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

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Demogorgon
Quote:First thanks for the

Quote:
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.

I don't there was question was about whether capitalism could collapse at that point. My personal view is that it was a very real possibility, in the US at least. There were already signs that the breakdown in the finance system was preventing the shipments of raw materials, which was starting to impact the productive apparatus. Similar stoppages have already happened in Russia in the late 90s and Argentina in 2000-1.

The question was more around our analysis of how capitalism managed recover. For example, if the crisis had been caused by credit reaching the limit of its capacity to keep capitalism going, then how could more credit save the system?

For a value analysis, the recovery is explicable in the sense that the crisis and recession that followed enabled the recovery and survival of the system, by destroying and devaluing capital. For the Luxemburgist framework, it poses real problems, in particular the neo-Luxemburgist idea of "cheating the law of value", which I've done to death elsewhere.

This is why many defenders of Luxemburg are returning to something more akin to her original conception, which you more-or-less precis in your third paragraph. There are still problems with that position, in my opinion, but it is more methodologically consistent.

Quote:
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.

The problem with this is that it's merely an assertion. It is also at odds with what you yourself describe as the objective laws of capitalism. The only way the bourgeoisie can achieve what you're suggesting is by suspending the systems objective laws - and because those objective laws exist only because capitalists act like capitalists, the only way they can manage this is by ceasing to act like capitalists. I think this leads us to a voluntarist conception of the bourgeoisie's class struggle that is completely at odds with Marx's conception of the capitalist class as victims of their own reified consciousness.

I posed several questions about this conception in #57 which I would ask you to think about, but I think the most important for the moment is for you to clarify as to whether, at the level of what you call the objective laws of capitalism, you accept the system is destined to collapse. You appear to accept that, but it would help me if you could state it clearly.

If we can establish agreement on that, that might provide a more solid foundation on which to discuss the subjective factors that may act as counter-tendencies to that outcome.

MH
three answers

(since edited in an attempt (hopefully) to make my response even clearer)

Thanks for reminding me about your 3 questions Demo.

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)?

Marx’s analysis of the accumulation process predicts that as a result of its inherent contradictions capitalism like all previous modes of production will enter a stage of decline, leading either to  revolution or mutual ruin of the classes. Due to the unique dynamism of capitalism this stage is uniquely destructive of the productive forces and humanity as a whole.

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?

Decadence is not a theory of breakdown or collapse. In fact there is no general Marxist theory of decadence. The decadence of each mode of production is different because the laws of their operation are different. In the case of some previous modes of production this has involved collapse or breakdown. The objective foundation of capitalist decadence is the contradiction between the imperative of capital to expand without limit and the limit imposed by the wage labour relationship, which sooner or later leads to the definitve fettering of the total potential productive forces of humanity, and is characterised by “bitter contradictions, crises, spasms”, together with “the violent destruction of capital”, which for Marx is “the most striking form in which advice is given it to be gone and to give room to a higher state of social production” (Capital).

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.

I see what you are saying here: the bourgeoisie is itself subject to the externally coercive laws of capitalism; laws brought into existence by capitalism itself and given an objective, albeit historically transitory, reality.

As I understand it, the source of reification is the separation of the producer from the product of their labour, which creates the mystification that relations between human beings are in fact relations between ‘things’ (commodities, money, etc). But they are at root still social relations and the motor force of history is still the struggle between the classes, driven in the last instance by economic conditions.

In short I think you are posing a false choice here; yes the bourgeoisie is subject to the laws of capitalism, but as the ruling class, faced with the historic crisis of its system and the permanent threat from the proletariat, it is also able to learn lessons from experience and exercise a degree of conscious control over the operation of these laws. I mean what else is state capitalism in the 20th century? The New Deal? Protectionism? Free credit? The magic money tree, aka quantitative easing?!

In summary, capitalism has been changing and evolving since the moment of its birth and the way in which its objective laws operate has also changed and evolved, from the epoch of laissez faire 19th century capitalism to 20th century state capitalism and 21st century neo-liberalism. The bourgeoisie itself has changed and evolved with it.

I think I can see from your views here why you would object to the idea that in decadence the bourgeoisie can 'cheat the law of value', but I’d have to look back on that discussion to understand better what you are saying.
 

jk1921
Analogy

Demogorgon wrote:

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.

Actually, I am not sure that analogy is as problematic as you suggest, but I'd have to think about why a little bit.

EDIT: OK, I thought about it some--terminal cancer cannot be stopped, it is just as it name implies--terminal. You can delay the end with chemotherapy, radiation treatment, surgery or what have you, but it will always come back and probably come back stronger than before. But even when a particular individual patient dies, this isn't the end of cancer, which (new ground breaking treatments aside for the moment) may quite possibly be a fact of the human condition that can never be eradicated from our species or most higher life forms (although somehow mole rats seem to be immune). In fact, curing one type of cancer may even lead to the development of new types as the pathological process adapts as statistical probability suggests new mutuations are likely to evolve (don't quote me on any that, I am well beyond my qualifcations!).

Similarly, once capitalism becomes established as the dominant social relation, it has an in built tendency to advance, progress and to generalize. Even after it hits is zenith and starts to decline or decompose, its decomposition (absent some other external factor) may really just be a necessary precondition for its reemergence once decomposition has reached a certain stage of simple commodity production, which poses in itself the preconditions for the emergence of expanded reproduction all over again--a kind of zombie capitalism then arises from the grave.

I don't think I believe any of what I just wrote, but I do think there is a certain reading of Marxism and the objective logic of capitalist development that could lead to such a conclusion if we are following the logic of decomposition through. But perhaps we are getting a little into the weeds as this is probably far from the most likely outcome of decomposition, which would likely involve some kind of catastrophic superstructural event that short circuits this (de) evolution qua (re) development before it ever reached this point.

Alf
Just to clarify....

I will need to go back over quite a few posts in this thread but just to clarify: the ICC's 'self-critique' of a tendency towards catastrophism has not been abandoned. What we are rejecting is a kind of immediatism which concludes from certain symptoms of its crisis that capitalism, economically speaking, has already reached the end of the line, whether we are talking about 1914, 1974 or 2008....Rosa Luxemburg certainly didn't think that this was the case in 1914, even if she did conclude, correctly, that the system had entered its phase of decline.  And I think she also made it clear that the end of capitalism would not be a purely economic collapse: before this point could ever be reached, it would be either overthrown by the proletariat or would be engulfed in increasingly devastating wars. And I think that's what we are talking about in the phase of decomposition - not an economic evolution into some pre-capitalist mode of production, but a series of catastrophes, both military and ecological, which could end in the destruction of humanity. I'll come back to this when I read the most recent threads more carefully. 

jk1921
Contradictions

Alf wrote:

And I think that's what we are talking about in the phase of decomposition - not an economic evolution into some pre-capitalist mode of production, but a series of catastrophes, both military and ecological, which could end in the destruction of humanity. I'll come back to this when I read the most recent threads more carefully. 

Right, but is it nevetheless possible for the capitalist social relationship to erode in the meantime to whatever extent before these events occur? Is there evidence this might be happening today or beginning to happen? BTW, this would be different than evidence that the forces of production are beginning to strain the relations of production, which would be evidence of a germ of communism brought forth by the productive forces; we are talking here about capitalist relationships themselves starting to come undone as a result of their own contradictions. I think this is the controversy here...

MH
another social order?

Demogorgon wrote:

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.

Demogorgon wrote:

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.Is this the nub of the perceived problem here? That unless we see an end to decomposing capitalism we are in effect denying that capitalism is historically transitory?

Is this the nub of the perceived problem here? That unless we see an end to decomposing capitalism we are in effect denying that capitalism is historically transitory?It’s true, as we agreed, that with the decomposition of capitalism we are in historically uncharted territory, It’s also true, as we agreed, that the dialectical movement of society does not come to a stop.

But it looks like we need to revisit the reasons why Marxism is founded on the conclusion, from theoretical/historical investigation, that capitalism is the final class society, ie. because it is the first to be founded on the unlimited development of the productive forces, and in which production is socialised.

I also think jk has hit on an important point above (post #72) by pointing to capitalism’s “in built tendency to advance, progress and to generalize”. Capitalism’s only purpose is its own self-expansion. As the Manifesto says, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere”. This does not change in decomposition.

So I think we need to focus more on the implications of this in-built tendency in the context of decomposition rather than speculating on another social order arising. In a real sense, such speculation goes beyond Marxism - which is not a reason to close down a discussion but does need to be acknowledged. Sorry, can't expand on this further just at the moment. 

 

Non ex hoc mundi
I have been informed by an

I have been informed by an ICC member active in this discussion that as the ICC's theory of decadence is the foundational basis for your organization as a whole, going back to the late '70s, any critiques of the theory is viewed as an attack on the very core of the ICC, and even the ICC itself.

Perhaps, despite my comradely attempts at discussion, I was misconstrued as some dangerous element? In my absence there have been disagreements as significant as the ones I hold between yourselves, yet noone has been demonized as I was...this hurt my feelings quite a bit, to be honest...but nevertheless, I feel compelled to add my thoughts once again if you all will accept them.

Putting arguements about progress, decline and collapse to one side for a moment, could it be that capitalism underwent a significant qualitative change, maybe around 1914, that has more to do with the real domination of capital than any idea of 'progress', or its opposite, that plenty of 'contra-historical' indigenous people (worthy of the praise of the user 'Alf') reject?

I can't find any literature of the ICC's on the subject of real subsumption of labor itself.

KT
Welcome Back NEHM

Glad you've returned to the discussion: it was not my intention to hurt your feelings.

If I misrepresented your positions as you claimed, please, at some point (not necessarily in this discussion here and now) show where and how. It's in no-one's interests to raise false arguments or straw men.

 Below is a link to one ICC article dealing with the formal and real domination of capital: hope it's of some use.

The 'real domination' of capitalism and the real confusions of the proletarian milieu

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/060_decadence_part08.html

 

Non ex hoc mundi
Hello KT

Thank you for the reconciliation. I'm happy this happened because it was not my intention ever to have a downright disruptive presence here.

Yes, things have been misconstrued, but I am still very much entrenched in thought about the last many posts here -- I will raise the issue of what and how those things were misconstrued at another occasion, perhaps another thread.

For now, please continue to carry on your interesting discussion, I don't mean to interrupt. Thanks again.

I'm glad rational-mindedness has prevailed.

jk1921
Speculation

MH wrote:

So I think we need to focus more on the implications of this in-built tendency in the context of decomposition rather than speculating on another social order arising. In a real sense, such speculation goes beyond Marxism - which is not a reason to close down a discussion but does need to be acknowledged. Sorry, can't expand on this further just at the moment. 
 

I am not certain speculating about the fate of decomposing captialism is "un-Marxist" in some way. It is, at this stage, somewhat speculative--but I am not sure there is anything wrong with speculation in and of itself as long as it is guided by a method. But I think we need to answer whether or not a devolution of captialism toward some other dominant social relation as a result of decomposition is even theoretically possible, which is a somewhat different question from whether or not it is actually happening. I think there may be some empircal evidence that it might be actally happening, and I have referenced that above, although the meaning of these things is obviously open for debate. I do think there are important implications for the meaning of decadence in attempting to answer this question, so I don't see it as some kind of distraction.

The issue of "speculation" though is interesting. Hawkeye raised this point early in the thread about the need to actually describe the communist future in some detail. This has often been resisted in the Marxist tradition, so as not to violate Marx's recommendation not to "provide recipes for the cooks of the future." There are very good methodological reasons against doing so, i.e. trying to anticipate the material needs of a form of society that cannot be brought forth within the current boundaries of capitalism is fraught with epistemological risks, but does the opposite hold true for speculating on the fate of decomposing capitalism? Shouldn't we be able to see it beginning to happen in real time, so as to have a real basis from which to attempt to characterize the future? If capitalism can decompose into something else, it theoretically should happen as a process of devolution, the contours of which could possibly be staked out without the same epistemological prolems related to speculating about communism.

I think the crux of this matter goes to even deeper questions about the Marxist theory of history in general. What does it mean to say that a mode of production that is characterized by its dynamism and in built tendency to spread--to reproduce itself on a expanded basis--becomes decadent? And how does this relate to the obsolescence of other modes of production. There is a tendency here to want to see a process of "rise and demise," as has befallen other modes of production (although we shouldn't lose sight of the possibility that other modes of production may have actually been fairly stable and were only made decadent in relation to capitalism), but what if capitalism even in its decadence--and even under the conditions of decomposition--would tend to, left to its own economic devices, hover around a certain point--prone to crisis, prone to dislocations, but also prone to recovering from these crises and dislocations to some extent? Perhaps a process of decomposing towards simple commodity production would only lead to a new process of expanded reproduction (there is some parallel here to the crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis phenomenon). Perhaps a certain vision of the nature of capitalism comes off as "ahistorical," as it deprives us of a telelogical--or reverse telelogical--endpoint?

But would this make it any less decadent, if it no longer served the overall interests of humanity in developing the productive forces in a useful way? In the end, we are back to the question: "What makes capitalism decadent?" and "Why is it so important to a non-reformist, revolutionary vision to posit that capitalism must have an end one way or the other?" What work is this theory of history doing in our approach to politics in the present that a different one couldn't?

Alf
welcome back nehm

I also welcome you back Nehm. I too don't think you came here to disrupt. But I think you have misunderstand what our comrade wrote to you: 

 

" I have been informed by an ICC member active in this discussion that as the ICC's theory of decadence is the foundational basis for your organization as a whole, going back to the late '70s, any critiques of the theory is viewed as an attack on the very core of the ICC, and even the ICC itself". 

 

It's important to understand that we don't ever equate critiques with attacks. Certainly a rejection of 'ascendancy and decadence theory' must lead to the a rejection of the theoretical foundations upon which our organisation is based - to a rejection of the 'materialist conception of history'. But there are plenty of people who believe it''s possible to go beyond marxism and still be part of the communist or revolutionary movement, and we don't because of that assume that they are attacking us in a malignant way. We are here to defend, to debate, the marxist conception of history, not to banish to the flames all who disagree with us. 

Demogorgon
Catching Up

I've been occupied with other things the last few days, so I can't respond to everything said. I'm going to focus on what is the most fundamental issue, the question of breakdown.

MH wrote:
Decadence is not a theory of breakdown or collapse. The objective foundation of capitalist decadence is the contradiction between the imperative of capital to expand without limit and the limit imposed by the wage labour relationship, which sooner or later leads to the definitve fettering of the total potential productive forces of humanity

I feel we're starting to go around in circles a bit.

First, it is worth remembering that there are basically two theories on which the currents of the communist left have based their conception of decadence:

  • Rosa Luxemburg's theory, based on the necessity of external markets to realise the surplus value destined for accumulation;
  • Henryk Grossman's theory, based on the growing insufficiency of surplus value to enable continued accumulation.

Without going into the rights-and-wrongs of either theory here, it is necessary to state unambiguously that both theories are indisputably theories of breakdown. I have already supplied several quotes from Rosa, demonstrating she supported this view. But, more importantly, it is the logical consequence of her theory. She understood this very clearly.

It is therefore impossible to defend her theory and deny capitalist breakdown. If you reject breakdown, you reject Rosa's examination of the economic foundations of decadence. You therefore undermine your own basis for explaining capitalism's passage into decadence. Unless decadence is simply to be a brute fact (as it is to the bourgeoisie) you'll need to provide another framework.

Identifying a "breakdown tendency" does not mean that such a breakdown is historically inevitable. The other consequences of decadence (war, revolution, catastrophe, etc.) may act to destroy capitalism long before the economic processes can reach their apogee. Both Rosa and Grossman were clear on this. But they were also clear that the breakdown tendency was the fundamental driver that impulsed capitalism to its ultimate self-destruction, even if historically, the proximate cause of the end of capitalism could turn out to be different.

MH wrote:
In short I think you are posing a false choice here; yes the bourgeoisie is subject to the laws of capitalism, but as the ruling class, faced with the historic crisis of its system and the permanent threat from the proletariat, it is also able to learn lessons from experience and exercise a degree of conscious control over the operation of these laws. I mean what else is state capitalism in the 20th century? The New Deal? Protectionism? Free credit? The magic money tree, aka quantitative easing?!

I think this underlines the fundamental necessity of understanding the theoretical frameworks that explain decadence. Depending on which framework you adhere to, the understanding of the efficacy and function of these mechanisms vary enormously.

From Grossman's perspective, these strategies are all based around achieving the same effect as the capitalist crisis - devaluing capital, increasing the production of surplus value, etc. and / or buying time for these things to happen. They function in conformity with capitalism's functioning rather than working against it. They do not cheat the law of value, they facillitate it. The idea that these state capitalist measures enable the bourgeoisie to somehow extricate themselves from capitalism's rules of functioning is pure illusion. This is demonstrated superficially in the failure, again and again and again, of the bourgeoisie to prevent the reappearance of crisis.

This doesn't mean such measures don't have a real effect, but there are also limits to those effects. These limits are determined by the objective laws of capitalism (and, if not, then what does define the limit of, say, credit?). Such measures, taken too far, begin to stretch fundamental capitalist relations to breaking point. The bourgeoisie understands this, if only at the level of instinct: this is why private capital attempts to mediate the fundamental contradiction between government spending (and debt) and private enterprise, by continually putting on pressure to reign in the former even while recognising the latter relies on it.

baboon
I wasn't suggesting above

I wasn't suggesting above that anyone on here was in any way supporting economic reformism as a way of keeping capitalism going. I was talking about my experience with anarchists and libertarians who saw capitalism as continuing through reforms, such as Green Energy, and those that saw it continue to exist in its essential form even if was smashed to smithereens. Seeing it continue or always rising from the ashes, seemed to me to be against the analysis of decadence and underestimating its "fearsome seriousness".

I think that the question of "barbarism" and "barbarity" versus the Barbarians is secondary. And the quote from Luxemburg's Junius Pamplet is relevant:
"Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales. In this war imperialism has won. Its bloody sword of genocide has brutally tilted the scale toward the abyss of misery. The only compensation for all the misery and all the shame would be if we learn from the war how the proletariat can seize mastery of its own destiny and escape the role of the lackey to the ruling classes."
 

jk1921
Nature of Breakdown?

Demogorgon wrote:

First, it is worth remembering that there are basically two theories on which the currents of the communist left have based their conception of decadence:

  • Rosa Luxemburg's theory, based on the necessity of external markets to realise the surplus value destined for accumulation;
  • Henryk Grossman's theory, based on the growing insufficiency of surplus value to enable continued accumulation.

Without going into the rights-and-wrongs of either theory here, it is necessary to state unambiguously that both theories are indisputably theories of breakdown. I have already supplied several quotes from Rosa, demonstrating she supported this view. But, more importantly, it is the logical consequence of her theory. She understood this very clearly.

It is therefore impossible to defend her theory and deny capitalist breakdown. If you reject breakdown, you reject Rosa's examination of the economic foundations of decadence. You therefore undermine your own basis for explaining capitalism's passage into decadence. Unless decadence is simply to be a brute fact (as it is to the bourgeoisie) you'll need to provide another framework.

Perhaps, but the nature of "breakdown" is still to be debated. Is breakdown just a form of an economic crisis or does it have something of an historical quality to it from which there is no return--not even some partial recovery? I think it is possible to see decadence in more qualitative terms in which the nature of capitalism's recurring crises are different than during ascendance because they no longer serve any deeper purpose of developing the economy in a socially useful and historically progressive way--they become something like Nietzsche's "eternal return," with each "recovery" just retracing ground humanity had already reached. This is what makes capitalism decadent. I don't know if such a conception is right, but it is in various forms probably the conception of capitalism that is most prominent on the left today, even if the concept of decadence itself (or because of it) is rejected and the necessity for social transformation is founded on other grounds.

Was captialism prone towards "breakdown" during ascendance also? If so, how did it recover and why can't it do it under decadence--or why must there come a time when it can't?

Demogorgon
Depends on Framework

JK wrote:
Perhaps, but the nature of "breakdown" is still to be debated. Is breakdown just a form of an economic crisis or does it have something of an historical quality to it from which there is no return--not even some partial recovery?

I think this very much depends on your framework of analysis. In Luxemburg's schema, following the logic of her argument, it's difficult to see anything other than the complete inability of accumulation to continue. What would that actually manifest as? I can't say for sure, but at best there would be the appearance of massive, permanent crisis.

Grossman's schema is somewhat subtler. For him, crisis itself is an expression of the breakdown tendency. Every crisis has the potential to be the last, "ultimate" crisis. However, counter-tendencies (which include the action of the crisis itself) work to ameliorate breakdown and thus defer it, transforming the breakdown into the pattern of cyclical crisis that capitalism experiences in empirical reality.

The problem is that there is a secular tendency for the counter-tendencies to weaken: " ... these countertendencies are gradually emasculated, the antagonisms of world capitalism become progressively sharper and the tendency towards breakdown increasingly approaches its final form of an absolute collapse."

It thus becomes progressively harder for capital to resolve crises, even in the abstract (i.e. without considering class struggle, etc.). It's probably impossible to say which crisis will turn out to be the one that can't be resolved, but each has a tendency to be worse than the last.

I think the issue of decadence in Grossman's schema is the point where the crisis begins to take on such socially dislocatory forms that it begins to threaten the survival of the system itself.

First, there is the factor of imperialism and the tendency to war (and especially world war). I don't think much more needs to be said here?

Second, the fact that the bourgeosie has now has to implement the crisis cycle in a far more conscious manner than previously. Although I have largely presented the accumulation process as a "mechanism", it is still the product of living, human social forces. The crisis is the cumulative result of decisions taken by individual capitalists as they attempt to restructure the economy to raise the rate of profit.

Today, this un-coordinated response is no longer sufficient to achieve the goal. In particular, the violence and instability of the process has taken on such economically and socially threatening forms that the crisis can no longer be left to itself: it has to implemented. This is the real meaning of state capitalist measures. Their aim is not to cure crisis - an impossibility anyway - but to achieve the same aims in an orderly manner.

Lastly, there is the question of reforms. In ascendency, workers were able to win reforms that persisted across economic cycles. Today, the "reforms" workers can win are much more tightly locked to the crisis cycle. The better working conditions of what you call "Keynesian-Fordism" were not reforms but part of the rising wages that always accompanies strong periods of accumulation - in this case, the post-war boom. When the boom faltered, capital began to retrench on those "reforms".

It is also having growing difficulty even maintaining those reforms and social mechanisms that are essential for its own political and economic continuation. The situation in Britain provides a good snapshot:

  • the growing crisis in education, which is increasing unfit for purpose (at least, capitalist purposes)
  • the attacks on the police, essential for maintaining capitalist order, which is withdrawing more and more from fighting crime, to focus on political policing
  • the attempt to increase the efficiency of unproductive labour (or to make the unproductive productive again) by privatising the state, even where this means state functions are carried out incompetently
  • driving the price of labour down to nothing wherever possible, far below its point of reproduction - armies of "interns" in arenas of skilled labour, forced labour from the unemployed in unskilled labour markets, "gig economy" arrangements, etc.
  • implementing technological change (AI, "robots") that make human labour increasingly obsolete, thus drastically reducing the base on which capital can expand which is nothing other than ... human labour

In short, the needs of the accumulation cycle appear progressively more irrational, even when viewed on the system's own terms. And that's before you even consider the critique from the point of view of the working class ...

jk1921
Another approach

Perhaps another way of approaching the question is to ask why there is such resistance to the idea of capitalist breakdown? What political function is this resistance performing?

MH
misunderstanding Luxemburg

Demogorgon wrote:

I feel we're starting to go around in circles a bit.

Ok. I just think it's important to remind ourselves of the basics of our position on decadence here, but I also think there is some convergence of our views. On state capitalism, for example, I completely accept (of course) that the bourgeoisie’s conscious attempts to palliate the effects of decadence can only pave the way for even greater crises in the longer term.

The issue for me here is a perceived ‘catastrophist’ interpretation of decadence, which has led me to react to the ‘economistic’ way in which I think the concepts of ‘breakdown’ and ‘collapse’ have been used almost interchangeably, although I think you are rowing back a bit now on the idea of 'collapse'.

To go back to basics, Marx's critique shows that due to its contradictions capitalism contains an inbuilt tendency towards economic breakdown from the moment of its birth. I accept this. And it is these same contradictions that lead inevitably, at a certain point, to decadence, in which this tendency towards breakdown is exacerbated.

In fact fundamentally decadence is the breakdown of capitalism; the period of the “dissolution” of its inner laws (Marx); of its “inner disintegration” (CI), expressed in “bitter contradictions, crises, spasms” (Marx), etc. Correct me if I'm wrong but where in Marx is there a theory of decadence ending in the economic collapse or breakdown of capitalism?

So I think jk is absolutely right to emphasise that, at the very least, for Marxists, ‘breakdown’ needs to be interpreted at the historic rather than narrowly economic level.

I also see in your last post you emphasise that “a "breakdown tendency" does not mean that such a breakdown is historically inevitable. The other consequences of decadence (war, revolution, catastrophe, etc.) may act to destroy capitalism long before the economic processes can reach their apogee.” (my emphasis).

I think this shows a level of agreement but still misses the vital point about Luxemburg's approach (I have to admit I haven’t read Grossman so I can’t comment).

Firstly let’s dismiss the whole idea that Luxemburg believes capitalism will collapse, whatever she may have argued against Bernstein in Reform or Revolution (1900). Nowhere in the Accumulation of Capital (1913) does she suggest this. In fact she explicitly rejects the interpretation of her theory as one of economic collapse or breakdown. Of course she does, she's a Marxist!

In the Anti-Critique she repeats her statement that “Accumulation is impossible in an exclusively capitalist environment” and then emphasises that this point can never be reached because it is “of course, theoretical fiction”! Why? “Precisely because capital accumulation is not just an economic but also a political process”. Exactly!

Luxemburg’s theory, in her own words, simply shows the “tendency of development, the logical conclusion to which it is objectively heading. There is as little chance of this conclusion being reached as there was for any other previous period of social development to unfold itself completely” (my emphasis).

In other words, it is the class struggle that makes continued accumulation impossible. Lose sight of this and you risk ending up with a mechanistic, economistic interpretation of capitalist decadence.

Demogorgon
Agreement, but on what bases?

There is certainly some convergence in our views, but I think it's important to understand how we both arrived at respective positions. What is the methodological basis for our views? I think that we may still be poles apart at that level.

But onto some specifics ...

MH wrote:
On state capitalism, for example, I completely accept (of course) that the bourgeoisie’s conscious attempts to palliate the effects of decadence can only pave the way for even greater crises in the longer term.

OK. But there is a clear gulf between how I interpret state capitalism (i.e operating in fundamental conformity with capitalism's "objective laws") and your employment of the oft-used phrase "cheating the law of value". These are fundamentally different conceptions.

MH wrote:
To go back to basics, Marx's critique shows that due to its contradictions capitalism contains an inbuilt tendency towards economic breakdown from the moment of its birth. I accept this. And it is these same contradictions that lead inevitably, at a certain point, to decadence, in which this tendency towards breakdown is exacerbated.

Pedant that I am, even I can't see anything to disagree with here.

Quote:
In fact fundamentally decadence is the breakdown of capitalism; the period of the “dissolution” of its inner laws (Marx); of its “inner disintegration” (CI), expressed in “bitter contradictions, crises, spasms” (Marx), etc. Correct me if I'm wrong but where in Marx is there a theory of decadence ending in the economic collapse or breakdown of capitalism?

I disagree here with your equivalence of "decadence" with "breakdown". As I've tried to make clear, I'm using breakdown or collapse in a very specific way to describe the moment when accumulation becomes impossible.

I think your appeal to absence in Marx puts you on shaky ground. Marx doesn't give us a nicely thought out "theory of decadence" at all. Nor is there a systematic exposition on the theory of crisis or breakdown. The question is whether Marx provided us with all the elements on which to deduce such a framework governing his work. My answer to that is an emphatic yes to all three and I know you agree on the decadence question!

More to the point, you agree that "Marx's critique shows that due to its contradictions capitalism contains an inbuilt tendency towards economic breakdown"!

Quote:
Firstly let’s dismiss the whole idea that Luxemburg believes capitalism will collapse, whatever she may have argued against Bernstein in Reform or Revolution (1900). Nowhere in the Accumulation of Capital (1913) does she suggest this. In fact she explicitly rejects the interpretation of her theory as one of economic collapse or breakdown.

Can you point me to where she explicitly rejects this? I'm not necessarily disputing the claim, but I'd like to be able to read it in context.

And, again, I think you pose problems for your own position. Firstly, you've shown that Rosa appears to contradict herself and that perhaps I was being to kind in ascribing to her a coherence she apparently doesn't have. Of course, people can develop their positions and change their minds. Perhaps the Rosa who wrote Accumulation would approach the debate differently from the Rosa who wrote Reform.

But your other problem is that it show Rosa is unwilling to accept the consequences of her own theory. Why is an exclusively capitalist environment a "theoretical fiction"? You claim that she answers this, saying "Precisely because capital accumulation is not just an economic but also a political process".

But this, on its own, isn't an answer at all. What is it about a political process that precludes such a development? Her answer is imperalism leading to proletarian revolution:

"Imperialism is as much a historical method for prolonging capital’s existence as it is the surest way of setting an objective limit to its existence as fast as possible. This is not to say that the final point need actually be attained. The very tendency of capitalist development towards this end is expressed in forms which make the concluding phase of capitalism a period of catastrophes.

The more ruthlessly capital uses militarism to put an end to non-capitalist strata in the outside world and at home, the more it depresses the conditions of existence of all working strata, the more the day-to-day history of capital accumulation on the world stage changes into an endless chain of political and social catastrophes and convulsions; these latter, together with the periodic economic catastrophes in the shape of crises, make continued accumulation impossible and the rebellion of the international working class against the rule of capital necessary, even before it has economically reached the limits it set for itself."

And yet, even here, she notes that these catastrophes themselves make continued accumulation "impossible", implying some form of economic breakdown.

What's even more problematic is that what she is essentially saying here is that things will get to so bad that the proletariat will have to make a revolution.

This idea of the ultimate inevitability of the revolution is perhaps the elephant in the room here.

In the period in which Rosa was writing, such a belief was not quite as problematic as it is today.

For us, the comforting idea that capitalism will essentially go on until the working class can overthrow it, is no longer acceptable. Why?

Because, unlike Rosa, we have seen the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Mutual Assured Destruction, the sequence of post-war crises culminating in the "Great Recession", all happen without any revolutionary attempt by the proletariat. And even if there was a revolutionary attempt it may fail, as the Revolutionary Wave so bitterly demonstrates,

Indeed, the actual conclusion of the historic process since Rosa wrote those words has been the present situation of decomposition, which is predicated on the idea that neither war or revolution are on the immediate historic agenda and - even more importantly - may never happen.

In other words, we are in a historic situation which Rosa never anticipated: one where the tendency to imperialist catastrophe and revolution are both curtailed by the social stalemate between the bourgeoisie and the working class.

In such a situation, I see nothing to demonstrate that it is impossible for Rosa's "theoretical fiction" to become a reality.

Lastly, I just want to say a quick word about method. Right from the start, I have been deliberately abstracting (i.e. discounting) from the effects of class struggle. The reason for this is to determine whether there is any agreement on whether there is a breakdown tendency at the level of capitalism's objective laws. This use of abstraction is key to the Marxist method of analysis. For example, Marx abstracts from supply and demand in order to examine key elements of the structure of capitalist relations without disturbances.

I hope that clarifies why I've taken the approach I have.

KT
What's in a Name?

This debate is rushing ahead at such a bewildering pace: you might think we were facing imminent collapse!!

What follows was a response to posts #85 and 86#

I largely agree with Demogorgon’s responses to JK1921’s thought-provoking questions and to the generally critical attitude of previous posts to MH’s dogged insistence that it’s “capitalism all the way down” in the absence of proletarian revolution.

To recap:

JK asked: “Is breakdown just a form of an economic crisis or does it have something of an historical quality to it from which there is no return--not even some partial recovery?”

For me the answer is yes and yes.

It is a form of economic crisis (though not ‘just’ a form of economic crisis but the unfolding of the economic crisis in the specific, evolving and accumulating contradictions of capitalist decadence and decomposition. (1)

But above and beyond that it is undoubtedly more than ‘economics’ but an historic phenomenon, the disintegration of the social fabric, of the relations between men which make the reproduction of everyday life increasingly difficult and poses the question not of the continuing misery of decaying capitalism but of a gigantic obstacle to the ability of our species to maintain itself.

The mutual ruin of the contending classes, as the phrase suggests, does not envisage the survival of the bourgeoisie or, by implication, the mode of production which it represents. It does not entail the continuation of capitalist social relations. As Baboon says, leaving labels aside, it envisages a terrible regression, if not the extinction of our species.

The old ICC formula of “crisis-war-reconstruction” has been criticised by the organisation precisely because it implies some eternal ‘wheel of Samsara’, a worsening cycle to be sure, but a cycle nonetheless.

Whereas in fact the unconscious juggernaut that is capitalist social relations may never be reconstructed after another social conflagration like a third world world war or the decomposition implied by the increasing degradation of the air, sea and soil to the point at which human life at its present level is unsustainable.

Socialism or ‘Barbarism’: War or Revolution. Perspectives which, at some moments, are immediate and at others, general. But true in both instances, as revolutionaries before us recognised.

I was perplexed at JK’s Post #69 where, in response to Baboon’s insistence on the potentially ruinous nature of modern warfare, JK seemed to make a separation between the ‘bones’ of the capitalist accumulation and the flesh of war under capitalism, which he seemed to present as somehow separate from the accumulation process, a ‘superstructural’ issue’.

Hasn’t war – of course not a phenomenon specific to capitalism - always been at the heart of capitalist accumulation?

First of all the ‘civil’ war of the ruling classes in the transition from feudalism to capitalism against the agricultural, land-labouring population, the extended seizure of ‘the commons’, the rapid extension of private property, and the creation of a vast mass of humanity divorced from the means of production, for decades whipped, outlawed and finally fodder for the industrial revolution and wage slavery....

Second, and concurrent with this, the ‘colonial’ wars of decaying feudalism and rising capitalism, from the Spanish and Portugeuse plunders to the free-wheeling pirates of the Caribbean, eventually serving the European states who, along with their offspring in North America, went on to massacre and enslave native populations in the project of accumulation.

And then, shortly after the turn of the 20th century, with barely a quarter of the planet ‘occupied’ by capitalist social relations, the unprecedented catastrophe which threw even bourgeois measures of ‘progress’ into reverse: the very first World War in which the blockages of social relations demanded the contradictory expressions of expansion and destruction. ‘Imperialism, the Highest stage of Capitalism’ indeed, in spite of all the weaknesses within that particular analysis as voiced by Lenin...,

Another old but valid trope of the left communists; in ascendant capitalism, war paves the way for economic and general development; in decadence, development paves the way for generalised war...

That war of 1914-18 and those which inevitably followed and continue to this day remain at the root of the social crisis swamping the European project with economic and refugee migration giving rise to the populist back-lash and largely incoherent response of the bourgeoisie; is at the heart of the decomposition and rise in terror emanating from the carve-up of the Middle and Far East; of the imperialist expansion of Chinese capital and the US ‘pivot to Asia’... It was the turning point....

How capital has survived, bloated, encroached in the ensuing 100 years is another story: this somewhat emotional response is just this individual’s way of asserting that capital will not go gently or otherwise into the night: after 500 years of development, war and despoilation are no longer superstructural aspects of capitalist social relations, they are at the very heart of the accumulation process and its inreasing difficulties. One way or another capitalism will lead to catastrophe. That understanding is also a spur to conscious action. 

The ephemeral adaptations undertaken by large or small sectors of the population in the face capital’s decay – barter, mutual aid, robbery, slavery, what have you – are no proof of an evolution into an ‘alternative’ mode of production to my mind. Socialism or Barbarism (destruction if you prefer) (2). These are indeed the stakes.

****

(1) A recent article in the Guardian argues that the current concentration of global capital – and the social mystification of “the 1% problem” does after all have its basis in some underlying reality, however divorced - is inhibiting investment in the latent ‘4th revolutiuon’ of the productive forces, illustrating the fetter that capital today is putting on the process both of its own expanded reproduction and humanity’s possible technological progress.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/16/governments-have-to-invest-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution

(2) Regarding savagery and barbarism, we and Marx are by no means the first to relativise and even denigrate the ‘progress’ of civilisation, European or otherwise, vis-a-vis the achievements of ancient, pre-capitalist (and arguably primitive communist) societies. The interesting article linked to below points out that. “In 1550 ... Father Batolome de La Casa (1474-1566) attacked the jurist Juan Gines de Sepulveda’s claim that Indians were “barbarians” .... Some three decades later, however, the French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) offered a more radical critique of the conceptional distinction between civilized and non  civilised (in his essay ‘On Canibals'). Worth a read. Nonetheless, the point remains: faced with the potential to escape class society, the domination of the state over civil society, the exploitation of man by man and of the realm of scarcity, the return to such modes of organisation under today's conditions implies the deaths of countless millions and the wrecking of accumulated human labour which would make the First World War look like a paintball fight by comparison. 

http://pzacad.pitzer.edu/~dsegal/HOAT%20153%20Readings/Civilization%20and%20for%20Encyclopedia%20of%20World%20History.pdf

 

Link
An interesting discussion.  I

An interesting discussion.  I do think that maybe it is going round in circles a bit but I would hope it leads to a clarification of what decadence is.  For me that is the purpose.

I was going to say that it wasn’t going in circles because I thought the content was suggesting a distinction between what ‘breakdown’ and collapse’ meant in terms of the future of capitalism.  However in Demo’s latest post he is suggesting he uses them to mean the same thing and MHs post 88 uses breakdown very problematically.  This needs to be sorted to clarify this thread  I was getting the impression at one point that breakdown was being used more like the term decline as opposed to collapse which would mean total stop or disintegration? 

Is this useful or not???

I am also becoming less convinced of the value of discussing whether Luxembourg or Grossman were catastrophists or not.  Surely the main point is all revolutionaries at that time were getting to grips with the new phase that capitalism was reaching a tthe start of the 20th Century.  They all deserve credit for that but frankly iit was surely impossible for them to become completely clear on what we now call decadence and its not at all surprising there are contradictions in what Luxembourg Grossman Lenin etc had to say on the issue.

Further it is not at all surprising that what the revolutionaries in 1960s/70s said about decadence is unclear and contradictory.  We now have 50 years more expericence to go on and indeed very important experience of  how capitalism maintains itself in these conditions.   One particular lesson has been that everyone was too immediatist back then and stressed the economic decline visible during 20 and 30s alongside world wars and working class revolutions as the only experience capitalism could offer.  It wasn’t far wrong but it wasn’t enough as we have now experienced.  This is why I think the discussion is valuable.

Both Luxemburg theory on Accumulation and Grossmans theory on FROP are economics based.   Some might say that is bit obvious but it does need restating because the discussions are coming to the view that Decadence is separate to economic crisis theory, that it is a political and social issue.  MH quite correctly emphasised that decadence is about the distinction between what society could achieve and what capitalism actually offers.  JK also bluntly states that decadence does not predetermine any particular level of economic growth or decline.

The FROP has the advantages as a theory that it sees a continuity in the way capitalism functions economically in both ascendancy and decadence leading to periods of crisis and growth in both and also that it emphasises the countertendencies that enable capitalism to overcome those periodic crisis

Luxemburg’s theory on the other hand takes a general social observation and turns it into an economic theory.  She correctly observes that capitalism in ascendancy is growing in the context of pre-capitalist society and structures.  I think she is completely wrong to create out of that observation a theory that says pre-capitalist markets must therefore be the only reason that capitalism can accumulate!!    She ignores the possibility that it is just one of those counter-tendences to economic crisis; in fact her theory does not allow for any counter tendencies (which presumably leads to the silly argument that capitalists are able to cheat the law of value).   I think I agree with d-mans recent comment that another problem in that theory is  that pre-capitalist markets are not actually markets for capitalisms capital products ( ie they were sources of new inputs into the markets, it was the capitalist entrepreneurs or colonialist that bought capital products and used them to create value)  Luxembourgs logic is for me completely faulty irrespective of whatever contradictions she may have included in her writings about economic collapse and working class revolution (See the quote from Baboons post  84 as opposed to MHs statements)

I would argue that Luxemburgs theory has led to problems about seeing decadence as economic crisis.  After all,  if she is interprested to say that the decadence is caused  by the  elimination or near elimination of  pre cap markets and that capitalism cannot accumulate when there are no pre-cap markets, then decadence can only be a period of gradual and accelerating decline into collapse.   Decadence is therefore a ongoing economic decline/breakdown/collapse – take your pick.  For me this is logic that makes it far to easy to get carried away seeing decadence as permanent economic crisis with everything getting worse all the time and to see each new phase as the ‘Last Phase’

Last year Baboon was writing that it was pie in the sky to talk of capitalism going on and on but in this thread there is the suggestion that it is not going to collapse eg 'as long as the proletariat does not destroy capitalism the bourgeoisie will be able to find ways of ensuring the survival of its system'
Reality is that we need to clarify from the experience of the last 50 years tells us about what  breakdown and collapse and barbarism can mean and not least in what context a future working class revolution can break out.  I think this will help to explain what is happening to capitalism in the current period and how a fundamentally unhealthy system has kept on maintained itself

jk1921
Base vs. Superstructure

KT wrote:

I was perplexed at JK’s Post #69 where, in response to Baboon’s insistence on the potentially ruinous nature of modern warfare, JK seemed to make a separation between the ‘bones’ of the capitalist accumulation and the flesh of war under capitalism, which he seemed to present as somehow separate from the accumulation process, a ‘superstructural’ issue’.

Hasn’t war – of course not a phenomenon specific to capitalism - always been at the heart of capitalist accumulation?

An interesting question for which I don't know the answer. However, it is clear that war (or at least the kind of generalized war necessary to clear "over accumulated" capital) requires certain superstructural conditions before it can happen. This is in fact a major part of the theory of decomposition--the lack of the political and social conditions for a new world war that would "solve" the crisis of overproduction. But I think what we are discussing here is the distinction between a kind of catastrophic event that ends capitalist accumulation (perhaps even the planet as an inhabitable biosphere for our species) versus a process of devolution towards a different social form of the exploitation of labor power as a result of the economic logic of the system in the conditions of decomposition. It seems a question of central importance to the theory of decomposition, which--while not a specifically economic phenomenon itself--would seem to accelerate capitalism's economic contradictions precisely because the social and political conditions for generalized war are absent. This then would appear to necessitate an effort to follow the logic of the theory of decomposition through and ask what then? What does capitalism become?

jk1921
State Capitalism?

Link wrote:

She ignores the possibility that it is just one of those counter-tendences to economic crisis; in fact her theory does not allow for any counter tendencies (which presumably leads to the silly argument that capitalists are able to cheat the law of value). 

I am not sure when it is argued that "the bourgeoisie cheats the law of value," that it is expected that it can do this forever--these measures are inherently temporally limited. But I think the idea that state capitalism is a way of temporarily postponing the worse effects of the crisis through postponing or deferring the ultimate day of reckoning has been a central plank in the ICC's understanding of decadence. In particular decadence is prolonged through the management and use of credit. By way of analogy, it is easy to see how credit can be used as a mechanism to postpone the effects of the "law of value" on the individual, household or enterprise level through the ever present phenomenon of borrowing from Peter to pay your debts to Paul--the day of reckoning is postponed, but eventaully the sources of credit dry up. I know Demo has issues with the "credit as panacea" theory and it may be the case that how it works at the microeconomic level may not translate to the world system itself, but we have just seen the global hegemon engage in several cycles of "quantitative easing" in order to rescue the economy following the crisis of 2008.

Still, I am not sure I understand the "alternate" way Demo seems to be deploying the concept of state capitalism in decadence--could he elaborate some and how it differs from what has been the ICC's theory?

Link
Thats Cheating

My problem is with the word cheating because it represents somehow a the lack of analysis of the processes that capitalism is undergoing and suggests a conscious act by capitalists to subvert the of value

When capitalism is faced with changing conditions and crisis it develops measures to maintain itself in response to those conditions.  That is part of the historical process.   State capitalism its true has been a major element in its response to the emergence of imperialism and hence what we call decadence.   War, credit, business management theory, technological development (and esp in recent years the implementation of IT/communication technology to reorganise manufacturing and comms) have also been part of a range of responses to manage the crises of decadence.  I dont think we should be calling any of these responses as cheating.  We need to analyse the processes at work just as it seems to me you are doing when you questioned the conditions that need to be present for war to take place.

MH
on 'mutual ruin'

KT wrote:

The mutual ruin of the contending classes, as the phrase suggests, does not envisage the survival of the bourgeoisie or, by implication, the mode of production which it represents. It does not entail the continuation of capitalist social relations.

I’m glad this is clear to KT because it's not to me. ‘Mutual ruin’ as a term used in the Manifesto is not expanded on in their writings as far as I know and in fact of course they (overoptimistically) excluded it as a possibility in the case of capitalism, whose downfall they wrongly believed to be inevitable. History as we know is littered with examples of civilisations that collapsed, but then the question is what specific lessons we can draw from them for this discussion on capitalism? 

In the case of the total destruction of everything it’s obviously pretty straightforward. Speculation on anything less than that and we’re essentially in historically uncharted territory. Certainly speculation on the emergence of a new mode of production, where there is no longer a bourgeoisie and a proletariat, is in a very meaningful sense, beyond Marxism and to start off we should simply recognise that. In the meantime, it seems to me, before we make any unequivocal statements we’d need to look a lot more rigorously at the reasons why Marxism was founded on the basis that capitalism was both historically necessary and also the last class society.

In sum, full blown barbarism is for me not inconsistent with the survival of capitalist social relations in some form, alnog with slavery, forced labour etc. Just as an example, in Alf’s ‘Mad Max’ scenario (which he hasn't really expanded on), I’ve already pointed to the fact that the barbaric, medievalist death cult ISIS also operates today as an efficient capitalist enterprise, colelcting taxes and doing deals on oil revenues… One scenario is surely the generalisation of this phenomenon, and if that’s not a possibility then someone needs to give me some more convincing reasons why not.

 

 

MH
on 'cheating the law of value'

Link wrote:

My problem is with the word cheating because it represents somehow a the lack of analysis of the processes that capitalism is undergoing and suggests a conscious act by capitalists to subvert the of value

Link, can I suggest you read this 1988 article by the ICC , which analyses the appearance of attempts to cheat the law of value in the framework of state capitalism. You can disagree with it (I assume the ICC still defends it?) but it is an analysis:

"ii) Within this framework, each country, in decadence, must cheat with the law of value if it is not, either to be swallowed up by a more powerful neighbour, or to see its economy disintegrate under the weight of its own insurmountable contradictions. Decadence corresponds to the full development of cheating with the law of value, and a relative restriction of its field of application. A few examples: the so-called “socialist” countries (25% of world industrial production) which, to survive, must isolate themselves from the world market and create in their own market a prices policy in opposition to the law of value; the whole of European agriculture, which is artificially supported and sold at a price that does not correspond to the law of value; the same is true for the prices of a whole series of Third World products; all the forms of disguised protectionism which according to the GATT affect a third of world trade (import duties, quotas, export subsidies, restrictions of imports, etc.); “protected” markets (economic aid given on condition that it is used to buy from the donor country); the market of state contracts (monopolies for national companies), agreements among national companies, cartels and monopolies, etc... All these examples illustrate the process of the relative restriction of the law of value’s field of application."

Demogorgon
The difficulty of analysing state capitalism

Very briefly on the quote from the ICC article, it's quite interesting the way the question is posed there. In a more recent article, we criticised Mattick for seeing the complete statification of the economy in the Eastern bloc as somehow different or opposed to the private property system retained in the West:

ICC wrote:
There are however some flaws in Mattick’s analysis of capitalist decadence in Marx and Keynes. On the one hand he sees the tendency to distort the law of value as an expression of decline; on the other hand, he claims that the fully statified countries of the eastern bloc were no longer subject to the law of value and thus to the tendency towards crises. He even argues that, from the point of view of private capital, these regimes “may be described as state-socialism simply because it centralises capital in the hands of the state”, even if from the point of view of the working class, it has to described as state capitalism. In any case, “the state capitalist system does not suffer that particular contradiction between profitable and non-profitable production which plagues private-property capitalism...the state capitalist system may produce profitably and non-profitably without facing stagnation.” He develops the idea that the Stalinist states in some sense constitute a different system, profoundly antagonistic to western forms of capitalism – and it is here that he seems to find the driving force behind the Cold War, since he writes that imperialism today “differs from the imperialism and colonialism of laisser faire capitalism because capital competes for more than just raw-material sources, privileged markets, and capital exports; it also fights for its very life as a private-property system against new forms of capital production which are no longer subject to economic value relations and the competitive market mechanism.” This interpretation goes along with Mattick’s argument that the eastern bloc countries do not, strictly speaking, have their own imperialist dynamic.

If the presentation of the Stalinist economy in the first article is correct (they "isolate themselves from the world market and create in their own market a prices policy in opposition to the law of value") then the critique of Mattick cannot be correct as he largely follows the same lines!

It's indicative of the complexity of the state capitalist question and what it means for capitalist social relations, that attempts to analyse the phenomenon seem to keep falling into the same traps.

Link
Thanks for the link MH.  As

Thanks for the link MH.  As you say it does give an analysis of ‘cheating’ but isn’t it a very worrying one!!,   Demo makes a good point in that it is very much the same as an argument by Mattick that the ICC criticised elsewhere

I hadnt read this article i dont think but find it hard to believe that the ICC presented an article saying the the socialist states were not part of a world market and had ‘created a prices policy distinct from the law of value.  Effectively this is saying it was state socialism not state capitalism???  Theres more - the rest of world is allegedly busy restricting the law of value’s application.  Not driven by it,  not responding to it, not adapting to it,  but getting rid of it!!!  As this was written in 1988, presumably this author is now arguing like Paul Mason that high technology alone is capable of creating a new society that capitalism and is not governed by the law of value.

I don’t think I am quibbling about language here. Let me quote a rather more polished explanation of how capitalist works and hopefully gain some more brownie points :   “Once a mode of production has entered into its decadent stage, development does not come to a halt; the dialectical movement of society continues, driven by contradictions that are now sharpened and increasingly come to the surface, while the barriers imposed by the outmoded property relations are pushed to their furthest limits in order to prolong the mode of production’s survival, giving every appearance of growth but in fact heralding its decay.”  

I note also that the article you have linked is suggesting that capitalism was stagnating  in 1988 as a means of rejection criticisms of decadence theory.   I think this is one of those immediatist or catastrophic responses to economic crisis  that the ICC now rejects.

Alf
ISIS barbarism

I agree that ISIS is capitalist through and through. It's not a return to the mediaeval epoch, although it's a form of bourgeois ideology which, as Trotsky observed regarding fascism, manages to dredge everything that rotten from the sewers of history. 

However, if the whole world became Syria....we would be heading towards the real breakdown of capitalism, which, as KT forcefully argues, is not a purely economic seizure, but necessarily involves the swallowing up of economic life into a spiral of military and ecological catastrophes. It would certainly mean a definitive destruction of the capacity of the proletariat to make the revolution. Perhaps, if the human race survived these catastrophes, some time in the far distant future, a new capitalism could arise from a new slavery and a new feudalism, but as MH says, that's in the realm of the unknown, and speculation about that should be left to writers of science fiction (who might also be marxists of course....).

I haven't re-read the 1988 article, but I don't see a great contradiction between the "distortion" of the law of value mentioned in the critique of Mattick, and the idea of "cheating" the law of value, as long as we remember that cheats never prosper and that attempts to distort, ignore, or override the law of value will inevitably rebound against you, as witness the downfall of the Stalinist regimes.....

The question of reification has come up in this discussion. We should recall that there are always two sides to this phenomenon: the personification of things, and the 'thingification' of persons. So while the capitalist system gives every indication of functioning like a machine outside of human agency, it remains a battle-ground between classes of human beings. The capitalists are not mere marionettes. And in decadence, when the laws of the market no longer spontaneously condition the expansion of the system, the more the ruling class is obliged to intervene, through the state, to try to impose its will on those laws. This gigantic voluntarist endeavour can never succeed in the long term, even if it can indeed slow down the system's descent. But in a way it shows that communism - humanity's freedom from the domination of the "economy" - has indeed become a historic necessity. The bourgeoisie can't achieve it of course because it is inseparably bound to the drive for profit; only the working class has an interest in uprooting this drive. 

KT
Contradictions or conflations?

Demogorgon wrote:

 

If the presentation of the Stalinist economy in the first article is correct (they "isolate themselves from the world market and create in their own market a prices policy in opposition to the law of value") then the critique of Mattick cannot be correct as he largely follows the same lines!

It's indicative of the complexity of the state capitalist question and what it means for capitalist social relations, that attempts to analyse the phenomenon seem to keep falling into the same traps.

 

Two points:

a) Re Russia, the ICC and Mattick: perhaps the fundamental difference here is that Mattick really came to see the USSR as operating free from the gravitational pull of the world market whereas the ICC was correctly describing a process which was adopted by (imposed on?) most major countries after the 1929 crisis if not before: autarky. The attempt to 'raise the drawbridges', to accumulate behind close doors, to shut out the the world market was almost universal at this time. Look at the fall in world trade figures for the period (strangely, I don't have them immediately to hand, but I believe they will bear me out). This was expressed in US 'isolationism', tarrif barriers and trade wars; in the rise of National Socialism and the building up of the war economy in Germany and, of course, most famously, in Stalinism which, for a period, and in part measure due to the specific nature of its national evolutuion (the defeat of the revolution and the party-state which emerged) largely turned its back on the subtelties of 'free enteprise' at home and export abroad. No-where could this orientation last. Nowhere did it last: it ended in the most naked of international competition - World War Two.

From the above there's no contradiction between the critique of Mattick, who tended to see the autarky of Russia as a completed process, and the presentation of the Stalinist economy (in a highly condenced manner, it should be said) by the ICC in the article linked to by MH, in my opinion.

b) I agree with Demogorgon that the discussion on state capitalism is both complex and absolutely vital. It probably deserves its own thread (again)! Just to take one small offshoot: there's a whole world of bewilderment in the political milieu about 'privatisation' (or even the 'free market economy' as a whole) which is seen as a refutation of state capitalism when in fact it is actually the consciously driven policy  and product of state capitalism at a certain stage. Or the the policies of 'quantitative easing'  - printing money; the creation of ficticious capital, of credit extended beyond any possible realistic hope of a profitable 'return on investment' and the resultant unprecedented growth of global, national and individual debt - not a uniform phenomena, it's true, but a very real tendency  - these are also essential components of the state capitalist response today which require further in-depth examination.

 

 

 

jk1921
Trap

 

ICC wrote:
. He even argues that, from the point of view of private capital, these regimes “may be described as state-socialism simply because it centralises capital in the hands of the state”, even if from the point of view of the working class, it has to described as state capitalism.

Today even bourgeois commentators have recognized this phenomenon in the central countries themselves with the phrase that comes up everytime there is a bail out of some industry (usually finance) followed by massive austerity for the working class: "Socialism for the capitalists; captialism for the working class."

Demogorgon wrote:

If the presentation of the Stalinist economy in the first article is correct (they "isolate themselves from the world market and create in their own market a prices policy in opposition to the law of value") then the critique of Mattick cannot be correct as he largely follows the same lines!

It's indicative of the complexity of the state capitalist question and what it means for capitalist social relations, that attempts to analyse the phenomenon seem to keep falling into the same traps.

I think there may be a trap there, but not the one you see. The trap is not recognizing the temporally limited nature of any attempt to "cheat the law of value." But perhaps it is better to banish this phrase as it seems to lead to this trap; maybe its better to just use the term "distort the law of value." But then I am not sure this fits with your vision of state capitalism, where you seem to suggest that the various maeasures are in full conformity with the law of value and are in fact even required by it today. it would be great if you could elaborate more.

jk1921
Science Fiction or Logical Necessity?

Alf wrote:

Perhaps, if the human race survived these catastrophes, some time in the far distant future, a new capitalism could arise from a new slavery and a new feudalism, but as MH says, that's in the realm of the unknown, and speculation about that should be left to writers of science fiction (who might also be marxists of course....).

I am not sure I agree with this. I think there is something important to the theory of decompostion in trying to analyze this possibility. I am also not sure that the world would need to be reduced to ashes for captialism to remerge. It seems to me there is a Marxist rerading of history that would suggest that any process of devolution of capitalism would only ever reach a certain point, before the conditions for expanded reproduction and accumulation would present themselves again. Bound up in this are notions of the special historical nature of captialism vis a vis all other modes of production, something about its historical dynamism and in built tendency to expand and develop, even (or especially) in the aftermath of crisis and destruction, i.e. Schumpeter's "creative destruction." I guess the underlying question is, "Does the end of captialism require some superstructural event?" And underlying that is the question of whether or not making a distinction between base and superstructure is even helpful in understanding how capitalism in decompostion unfolds? After all, we have always said that decompostion is really above all else social decomposition

Alf wrote:

I haven't re-read the 1988 article, but I don't see a great contradiction between the "distortion" of the law of value mentioned in the critique of Mattick, and the idea of "cheating" the law of value, as long as we remember that cheats never prosper and that attempts to distort, ignore, or override the law of value will inevitably rebound against you, as witness the downfall of the Stalinist regimes.....

I agree here. This is the trap I mentioned above. But we need a theoretical examination of the collpase of Stalinism as a specific form of state capitalism, which perhaps has been given elsewhere.

jk1921
Capitalism and Democracy?

MH wrote:

In sum, full blown barbarism is for me not inconsistent with the survival of capitalist social relations in some form, alnog with slavery, forced labour etc. Just as an example, in Alf’s ‘Mad Max’ scenario (which he hasn't really expanded on), I’ve already pointed to the fact that the barbaric, medievalist death cult ISIS also operates today as an efficient capitalist enterprise, colelcting taxes and doing deals on oil revenues… One scenario is surely the generalisation of this phenomenon, and if that’s not a possibility then someone needs to give me some more convincing reasons why not.

I think I tried in my posts on the democracy thread (perhaps totally unsuccessfully) to spell out why there is a certain enduring connection between captialism and "democracy" that is more than a simple ideological mystification, despite the increasing brutalization of social life under decomposition. What I was getting at there is probably going to be controversial, but there may be way in which--and parts of the bourgoisie are starting to suspect it--that a too aggressively miltarist, too atomized and de-solidarized society starts to become a problem for capitalist accumulation when it becomes too generalized. Maybe this a concern for the bourgeoisie in the central countries only and the examples of ISIS, Somalia, Detroit (sorry Detroit!) prove there isn't really a problem of the incompatibility of barbarism and captialist accumulation. Maybe the problem is just for a form of "bourgeois civilization" which is not strictly speaking necessary for all forms of captialism?.  But there is also the idea that in order to be "healthy" (an analogy fraught with problems!) capitalism has to be embedded in something--some kind of hegemonic relations and mores that hold it all together when the cash nexus, utility maximizing self interested behavior and everyday brutality want to make society itself increasingly impossible? Therefore, "democracy" may be in contradiction with capitalism's logic, but its mores may in some sense still be necessary? I can only end this runaway thought train with question marks...

What is the mode of production in Mad Max anyway?

jk1921
Reforms

Demogorgon wrote:

Lastly, there is the question of reforms. In ascendency, workers were able to win reforms that persisted across economic cycles. Today, the "reforms" workers can win are much more tightly locked to the crisis cycle. The better working conditions of what you call "Keynesian-Fordism" were not reforms but part of the rising wages that always accompanies strong periods of accumulation - in this case, the post-war boom. When the boom faltered, capital began to retrench on those "reforms".

Was "Keynesian-Fordism" not an expression of reforms, because it was bound to be ephemeral, i.e. it was not in the character of the permanent transformation of the social conditions of labor characteristic of the reforms of ascendance? It is true that Keynesian-Fordism as a mode of management of capitalism is coming apart today and with it the conditions of life for much of the proletariat as experienced during that era, but this "mode of regulation" has nevetheless lasted in some fashion for the better part of seven or eight decades (Its still not entirely gone today, even after three or so decades of neo-liberalism. There is a reason why there is a "neo" there) and it transformed the conditions of life for much of the proletariat in ways that might be considered as existential for large sections of the working class. Even today when the phrase "working class" is uttered, it is generally indicative of the typical worker of this period: blue collar, industrial, lacking in higher education, but possibly having some level of material comfort--owns a home, can claim a retirement pension, etc. It is intimately bound up with class identity even today, even among proletarians who do not see themselves as such. Or was Keynesian-Fordism not an expression of reforms because it somehow "fit" the needs of accumulation at that moment of time, i.e expanding consumption, promoting labour peace, etc.? But didn't the reforms of ascendance also fit the needs of accumulation?

Demogorgon wrote:

It is also having growing difficulty even maintaining those reforms and social mechanisms that are essential for its own political and economic continuation. The situation in Britain provides a good snapshot:

  • the growing crisis in education, which is increasing unfit for purpose (at least, capitalist purposes)
  • the attacks on the police, essential for maintaining capitalist order, which is withdrawing more and more from fighting crime, to focus on political policing
  • the attempt to increase the efficiency of unproductive labour (or to make the unproductive productive again) by privatising the state, even where this means state functions are carried out incompetently
  • driving the price of labour down to nothing wherever possible, far below its point of reproduction - armies of "interns" in arenas of skilled labour, forced labour from the unemployed in unskilled labour markets, "gig economy" arrangements, etc.
  • implementing technological change (AI, "robots") that make human labour increasingly obsolete, thus drastically reducing the base on which capital can expand which is nothing other than ... human labour

So even the reforms of the ascendant period are starting to come apart? Maybe they weren't so "permanent" after all? Or do we mean something else when we talk about the permanent reforms of ascendance and contrast them to the "pseudo," "false" or temporally limited appeareance of reforms that occur during the periods of expansion in decadence?

Link
reforms or not reforms

I hope it helps JK but i came across the issue of reforms a while ago and discovered the ICC defines the word 'reform' as something won by the working class and not as something that the bourgeoisie can do.  This means reforms can only take place in ascendancy and that what the bourgeois does cannot be called reforms

I struggle with this somewhat as it would seem clearer to say that reformism is not possible.  I think it is better to say that working class could achieve reforms inascendancy but that reforms in decadence are implemented to benefit the bourgeoisie.  I think this is the implication in what demo said about fordism

Demogorgon
Pause for thought?

As is often the case, the issues on this thread are proliferating rapidly. This is no accident: decadence is at the heart of the communist left's theoretical and political heritage. It is, therefore, relevant to everything and everything is relevant to it.

In this post, I want to attempt a very quick precis of some of the issues discussed so far.

The Actual End of Capitalism

Essentially, this revolves around what actually brings about the final dissolution of the capitalist social relationship. Several positions have been advanced.

  • MH sees the end of capitalism not as an economic question (although the economy provides the objective driving force) but political and social. In this sense, the end is either revolution or a series of catastrophes such as war, pollution, etc. I choose the word catastrophe because of its use in Luxemburg's work which he refers to.
  • To those possibilities, I have added a third possibility: neither the tendency to war or to revolution can fully play out. Capitalism nonetheless continues, but now in a situation where its full economic logic plays out. This raises the question of whether capitalism can experience a final economic breakdown and what this would mean in the social and political arena. I would argue some new economic and social order would appear, embodying a new degree of brutality and retrogressive in almost every way even compared to capitalism. Such an order would have an economic base no longer based on capitalist relations.

Breakdown Theory

This led to a discussion about whether there is a theory of breakdown (in a purely economic sense) in Marxism. We went round the houses a bit on this one, but I think it's fair to say that everyone agrees that at the level of (to use MH's phrase) "the objective laws of capitalism" that there is a tendency to breakdown inherent in those laws.

Comrades have different explanation of how those laws lead to breakdown, which essentially revolve around the old debates of Rosa Luxemburg vs Henryk Grossman. At this point in the discussion, the differences between these frameworks were not crucial, as both agree on the core point.

However, although comrades agree largely on this core point there is still some difference on whether this breakdown tendency can actually be historically actualised. MH argues NO; I argue for YES.

I'm not sure though, that the disagreement is as stark as the above suggests. It hopefully goes without saying that even if capitalism did suffer an irretrievable economic breakdown the result of this would be enormous dislocation at the political and social levels.  Nor would a real breakdown be some abstract event - by definition it would involve some new social relationships of production forming (made necessary by the need to survive) which is, of course, a social and political issue. In other words, at the point of breakdown the abstract separation between the economic and the social (itself a question of reification) is itself broken down. In some ways, breakdown is like a black hole for relativistic physics - by definition, the rules no longer apply!

The Question of State Capitalism

This arose from the question of the economic foundations of decadence, specifically around the question of whether and how the bourgeoisie retains its rule even though capitalism, at the economic level, is malfunctioning.

For MH's position, the capacity of state capitalism to prevent the implosion of the capitalist mechanism is necessary to support his conception that the "bourgeoisie still rules" even in extremis. Similarly, it has been necessary for me to argue against this in order to support my argument that a scenario where the bourgeoisie is ultimately destroyed outside of either war or revolution.

In other words, the question is related to whether state capitalism is able to prevent the economic breakdown tendency we all otherwise agree functions at the level of the objective laws.

Here, the differences between the Luxemburgist and Grossmanite perspectives are important. It is no accident, then, that discussion of these frameworks has become more visible as the discussion has moved into this arena.

- - - - - - - - - - 

I hope people have found that short summary useful. I have, of course, left out a lot of nuance and probably missed out some important points. Hopefully, though, I haven't misrepresented any views and have traced a relatively accurate view of the evolution of the discussion.

MH
fair summary

Demo I think this is a very fair and very helpful summary. The only thing I'd add is that under the question of state capitalism, where you say 

"For MH's position, the capacity of state capitalism to prevent the implosion of the capitalist mechanism is necessary to support his conception that the "bourgeoisie still rules" even in extremis." 

...for me this is more about the factor of class consciousness, ie. in the absence of revolutionary struggles by the proletariat, or as a result of their defeat, the bourgeoisie - through state capitalist mechanisms - is able to stave off such an "implosion", and this has already been a significant factor in the survival of decadent capitalism for 100 years.  

  

KT
Good Idea..

..And well executed. Only addition: we shouldn't forget that there is at least once early participant in the discussion (NEHM) who did not appear to agree with or was quite critical of the whole approach of marxism in general and the ICC and this article in particular.  Which was and is fine, but those differences remain to be further explored.

 

Non ex hoc mundi
Thanks KT reminding others

Thanks KT reminding others not to forget about me! Still awaiting more replies in the other thread I've started, which is specifically dealing with real subsumption more closely than this one. I'd summarize my positions in the context of this thread thusly:

There is way too much binary thinking happening on these issues. It's not so black and white; progress vs. capitalism, breakdown vs. collapse, Luxemburg vs. Grossman -- it's capitalist economics. Not even the most powerful computers in the world, which could kick all our asses many times over at say, chess, have much of a predictive grip on it.

I don't see any currently identifiable end to capitalism which must be inevitable.

Put another way, looking at all of the economic phenomena of today, I don't see something I or others can point to and say: 'That's it, this is the final straw that will break the camels back'.

What Demogorgon calls 'seeing the question' as 'political and social' is really just highlighting the political determinism at play here. I'd like to see the folks here pressed on this issue; on whether or not they agree with Trotsky's formulation that 'consciousness', not crisis or economics at large, is the crucial factor at play here.

I don't think the markets have ceased expanding. I think we are in a period of mega-wealth creation, something we've already seen once or twice in the history of capitalism, but this time centered in South and East Asia. India and China are just as much 'central' capitalist powers as the European nations. How can expansion cease when we have iPhone 7, Galaxy 8, the 30th Doctor Who, Fast and Furious 9? There's also new forms of property and labor: intellectual, digital, 'genetic'', fictitious, un-dead, etc. etc.

My Guru on the topic is Mattick and his son, Mattick Jr. Both seem to imply 'collapse' happen as an inherent part of the system. There have been two or three 'cycles' like this already which they point to, and while accumulation doesn't necessarily return to the exact state it was in, insane amounts of wealth have never ceased being created.

I think the new wave of main stream economists, some of them being laballed 'neo-classical' among other things, should be paid attention to. They're essentially adding data to bourgeois Marxian economics. Thomas Picketty's data in his [i]Capital[/i] for example seems to corroborate the argument of Mattick which, in my interpretation, says there are no true explosions or collapses outside of the 'normal' cyclical nature of capitalism.

The ICC and some of it's previous iterations, leftcoms in the tradition of Chirik, have been pointing towards the collapse of capitalism since WWI basically saying the end is nigh. But the markets mutate and things go on. Meanwhile activists hustle and bustle and end up being the ones that shake the system up in order to help it continue running. We're doing nothing here but creating a stockpile of priceless information capitalists can and are using to keep the ecomony running longer. And when that 'band of hostile brothers' becomes to myopic, enter stage left none other than our saviors, the socialists -- Bernie and Corbyn. And if they fail, we're due for another Leninist wave of revolutions which will help modernize and 'greenify' capitalism before things return to their normal state capitalist ways. When all else fails, send in the Leninists...

jk1921
Frustrated

Demogorgon wrote:

- - - - - - - - - - 

I hope people have found that short summary useful. I have, of course, left out a lot of nuance and probably missed out some important points. Hopefully, though, I haven't misrepresented any views and have traced a relatively accurate view of the evolution of the discussion.

That's a good summary, but I think a major axis of the discussion that you missed was whether decadence should be conceptualized as an "economic" phenomenon related to growth and development or if it must be understood in a more "qualitative" way as the point in which further development, the extent to which it occurs, no longer serves any articulable species level human interest. Or, a third option, whether there really is any useful distinction to make between the two in the first place? Which would seem to be an implication of KT's idea that war itself is part of the accumulation process--its not some supertructural event taking place outside of the logic of capital, it is the logic of capital.

Personally, I found the discussion to be somewhat frustrating, but perhaps frustrating in a productive way:

1.) I find it hard to agree with MH that speculating about the future beyond capitalism is "un-Marxist" in some way, a sentiment echoed by Alf who called it "science fiction" (but Marxist science fiction!?). I also find the willingness of other comrades to throw their hands up and effectively say "Who knows what happens after capitalism in decomposition, but it will be bad," somewhat of a cop out, I suppose. On the contrary, I see attempting to come to grips with this question in some ways central to the entire theory of decomposition and therefore decadence, perhaps even the entire Marxist theory of capital, as what we are really trying to figure out is the logic of capital itself left to its own devices. It has been objected (perhaps even by myself at one point!) that it is very unlikely that the logic of capital would ever be left to its own devices, but it also seems like the theory of decomposition suggests that it might, something which Demo acknowledges, and that would seem to require us to elaborate on ways this might play out and ask ourselves if there is any empirical evidence that such a course may already be happening to some degree? MH himself seems to acknowledge this when he asks, "Is the barbarism of ISIS still capitlalist?," even when he suggests speculating about the future beyond capitalism is not Marxist. But what if we are speculating about the future based on evidence from the present? And doesn't analyzing the present always pose the question of the future?

2.) However, I also find myself sharing some of MH's frustration with a tendency to downplay capitalism as an historically specific mode of production that may have its own in built tendencies towards reproducing itself even in the midst of social decomposition. I think such a vision may still be compatible with the conclusion that capitalism is decadent when that is appreciated in a more "qualitative" way. There seems to be reluctance to grasp capitalism as in many ways historically unique and to attempt to see its trajectory in the light of the historical fate of other modes of production (some of which only really ever met their demise faced with competition from capitalism).

And, this is not a deliberate attempt to be "centrist" in some way between two positions. I honestly see arguments both ways. I think the culture of the communist left has been more comfortable with a discussion that is centered around "the clash of positions" (Demo vs. MH), when in fact the path forward may actually be in the intersticies of the inconsistiencies of the confused. wink

jk1921
Reforms vs. Reformism?

Link wrote:

I hope it helps JK but i came across the issue of reforms a while ago and discovered the ICC defines the word 'reform' as something won by the working class and not as something that the bourgeoisie can do.  This means reforms can only take place in ascendancy and that what the bourgeois does cannot be called reforms

I struggle with this somewhat as it would seem clearer to say that reformism is not possible.  I think it is better to say that working class could achieve reforms inascendancy but that reforms in decadence are implemented to benefit the bourgeoisie.  I think this is the implication in what demo said about fordism

That is not terribly convincing. Why would it matter which social class the reforms originated from? A reform is a reform, unless it isn't. Unless part of the value of reformism in ascendance was something related to the strengthening of the proletariat's collective class power and a solidification of class identity through the process of winning reforms (regardless of their specific content or temporal limits), something which isn't possible under decadence as the focus of struggle moves elsewhere (subtereanean maturation of consciousness, professional revolutionary party vs. legal, open electoral/union movement)? But then again, one could argue that the "reforms" of the Keynesian-Fordist period were "won" as a result of the post-WWI revolutionary wave.

jk1921
Confused

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
My Guru on the topic is Mattick and his son, Mattick Jr. Both seem to imply 'collapse' happen as an inherent part of the system. There have been two or three 'cycles' like this already which they point to, and while accumulation doesn't necessarily return to the exact state it was in, insane amounts of wealth have never ceased being created. I think the new wave of main stream economists, some of them being laballed 'neo-classical' among other things, should be paid attention to. They're essentially adding data to bourgeois Marxian economics. Thomas Picketty's data in his [i]Capital[/i] for example seems to corroborate the argument of Mattick which, in my interpretation, says there are no true explosions or collapses outside of the 'normal' cyclical nature of capitalism. The ICC and some of it's previous iterations, leftcoms in the tradition of Chirik, have been pointing towards the collapse of capitalism since WWI basically saying the end is nigh. But the markets mutate and things go on.

This is all interesting, but also rather confusing. Are the Matticks "bourgeois Marxist economists," do they represent "real Marxist economists" or are they not Marxists at all? Are they part of the new wave of main stream neo-classical economists or is that Picketty? And if the Matticks' approach is being validated by a "mainstream" economist then what is specifically Marxist or revolutionary or whatever about it? Or is the point really that the bourgeoisie is essentially right about its own system's objectively inevtiable nature and the Matticks get that? Thus, we need to conceive of the--I am not really sure what to call it, because I am not even sure "revolutionary" works in your world (but how about "emancipatory"?)--project differently from objectivist economic models?

Non ex hoc mundi
Sorry, lemme clarify on

Sorry, lemme clarify on that:

You'll have to read Mattick to find out whether or not he describes himself as a marxist. I think, especially later, post-US immigration, he describes himself simply as communist and makes certain distinctions that place him to one side of 'the Marxists'.

Mattick Jr. seems to be more in the realm of the modern mainstream economists. What's revolutionary about it? He doesn't hide the fact he has a confirmation bias, hoping for working class revolution.

And...I mean, in the end, an economist is an economist. Quality judgements aside, there's stuff there to think about no matter the individual. Like the Soviet economist Isaak Rubin pointed out, 'economics' is bourgeois moral and intellectual legislation.

Also, this 'new wave' I mention isn't so new. Baby boomers and the like. Mattick Jr. I'd include in this, yes, although he's not really a Smith/Ricardo kinda guy.

Picketty is interesting in his own right. His aim is to show how capitalism's inequity causes class struggle which pulls a part of the fabric of capitalist society -- a patchwork he'd like to see fixed, maintained.

jk, could you please expand on this?:

Quote:
Or is the point really that the bourgeoisie is essentially right about its own system's objectively inevtiable nature and the Matticks get that? Thus, we need to conceive of the--I am not really sure what to call it, because I am not even sure "revolutionary" works in your world (but how about "emancipatory"?)--project differently from objectivist economic models?

I think I'm almost there, trying to figure out what you mean and how to respond, but -- can you give me a little more to go on? Thanks.

Demogorgon
On the Matticks

Mattick Snr was an early disciple and advocate of Grossman's. Personally, I find Grossman much clearer, but Mattick's early articles on the topic are excellent explanations of Grossman's position. Mattick's key contributions are on the question of permanent crisis and state capitalism.

More to the point, Mattick poses the question of capitalism's ultimate fate in a very similar way to other contributors (both on this thread and historical): "The law of accumulation is the law of the collapse of capitalism. A collapse delayed by counteracting tendencies until these tendencies have spent themselves or become inadequate in face of the growth of capital accumulation. But capitalism does not collapse automatically; the factor of human action, though conditioned, is powerful. The death crisis of capitalism does not mean that the system commits suicide, but that the class struggle assumes forms that must lead to the overthrow of the system. There is, as Lenin said, no absolutely hopeless situation for capitalism; it depends on the workers as to how long capitalism will be able to vegetate."

Mattick Jnr follows the same basic economic framework, although his presentation is rather different. Nonetheless, I found his book excellent and would recommend all comrades read it. However, he certainly doesn't suggest capitalism can just go on forever in an eternal cycle of accumulation and crisis. The end of his book is borderline apocalyptic. After giving a gloomy prognosis of capitalism's capacity to escape the current crisis, he then goes on to consider that even if capitalism manages recovery, all this will do is aggravate capitalism's demand for energy and disastrous impact on the environment. "What both of these ongoing social stresses promise is that the decline of the economy, however cyclically inflected, will simply be the lead-in to a crisis of the social system as such, which, because it is based on the laws of physics and chemistry, will transcend strictly economic issues. If the peaking of oil supplies and the catastrophes of climate change do not provoke a major transformation of social life, then it’s hard to imagine what could."

On other topics, I'm thinking about how to answer JK's questions on my position on state capitalism. After thinking it through, I've identified some issues around my position which I need to think about. So any exposition will be a bigger job than I thought. I may even (gulp!) be wrong ...

MH
  Mattick snr wrote: "There

 

Mattick snr wrote:

"There is, as Lenin said, no absolutely hopeless situation for capitalism; it depends on the workers as to how long capitalism will be able to vegetate."

I hadn't read this before but it seems to echo my view on this thread. Does anyone know where Lenin says this? 

Demogorgon
No idea, but Mattick copies

No idea, but Mattick copies this from Grossman who uses the same phraseology in Law of Accumulation.

Demogorgon
Lenin

It's from here:

Comrades, we have now come to the question of the revolutionary crisis as the basis of our revolutionary action. And here we must first of all note two widespread errors. On the one hand, bourgeois economists depict this crisis simply as “unrest”, to use the elegant expression of the British. On the other hand, revolutionaries sometimes try to prove that the crisis is absolutely insoluble.

This is a mistake. There is no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation. The bourgeoisie are behaving like barefaced plunderers who have lost their heads; they are committing folly after folly, thus aggravating the situation and hastening their doom. All that is true. But nobody can “prove” that it is absolutely impossible for them to pacify a minority of the exploited with some petty concessions, and suppress some movement or uprising of some section of the oppressed and exploited. To try to “prove” in advance that there is “absolutely” no way out of the situation would be sheer pedantry, or playing with concepts and catchwords. Practice alone can serve as real “proof” in this and similar questions. All over the world, the bourgeois system is experiencing a tremendous revolutionary crisis. The revolutionary parties must now “prove” in practice that they have sufficient understanding and organisation, contact with the exploited masses, and determination and skill to utilise this crisis for a successful, a victorious revolution.

KT
It's not me 'guvnor, honest

jk1921 wrote:

That's a good summary, but I think a major axis of the discussion that you missed was whether decadence should be conceptualized as an "economic" phenomenon related to growth and development or if it must be understood in a more "qualitative" way as the point in which further development, the extent to which it occurs, no longer serves any articulable species level human interest. Or, a third option, whether there really is any useful distinction to make between the two in the first place? Which would seem to be an implication of KT's idea that war itself is part of the accumulation process--its not some supertructural event taking place outside of the logic of capital, it is the logic of capital.

I’d love to claim to have had an original thought but it's not 'my idea', honest.

“It is this process of the military sector suplanting and subordinating the economy for its own purposes which we have witnessed since the beginning of the century, a process which today is undergoing a shattering acceleration.
 

"World war has its roots in the generalized crisis of the capitalist economy. This crisis is its source of nourishment. To this extent, world war, the highest expression of the historical crisis of capitalism, summarizes and concentrates in its own nature all the characteristics of a process of self-destruction.

"In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic of overproduction .... And why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce ." (Communist Manifesto)

"From the moment when this crisis can no longer find a temporary outlet in an expansion of the world market, the world wars of our century express and translate this phenomenon of the self-destruction of a system which by itself cannot overcome its historical contradictions.”

Socialism or Barbarism: War under Capitalism IR 45, 2nd quarter 1985

http://en.internationalism.org/node/2977

 

And from the same article:

“From a certain point of view, the slogan ‘socialism or barbarism' is outdated today. The development of the decadence of capitalism means that today things must be posed as follows: socialism or the continuation of barbarism, socialism or the destruction of humanity and of all life-forms on earth."

So that was 30 years ago; we're all trying to deepen our comprehension of the actual social processes whereby accumulation = war (I'm neither a markets man nor a Fropist, they are two parts of an equation). I actually had some very minor part in the production of MH's text which is the subject of this thread, support its major argumentation, but did not spot what's subsequently emerged - the idea that capitalism roles on regardless in the absence on proletarian revolution, an Idea with which I don't agree, evidently.

Meanwhile... NEHM is undoubtedly correct to point that that Marx and marxists in general have under-estimated the resilience of the capitalist mode of production and Baboon correctly identified the ICC's self-critique of immediatism. But it's taken 500-odd years for capitalism to unfold - a relatively speedy process in general historical terms - and only 100 years of decadence have we yet endured. It's far too soon to write-off the understanding that capitalism is indeed a transitory social arrangement.

Also in answer to NEHM: although I don't know the context of the Trotsky quote to which he/she's referring, is there even a question over the issue of proletarian class consciousness being key to communism? Or is the argument being forwarded that it's 'naturally' within our species and therefore should be allowed to manifest itself, instinctively as it were, without too much thought or fuss or even struggle?

baboon
I think that it's useful to

I think that it's useful to remember that the first marxist analysis of the actual expression of capitalism's decadence, and the consequences of that, came from the CI many years before the open economic crisis of the system in the 1930's. Waiting for an economic collapse was not the issue for revolutionaries at the beginnings of the 1900's but capitalist warfare was and this was a pressing and immediate issue for the working class. There is a clear relationship between economic contradictions and the tendency of capitalism to self-destruction through warfare but, like the relationship between warfare and economic contradictions it is not mechanical. Since the clarity of the CI, and Rosa Luxemburg in particular,  on the issue of what the decadence of capital looked like in the flesh, and the fact that revolution was now on the agenda, the dynamic of capital hasn't been of a two-dimensional circular variety (that, as KT notes, the ICC expressed with "Crisis, War, Reconstruction, etc.), but a three-dimensional spiral downwards with militarism and imperialism, and the irrationality that underlines them, becoming much more active and dangerous factors in the self-destruction of the system and to the continued existence of humanity. In the Junius Pamphlet, from memory, Luxemburg talked about something like 'looking down from the lofty heights of European civilisation' prior to WWI, but since that war and particularly since the Second World War, we've very clearly seen what can happen in such a short space of time to such a 'lofty European civilisation', the ruins of which were part of a distictly downward dynamic of destruction.

I think that the capitalist Caliphate of Isis is a small but further example of this dynamic; born in decomposing capitalism its midwife was the major powers who having created it and used it for their own ends have now destroyed  and devasatated significant means of production and life in order to try to control it.
 

Non ex hoc mundi
KT wrote:Also in answer to

KT wrote:
Also in answer to NEHM: although I don't know the context of the Trotsky quote to which he/she's referring, is there even a question over the issue of proletarian class consciousness being key to communism? Or is the argument being forwarded that it's 'naturally' within our species and therefore should be allowed to manifest itself, instinctively as it were, without too much thought or fuss or even struggle?

Trotsky was not posing consciousness as the key to communism...he was posing it as the key to global working class revolution. And the context of the quote: it was found in a few different ICC articles dealing with questions of consciousness.

Once again, I find it essential to emphasize that the total cessation of capitalist production for long enough, and in enough places, to topple this whole cursed and broken system does not require any kind of special consciousness. Remember; 'the blind mole tunneling in the dark'.

Consciousness becomes the determining, crucial keystone *after* this stoppage of production, and only after.

Communism needs 'full' consciousness in every future human. Revolution is just a perfect storm. We just saw a massive one in Egypt. They failed at the second part. They failed at communism, not revolution. They toppled the State three times in a year. Three times! But the communist consciousness, which becomes crucial after, never developed. It wasn't some perceived failure to seize power by whatever the strongest M-L party in Egypt was at the time. It was a failure of imagination...a failure to dream; to dream about that other world that we workers belong in...

Hawkeye
Communism as we have known and never known it.

On reading the closing paragraph by MH as per #71 mentioning decadence, reminds me of the old Roman 'bread and circuses'.  One of the reasons why workers in the soviet block were pleased to break through the Berlin wall was that, when compared with so much entertainment available in the west,, life had become tediously boring, especially for youngsters, however much the provision of schools and homes after WW2 was appreciated.  Of course they were not living within 'communism' as envisaged by ICC and the rest of the communist left, but only in what they were told was in place.  It is difficult to foresee how a set-up run by workers' councils would provide sufficiently well understood efficiency based on plans yet to be contrived without any use of money or its electronic equivalent. Chances are that any overthrow of the capitalist status quo would result in some sort of draconian command of events, but we shall see. Meanwhile workers will need to struggle against the rule of  capitalists, whatever some of their agreed long term perspectives.

Alf
Egypt

Toppling a government is not the same as toppling the state. The Egyptian workers suffered greatly from not having a clear project to take the movement from revolt to revolution, which requires imagination, yes, dreams yes, but also the conscious adoption of a road map that points to the destruction of the state and the creation of communist relations on a global scale. 

jk1921
Documents

KT wrote:

I’d love to claim to have had an original thought but it's not 'my idea', honest.

“It is this process of the military sector suplanting and subordinating the economy for its own purposes which we have witnessed since the beginning of the century, a process which today is undergoing a shattering acceleration.
 

"World war has its roots in the generalized crisis of the capitalist economy. This crisis is its source of nourishment. To this extent, world war, the highest expression of the historical crisis of capitalism, summarizes and concentrates in its own nature all the characteristics of a process of self-destruction.

"In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic of overproduction .... And why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce ." (Communist Manifesto)

"From the moment when this crisis can no longer find a temporary outlet in an expansion of the world market, the world wars of our century express and translate this phenomenon of the self-destruction of a system which by itself cannot overcome its historical contradictions.”

Socialism or Barbarism: War under Capitalism IR 45, 2nd quarter 1985

http://en.internationalism.org/node/2977

 

And from the same article:

“From a certain point of view, the slogan ‘socialism or barbarism' is outdated today. The development of the decadence of capitalism means that today things must be posed as follows: socialism or the continuation of barbarism, socialism or the destruction of humanity and of all life-forms on earth."

So that was 30 years ago;

Its rather amazing that there are now ICC texts that are pretty much historical documents in their own right now. I hope that doesn't make anyone feel too old! wink

jk1921
No worries

Demogorgon wrote:

On other topics, I'm thinking about how to answer JK's questions on my position on state capitalism. After thinking it through, I've identified some issues around my position which I need to think about. So any exposition will be a bigger job than I thought. I may even (gulp!) be wrong ...

 

Don't worry too much, I've probably been wrong or contradicted myself at least five of six times on this thread. frown

jk1921
Nature of Economics

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
. jk, could you please expand on this?:

Quote:
Or is the point really that the bourgeoisie is essentially right about its own system's objectively inevtiable nature and the Matticks get that? Thus, we need to conceive of the--I am not really sure what to call it, because I am not even sure "revolutionary" works in your world (but how about "emancipatory"?)--project differently from objectivist economic models?

I think I'm almost there, trying to figure out what you mean and how to respond, but -- can you give me a little more to go on? Thanks.

Its not clear whether you think there is any economic dimension to the end of capitalism at all. Or that there is some economic force in capitalism itself which helps produce the conditions for its historical transcendence. Its not clear, maybe I missed it somehwere, that the notion of a political revolution plays at all in your conception of whatever the task before communists is today. But I assume you still see the need for some kind of emancipatory effort on the part of humanity to get itself out of the morass that capitalism (or "domestication" or some such other conceptualization of domination) has ensnared it?

But moreover your conception of economics is very confounding. You seem to suggest that Marxist economics is "bourgeois", but then attempt to deploy the work of economists as diverse in their political leanings as the Matticks and Picketty to prove some point about something--what I am not sure. Does the fact that economics is "bourgeois" make it ideological, and therefore compromised, in some way? Or do you think that economics is a neutral science and there are just good or bad economists? But then why use the epithet "bourgeois" to describe Marxists?

Do you think that all of economics is "bourgeois"? There is no useful distinction to make between neo-classical and Marxist economics? What about Marx's critique of classical political economy? What was he doing there? You say there are just "economists." But surely some economists' work is more valuable to the emancipatory/communist project than others? What is the criteria you use for deciding which ones are valuable and which ones are not? Their individual brilliance? How or why did Mattick (is that Sr. or Jr.?) become your "guru"? But I have to say, its a strange world to me when a communist thinks Picketty--or other neo-classical economists--are important, worthy of being cited by name even, but Marxists are "bourgeois." Its also pretty strange to hear someone admit to having a "guru"--what would Mattick think of that? Or were you using that phrase figuratively or in jest?

Non ex hoc mundi
Whoa there jk! Don't go

Whoa there jk! Don't go chipping away full sail at my guru! (Joking.) I figured I'd mention mine since Luxemburg and Grossman have come up so much. Not much love for Rubin, though...

Quote:
ts not clear whether you think there is any economic dimension to the end of capitalism at all. Or that there is some economic force in capitalism itself which helps produce the conditions for its historical transcendence.

Not sure, this distinction is going clear over my head. Yes, there is an economic dimension to everything in capitalism. Whether or not there are unique features to this time period that make decadence a real phenomenon, I'm not yet qualified to say.

In regards to mass 'emancipatory effort' -- no, most likely people won't ever unite and do this on an ideological basis. But it is possible that if enough people begin acting in their own selfish economic interest, demanding as much pay as a CEO while working at as a clerk, for example -- it is possible that would overload the circuits and stop the machine.

My conception of economics must be very confounding to anyone who puts empiricism and Promethianism at the lead of their critical process. This is not a personal slight, it's the only brief way I know to put it...We are not hygenic in this world, like I quoted from before, if we lay down with dogs, we should expect to get up with fleas.

Does the fact that economics is bourgeois make it ideological, and therefore compromised, in some way?

Was Marx bourgeois? Are all modern economist part of the ruling class? Are there proletarians who follow Marxian economic traditions? Is art proletarian? Culture?

Well, there shouldn't be such a thing as what jk calls 'neutral science' either, then. That would be invoking LBird's false dichotomy which says there are different kinds of science dominant in society. There aren't. There's only the one, the one of it all: everything today bears the mark of capitalism.

So why do I use the distinction 'bourgeois' in this context? Well because they are actually bourgeois in some cases, and also for the 'us vs. them' effect.

Remember that I have a stricter definition of what a proletarian is: someone with their hands on the levers of production. The Matticks, especially the elder, or Moshe Postone, et al, could be seen as outside of this, or of bourgeois economics, sure...but it's all recuperated in the end.

Isaak Rubin writes quite frequently about this in his Essays.

Surely we can all agree that Dicky Wolff and Joe Stiglitz are quite shit and as bourgeois as it comes. But I digress.

I'd like to quote something from one of my now favorite novels, the Platanov one I mentioned before, if I can:

'And truth?' asked Voshchev. 'Is truth the due of the proletariat?' 'Movement is the due of the proletariat,' summarized the activist, 'along with whatever the proletariat comes across on the way. Doesn't matter if it's truth or a looted kulak jacket--it'll all go into the organized cauldron till you won't be able to recognize anything at all.'

Do I think that all of economics is 'bourgeois'? Resoundign yes. But then again, what isn't? The bourgeoisie are the dominant species on the planet.

MH
It's a fair cop!

KT wrote:

“I actually had some very minor part in the production of MH's text which is the subject of this thread, support its major argumentation, but did not spot what's subsequently emerged - the idea that capitalism roles on regardless in the absence on proletarian revolution, an Idea with which I don't agree, evidently.”

Reading back through this thread I admit some of my statements have been contradictory, although I think Demo’s summary is still accurate:

MH sees the end of capitalism not as an economic question (although the economy provides the objective driving force) but political and social. In this sense, the end is either revolution or a series of catastrophes such as war, pollution, etc.”

This seems consistent both with Luxemburg’s theory and Marx’s vision of decadence.

The text argues that capitalism has been able to prolong its existence despite 100 years of decadence due in part to the class struggle, specifically the failure of the proletariat so far to develop the necessary class consciousness to destroy capitalism.

But this cannot continue indefinitely.

If decomposition continues without the proletariat finally acting, capitalism will engulf humanity in either outright war, which is certainly a possibility, or, more likely, a cumulative series of catastrophes as envisaged by Rosa Luxemburg, which will at some point destroy the material conditions for communism.

Whether capitalism can persist beyond this point seems to me a separate issue. Potentially I don’t see why it couldn’t linger on, possibly for a further prolonged period, before we finally arrive at Alf’s full-blown ‘Mad Max’ scenario.

Anyway, I just wanted to clarify…

 

 

baboon
I generally agree with the

I generally agree with the above but again would like to insist that a starting point on capitalism's decadence should be its clearest expression within Marxism: the Communist International.  I think that from this standpoint we can more readily indentify agreements and disagreements on fundamental issues (if there are any) rather than through some contradictory economic arguments that, to me at least, are often largely impenetrable.

I think what's even more astonishing than the CI's theoretical analysis of decadence gripping millions and millions of workers across every continent, is that fact that, through various conferences, meetings, discussions, etc., this analysis was formulated and defended a few years before by what was in number a roomful of revolutionaries. Though this was a break with the Second International there was also the strong factor of revolutionary continuity which is why they fought within it. The best element of the 2nd were absorbed and clarified and taken forward by the 3rd.

In relation to WWI, the Statutes of the 2nd Congress of the CI read: "Remember that without the overthrow of caqpitalism the repetition of such robber wars is not only possible but inevitable". Opposed to the opportunist, centrist and pacifist elements of the 2nd International, the slogan of "turn the imperialist war into civil war" appeared at the 2nd Zimmerwald Conference of 1915 when it could have seemed to be wishful thinking at best. But in 1918, Zinoviev recognised that this was "the first nucleus of the 3rd International in formation". As Lenin said at the time "This slogan is precisely indicated in the resolutions of Stuttgart and Basle".

"The Third International is the International of open mass action, the international of revolutionary realisation..." (Manifesto of the CI). Again it's necessary to emphasise that this wasn't a 'clean break" with the 2nd but, based on it, the clarification of a completely new period that had the most profound consequences for the proletariat. Only the new International "was able to formulate and advance the programme for the proletarian revolution" (Bilan no. 34, August 1936, quoted in the ICC's '1919: Foundation of the CI').

A point that was the cornerstone of the CI, was Luxemburg's analysis that capitalism was now in a period of irreversible decline and humanity "may perish in chaos or it may find salvation in socialism" (ibid).
This was affirmed by the CI:
"1. The present epoch is the epoch of the collapse and disintegration of the entire capitalist world system which will drag the whole of European civilisation down with its insoluble contradictions if it is not destroyed" (letter of invitation).
"A new epoch is born. The epoch of the dissolution of capitalism. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat" (Platform of the CI).
 

Hawkeye
Transitory capitalism and decadence

I must stop wasting time scrolling down acres of text on this subject, and some others. Cheers.

jk1921
Progress?

baboon wrote:

A point that was the cornerstone of the CI, was Luxemburg's analysis that capitalism was now in a period of irreversible decline and humanity "may perish in chaos or it may find salvation in socialism" (ibid).
This was affirmed by the CI:
"1. The present epoch is the epoch of the collapse and disintegration of the entire capitalist world system which will drag the whole of European civilisation down with its insoluble contradictions if it is not destroyed" (letter of invitation).
"A new epoch is born. The epoch of the dissolution of capitalism. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat" (Platform of the CI).

I am still not clear though if we want to say that what makes capitalism decadent is the ever growing possibly of some kind of catastrophic event that interrupts an othwerwise "normal" process of accumulation, growth and development. Or, if decadence means that such a "normal" or "progressive" kind of development is simply no longer possible. If its the latter then we have some questions to deal with. How to explain the decades long period of Keynsian-Fordism (in fact this period lasted so damn long, one is tempted to call it an "epoch"). Are the reforms or psedo-reforms of this period meaningless becasue they were eventually mostly obliterated when the crisis returned in the 70s or 80s?

And then, what about the technological progress capitalism continues to claim it offers our species? Supposedly, they are getting ready to relieve us of the daily chore of operating an automobile. Surely--so they claim--this will make traffic accident deaths a thing of the past for our species. Anyone remember the old Soviet era joke where a dissident would stand up in a party meeting and ask, "Will there be traffic accidents under communsim?" Well, apparently captialism itself is about to eliminate them. We won't even need communism for that! Less clear to me is if self-driving cars will eliminate the problem of "driving while black," but it won't be so easy for the cops to make up a traffic infraction against a computer driven car occupied by a minority. Heck, if we want to get real techno-utopian about it, we might even posit that such an invention would lessen the grip of the police state in daily life in general, because the cops wouldn't have a justification for most random traffic stops at all. Of course, all of this posits that one could afford a self-driving car, never mind the millions of workers who are going to be put out their jobs because they depend on driving.

I guess the issue is the standard we are using for decadence. Does captialism have to cease to serve some general human interest at all times or is the threat of an external catastrophe hanging over the species enough to say the system no longer serves our interests? And yes, it is very difficult for me to say that a smartphone has actually made my life any better in some qualitative way. In fact, mine only seems to add to the daily burdens, distractions and drudgery, but at the same time, I couldn't possibly imagine daily life without it right now. Certainly, this is an example of some kind of contradiction contained in technological progress today, but it also would seem to open up questions about human needs and how that relates to the continued existence of capitalism, decdence, etc.

baboon
Jk, I think that it's a very

Jk, I think that it's a very interesting discussion above with many areas that are worth exploring. But my purpose in summarising the CI's 1919 position on decadence (and a few elements of what led up to it), one that I think forms the basis of the ICC's position, was that some of the more dense economic arguments and speculations about a post-capitalist shambles, make it difficult to see where real agreement and disagreement with the issue of decadence lie. That is, it is not an "open question" for communists. The CI position is, in my opinion, a clear enough position to affirm or deny certainly as a starting point.

Incidentally, the "authorities" on libcom have re-published the ICC's text on the Chinese uprisings in 1927, which they have rather incompetently censored because of their fear of repeating any sort of "decadence" analysis. The events in China in the mid-20's are heavy with lessons about the effects of decadence on the working class, the nation, national liberation, the colonies, etc., but criticism of libcom's censorship has been met with silence from them.

jk1921
Rejection

baboon wrote:

Jk, I think that it's a very interesting discussion above with many areas that are worth exploring. But my purpose in summarising the CI's 1919 position on decadence (and a few elements of what led up to it), one that I think forms the basis of the ICC's position, was that some of the more dense economic arguments and speculations about a post-capitalist shambles, make it difficult to see where real agreement and disagreement with the issue of decadence lie. That is, it is not an "open question" for communists.

 

Except there are many self-proclaimed "communists" who fervently fight any notion of decadence tooth and nail. We could always say that these are not "true communists" then, but that seems to run afoul of the "No True Scotsman" problem. Is support of decadence theory then a "class line" position? I still think its worthwhile to try to consider why decadence theory is so discredited today in the milieu? I know the ICC has written about this in the past, but does it need to be updated? What is the political goal in rejecting decadence theory? What point is trying to be made? Something about "objectivism" vs. the conscious will of the proletariat (or whatever subject is used in a particular theory)? This then would seem to dovetail into the discussion of science and democracy in other threads, but it seems we can't have that discussion here without it getting derailed in short order.

baboon
The rejection of decadence

The rejection of decadence opens up a number of areas in my opinion: the positive role of the trade unions; the defence of progressive elements of the bourgeoisie through elections; the defence of progressive nations in a war; the defence of the right of people's to self-determination and the impossibility of a proletarian revolution. These are all positions more or less defended by any number of individuals and groups who call themselves "communist".

jk1921
Workerism

baboon wrote:

The rejection of decadence opens up a number of areas in my opinion: the positive role of the trade unions; the defence of progressive elements of the bourgeoisie through elections; the defence of progressive nations in a war; the defence of the right of people's to self-determination and the impossibility of a proletarian revolution. These are all positions more or less defended by any number of individuals and groups who call themselves "communist".

I agree those areas get opend up when you reject decadence, but the question remains why would anyone want to open up those areas? Is it because it allows them to think they are doing "real politics," while decadence theorists just make posts here? Perhaps they justify that approach with a kind of workerist reification of subjective revolt against "objectivist" economic determinism?

Demogorgon
I think we should be clear

I think we should be clear that we are not saying that anyone who rejects decadence is automatically supporting unionism, parliamentarianism, etc. Rather, it is a question of decadence providing the most theoretically coherent framework within which to justify and explain those positions.

jk1921
Moral revulsion

Demogorgon wrote:

I think we should be clear that we are not saying that anyone who rejects decadence is automatically supporting unionism, parliamentarianism, etc. Rather, it is a question of decadence providing the most theoretically coherent framework within which to justify and explain those positions.

Right, there are plenty of radical sounding "communists" in the milieu who do not support reformism, but who nevertheless have something that looks like a moral revulsion to decadence theory. How do we understand that?

Demogorgon
Without looking at their

Without looking at their specific objections, it's hard to say. While it is certainly possible to explain it as the pressure of ideology, unconscious motivations, etc. I think there's also another possibility that we are reluctant to consider sometimes: that they may have genuine intellectual objections to the concept.

Whether those objections are valid is something that can only happen in discussion, but discussion is the one thing the proletariat is finding harder and harder to do. Leaving aside the hand-wringing about fake news, social media bubbles, etc. even the way we discuss in the communist left leaves a lot to be desired.

I think this thread has been one of the better ones of late, but look at the disagreements and confusions we've unearthed. Earlier MH conceded he made several contradictory statements, you've said the same about your posts, and then add in mine and you don't necessarily have a theory that is wholly obvious in either its premises or conclusions.

These weaknesses are not the only reason why decadence theory - or Marxist theory in general - have struggled to make headway. The ideological power of capitalism shouldn't be underestimated. And the weaknesses we suffer are the result of the class weakness of the proletariat and the general decomposition of coherent thought of society as a whole. But it certainly doesn't help ...

Non ex hoc mundi
Re: 'The rejection of decadence'

baboon wrote:
The rejection of decadence opens up a number of areas in my opinion...

I don't understand: How?

jk1921 wrote:
I agree those areas get opend up when you reject decadence, but the question remains why would anyone want to open up those areas? Is it because it allows them to think they are doing "real politics," while decadence theorists just make posts here?

This sounds like a critique of leftism more than 'communism' itself. No?

jk1921 wrote:
Perhaps they justify that approach with a kind of workerist reification of subjective revolt against "objectivist" economic determinism?

Are you now critiquing councilism, or no?

Demogorgon wrote:
I think we should be clear that we are not saying that anyone who rejects decadence is automatically supporting unionism, parliamentarianism, etc.

Well, that's good!

Demogorgon wrote:
Rather, it is a question of decadence providing the most theoretically coherent framework within which to justify and explain those positions.

I have to object as it doesn't seem that way to me.

Newton's theory of gravity wasn't exactly 'coherent', yet it still justified and explained the phenomenon well enough for centuries of practical application.

The idea that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon and stars revolved around us provided a perfectly coherent framework which justified and explained certain phenomenon and ended up being totally false. It can and does happen.

Demogorgon wrote:
I think there's also another possibility that we are reluctant to consider sometimes: that they may have genuine intellectual objections to the concept.

Heretics! (I kid.)

But, I mean...for Pete's sake, are we just now realizing this? Because if so, it makes me feel a bit like I was kept around to symbolically demonstrate the ICC's ability to tolerate dissenting viewpoints, but perhaps not actually tackle them?

I am trying to bring new questions to the table. But are folks more comfortable getting semantical among themselves? Ignoring tough questions and opinions that they're not used to grappling with in order to stop-in and get there fill of politics for the day unhindered? When one points one's mouse to the URL space, isn't one engaging in a kind of activism? The need to say something is a need to [i]do[i/] something. No?

Anyway, I hope we can continue to question decadence theory further.

Here is a old thread where I am still left hanging: http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/non-ex-hoc-mundi/14355/part-8-real-domination-capitalism-and-real-confusions-proletarian-

jk1921 wrote:
Right, there are plenty of radical sounding "communists" in the milieu who do not support reformism, but who nevertheless have something that looks like a moral revulsion to decadence theory. How do we understand that?

Isn't all active participation in politics essentially based on 'moral revolusion'? Isn't communism inherently 'moralistic', like in religion? Without a consensus on certain important questions (like science, it's method, and if/how to utilize it) isn't Marxism/socialism/communism/anarchism just another 'belief' system?

jk1921
Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
jk1921 wrote:
I agree those areas get opend up when you reject decadence, but the question remains why would anyone want to open up those areas? Is it because it allows them to think they are doing "real politics," while decadence theorists just make posts here?
This sounds like a critique of leftism more than 'communism' itself.

Maybe, but there are plenty of self-proclaimed "communists," maybe even "left communists," who object to a certain "anti-political" dogmatism they think flows from an objectivist approach to class consciousness and the revolutionary process. Are these people then not real communists, bourgeois leftists or well-meaning people who have a different intellectual approach (as Demo puts it) towards politics? This was after-all Lenin's approach to the communist left. But one doesn't need to be a Leninist to agree with his critique of the left communism as it was practiced in his day. You can see such objections, sometimes unconsciously, come to the surface when left communists are repproached for "doing nothing," "having no presence in the class," "debating with themselves," being semi-academic "cloistered monks of Marxism," (actually that particular phrasing was leveled at the councilists, but the same sentiments are constantly directed towards left communists as well) "having a top down approach to knowledge based on bourgeois materialist conceptions of science," etc., etc.

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

jk1921 wrote:
Perhaps they justify that approach with a kind of workerist reification of subjective revolt against "objectivist" economic determinism?
Are you now critiquing councilism, or no?

Certainly some councilists feel that way, but one need not be a councilist to do that and historically some councilists have been very ferverent defenders of an objective crisis of capitalism, i.e. the KAPD's flirtation with the notion of a "death crisis" in the 1920s. Pannekoek may have rejected such ideas (depending upon what day of the week you asked him), but certainly there is some meaning in the fact that one of the most prominent figures in modern councilism (Mattick) is best known for his economic work?

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

Heretics! (I kid.) But, I mean...for Pete's sake, are we just now realizing this? Because if so, it makes me feel a bit like I was kept around to symbolically demonstrate the ICC's ability to tolerate dissenting viewpoints, but perhaps not actually tackle them? I am trying to bring new questions to the table. But are folks more comfortable getting semantical among themselves? Ignoring tough questions and opinions that they're not used to grappling with in order to stop-in and get there fill of politics for the day unhindered? When one points one's mouse to the URL space, isn't one engaging in a kind of activism? The need to say something is a need to [i]do[i/] something. No? Anyway, I hope we can continue to question decadence theory further. Here is a old thread where I am still left hanging

You are coming off a little entitled here. Nobody is keeping you around as window dressing. You are free to come and go as you like. Moreover, the idea that people are getting "semantical [sic!]" and "not tackling tough questions" here is a little rich given the intense disagreement that has been exhibited in this thread. Similarly, you aren't the only one "bringing new questions." As far, as being left hanging on another thread: Yeah, that happens to me all the time. Join the club. There aren't enough people here to respond to everything all the time. Yes, it can be frustrating to put yourself out there and get no or only a token response, but not everyone is going to share your interests in a particular subject or even be able to respond on a level that a particular contribution demands. It is a reflection of the continued weaknesses and problems--either on the level of the lack of capability and comeptency or in the culture of debate--in the proletarian milieu today (which Demo alluded to above). But instead of recognizing these realities, you seem to get indignant that people do not recognize your unique perspestive and then accuse them of having less than sincere motives for coming here: "Stopping in to get their fill of politics for the day unhindered." Is that suggesting people just stop in to be affirmed in what they already beleive? Trust me; I have be disabused of plenty of things on this forum and have attempted to do the same for others. Its somewhat amazing in fact that such a thing could be suggested in this particular thread of all places. This is not a helpful approach and evidences a level of suspiscion and distrust that we need to be careful about. Its also a form of confirmation bias in itself.

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

jk1921 wrote:
Right, there are plenty of radical sounding "communists" in the milieu who do not support reformism, but who nevertheless have something that looks like a moral revulsion to decadence theory. How do we understand that?
Isn't all active participation in politics essentially based on 'moral revolusion'? Isn't communism inherently 'moralistic', like in religion? Without a consensus on certain important questions (like science, it's method, and if/how to utilize it) isn't Marxism/socialism/communism/anarchism just another 'belief' system?

Marxists are supposed to defend something called "scientific socialism." It is supposedly what sets Marxists off from all the moral-reformist trends that came before it and have continued since. Obviously, the acceptance of the notion that socialism has to be founded on scientific grounds will have important ramifications for one's approach to politics, which I think is part of the reason why notions of an objective economic basis for captialism's crisis and therefore the proletarian revolution, engender such intense controversy. Demo may be right that there are honest intellectual differences, but there is also political work being done--some political meaning--in accepting or denying decadence, some of which Baboon gets at above, even if his contribution is not an exhaustive answer. Is this the right way to address critiques of decadence, by questioning the motives of the critics? Obviously, not in and of itself--that would logically fallacious, but I think it is nevetheless a question that needs to be asked, what comes first--an analysis of capitalism's objective situation as an historical world system or political needs and desires not to offend a certain democratic/humanist commitment?

Non ex hoc mundi
Fair enough, jk1921. Yes, I

Fair enough, jk1921. Yes, I am indeed being whiny. I suppose I'll stop.

How about these parts, though?

Quote:
Newton's theory of gravity wasn't exactly 'coherent', yet it still justified and explained the phenomenon well enough for centuries of practical application.

The idea that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon and stars revolved around us provided a perfectly coherent framework which justified and explained certain phenomenon and ended up being totally false. It can and does happen.

The flat Earth people are making a comeback, too, apparently.

Quote:
Isn't all active participation in politics essentially based on 'moral revolusion'? Isn't communism inherently 'moralistic', like in religion? Without a consensus on certain important questions (like science, it's method, and if/how to utilize it) isn't Marxism/socialism/communism/anarchism just another 'belief' system?

Some Christians attempt to use science to prove the Bible correct in a literal sense. What is the difference of belief between scientific Christianity and scientific Marxism?

Demogorgon
Quote:Because if so, it makes

Quote:
Because if so, it makes me feel a bit like I was kept around to symbolically demonstrate the ICC's ability to tolerate dissenting viewpoints, but perhaps not actually tackle them?

The first part of this thread was taken up with tackling your views, or at least demonstrating the contradictions in them. I'm no further forward with understanding your actual objections than I was in #40. It's true to say the discussion went in another direction but that occured after you absented yourself from it!

Quote:
The idea that the Earth was the center of the universe and that the sun, moon and stars revolved around us provided a perfectly coherent framework which justified and explained certain phenomenon and ended up being totally false. It can and does happen.

That's not exactly a staggering revelation. You can say that about any hypothesis or theory. It doesn't mean you reject it because it might be wrong - you have to demonstrate why it is and find better ways of explaining or falsifying the evidence that the theory draws on and purports to explain.

Quote:
Some Christians attempt to use science to prove the Bible correct in a literal sense. What is the difference of belief between scientific Christianity and scientific Marxism?

In post #20 you compared us to Donald Trump's climate change denialism. Now, it seems, you're comparing us to the creationists. How do these sorts of comparisons create the climate (no pun intended) for reasoned discussion?

But, as you brought up this sort of comparison, I feel compelled to turn it back against you. A favourite trick of creationists is to answer loaded questions that put all the burden of work onto their opponent. In this instance, what sort of answer are you realistically expecting: a detailed methodological breakdown of the differences between creationism, science and Marxism?

If that was an attempt at a serious point, then I suggest you actually attempt to justify it.  If you think there are actual similarities between creationism and Marxism, then I suggest you actually develop it into something coherent. Because, to be frank, it just looks like a cheap rhetorical shot which is not really worth wasting much time on.

As for time, this brings me to my last point.

The ICC is an extremely small organisation. Pitifully small. We barely have enough people to keep things going at the best of times. Add to that, we're still licking the wounds of the most painful internal crisis in the organisation's history.

Myself and Alf are pretty much the only comrades that have any time whatsoever to dedicate to these boards, and that time is limited. Neither of us are living incarnations of Marx - we cannot be experts on everything and give detailed replies on every single topic, especially a technical one like the formal and real domination of capital.

But the charge of ignoring dissenting voices is demonstrably false. Firstly, half the time I am the dissenting voice myself! As anyone familiar with these boards can tell you, I've defended minority positions here on several points (the economic crisis, the interplay of decadence and the environment, the machiavellianism of the bourgeosie, etc.) in discussions that have sometimes generated real heat. I'm not afraid to state disagreement with the status quo, even if that means critiquing my own organisation. Nor am I afraid to attack what I see as bad arguments, even when they are an attempt to support a position I broadly agree with.

When Link posted a deep critique of some of the positions coming out of our most recent Congress, we produced not just one but two formal replies. At one point, we even invited LBird (probably our most vociferous critic of late) to write a discussion paper that we would publish and respond to - a proposition he declined.

We may not always do it competently and every comrade on this board has moments (myself included) when we stumble on this or that point, but most of us strive for intellectual integrity even if we don't always achieve it.