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

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LBird
Demo is correct

Demogorgon wrote:

But the charge of ignoring dissenting voices is demonstrably false. .... 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.

I'm always happy to confirm that I have never been banned for my very controversial political and ideological opinions, and many other posters have engaged with me, so I have not been ignored, either.

I still remain a 'vociferous critic' of those who ignore Marx's democratic political beliefs, and who attempt, like Lenin, to replace the 'revolutionary proletariat' with a 'cadre party', as the conscious, creative subject of history.

There are two reasons that I haven't attempted to 'formalise' my views in 'a discussion paper': a) I've been through a difficult process, these last 4-5 years, of attempting to clarify just exactly what Marx was talking about, and only recently has writing such a paper even become close to being a possibility; b) this educational process has been, against my intentions, a very isolated process, because apparently ALL so-called 'Marxist' organisations that I've tried to discuss these issues with, hold to an 'Engelsist' view of 'what Marx wrote/meant', and so there's been no real sympathy for such a 'paper'.

The work involved in such a 'paper' would only be worthwhile in the context of a genuine discussion about Marx/Engels, democracy/elite party, social/matter, etc.

Still, once again, I can happily confirm Demo's claims in his post, and only regret that the discussion hasn't generated more comradely feelings. Though, it's probably true to say that my politics are opposed to all or most of the other posters, here, so the current outcome is probably unavoidable. All I can say, is that my debates with others have helped to develop my understanding of Marx/Engels, etc., and the need for a democratic science, and for that, I thank the ICC. 

Non ex hoc mundi
Frustrated

Why is everything I say is interpreted as either a sleight against the ICC or as 'cheap rhetoric' not of sufficient quality to consider deeply? Perhaps you comrades could begin responding to what I'm saying, the substance of it, rather than me as a personality? Especially now that I'm beginning to trust that this discussion/debate his happening in good faith? If my arguments are so easy to defeat, where is the dismissal? Can we play the puck instead of constantly trying to check each other? I'm being serious here: all I've understood so far is 'what goes up, must come down'.

The writing formal papers thing is interesting. But wouldn't it be better if I wrote a description and summary of the ICC's decadence theory and you all descriptions of my position? That would more readily demonstrate where the misunderstandings are happening. Sorta like creating each others 'Wiki pages' or something.

Demogorgon, I've expanded a bit on my disagreements in posts no.109-126. In regards to formal and real domination, I feel we might have exited these periods of accumulation and was hoping to discuss what that means for us now. I'm not sure anyone on Earth is an 'expert' about this.

Apparently being compared to a Trump supporter or a Christian is a deep insult. But it's not climate denialism or Christianity I was hoping to bring into focus. It's belief. What I want to know is what elevates Marxism above the status of a belief system?

There are boatloads of evidence 'demonstrating' why capitalism perhaps isn't decadent. I've already elaborated on that in other places and will be happy to give it a go in other places. There's also a ton of evidence showing that capitalism might indeed be a sinking ship. I'm eager and open to exploring both sides of the question.

Imagine if the ICC convinced one of it's comrades to write a formal paper playing devil's advocate and arguing how capitalism isn't decadent. Now that would be truly interesting!

baboon
i would like to return to the

i would like to return to the point made by Demo above about the pressure on elements that take on the appelation "communist" or revolutionary that reject or disagree with the analysis of capitalism's decadence, an analysis that was most coherently presented by the CI in 1919 in my opinion.When I talked about the weaknesses of proletarian positions inrelation to decadence above it was from my experiences in discussiing on libcom for the past dozen years. It's true that the ICC and its sympathisers tended at first to lecture and post lengthy texts to underline their positions. This wasn't as much due to arrogance as the need to acquire greater skills to intervene on internet discussions but it provoked a visceral reaction that everyone outside of left communism, from the libertarians to the left of capital were happy to get behind. But we persisted and, I think, learnt somewhat from the experience to the point where we can agree on certain issues with certain elements or at least clearly show the areas of disagreement. But, like the constituent parts of libcom, this is a fluid and not necessarily a progressive development of agreement and political clarity. One (or groups) can disagree with the analysis of decadence and that doesn't make you any the less a fighter for your belief in communism and the working class but, in my opinion, it makes you much less effective and much less coherent overall. I don't mean it as a pejorative term when I say that outside of the communist left the general libertarian, anarcho-communist elements on libcom inhabit a "liminal" area, what the ICC has correctly called the "swamp" - see the website for more on this. As Demo says, the pressures on these elements are enormous particularly from the left of capital, the Trotskyists, etc., part of whose job is to attack and inhibit any further proletarian developments. This is reflected on libcom where, over the course of a dozen years there have been no major breakthroughs and issues such as the unions, the lesser evil, democracy and national liberation still plague this milieu which is under constant pressure from the left. How great and how dangerous this pressure is can be seen by its effects on left communist elements as shown by the PCI article on the home page.

 

On a completely different point; one of the interesting areas thrown up by the discussion earlier is the question of slavery. I don't have much to say about it except that it's rather profitable recent rise right across the globe would be a further confirmation of the decadence analysis.

jk1921
Melodrama

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
Why is everything I say is interpreted as either a sleight against the ICC or as 'cheap rhetoric' not of sufficient quality to consider deeply? Perhaps you comrades could begin responding to what I'm saying, the substance of it, rather than me as a personality? Especially now that I'm beginning to trust that this discussion/debate his happening in good faith? If my arguments are so easy to defeat, where is the dismissal? Can we play the puck instead of constantly trying to check each other? I'm being serious here: all I've understood so far is 'what goes up, must come down'.

Is this not a little melodramatic? I gave you several paragraphs of substantive reply to some of your questions in my last post, which contained only one paragraph that was a response to some your seemingly passive agressive remarks about the intentions and sincerity of people who come to this forum. I fear that it is not so much others, but yourself who has a tendency to want to body check. Again, your sentiments here seem to be fairly well exagerated and it is curious as to why you continuously play victim--as if you come here with certain a priori expectations about what it is like to try to discuss with the ICC. As for your arguments: I have yet to see a thought out, well presented, coherent critique of decadence theory. You have some ideas, but they are not exactly well put together at the moment to the extent to which you would like to think.

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

The writing formal papers thing is interesting. But wouldn't it be better if I wrote a description and summary of the ICC's decadence theory and you all descriptions of my position? That would more readily demonstrate where the misunderstandings are happening. Sorta like creating each others 'Wiki pages' or something.

It might not be a bad exercise for you to try to put your thoughts down in a more sustained and coherent way--starting with attempting to explain what you think decadence theory is and the problems you see with it. I can't guarantee anyone will be able to respond in the way you want, but it would nevertheless be helpful to future discussions to try to see what you think decadence means in the first place.

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

What I want to know is what elevates Marxism above the status of a belief system?

That is an important question that has already been debated at length here and upon which much ink has been spilled and many trees slaughtered over the last century and half. That of course, doesn't mean further discussion is pointless; on the contrary it is probably more vital than ever, as more and more people seem interested in this question--the relationship between science and politics, the role of revolutionary will vs. objective structural forces in the process of social transformation, etc. But don't expect any easy or quick answers. Many people smarter than you and I have struggled over it for a long time.

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

There are boatloads of evidence 'demonstrating' why capitalism perhaps isn't decadent. I've already elaborated on that in other places and will be happy to give it a go in other places. There's also a ton of evidence showing that capitalism might indeed be a sinking ship. I'm eager and open to exploring both sides of the question.

It is a good thing that you are open to evidence in either direction. But why then the seeming hostility to the idea of decadence? If you aren't sure, shouldn't you be a little less definitive in some of your statements and a little more forgiving of other's positions and arguments than you seem at times?

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:

Imagine if the ICC convinced one of it's comrades to write a formal paper playing devil's advocate and arguing how capitalism isn't decadent. Now that would be truly interesting!

Certainly, any good argument considers the objections to the argument and the ICC has done this before many times on the issue of decadence. That doesn't mean that all objections have been definitively exhausted or that new ones can't be raised. In fact, it would first be necessary to come to some sort of agreement about what decadence is before some kind of definitive statement could even be considered and as you can see from this thread--its not even clear if we all agree just yet on what decadence even means! As far as devil's advocate is concerned, I think you can see me doing that several times just in this thread. It can be a useful debating tactic, but it is also fraught with danger if one is not clear when they are doing this. Of course, I often mind myself unsure whether or not I am making a devil's ddvocate kind of argument or if I might not be on some level entirely convinced the argument doesn't have a certain point. What I am saying here is I think the culture of debate on some of these issues would benefit by a little less defintiveness at times.

Non ex hoc mundi
Once again, fair enough. Just

Once again, fair enough. Just trying to 'sell a foul' to the Ref, jk1921. That's all...Like everyone else, life beckons and I'm not sure how sustained and coherent I can get, especially in the alloted space, but I'm gonna do my best, right now. I disagree with jk1921 about the supposed total lack of value of my previous posts and I'd really appreciate it if an ICC comrade could find some time to summarize their notions of my views found there if they could. Thanks.

The ICC's theory of decadence is the foundational keystone of the organization. It states that in 1914, or right around it, capitalism became a less ideal form of human society than communism could be. This central event opened the door for international proletarian communist revolution, to establishing communism worldwide, for the first time in human history. Capitalism prior to the date of 1914 is in the end viewed benevolently in many ways, often described as a 'progressive' force. Right after WWI it suddenly 'turns into its fetters' (an obscure extraction from an unpublished intro of some of Marx's earliest writings). This does not mean it stops generating wealth and development altogether, nor does it discredit the fact that more wealth and development has been made globally in the last fifty years than any other time during capitalism, but instead means that capital runs up against certain barriers which demonstrate a general tendency towards decline, depression, inflation, contraction rather than classical growth. Imperialism also plays an instrumental role in the schema.

I have literally no idea about 'decomposition'. Does this help at all?

Alf
need for a reply

NEHM's request for a summary of what we think his views are is quite reasonable. i will try to do it but it could take a while. I also appreciate his attempt to summarise what he has understood regarding our 'theory of decadence'

jk1921
OK

Non ex hoc mundi wrote:
I disagree with jk1921 about the supposed total lack of value of my previous posts

I never said your posts had no value. Go back and read what I wrote. I said you have some ideas--they just aren't on the level of some kind of systemic critique of decadence theory just yet and that's really OK.

Alf
summarising....?

Nehm: I have gone back over your posts and I have to admit that, despite my rash engagement, I'm not in a position to summarise your views, because they do appear contradictory to me, which may of course mean that I haven't understood them very well. 

A key contradiction (it seems to me): you disavow marxism and historical materialism, and yet take exception to our efforts to locate "decadence theory" in the context of Marx's overall method for understanding historical change. The idea that we base our whole interpretation on "an obscure extraction from an unpublished intro of some of Marx's earliest writings" (post 148) encapsulates this approach. There are many reasons why this statement is wrong: the text in question, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy is certainly not an obscure text but has been quoted many times in all sorts of contexts, not least because it was Marx's response to a request to summarise his general view of historical development; I'm not sure what you mean by it being "unpublished"; it wasn't the "early Marx" but was written in 1859; and so on. But on top of this, we don't base the whole of "decadence theory" on this one seminal passage. You can check this article out for example: http://en.internationalism.org/ir/118_decadence_i.html, where a number of other examples are provided, in the writings of Marx and other marxists. 

But the basic problem is elsewhere: why argue that Marx's view of history doesn't justify "decadence theory" when you don't in any case agree with Marx's view of history, since you see yourself outside the marxist tradition? And here you will have to do your own summarising about what it is in Marx's view of history that you reject. It seems from your first post that you adhere to the idea that communism has always been possible. We are not at all shocked by your statement about "millions of years" of communism or about communism being pat of our human essence. We largely agree: for the greater part of its history, humanity was communist. The problem for us is why this first form of communism gave way to class society and why the communism that is now possible will not be a simple return to the communism of the past, but, as the early Marx did indeed put it, "a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development". (Incidentally, since you raise it, the original title of the communism series was indeed "not just a nice idea" - the "just" got left out of the book version cover but that was, I think, a mistake).

The problems of summarising views you don't agree with or understand are illustrated by your very creditable attempt to summarise our conception of decadence, since alongside some accurate elements it still contains some key misconceptions: in particular, the idea that we view capitalism "benevolently" before 1914 and that capitalism suddenly becomes a "fetter" in 1914. But the overproduction crises of capitalism's ascendant period already showed how the relations of production could become permanent fetters on the productive forces, and the signs of decadence were already multiplying well before 1914: imperialism, state capitalism,  and so on. 

Perhaps it would help if you summarised your political history a bit more. You refer once or twice to "Dupont", which suggests your adherence to "nihilist communism", but that in itself would need to be explained to the comrades on this forum. 

Non ex hoc mundi
Bump

Bump

MH
Could decomposition lead to economic collapse?

I’ve been reflecting on some of the issues raised in this thread which I thought sparked quite a productive debate, among other things about whether capitalism’s continued decomposition could eventually lead to a situation where the full economic logic of capitalism plays out, resulting in its collapse.

In the debate I was concerned to argue against what I saw as a one-sided interpretation of Marxism; an emphasis on the objective laws of capitalism as outside of and independent of human control leading to the conclusion that, if these objective laws lead to economic collapse, “then the bourgeoisie can, in the final instance, do nothing about it.” (Demogorgon #55).

I think the ICC is right to emphasise the need to avoid such a one-sided view; for example in the Resolution on the International Class Struggle from its 22nd Congress it argues that, while it is true that capitalist exploitation functions according to the “laws” of the market and that the capitalists are obliged to obey these laws, it is equally true thatdespite this machine- like character, capitalism is a social relation between classes, since this “system” is based and maintained by an act of will of the bourgeois state (the creation and enforcement of capitalist private property).” (my emphasis)

I think the implication of such a ‘two-sided’ view is that we should reject the idea that decomposition could lead to economic collapse.

It is absolutely true that at the economic level we are seeing the exacerbation of all capitalism’s inherent contradictions, for example in the tendency for the rate of profit to fall which shows in a growing crisis of profitability and the resulting flight into speculation, financial crashes, etc. This shows the inexorable tendency in capitalism towards the impossibility of further accumulation.

But the impossibility of accumulation is a theoretical end point only. In reality, despite the tendency towards economic breakdown, as Henryk Grossman argued the capitalist class will do anything necessary to try to restore profitability to preserve the existing economic order.

The deepening decomposition of its system pushes the bourgeoisie to take more and more extreme measures to restore profitability – right up to and including major wars, degradation of the planet, etc., not to mention degradation and destruction of the proletariat itself. Increasingly the only viable 'economic' strategy for each national capital is to attempt by any means necessary to be the 'last man standing'...

In order to restore profitability, in other words, the bourgeoisie is prepared to blow up the world. The exacerbation of all capitalism’s inherent contradictions leads not to economic collapse but to the accumulation of catastrophes for humanity as Rosa Luxemburg described, and potentially to the destruction of the basis for life on the planet.

So if we do revisit this debate, I think we need to explore the implications for decomposition of the view that “capitalism is a social relation between classes” and that the capitalist system is ultimately “based and maintained by an act of will of the bourgeois state”.

I think it's also about how we interpret the meaning of the phrase "mutual ruin of the contending classes", but I'll leave that for another post.

 

MH
What does ‘mutual ruin’ actually mean?

Does "mutual ruin of the contending classes" necessarily imply the end of capitalism? Could it be followed by the rise of a new mode of production and a new ruling class?

I think this is partly about how we interpret the meaning of the phrase.

The broad meaning is clear enough. Decomposition signifies a stalemate between the bourgeoisie and the working class. If the revolutionary class cannot impose its solution, opening the way to a new mode of production, capitalist society will definitively sink into chaos and barbarism. But there are a number of problems in interpreting its precise meaning. Comrades can correct me if I’m wrong but afaics:

-       this rather poetic phrase occurs only once, in the Manifesto, and Marx never defines it further, nor does he give historical examples of previous societies which suffered this fate;

-       in fact his entire method in his extensive research on pre-capitalist social formations is to identify the factors that allow decadent societies to give way to new modes of production, and specifically to identify the ways in which decadent feudalism gives way to capitalism,

-       more fundamentally, as the ICC today insists, we are in a historically unprecedented situation in which the new society cannot emerge from within the old but must be an act of conscious will by the exploited and revolutionary class. Any lesson drawn from the history of previous class societies must therefore be used with special caution.

The fundamental issue for us as Marxists is surely the destruction of the material conditions for communism. This may come through a single catastrophic war or ecological disaster but more likely from an accumulation of mounting disasters for humanity, social, economic political and ecological, which finally renders the further progress of humanity impossible.

Returning to the debate, I would tentatively argue the following:

1.    in the widest sense, the destruction of the material conditions for communism is the mutual ruin of the contending classes, because it ultimately dooms the existing mode of production to destruction and the existing ruling class along with it;

2.    following on from this, the mutual ruin of the contending classes does not imply in itself that capitalism no longer exists, or that the bourgeoisie does not continue to rule, at least for an undetermined but finite period; instead this will depend more on the precise nature of the catastrophe as described above and for this reason is inevitably a matter of speculation;

3.    for this same reason it is not possible to argue that a new mode of production can or must supersede it along with a new ruling class. Nor is it necessary to do so given that the crucial issue for us is the destruction of the conditions for communism. In fact such an argument risks underestimating the scale of the catastrophe that capitalist decadence will unleash or its consequences for the progress of humanity if it is allowed to continue.

I do not believe this interpretation of ‘mutual ruin’ puts into question our basic position on the historically transitory nature of capitalism, which is demonstrated above all by the undeniable fact that, like all previous modes of production, it is doomed to enter a phase of decline. What happens afterwards depends on the unique historical conditions we find ourselves in.

Any discussion on what might possibly supersede capitalism also needs to take account of the reasons why Marx considered capitalism, having established associated labour and the potential for unlimited production, to be the final class society.

 

 

LBird
Transitions?

MH wrote:

-       in fact his entire method in his extensive research on pre-capitalist social formations is to identify the factors that allow decadent societies to give way to new modes of production, and specifically to identify the ways in which decadent feudalism gives way to capitalism,

-       more fundamentally, as the ICC today insists, we are in a historically unprecedented situation in which the new society cannot emerge from within the old but must be an act of conscious will by the exploited and revolutionary class. Any lesson drawn from the history of previous class societies must therefore be used with special caution.

[my bold]

MH, I think that it's worth having a read of Ellen Meiksins Wood's The Origin of Capitalism: a longer view.

She (and others) argue that feudalism didn't become 'decadent', but that capitalism emerged due to very specific social productive circumstances, in the English contryside after the plague of the 14th century. But that was 'unconscious' in its aims.

As you say, the latter transition must be entirely 'conscious'. This, I think, means that any mooted 'decadence' of capitalism will play little or no part.

jk1921
Material vs. Subjective Conditions

MH wrote:

1.    in the widest sense, the destruction of the material conditions for communism is the mutual ruin of the contending classes, because it ultimately dooms the existing mode of production to destruction and the existing ruling class along with it;

I think we need to also consider the possibility of the destruction of the "subjective" conditions for communism--in a world in which the material pressures of a decadent and decomposing capitalism are ever present and deepening, and yet the primary mode of politicization today is identitarian and not class based. Obviously, the full eradication of these conditions hasn't yet taken place, but might it?

In terms of the economic fate of capitalism, there are those who suggest that capitalism has already morphed into some kind of hybrid mode of production in which accumulation occurs not so much through the direct exploitation of wage labor, but through other means, such as dispossession, rent-seeking, debt extraction, etc. Make of these theories what you will, but they suggest that already the economic structures are capitalism are fraying before us in ways that suggest the extraction of value need not be through the classic wage relationship. Of course, we already have historical evidence that this can be the case in the period of capitalism's birth pangs, when slavery, indentured servitude, etc. were common. These forms of exploitation were eventually transcended (mostly) by wage labor, but what does it mean that we are starting to see some evidence of a reversal in this trend today?

mcolome
The transitional system is

The transitional system is capitalism, no socialism, for Marx and Engels the expression socialism and communism were the same, or were interchangable

jk1921
Immanuel Wallerstein, ca.

Immanuel Wallerstein, ca. 2009:

" (...) the system has deviated so far from equilibrium that it cannot be restored to any kind of equilibrium, even temporarily. Therefore, we are in a chaotic situation. Therefore, there is a bifurcation. Therefore, there is a fundamental conflict between which of the two possible alternative outcomes the system will take, inherently unpredictable but very much the issue. We can have a system better than capitalism or we can have a system that is worse than capitalism. Only thing we can’t have is a capitalist system. Now, I have given you a short version of the whole argument."

What system is "worse than capitalism"?

KT
Worse?

Since our criteria must be based not on the fine art and architecture produced or, conversely, the grisly massacres perpetrated and the class exploitation endured in whatever social formation, but on that which favours or inhibits the possibility of a communist society, I'd venture that a system worse than capitalism - going forward, as it were - would be one which arises following the destruction (by war or environmental degradation or a mixture of both) of the conditions which permit a flowering of the productive forces, including the most important of these which is the existence on a global level of a class of associated producers – the proletariat.

In the absence of the communist revolution, the society that emerges from the tendencies inherent in decadent capitalism - will be ‘worse’ than capitalism. IMO.

jk1921
Understanding that "worse"

Understanding that "worse" and "better" are subjective judgements, it seems clear that Wallerstein imagines here a near future in which the world has simply ceased to be (fully?) capitalist without a communist revolution. This comports with much recent commentary emanating from a certain milieu, which thinks that contemporary capitalism is not really even entirely captialist anymore, based more and more around direct expropriation, slavery, debt peonage, state pensioning (paying people not to work), or paying them to perform "bullshit jobs." See for example, David Graeber and David Harvey (among others). Are these phenomen evidence of some kind of decomposition of capitalist relations themselves or are they the inevitable outcome of the historic crisis of captialism, which boots more and more people out of the official economy and into alternate forms of survival (which can be seen as a decommodifed virtue by certain leftists and anarchists)--something which the state will inevitably have to recognize and address through things like a guaranteed minimum income if it is to stave off further/faster decline? But does that mean society can cease to be effectively capitalist? Furthermore, I wonder how this all fits with the revival of "socialism," "millenial socialism," and serious talk about the necessity of GMIs, etc?