon wrote:

LBird's ideas have been debated extensively on these boards. As just two examples, there are threads here and here. Those interested in them can read and draw their own conclusions about how productive and useful those debates turned out to be.

On the original exchange between myself and NEHM, I'm afraid I found NEHM's responses barely comprehensible. 

Thanks for those links to our previous debates here, demo.

One thing should be noted, though - I was disagreeing with Nehm.

It doesn't follow from that, though, that I agree with your (or MH's previous post above) view of 'science'. Put simply, it's nothing to do with Marx's social production, and everything to do with bourgeois elitism.

I'll leave it at that, unless someone insists on claiming that they and their elite (whether 'bourgeois scientists' or 'Leninist cadre') know better than the class conscious proletariat.

Demogorgon
Agree

I think MH's point 4 is key to the question about science in bourgeois society. An actual scientific examination of capitalist society is too threatening for their class rule. Marx makes this very point in Capital: "In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. Thenceforth, the class struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic."

The same happens when any scientific consensus develops that threatens bourgeois interests, even factional ones.

I gave some examples of this in a debate with Fred on this thread, from post #103 onwards.

The question for this thread is whether a debate on decadence can resume without having a debate on science itself? I think that's a question NEHM needs to answer, if he is willing to rejoin the debate.

LBird
Is 'decadence' a 'scientific theory', or simply an ICC invention

Demogorgon wrote:

The question for this thread is whether a debate on decadence can resume without having a debate on science itself? I think that's a question NEHM needs to answer, if he is willing to rejoin the debate.

But this 'question', demo, hangs upon whether the ICC claims that their 'theory of decadence' is supposedly 'scientific', or simply a 'theory' dreampt up by an elite who claim to know better than workers, because that elite 'knows reality' better than workers do (or even can).

If the ICC simply openly says to workers that their 'theory of decadence' is just that (ie. their ICC theory), and not a 'reflection of capitalist reality', which only they can 'observe', then the 'question' resolves itself.

Then 'decadence' becomes a 'theory' to place before workers, to see if they agree with it, or not. The pretence that an elite (a 'cadre party' in this instance playing the supposed role of 'bourgeois scientific experts') can 'read reality' in a way workers can't, disappears, and the debate becomes about whether workers agree with your 'theory' or not. The workers thus determine the usefulness of any 'theory', not the 'elite bright-sparks' who've invented the 'theory'.

Demogorgon
Apologies

Sorry, LBird, I have no intention of debating this question with you yet again. I answered all these questions in post #102 here.  I also invited you to continue that discussion in a more comradely fashion at the conclusion of that post. Instead of responding to my answers, you simply repeated your unsubstantiated accusations of elitism, etc. In my personal opinion, given your response then, further debate with you is utterly pointless.

Other comrades are free to engage you as they see fit, of course. And, if other comrades would find further debate between us valuable, then they are free to say so and I'll reconsider. Somehow, though, I don't think there's going to be mass demand for that.

MH
Read the article

The whole article that is the subject of this thread is an attempt to show that the 'theory of decadence' is in fact the product of the development of the class struggle and in particular of the theorisation of its lessons and the gains of the early socialists by those 'elite bright sparks', the political tendency around Marx and Engels, Hess, etc., being then integrated into the programme of the Communist League.  

So if you want to  prove you are little better than a troll on this forum LBird can I suggest you at least read the article and then offer your informed comments and criticisms to further the debate? Apart from anything else the article attempts to show how and why Marx's method is first and foremost materialist, recognises the objective reality of human thoughts and ideas, and above all is based on the active revolutionary role of human beings in changing their material conditions.

I'm not holding my breath...

 

LBird
Elitism and democracy

Demogorgon wrote:

Sorry, LBird, I have no intention of debating this question with you yet again. I answered all these questions in post #102 here.  I also invited you to continue that discussion in a more comradely fashion at the conclusion of that post. Instead of responding to my answers, you simply repeated your unsubstantiated accusations of elitism, etc. 

Perhaps not only your memory, but your ability to read is disappearing, demo.

I continued to debate with you on that thread, as posts 103-106 testify.

You stopped engaging, because you are politically opposed to what I'm arguing. I haven't got a problem with that, that our politics are different, but you keep claiming that you have a knowledge of the world that we workers don't. That's elitism, comrade.

LBird
Why the 'troll' insult, yet again?

MH wrote:

The whole article that is the subject of this thread is an attempt to show that the 'theory of decadence' is in fact the product of the development of the class struggle and in particular of the theorisation of its lessons and the gains of the early socialists by those 'elite bright sparks', the political tendency around Marx and Engels, Hess, etc., being then integrated into the programme of the Communist League.  

Let's try this slowly, MH, because you don't seem to be able to engage in a comradely fashion.

The 'class struggle' did not speak to either Marx, Engels or Lenin. They theorised. That means, for the lay-workers reading, that they produced an idea. 'Ideas' are not a 'reflection' of class struggle. Only workers can decide for themselves if any 'theory' is suitable for their own 'practice'. Workers can refuse the 'ideas' of Marx, Engels, Lenin or the ICC, if they see fit to do so. There is not a minority who have an access to 'class struggle' that the workers themselves do not have.

MH wrote:
So if you want to  prove you are little better than a troll on this forum LBird can I suggest you at least read the article and then offer your informed comments and criticisms to further the debate? Apart from anything else the article attempts to show how and why Marx's method is first and foremost materialist, recognises the objective reality of human thoughts and ideas, and above all is based on the active revolutionary role of human beings in changing their material conditions.

I'm not holding my breath...

This 'troll' insult gets a bit tiresome, MH, especially from someone who claims that 'the rocks' speak directly to them, but not to workers.

Plus, we've been through this 'material' and 'objective' bourgeois nonsense many times.

Marx was not a 'materialist', in the sense argued by Engels (and believed by you and all 'materialists'), that 'matter' determines 'consciousness'.

Marx actually wrote (in both his Economic and Philosphical Manuscripts and his Theses on Feuerbach) that he was as much an 'idealist' as he was a 'materialist'. He'd have to have argued that, to make sense of his belief in 'theory and practice'. That is, conscious activity to change the world, not the bourgeois argument that an elite 'know matter' prior to its creation by the proletariat.

Now, MH, just tell workers reading that you sincerely believe that you, personally, have an access to 'material' that workers don't have, and we can finish on a comradely note.

But I'm arguing that all workers have the same access to 'material' that we both have, and so any argument about 'material' can be decided by a vote of the proletariat.

You deny this. That is the political difference between us.

'Decadence' is a theory produced by the ICC, not 'the class struggle'.

jk1921
Some thoughts on

Some thoughts on decadence:

1.) "Decadence" as a concept is not equivalent with "crisis." Captialism can be decadent and yet experience significant economic growth. The concept of decadence then is not strictly speaking an economic one, even if economics and economic crises play and important role in the unfolding of decadence. Above all, decadence is a qualitative concept. It states that captialism as a global world system has ceased to serve the interests of the human species in advancing and developing the material, social and cultural conditions of life on a global-species level. 

2.) Nevertheless, if decadence is not strictly speaking an economic concept--it is nevertheless true that decadence is caused by an underlying economic factor--the completion (or near completion) of the global market and the resultant economic convulsions this causes: global crisis of overproduction, tendency of the rate of profit to fall, cycles of crises based on shifting from production based to financial based modes of regulation, insert favorite crisis theory here, etc. One of the main features of decadence in the ICC's conception (taken from the Italian left) is the historical cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis. This is an objective feature of the captialist system in decadence that will tend to assert itself despite the many and varied attempts of the bourgeoisie to mitigate, stall and redirect its course through state capitalist measures like Keynsianism, Stalinism, dirigism, Fordism and today neo-liberal globalization. These various periods can be prolonged beyond their "natural course" for various reasons: i.e. the long post WWII reconstruction period (the glorious thirty years) based on "Keysiano-Fordism", the so-called permanent crisis that emerged in the 1970s, etc. without the conditions for another round of global war to start the cycle anew--undefeated proletariat, absence of blocs after 1989. etc, which leads to what the ICC calls: "Social decomposition."

3.) Decomposition does not replace decadence--it is only its latest (and perhaps last?) phase based on the inability of the bourgeoisie to break the permanent crisis with a new round of war and the failure (so far) of proletariat to find its class identity and launch a communist revolution. Decomposition is also not strictly speaking an economic concept. It is above all social decomposition maked by a tendency for all the positive features of the bourgeois period of human history to erode--the political liberties and rights of the bourgeois revolution, so-called democratic norms, calling into question many of the achievements of bourgeois culture, humanism, etc. ("Populism"--at least in its right-wing form--may be a current political manifestation of this process). There is an overall cultural degradation that occurs as a result of historical development in a qualitative sense having hit a kind of road block. Of course, this does not mean that history itself comes to a stop. Quiet the contrary--in its attempts to attentuate the crisis, the bougeoisie turned to neo-liberalism in the 70s and 80s--a process that has allowed certain sectors of the captialist system and with it certain factions of the bourgeoisie to grow and develop--i.e. the tech sector, leading to the emergence of a new "Silicon Valley" faction of the bourgeoisie. But nevertheless, these new sectors, these new forms of development generally speaking tend to lead to a decline in living and working conditions, in the overall conditions of life, for the proletariat as a whole: deindustrialization, (re) emergence of tenuous labor conditions, exploding cost of living, migration, new/old forms of labor exploitation (debt servitude), etc. Capitalism no longer builds up the proletariat, but breaks it down--a reverse from the process desscribed by Marx in the Manifesto where captialism calls forth its own gravediggers. Of course, this is all open to empirical verification and theoretical questioning. What about the emergence of a mass proletariat in China, India, etc? Does this refute the theory or is proletarian development in such places playing a different role today?

 4.) In short, in decadence captialism is no longer historically progressive. It can no longer carry out its historical mission of developing the productive forces of society without either a.) massive social dislocation that serves to weaken the proletariat, rather than develop it or b.) threatening human civilization itself--ecological crisis, nuclear holocaust, or a slow degeneration of society towards barbarism. Now, what "barbarism" looks like is open to debate. Will it still be capitalist? Will wage labor still be exploited? Probably, but will it be the main form of labor exploitation in society? Can capitalism change into to a kind of hybrid mode of production where wage labor still exists, but is supplemented by other forms of labor exploitation (in some sense we are already moving there)? Would this be an historical regression, some kind of palliative measure to ease captialism's descent? Well, these are all very crucial and interesting questions that I think need to be developed, hence my question about the AMP above that was never responded to once the thread got derailed.

MH
Reply to jk

JK I agree very much with your point 1. This is where the ICT reveals its vulgar materialist approach by insisting that the understanding of decadence must be related to the economic crisis and of course the falling rate of profit.

I think even we have tended to find ourselves unnecessarily on the defensive by insisting that there can still be growth in decadence, which underestimates the extent to which the very nature of capitalism demands ‘growth’. This is the specificity of capitalist decadence compared to all previous modes of production.

The materialist reason why capitalism has “ceased to serve the interests of the human species” is that since the material conditions for communism were brought into existence capitalism holds back the potential growth of the total productive forces; in fact it not only retards this growth but increasingly destroys the productive forces, becomes more and more destructive both of human labour and of nature itself.

I think your point 2 is very clear. Completely agree with this.

Similarly in your point 3 I think you are absolutely right to locate decomposition at the level of the impasse in the struggle between the classes, not simply the economic crisis.

As for the growth of the proletariat in China, India, etc, I think this has to be seen not only in the context of de-industrialisation elsewhere, etc., but the growth of the destructive tendencies of capital more generally. The growth or otherwise of the proletariat in decadence cannot be seen as a purely quantitative question. In fact given the imperative for capital to ‘grow’, wouldn’t we expect to see it desperately absorb more and more non-proletarians into wage labour as decadence continues? We need to see this at a global historical level, which is surely why the destruction of the proletariat in the heart of the system in 1914-18 was such a key turning point historically, recognised as such by the revolutionary movement at the time.

As for your point 4, I don’t have anything specific to contribute. I think we need to insist that without a communist revolution capitalism will persist; there is no ‘third way’ in that sense. But I’m puzzled why, after all you have written here, after speculating on possible scenarios, you pose the question “Would this be an historical regression?” How could it not be, given our general understanding of decadence? Perhaps I’ve missed your point here.
 

jk1921
Barbarism?

MH wrote:

As for your point 4, I don’t have anything specific to contribute. I think we need to insist that without a communist revolution capitalism will persist; there is no ‘third way’ in that sense. But I’m puzzled why, after all you have written here, after speculating on possible scenarios, you pose the question “Would this be an historical regression?” How could it not be, given our general understanding of decadence? Perhaps I’ve missed your point here.
 

Hmm, yeah, I am not sure what I meant. I think maybe it was something about the "regression" from the generalization of wage labor, which is a defining feature of captialism so far. Could this actually happen as a result of decomposition or is that simply impossible in a society that remains "capitalist"? It seems like there is some hesitancy towards the concept of "barbarism" for some reason, so I suppose its tempting for me try to think through what barbarism means and what it would look like even if that is a speculative exercise.

Alf
barbarism

Before he departed - perhaps only for now - I had wanted to say to Nehm that he is in a way right to object to the term barbarism, in that it could be construed as an insult to the barbarian tribes of old, whose moral grandeur was noted by Engels and others. The barbarians were the product of many thousands of years of cultural development and had not yet become fixed in a system of class exploitation. In that sense, the barbarians, as Baboon will no doubt agree, were still inside the horizon of "primitive communism", even if this was its "final stage".  

The barbarism that threatens us today is certainly not a return to the former barbarian or"savage" society, still less a return become conscious, which has been defined as the goal of communism. It is the destruction, not the gradual evolution, of thousands of years of human labour and culture. Despite appearances and certain real similarities, there is a vast gulf between the society of the ancient Celts and Germans, the Iroquois and others, and the "Mad Max" scenario which is the ultimate product of capitalist decomposition, and whose outline we can see in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa.

I think that if such a scenario became generalised, it would indeed mean the end of capitalism. Comrades who agree with the theory of decadence sometimes seem reluctant to accept this. Pannekoek was not correct to imply that capitalism could go on forever in the absence of a proletarian revolution. Its inbuilt drive towards self-destruction is too powerful. 

baboon
barbarism

My sight is quite bad at the moment and I'm having to use a font so big you could baptize a baby hippopotamus in it. But quantity decreases the quality of the print for me so it's a vicious circle at the moment.

However I'd like to agree with MH, KT and Demo on the question of science. In Grundrisse Marx is clear that science, like law, art and so on, are superstructeral elements of society that can affect other superstructural elements of society and can also affect its infrastructural base. As MH points out, it's the work of Lewis Henry Morgan that gives us a great deal of our understanding of primitive communism and this despite it being written over 150 years ago - and it doesn't really matter that some of its dating is out by over a million-and-a-half years. What Nehm calls the 'millions of years of primitive communism', i.e. our descent from ape-like hominids, is extensively and beautifully explained by Darwin and Wallace. Like many, Nehm seems to accept the bourgeois explanation of Darwin's' work without question. He seems to suggest, more than once, that communism is a return to primitive communism but this idea is just as mistaken as seeing the decay of capitalism as a return to the "stone age".  I think that the whole development of humanity has been essentially positive as it's been cooperative but my interpretation of the what record we have in the relatively recent cave paintings is that this was also a period of confrontation, struggle, contradiction and change by "history-making peoples". It was no sublime idyll.

There's been discussion before on the weakness of the word "barbarism" to describe the certain decomposition of capitalism in the absence of a proletarian revolution. I agree with Alf that this description doesn't really express the true nature of this decomposition in the longer term - even in the shorter term we can see the beginning of this expression and it really is beyond nightmares.  Morgan and Engels quite correctly uses the term "barbarism" to describe a very positive and enduring development of society over tens of thousands of years and they give a similar positive spin and analysis to the word "savagery".  I don't think that we fully appreciate the effects of capitalism's drive to self-destruction and words and analyses like "return to the stone-age", "savagery" and "barbarism" are not enough to describe it. All these societies had their myths and belief systems that couldn't possibly be replicated in a word of full-blown decomposition.

Incidently, I said above that I wanted to return seperately to the question of how stones talk to us and the science of geology is an obvious case in point. But a particular element of the Neolithic has caught my attention recently and I think contrary to what Alf calls "the Celts" is the growing evidence , from the interpretations of stone chambers, megaliths, the designs on the them and, henges of the 5000 year old sites of the Bend in the Boyne, Anglesy, Scotland and Wiltshire of the emergence of a polity, based on a particular expression of a tiered cosmos that was influenced by European elements and still, as Alf says, inside the parameters of primitive communism even if it was on its last legs.
 

MH
the 'end of capitalism'?

Alf wrote:

Despite appearances and certain real similarities, there is a vast gulf between the society of the ancient Celts and Germans, the Iroquois and others, and the "Mad Max" scenario which is the ultimate product of capitalist decomposition, and whose outline we can see in certain parts of the Middle East and Africa.

I think that if such a scenario became generalised, it would indeed mean the end of capitalism. Comrades who agree with the theory of decadence sometimes seem reluctant to accept this. Pannekoek was not correct to imply that capitalism could go on forever in the absence of a proletarian revolution. Its inbuilt drive towards self-destruction is too powerful.

This post is worth a text and/or a thread of its own!

I assume that Pannekoek was arguing against the idea of the 'mortal crisis' of capitalism leading to its inevitable collapse, as his text The theory of the collapse of capitalism? Pannekoek of course did not live to see capitalism’s decomposition but we are still dealing today with the typical argument that decadence is a 'mechanistic theory of capitalism's collapse', a la Aufheben, against which Pannekoek still seems essentially correct.

The ‘end of capitalism’ (rather than, for example, the ‘end of civilisation’), poses all sorts of questions for discussion. What, if you like, is the political economy of ‘mutual ruin’? As a starting point, surely, in the event of ‘the mutual ruin of the contending classes’, the bourgeoisie still rules?  And even the ISIS-held enclaves in Iraq appear to have been run on efficient capitalist lines. I'm not questioning the seriousness of the issue, just trying to clarify a Marxist approach to this question, which is inevitably speculative anyway.
 

Demogorgon
The Theory of the Collapse of Capitalism

There was some discussion of Pannekoek's TOTC here, although it's been a while since I've read it. My personal view is that Pannekoek's text is deeply flawed. In particular, his critique of Grossman (who is the main target of his ire) is, at times, utterly bizarre. For example, he charges Grossman with believing the reproduction schemas are "real capitalism". If he'd actually read Grossman's book, he might have noted the section dedicated to analysing the purposes of schematic analyses. Instead, Pannekoek makes himself look like a blundering idiot and it's all really rather embarrassing.

One thing I'm not sure I get is why a "mechanistic" view of capitalism's collapse is such a bad thing. If we abstract out the possibility of proletarian revolution, where does this leave capitalism? Can it go on forever? How?

For this to happen, it must be able to somehow overcome its own "laws" of functioning. Perhaps it can do this by somehow making accumulation possible once again in the absence of external markets or a falling ROP, or whatever other factor we see as crucial to capitalism's contradictions. If this is possible then the entire basis for decadence is removed - the system would have overcome its own contradictions.

Even if possible, who can achieve this? If the proletariat is removed from the equation, then the only actors left are the capitalists. But Marx makes the point throughout Capital that the capitalist is simply the personification of blind, social forces. They are puppets - they have no agency of their own. Even what appears to be agency (for example, state capitalism), is simply another form of implementing inherently capitalist behaviour.

If this is right, then capitalism must have some automatic stabiliser that prevents its destruction. Or the capitalists, through some effort of will, are able to stop acting like capitalists and thus prevent the system's self-destruction. Or the "mortal contradictions" simply aren't that mortal at all.

Either way, this opens up the possibility that "decadent" capitalism can, in fact, be saved. Removing the possibility of "collapse" is to repeat Bernstein's errors. Allow me to quote someone who posed the argument far more competently than I can:

"The scientific basis of socialism rests, as is well known, on three principal results of capitalist development. First, on the growing anarchy of capitalist economy, leading inevitably to its ruin. Second, on the progressive socialisation of the process of production, which creates the germs of the future social order. And third, on the increased organisation and consciousness of the proletarian class, which constitutes the active factor in the coming revolution.

Bernstein pulls away from the first of the three fundamental supports of scientific socialism. He says that capitalist development does not lead to a general economic collapse.He does not merely reject a certain form of the collapse. He rejects the very possibility of collapse."

And:

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

Rosa's logic is very clear: rejecting the concept of the collapse of capitalism means rejecting decadence and, ultimately, rejecting Marxism.

MH
The 'logic' of collapse?

Demogorgon wrote:

Rosa's logic is very clear: rejecting the concept of the collapse of capitalism means rejecting decadence and, ultimately, rejecting Marxism.

Whoa there!

Rosa in her 1900 polemic against revisionism is surely wrong to use the term ‘collapse’ so freely. I'd say it’s a concession to the terms in which the argument was posed at that time in the Second International.

But it it is not a fundamental position of scientific socialism that “capitalist development leads to a general economic collapse”. It’s true that Marx sometimes talks about the contradictions of capitalism leading to its “dissolution”, but he is arguing at the level of its objective laws – not literally that it will ‘dissolve’…

The contradictions of capitalism lead to … decadence! That’s precisely what the decadence-deniers, er, deny. That is, not simply to the continuation of capitalism. But even decadent capitalism will not collapse because in the final analysis it is a social relation, not a set of objective laws. As I said above, even in the ‘mutual ruin of the contending classes’, surely the bourgeoisie still rules?

Demogorgon
To be or not to be ... capitalism's existential question

MH wrote:
Rosa in her 1900 polemic against revisionism is surely wrong to use the term ‘collapse’ so freely. I'd say it’s a concession to the terms in which the argument was posed at that time in the Second International.

I disagree. I think she posed the question quite correctly.

MH wrote:
But it it is not a fundamental position of scientific socialism that “capitalist development leads to a general economic collapse”. It’s true that Marx sometimes talks about the contradictions of capitalism leading to its “dissolution”, but he is arguing at the level of its objective laws – not literally that it will ‘dissolve’…

How can something be correct at the level of capitalism's objective laws, but not literal in reality? Either the description of those laws is wrong or somehow incomplete or those laws are not objective. Both positions pose problems for Marx's method.

And when you say that "it it is not a fundamental position of scientific socialism that “capitalist development leads to a general economic collapse", you seem to be arguing with Bernstein against Rosa, not to mention Kautsky who countered Bernstein by saying Marx had never argued that. Bernstein himself acknowledged that was the key element of the debate: "If the triumph of socialism were truly an immanent economic necessity, then it would have to be grounded in a proof of the inevitable economic breakdown of the present order of society". (Quoted by Grossman, Law of Accumulation)

Even if it was true that Marx never explicitly argued that point himself (and I think this is debatable), his description of the accumulation process provides all the necessary ingredients to demonstrate that a generalised breakdown is the logical outcome of his theory.

Both Grossman and Luxemburg attempt to situate their analysis of capital firmly on this basis, even if they differ in their description of the precise mechanisms at play.

For example, Luxemburg states clearly: "As [capitalism] approaches the point where humanity only consists of capitalists and proletarians, further accumulation will become impossible." (my emphasis)

Do you think she was right or wrong on this?

Quote:
But even decadent capitalism will not collapse because in the final analysis it is a social relation, not a set of objective laws.

Firstly, I see no a priori reason why a "social relationship" cannot collapse, dissolve, disintegrate or whatever as opposed to an objective law. In fact, all that is needed for this to happen is for people to change their behaviour. If a worker stops behaving like a worker, or a capitalist like a capitalist, then the social relationship is negated.

The question is why they would change their behaviour and how.

Second, I think you've missed a key element of Marx's method of analysis, that of reification. Marx states: “The capitalist, [is] the effect of the social mechanism, of which he is but one of the wheels. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of the capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation.”

These "external coercive laws" function independently of the will of the individual capitalist or even the whole capitalist class, even though those laws are actually the product of their own activity. Assuming for the moment that capitalism's objective laws do lead to economic collapse, then the bourgeoisie can, in the final instance, do nothing about it. As long as capitalists behave like capitalists, then capitalism imposes its rules on the bourgeoisie, not the other way around.

If the bourgeoisie does have a choice about how those rules function and thus prevent collapse, then why can't they prevent decadence in the first place? Why can't they prevent crises? Why can't they negate the revolutionary threat by creating paradise on earth for the working class? And why shouldn't the working class struggle so as to force them to do so?

Quote:
As I said above, even in the ‘mutual ruin of the contending classes’, surely the bourgeoisie still rules?

I think this is open to question. It is, of course, true that if capitalism reaches the point Rosa predicted the human beings that comprise the bourgeoisie won't suddenly disappear. Nor will people say, "oh, capitalism's stopped working, we'll stop producing and all starve to death". People will adapt to what would be a very severe social and economic crisis by finding different ways to do things. In the absence of a revolution and working-class self organisation, we could see a return to slavery, along with many other awful things. Or, as Alf suggested, a sort of Mad Max scenario played out at a global level.

In those circumstances what would probably happen is that the individuals of the bourgeois class would adapt and start behaving in a non-capitalist way, just as certain elements of the feudal aristocracy embarked on the process of primitive accumulation when feudal social relations began to show themselves unfit for purpose (or their purpose at least). They may still rule, but are they really a bourgeoisie anymore?

To summarise, I see several key questions:

1) What does Marx's analysis of the accumulation process predict for the future of capitalism? Does it imply a "theory of breakdown" as argued by Luxemburg and Grossman, but denied by Bernstein (and, to a certain extent, Kautsky)?

2) If there is no theory of breakdown, what exactly is decadence? Does it have any objective foundation at all or is it simply a belief that things could be better? How does it impulse the working class towards revolution?

3) What is the role of the bourgeoisie? Is the ruling class subject to the "immanent laws of capitalist production", as Marx argues, or can they control them? This is fundamentally about the problem of reification.

MH
Change of view?

In the bilan of 40 years of its activities the ICC noted a certain lack of mastery of Rosa Luxemburg’s theories which was reflected in a “catastrophist” vision and an apocalyptic view of the breakdown of the world economy.

I can only assume, from  the references to ‘breakdown’, ‘collapse’ and the ‘end of capitalism’ in Alf and Demo's most recent posts, that this is now undergoing a review..?

…In which case I think I’d prefer to wait until some sort of public orientation text appears before wading in much further.

A few very brief points in response to Demo.

The main point we can agree on here is the fact that after 100 years of capitalist decadence, with the system into its final phase of decomposition, we are in historically uncharted territory. Capitalism is unique in being driven by the need to expand itself and its destructive tendencies in its epoch of decay cannot therefore be underestimated.

But then we have already clearly warned about this; the potential for capitalism to destroy the world through a combination of wars, economic crises, social decomposition and degradation of the planet.

This is not the same as saying that as an outcome of its phase of decomposition the system could simply break down or collapse, let alone insisting that Marx and Luxemburg defended this position all along.

Essentially, when Luxemburg talks about ‘collapse’, breakdown’, ‘ruin’, etc., she is affirming the inevitability of decadence against those who would deny it. Decadence is the breakdown of the laws of operation of capitalism, which is why we point out the increasing attempts of capital the ‘cheat’ the law of value to survive, etc.

How can the bourgeoisie cheat its own objective laws for 100 years? Because in the absence of a massive social response from the proletariat it can get away with it, at the price of postponing an even greater crisis further down the line of course… But then at the end of the day it remains the ruling class and it's about political power not economic laws. 

Demogorgon wrote:

They may still rule, but are they really a bourgeoisie anymore?

So what are they then, in your scenario? And what difference does it make to the proletariat in the widest sense? Slavemasters, yes I suppose, but then slavery has been a component of capitalism from the very beginning. And forced labour of all kinds...
 

Demogorgon
An attempt to clarify ...

This is personal post and should not be read as any sort of statement by the ICC.

MH wrote:
In the bilan of 40 years of its activities the ICC noted a certain lack of mastery of Rosa Luxemburg’s theories which was reflected in a “catastrophist” vision and an apocalyptic view of the breakdown of the world economy.

I think these are two separate issues. The tendency identified was one to see each crisis as the "final" crisis and to see any form of recovery, however slight, as impossible. We saw the crisis of 2007-8 as the end of the palliatives capitalism used to keep itself going. As a result, we found ourselves theoretically disarmed when capitalism survived the crisis and managed to keep going: weakened, certainly, but also very much able to function.

This triggered a debate about whether this "catastrophist" tendency was either inherent to our adherence to a Luxemburgist framework, or whether it was based on a misunderstanding of that Luxemburg's framework.

I used to be of the former view, but I'm not so sure anymore. I still don't agree with the general Luxemburgist theory, but that's something for later.

MH wrote:
The main point we can agree on here is the fact that after 100 years of capitalist decadence, with the system into its final phase of decomposition, we are in historically uncharted territory. Capitalism is unique in being driven by the need to expand itself and its destructive tendencies in its epoch of decay cannot therefore be underestimated.

Agreed.

Quote:
But then we have already clearly warned about this; the potential for capitalism to destroy the world through a combination of wars, economic crises, social decomposition and degradation of the planet.

This is not the same as saying that as an outcome of its phase of decomposition the system could simply break down or collapse, let alone insisting that Marx and Luxemburg defended this position all along.

I'm not sure I understand the confusion. Firstly, Rosa made it quite clear that long before capitalism exhausted all its external markets it would experience a wave of ever more serious convulsions. Whatever you think of her theory, it is consistent with the vision you offer in the first paragraph.

If you prefer Grossman, then that also predicts a trajectory with ever-more serious crises (which, naturally, trigger all sorts of social dislocation even when they're not resolved by devastating wars). Grossman's theory however, does allow for periods of recovery between crises, depending on whether those crises are sufficiently destructive to allow accumulation to restart.

Lastly, I suspect Alf's "Mad Max" scenario is derived from our theory of decomposition and not what I'm referring to when I talk about collapse or breakdown theory. I mean the latter terms in a strictly economic sense, even though such a breakdown would inevitably involve all sorts of epiphenomena.

Quote:
Essentially, when Luxemburg talks about ‘collapse’, breakdown’, ‘ruin’, etc., she is affirming the inevitability of decadence against those who would deny it. Decadence is the breakdown of the laws of operation of capitalism, which is why we point out the increasing attempts of capital the ‘cheat’ the law of value to survive, etc.

I don't agree with this interpretation at all. I quoted her above, where she says quite clearly that accumulation becomes impossible when extra-capitalist markets are exhausted. Decadence is the disruption that gathers pace as capitalism approaches that point.

The idea that capitalism can keep going after this point is reached doesn't stem from Rosa but from the revision of her theory made by the ICC.

Quote:
How can the bourgeoisie cheat its own objective laws for 100 years? Because in the absence of a massive social response from the proletariat it can get away with it, at the price of postponing an even greater crisis further down the line of course… But then at the end of the day it remains the ruling class and it's about political power not economic laws.

And this is the revisionism I was referring to. As I'm sure you remember, I critiqued this position quite vigorously on these forums some time ago here. I haven't seen any reason to change my position on that ... yet.

Quote:
So what are they then, in your scenario? And what difference does it make to the proletariat in the widest sense? Slavemasters, yes I suppose, but then slavery has been a component of capitalism from the very beginning. And forced labour of all kinds...

I have no idea what to call them and should it ever happen, I'll probably be more interested in how to survive them.

I think you're wrong about slavery being part of capitalism, though. Slavery may continue to co-exist with capitalism in some areas, along with all sorts of other vestiges of precapitalist societies, but it doesn't make it a feature of capitalism. Where slavery starts to appear systematically, it seems to do so where capitalist relations are stretched to absolute breaking point. The slavey system that dominated the latter days of the Third Reich would be an interesting example to explore.

jk1921
Controversy?

Demogorgon wrote:

I think this is open to question. It is, of course, true that if capitalism reaches the point Rosa predicted the human beings that comprise the bourgeoisie won't suddenly disappear. Nor will people say, "oh, capitalism's stopped working, we'll stop producing and all starve to death". People will adapt to what would be a very severe social and economic crisis by finding different ways to do things. In the absence of a revolution and working-class self organisation, we could see a return to slavery, along with many other awful things. Or, as Alf suggested, a sort of Mad Max scenario played out at a global level.

In those circumstances what would probably happen is that the individuals of the bourgeois class would adapt and start behaving in a non-capitalist way, just as certain elements of the feudal aristocracy embarked on the process of primitive accumulation when feudal social relations began to show themselves unfit for purpose (or their purpose at least). They may still rule, but are they really a bourgeoisie anymore?

Interesting discussion in what looks like an emerging controversy. Here are some random thoughts:

One of the fundamental principles of our brand of Marxism is the idea that communism cannot evolve from capitalism or within captialist society gradually, in steps towards an eventual final communist society. In other words, captialism does not show any tendency towards bringing forth communism in stages (other than the socialization of labor), only a tendency towards crisis, social dislocation, war, what have you, which when the costs of such things start to outweigh the benefits from social development, capitalism becomes decadent.

But it seems like there is now an argument on the table that captialism can evolve towards something else that strictly speaking is not captialist or at least not generalized captialism, as a result of its own economic logic. But what then is this state of society? Is it a new mode of production altogether (techno/robotic/jobless)? Some regression to a previous mode of reproduction where the vast majority of the population become vassals of the state (the AMP) or some form of hybrid captialism/non-capitalism in which captialist relationships persist for some sections of the population, but where more and more people exist in social relationships of dependency that strictly speaking are not proletarian, but which complement a still proletarianized sector of the economy? (I am bracketing here for the moment more nightmarish scenarios which involve a catastrophe outside of the captialist social relationship itself that return those of us who survive to something like a state of nature).

Personally, I am struck more and more in daily life which how much things appear to be moving towards the latter. In the immigrant community in which I live, it is remarkable to me the extent to which there appear to be something like "social defense mechanisms" that mitigate direct exposure to the cash nexus and the capitalist labor market and the extent to which life has been decommodified in order to survive in the landscape of neo-liberal capitalism (perhaps something akin to the role unions played during Fordism). In many ways, these communities seem better adapted to survive in this environment than the "pure proletariat" of Fordist days--the remaining communities of which more and more subcumb to despair, opiate addiction and political self-mutiliation. Of course, this logic is only partly true, as for every immigrant who gets their job through some kind of community or kinship relationship that involves forces--forms of domination--other than the cash nexus (honor, loyalty, fealty to family, etc.) there are others who are forced to stand in the parking lot at the local home improvement store in order to merely have the hope for a chance to sell their labor power for the day to some contractor in something that looks remarkably like a modern day self slave auction. At the other end of the spectrum, there are workers with multiple post-graduate degrees (who experience long periods of incomplete proletarianization hiding from the labor market in school), tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in non-dischargeable debt, who can't find a permanent job and even those who can have a hard time affording the rent in a neo-liberal environment in which most geographical locations in which a permanent job might be found are subject to sky rocketing costs of living (something itself which seems like a paradox worth exploring). This is the same logic of "professsionalization" that has younger educated workers selling themselves into debt peonage to the state to get the "right credentials" (for what its not always clear) and taking unpaid internships for the "resume building."

While neo-liberal captialism remains thourghougly capitalist (they haven't even gotten rid of all the old Fordist industries yet), we can start to see relationships of proletarianizaton, the cash nexus, and even the meaning and nature of work, its centrality to life, starting to fray (the instances in modern society where people are expected to work for free are astounding). But what comes after this if it is not proletarian revolution is not clear? Surely, this has something to do with decomposition, but can capitalist society decompose into something else? Can the capitalist wage relationship itself decompose? Isn't there a certain historical logic that leads from simple commodity production towards generalized commodity production (and along with this comes the generalization of wage labor) not the other way around? Is what is happening today a violation of certain Marxist first principles about capitalism and the direction of its development or something more like what Demo describes above with--in some cases--proletarians not acting like proletarians (at least not all the time), whether by choice to adapt to the living condition of neo-liberal capitalism or the force of a decomposing labor market? But perhaps this is just what decomposition means--the old laws of captialist development that were taken as a given start to come undone, but not in a way that leads anywhere positive for humanity?

 

jk1921
Slavery

Demogorgon wrote:

I think you're wrong about slavery being part of capitalism, though. Slavery may continue to co-exist with capitalism in some areas, along with all sorts of other vestiges of precapitalist societies, but it doesn't make it a feature of capitalism. Where slavery starts to appear systematically, it seems to do so where capitalist relations are stretched to absolute breaking point. The slavey system that dominated the latter days of the Third Reich would be an interesting example to explore.

I agree and disagree. It is true that the master/slave relationship is not strictly speaking capitalist, but I think its also true that Marxists have missed some of the details in the historical tendency towards proletarianization in capitalism, which tell a story that suggests something other than a direct line from non-proletarian to proletarian, even if there has nevertheless been an overall tendency towards the generalization of wage labor in capitalism.

MH is right that at a certain phase of its development from the 16th to the 19th century--in other words, right up to the outbreak of decadence (slavery wasn't officially abolished in Brazil until the 1880s) slavery was a defining feature of capitalist (primitive) accumulation. In fact, there was probably something specifically captialist about this slavery in that it was not a continuation of an existing pre-capitalist mode of production; it was something new that developed several centuries after the emergence of captialism itself in Western Europe (which itself is difficult to date) during a particular mercantilist phase of capitalism--even if the master/slave relationship itself is not capitalist. Moreover, even though chattel slavery was mostly replaced with the exploitation of wage labor--in stages--as capitalism developed, there remained other forms of labor exploitation along side it deep into the twentieth century. Today, historians reexamining the history of labor and race relations in the US are discovering that forms of slavery persisted well after its official abolition. But over and above that there is also the phenomenon of incomplete proletarianization, where while an individual may enter the labor market and monetize their labor power at times, they have other fall back socio-economic positions they can retreat to such as the family farm. This phenomenon continues to exist even today--a recent example would be in the Canadian oil patch, where many people were employed only seasonally or where young people from the prairie region would go work in the oil patch for a few years, leaving as soon as they had enough money (or as soon as they thought they did) for a down payment on a farm. Another example, is the early retiring proletarian (difficult to do today), who works only long enough to earn a pension to subsidize another form of economic activity. 

In fact, I would hazard to suggest that the phenomenon of a class of true propertyless laborers for life, divorced from any kind of natural (or moral) economy, as the predominat social form of labor power, was mostly a phenomenon of the period of the second industrial revolution through Fordism and that today what we are seeing is a move away from that "ideal proletarian" to forms of labor power that approximate what existed before in certain ways. Although it is entirely not clear to me if this is a regression to something pre-capitalist or more characterisitc of young capitalism or if it is the the germ of something new in capitalism reflecting its decomposition or "breakdown". I also am not sure that I would agree with MH that the reemergence of slavery as something central to the economy would be compatible with a mode of production we could still call fully capitalist today.

 

 

jk1921
"Google vs. Apple Capitalism"

Changing the topic slightly, here is a piece that shows how some of the more farsighted elements of the bourgeoisie view the problems facing their system: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/07/apple-google-capitalism/532995/

Seriously, I read this article hoping to find something profound about the nature of work or something, but this was about as deep as it got: "More importantly, though, how do these strategies impact the lives of everyday people? A capitalist system aims for the efficient allocation of capital, and indeed, workers have a better shot at seeing median wages increase when money is being put to its most productive use. So to an extent, how they fare under each system has to do with who is deciding where and how profits get invested. When managers reallocate profits, that reallocation benefits from the capabilities and knowledge that companies have built over decades, but suffers from the possibly poor incentives of managers. When investors are the ones reallocating profits, however, the scope of the reallocation can be broader, theoretically leading to more innovation; at the same time, those investors don’t have preexisting organizational capabilities and they may suffer from their own short-term time horizons."

Still, there are even more farsighted elements of the bourgeoisie who recognize that the problems with their syetem go beyond these competing models of capital allocation and touch upon the very nature of the wage relationship itself, which is why we are seeing more and more serious talk from some of them about the necessity of addressing the problems associated with the decline of jobs and the declining quality of jobs--the declining centrality of the experience of work itself in society--with things like a guaranteed minimum income, etc. But the question remains if this is just tinkering around the edges of a system that will always remain essentially capitalist--a new, non-Fordist form of Keynesianism ("techno-libertarian Keynesianism" perhaps?) or if such measures--if they became serious and broad enough--could actually affectuate a change in the mode of production itself or at the very least make post-industrial society somehow "less capitalist", without of course having anything to do with communism. I wouldn't expect sitting around all day with nothing to do collecting a pittance from the state to play video games is anyone's idea of communsim? Or is it precisely that? wink

 

MH
contradictions as an active factor

jk1921 wrote:

One of the fundamental principles of our brand of Marxism is the idea that communism cannot evolve from capitalism or within captialist society gradually, in steps towards an eventual final communist society. In other words, captialism does not show any tendency towards bringing forth communism in stages (other than the socialization of labor), only a tendency towards crisis, social dislocation, war, what have you, which when the costs of such things start to outweigh the benefits from social development, capitalism becomes decadent.

That’s true, but what we also say is that in decadence the dialectical movement of society does not stop, on the contrary, the contradiction between the growth of the productive forces and the fetter of capitalist social relations becomes more and more extreme (internet, robotics, ability to feed the world, etc). The ICC highlighted this theme in an editorial here, but I don’t think it’s something we’ve developed enough. This has the potential to become an active and powerful factor in class consciousness.
 

Demogorgon
Interesting discussion

JK wrote:
But it seems like there is now an argument on the table that captialism can evolve towards something else that strictly speaking is not captialist or at least not generalized captialism, as a result of its own economic logic.

I have to say I'm surprised that people are so surprised about this. True, the point isn't made explicitly but surely this is implicit in the theory of decomposition. Assuming that humanity survives, surely the end-point of decomposition is exactly that - the disintegration of capitalist social relationships, of what we now call "civilisation".

JK wrote:
MH is right that at a certain phase of its development from the 16th to the 19th century--in other words, right up to the outbreak of decadence (slavery wasn't officially abolished in Brazil until the 1880s) slavery was a defining feature of capitalist (primitive) accumulation. In fact, there was probably something specifically captialist about this slavery in that it was not a continuation of an existing pre-capitalist mode of production; it was something new that developed several centuries after the emergence of captialism itself in Western Europe (which itself is difficult to date) during a particular mercantilist phase of capitalism--even if the master/slave relationship itself is not capitalist

This is a good point that I hadn't considered. However, I think you're wrong when you say "it was not a continuation of an existing pre-capitalist mode of production". In fact, the vast majority of slaves shipped in the Altantic slave trade - which I think is what you're referring to - were bought as the Europeans integrated into the pre-existing Arabic and West African slave economy and needed labour to expand their colonies. The slavery itself wasn't a Western invention - they simply exploited a pre-existing and highly developed slave infrastructure.

What was unique about the Atlantic slave trade was how the colonies became key elements in the development of Western capitalism. The re-emergence of generalised slavery in developed capitalist economies is something different, in that it represents a decline of the system.

MH wrote:
That’s true, but what we also say is that in decadence the dialectical movement of society does not stop, on the contrary, the contradiction between the growth of the productive forces and the fetter of capitalist social relations becomes more and more extreme (internet, robotics, ability to feed the world, etc). The ICC highlighted this theme in an editorial here, but I don’t think it’s something we’ve developed enough. This has the potential to become an active and powerful factor in class consciousness.

This idea of movement or process is vitally important. I was going to say something similar in a previous post but ended up deleting it in favour of my other ramblings.

However, it is key to the conception of breakdown. Decadence is not a static condition: it is a process, or as you so excellently put it "the contradiction between the growth of the productive forces and the fetter of capitalist social relations becomes more and more extreme". If left to itself (an abstraction, true, but a completely theoretically acceptable one), such a process cannot continue indefinitely. By virtue of its own trajectory, such a process poses the question of its own self-destruction.

MH
slavery

Demo wrote:

In fact, the vast majority of slaves shipped in the Altantic slave trade - which I think is what you're referring to - were bought as the Europeans integrated into the pre-existing Arabic and West African slave economy and needed labour to expand their colonies. The slavery itself wasn't a Western invention - they simply exploited a pre-existing and highly developed slave infrastructure.

The first slaves in the English North American colonies were overwhelmingly white European. Black chattel slavery came later, partly to capitalise on growing supplies of cheap African slave labour but also to avert the threat of black and white solidarity. In other words, slavery was an integral component of primitive capitalist accumulation, directly flowing from the dispossession of the peasantry.
 

Demogorgon
Firstly, the majority of the

Firstly, the majority of the white Europeans shipped to the Americas were indentured. That was very different from chattel-slavery which characterised the African slaves. Indenture was common in the medieval guild system; it was the basis of apprenticeship. In other words, it was a vestige of a pre-capitalist system as opposed to JK's claim there was something specifically capitalist about the forms of labour in the colonies.

As for slavery more broadly, I'm not disputing that it was a key component of primitive accumulation, but the point about primitive accumulation is that it was transitional phase between feudalism and capitalism. It was not capitalism in itself, even if it established the bases on which capitalism-proper was founded.

At the risk of getting bogged down in specifics, the key point here is this: "Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands."

That is what happened in the process of transition between feudalism and capitalism. Clearly, Marx had in mind a revolutionary transition from one class-structure to another and what I am suggesting here is somewhat different: the dissolution of a social system with no revolutionary alternative.

What happens in such circumstances? Does the dilapidated social structure just limp along forever until the working class gets it act together? What if that - and this is explicitly posed in the theory of decomposition - doesn't happen?

The idea of a new, horrific, degenerate social order emerging from the ruins of capitalism - assuming humanity survives, of course - is absolutely implicit in the theory of decomposition. Suggesting capitalism will go on "decomposing" forever seems to be bringing back the idea of "eternal capitalism" through the back door, just as we've shoved it out the front.

jk1921
Atlantic Economy

Demogorgon wrote:

This is a good point that I hadn't considered. However, I think you're wrong when you say "it was not a continuation of an existing pre-capitalist mode of production". In fact, the vast majority of slaves shipped in the Altantic slave trade - which I think is what you're referring to - were bought as the Europeans integrated into the pre-existing Arabic and West African slave economy and needed labour to expand their colonies. The slavery itself wasn't a Western invention - they simply exploited a pre-existing and highly developed slave infrastructure.

Yeah, I don't agree that the vast expansion of chattel slavery that went along with capitalism's mercantilist phase was simply a continuation of pre-capitalist African slavery. In fact, suggesting an equivalency between pre-slave trade era African forms of slavery and plantation slavery in the New World would likely get you drummed out of an African-American studies class today for having attempted to obfuscate the specifically European (and therefore specifically capitalist) barbarity of the slave trade with the argument by distraction of, "Hey, look Africans did it too." Of course that approach doesn't make the substance of the argument right itself (I think that maybe that's a form of a fallacious appeal to authority?). Anyway, I do think there is something quite different about the two things and it remains a problem for Marxists to attempt to understand and explain why--at a certain stage in its development (again probably something like a century or more after it begin to emerge as an ascendant social relationship) capitalist development led to a massive expansion of slavery at the level of the Atlantic economy.

BTW, I think I've had the same argument with MH a couple of years ago and maybe I took the other side then?

Demogorgon wrote:

The re-emergence of generalised slavery in developed capitalist economies is something different, in that it represents a decline of the system.

I think I agree with you there....

Demogorgon
The distinguishing feature of capitalist production

I'm not sure that getting thrown out of an African studies module is necessarily the ultimate criterion of truth ...

I suppose this leads us to the question of what the distinguishing features of capitalist production actually are. It can't be the market economy or private property as this would negate the idea of state capitalism. If slavery (and possibly other forms of exploitation) is to be seen as capitalist, then it can't be the wage-labour relationship either. It obviously isn't exploitation as all class societies are exploitative.

What does that leave us with?

The only other thing I can think of is the growing tendency for production to be subordinated to the needs of accumulation. The capitalist no longer gains profit by responding to the demands of the market; instead, he accumulates in order to drive down his costs of production and thus seize a greater share of the market. This explains why capitalists will increase production even when markets are saturated if he's able to compete against the other players and his ROP is high enough.

This would seem to be the element you're looking for the Atlantic slave trade in that it contributed to the beginnings of this process, whereas previous forms of slavery did not.

This still leaves the questions as to why did capitalism find wage-labour a more efficient means to extract the surplus value it needed for accumulation? Why was there a combat waged by the "progressive" elements of the bourgeoisie to abolish slavery?

I don't think this alters my central thesis, though: that capitalism, even the absence of a proletarian revolution, cannot go on forever. This is because the central contradictions that lead to decadence are the contradictions of the accumulation process itself.

jk1921
Transitory?

Demogorgon wrote:

I don't think this alters my central thesis, though: that capitalism, even the absence of a proletarian revolution, cannot go on forever. This is because the central contradictions that lead to decadence are the contradictions of the accumulation process itself.

No, and I think I agree with that. But I can also see where this assertion would seemingly contradict a central thrust of Marxism that would suggest that there really is something special about the capitalist social relationship in comparison to other modes of labor exploitation in that once it gets going it cannot really be stopped; it has an inbuilt tendency to generalize, go global and "remake the world in its image" (channeling the relevant passages from the Manifesto). So, I guess I am a little surprised that you are surprised that there is some resistance to the idea that the capitalist social relationship itself can evolve (or devolve) toward something else. Of course, these passages from the Manifesto, and perhaps an entire genre of Marxist scholarship on capitalist development that has emerged in its wake, tend to focus on the progressive features of an ascendant capitalism (and perhaps even overstate them), as a way of making a political point against the various backward looking socialist and anarchist currents of the time, maybe deliberately leaving the specifics about the coming senility of the system vague. But I think this discussion reflects the fact that more than a century and half later (including about a century of decadence and a quarter century of decomposition) we are still having difficulty wrapping our concepts around the ultimate fate of a capitalist system in historical decline--what it means to say an historical system that has seemingly been defined by its generalizing dynamism is declining--or as the title of the article put it: "What it means to say capitalism is an historically transistory system." If the capitalist relationship can decompose (and saying it decomposes is not quite the same as saying it will "collapse"), what can it decompose to? Some kind of pre-capitalist simple commodity system? But wouldn't this pose the potential for a new round of capitalist accumulation? We are back to the problem of an "eternal capitalism," which the forefathers of our current swore couldn't be possible.

On the specific issue of the persistence of slavery under capitalism: I think there may actually be three positions: 1.) It isn't really a problem because although slavery is not really capitalist, its persistence in the ascendant phase of capitalism only reflects the continuation of pre-capitalist modes of production that were (mostly) eventually overcome during capitalist ascendance by the generalization of wage labor; 2.) Slavery (or indenture) really isn't much different from wage labor, so this isn't a problem--slavery is capitalist; 3.) Slavery is different from capitalist wage labor and there is a theoretical and empirical problem for Marxists in explaining why it persisted (or in fact even grew) during some phases of capitalist development. I don't think this is merely an academic controversy either, as it impacts the question of capitalism's trajectory today: someone holding position 2 may be more inclined to see the future (absent a proletarian revolution) as remaining capitalist despite decadence and decomposition, whereas position #1 would see the reemergence of pre-capitalist modes of labor exploitation in modern capitalism as strong empirical evidence of a decomposing capitalist social relationship. Meanwhile, position #3 is just confused as hell. angel

baboon
a bit behind

I'm a bit behind here, but on the turn of the discussion through Alf's post:

There was, as it's identified, a great weakness in the ICC in the expression of a "catastrophic" view of decadence, i.e., that it was very quickly going to collapse in a heap through its economic contradictions piling up. This element of the analysis was mainly fuelled by an immediatism that also affected other aspects of the situation, not least the class struggle. I thought that the ICC confronted this issue well and drew from its errors seeing capitalism as a social system, one that could develop and refine its state capitalist measures even over national levels giving it more control over and more ability to manoeuvre within its economy.

But "social system" doesn't mean eternal system. The whole dynamic of class society, contradictory and dialectical, has been towards an ultimate showdown between two major classes and the whole dynamic of decadence is towards the ruling class experiencing an overall loss of control, irrationality and decay as the contradictios pile up. I spent some years on libcom arguing against the vision of an eternal capitalism which, through various reformist arguments, is compatible with the view of many anarchists and libertarians on that site. I don't think that it's a view that's compatible with marxism. If capitalism is to self-destruct, and there's no reason to think that it won't, then it will cease to exist as capitalism. What will exist is anyone's educated guess but it will be a world of nightmares.

The question of war is very important for the working class. The nuclear "Sword of Damocles" hanging over mankind, supposedly lifted by the collapse of the Soviet Union, is now back on the agenda with a vengeance. Whole parts of the planet are being devastated by imperialist war and the greater tragedies that it brings in its wake. There's no linear projection from world wars one and two to three, but surely the consequences of a third world war would be the ultimate self-destruction, a "mutual ruin" in fact that would be the consequence, the result of capitalism's decadence. Prior to this full-blown development, which is absolutely integral to capitalism, and opposed to it, war could play a big part in the development of class consciousness and help galvanise a revolutionary perspective.

jk1921
Internal vs. external

baboon wrote:

The question of war is very important for the working class. The nuclear "Sword of Damocles" hanging over mankind, supposedly lifted by the collapse of the Soviet Union, is now back on the agenda with a vengeance. Whole parts of the planet are being devastated by imperialist war and the greater tragedies that it brings in its wake. There's no linear projection from world wars one and two to three, but surely the consequences of a third world war would be the ultimate self-destruction, a "mutual ruin" in fact that would be the consequence, the result of capitalism's decadence.

You are right Baboon, but I am not clear if such an outcome would represent something "internal to the logic of the capitalist relation itself" or something more akin to a external event originating from the "superstructure." A similar thing might be said about the threat of an immanent ecological catastrophe (a real possibility that has perhaps been best theorized by Hollywood). O'Connor has referred to this as "capitalism's second contradiction," a construction which suggests something not quite internal to the logic of capital itself, but nevetheless something very much the product of the real capitalist world system. But perhaps the same thing could be said about a giant asteroid strike. There is nothing capitalist about an extinction level impact event in itself (such things occur at a cosmological time scale well beyond the level of mere human history,) but it is also the case that a capitalist society in decomposition would be much less capable of responding effectively to such an existential threat to our species than a communist one would.

I would caution though not to draw an equivalence between theories of an "eternal capitalism" put forward by reformists and the idea of a decomposing capitalism remaining capitalism untill the very end. The two ideas come from very different places and if I understand MH correctly, he is no reformist and fully recognizes that capitalism has reached a state of decadence where its economic relations no longer serve the overall interests of the human species, even if he is skpetical of the idea that capitalism can decompose into something that isn't capitalist.

Demogorgon
Quote:I would caution though

Quote:
I would caution though not to draw an equivalence between theories of an "eternal capitalism" put forward by reformists and the idea of a decomposing capitalism remaining capitalism until the very end.

In a way, this quote encapsulates the problem we are having conceptualising in this discussion. A decomposing capitalism may remain capitalist until the very end. The point is, it ends. And what happens then? Unless we see this end as the extinction of humanity, something that does not strike me as inevitable in decomposition, then some other social order must appear. Or maybe decomposing capitalism doesn't end - in which case, it can't be quite as historically transitory as we thought.

On reformism, I don't think anybody is muddling up reformist politics with theories of decadence. What this is about is analysing our respective theories of decadence, finding the fracture points, those apparently innocuous analytical assumptions that lead us into contradictions with our main theses.

Quote:
If the capitalist relationship can decompose (and saying it decomposes is not quite the same as saying it will "collapse"), what can it decompose to? Some kind of pre-capitalist simple commodity system? But wouldn't this pose the potential for a new round of capitalist accumulation? We are back to the problem of an "eternal capitalism," which the forefathers of our current swore couldn't be possible.

There is a very clear different between decomposition and collapse, at least in the sense that I am using those terms. By collapse, I mean it in the sense of Rosa Luxemburg: that point where accumulation, as she put it, becomes impossible.

However, the more I think about it, I only see this as being likely in the scenario of decomposition.

War - even if we think this is linked to the accumulation cycle as with some theoretical positions - is not strictly speaking an economic collapse. Were there to be a 3rd World War, accumulation would be impossible, true, but mainly because the only thing left to "accumulate" would be radioactive rubble. There is more to say on the question of war, relating to the concept of the crisis-war-reconstruction cycle, which has been a theoretical hot potato in the ICC for a while.

The other alternative outcome from decadence, communist revolution, speaks for itself.

Decomposition seems to be the only scenario in which capitalism has enough time for the economic contradictions to work themselves out in their full logic, as the paths to both global war and revolution are blocked.

I don't think the possibility of the re-emergence of capitalism following some sort of disintegration is quite the same as saying capitalism is eternal. If humanity survived even a global conflagration, it's possible capitalism or something like it might re-emerge at some future point. That seems a bit similar to saying terminal cancer goes on forever, because it appears in other people.

MH
brief points in response

First thanks for the clarification in post #57about the different issues in the ICC’s debates, Demo, that’s helpful. From the outside I’m not sure I see the issues as quite so separate; from memory the question posed by 2007-8 crisis was precisely whether capitalism could possibly collapse; closure of ATMs, martial law, ‘rioting on the streets’ etc.

jk1921 wrote:

I would caution though not to draw an equivalence between theories of an "eternal capitalism" put forward by reformists and the idea of a decomposing capitalism remaining capitalism untill the very end. The two ideas come from very different places and if I understand MH correctly, he is no reformist and fully recognizes that capitalism has reached a state of decadence where its economic relations no longer serve the overall interests of the human species, even if he is skpetical of the idea that capitalism can decompose into something that isn't capitalist.

I’m happy to confirm that I am not a reformist smileyand yes, I am sceptical about some of the speculation here about something new emerging from the decomposition of capitalism; firstly because it is just that – speculation, and secondly because I think at worst it betrays a mechanistic interpretation of Luxemburg’s theories and Marxism in general.

Let’s just take Luxemburg’s oft-quoted statement that “As it approaches the point where humanity only consists of capitalists and proletarians, further accumulation will become impossible.” (Anti-Critique). This is used to prove that Luxemburg argues when capitalism runs out of extra-capitalist markets it will collapse. But I think Luxemburg is very well aware that this is not the whole story; she is writing at the level of the objective laws of capitalism which dictate a definite theoretical end point to capitalism, but as a Marxist she is also very well aware that history, to coin a phrase, is the history of class struggles; the phenomenon of imperialism that she is explaining is, as she says, itself the product of real political and economic struggles and will give rise to the class struggle of the proletariat lnog before this end point is reached. In other words, the historic crisis of capitalism, which in the last instance is caused by the lack of extra-capitalist markets, will be fought out by the struggles of real, active, conscious human beings on both sides, just as the “bitter contradictions, crises, spasms”, together with “the violent destruction of capital”, described by Marx resolve themselves in workers’ struggles, wars and revolutions.

Similarly, as the article emphasises, in the discussion about the reasons for decadent capitalism’s survival we mustn’t lose sight of the subjective dimension of the class struggle; as long as the proletariat does not destroy capitalism the bourgeoisie will be able to find ways of ensuring the survival of its system, despite their longer term consequences. In other words it is the subjective factor of class consciousness, in the negative sense, ie. the enormous difficulty faced by an exploited, oppressed class in developing the necessary class consciousness and confidence to overthrow capitalism, that explains 100 years of decadence just as much as the continued existence of extra-capitalist markets or ‘Keynesian-Fordist’ mechanisms, etc. For similar reasons I am wary of speculation about 'the end of capitalism'. It is the increasingly destructive nature of capitalism, the forces inherent in its birth and qualitatively enhanced by its decadence, that are the greater threat to understand and analyse.