Part 4: Understanding the Decadence of Capitalism

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Understanding the Decadence of Capitalism, Part 4

We are continuing here the series of articles begun in International Review Nos. 48, 49 & 50, which aimed to defend the analysis of the decadence of capitalism against the criticisms levelled at it by groups of the revolutionary milieu, and by the GCI [1] in particular.

In this article, we aim to develop different aspects of the decadence of the capitalist mode of production, and to answer the arguments that reject it.

In the late 60s-early 70s, the ICC had to fight to convince the political milieu that the “Golden Sixties” had come to an end, and that capitalism had entered a new period of crisis. The tremors that shook the international monetary system in October ‘87, and the effective stagnation of the real economy over the last 10 years (see graph below) leave no room for doubt, and have clearly demonstrated the inanity of a position like the FOR’s [2], which still denies the reality of the economic crisis. But there is worse: with the world on the threshold of the choice between War and Revolution, there are still to be found revolutionary groups which, while recognising the crisis, nonetheless proclaim capitalism’s vitality.

On the economic level, today’s crisis can only end in war, unless the proletariat stops the mailed fist of the bourgeoisie. However, since the end of the 60’s the working class has struggled more and more openly against the constant degradation in its living conditions, thus preventing capitalism from giving free rein to its inherent tendency towards generalised war. On the one hand, the proletariat has not been beaten physically as it was after the defeat of the international revolutionary wave during the 1920’s, or after the massacres of World War II, nor on the other does it adhere to bourgeois ideology as it did before the First and Second World Wars (anti-fascism and nationalism). With humanity’s future hanging in the balance (between either the development of the present course towards class confrontations, or the defeat of the working class and the opening of a course towards war), when revolutionaries have the task of demonstrating the capitalist mode of production’s historical bankruptcy and socialism’s necessity and immediacy, there are political groups picking over the “fantastic growth rates of the reconstruction period”, abandoning the marxist conception of succeeding modes of production by rejecting the notion of decadence, and straining themselves to prove that “...capitalism grows endlessly, beyond all limits”. It is hardly surprising that with this kind of foundation, and without any coherent analysis of the period, these groups defend a perspective that is unfavourable for the working class, and essentially academic as far as the activity of revolutionary minorities is concerned.

According to the EFICC [3], today’s priority is theoretical reflection and discussion (see Internationalist Perspective no. 9). Much preoccupied by the urgent problem of “the length and extent of the reconstruction that followed World War II”, they propose that the milieu should discuss the “serious problems” that it poses (IP nos. 5, 7). For CoC [4], we are still living in the period of counter-revolution that has lasted since the 1920’s (no. 22):  “with the end of World War II, the capitalist mode of production entered as almost unprecedented period of accumulation”,  and “...in the absence of a quantitative and qualitative break...”  in the class struggle, this group proposes to produce, in ...six-monthly... episodes a grand encyclopaedic fresco on the theory of crises and the history of the workers’ movement. For the GCI, since the 1968-74 wave of struggles, “the peace of the Versailles reigns” (editorial, no. 25/26). This group’s essential preoccupation is the liquidation of the gains of socialism; in its publication (Le Communiste no. 23), it identifies the marxist conception of the decadence of a mode of production with religious world-views like those of the Moon sect or the Jehovah’s Witnesses etc... The new split from the GCI, “A Contre Courant” [5] remains on the same terrain, both on the historical level – “We reject both the sclerotic schemes of the vulgar decadentist variety (plastered over a reality which is constantly disproving them)...” – and on the level of today’s balance of forces between the classes: “for us, the present stock-market crisis materialises essentially the proletariat’s absence as a revolutionary force...” (ACC no. 1).

THE DECADENCE OF CAPITALISM

To hide its movement towards anarchism and its abandon of all reference to a marxist framework of social analysis, the GCI takes cover behind the authority of an incorrect conception culled from the “thoroughly marxist” Bordiga [6]: “The marxist conception of the fall of capitalism does not at all consist in affirming that after a historic phase of accumulation it becomes anaemic and empties itself of life. These are pacifist revisionist theses. For Marx, capitalism grows endlessly, and without limits” (LC no. 23).

Whereas the decadence of previous modes of production was clearly identifiable (we will develop this point later), either because there was an absolute decline in the productive forces – Asiatic and antique modes of production – or because they stagnated with occasional fluctuations – feudal mode of production – the same is not true of capitalism. Capitalism is a wholly dynamic mode of production; the bases of its enlarged reproduction leave it no respite; its law is grow, or die. However, like previous modes of production, capitalism also has its period of decadence which began in this century’s second decade, and which is characterised by the brake imposed on the development of the productive forces by its now outdated fundamental social law of production – wage labour – which is eventually expressed in a lack of solvent markets relative to the needs of accumulation.

This is violently contradicted by our censors. However, peremptory affirmations aside, what are their arguments?

1) On a general theoretical level, we are told that Luxemburg’s analysis of the crisis, on which we base ourselves, is incapable of grounding a coherent explanation of the “so-called” decadence of capitalism: “If we follow Luxemburg’s logic, on which the ICC’s reasoning and the theory of decadence is based, then we are led to conclude that decadence must mean the immediate collapse of capitalist production, since none of the surplus value destined for accumulation can be realised, and so accumulated”  (CoC no. 22).

2) On a general quantitative level, the period of capitalist decadence is said to have undergone much more rapid growth than the period of ascendancy: “For the capitalist world as a whole, growth during the last 20 years [1952-72, ed.] has been at least twice as rapid as it was between  1870 and 1914, that is to say during the period that is generally considered to be that of ascendant capitalism. The affirmation that the capitalist system has been in decline since World War I has quite simply become ridiculous...”  (P. Souyri quoted in LC no. 23). “More than 70 years after the watershed date of 1914, the capitalist mode of production is still accumulating surplus value, while the rate and the mass of this surplus value have grown faster than during the 19th century, which was supposedly the capitalist mode of production’s ascendant phase...”

3) On a circumstantial level, in chorus with all the refuters of marxism, the growth rates that followed World War II (the highest in the whole history of capitalism) are brandished as the decisive proofs of the inanity of the idea that the capitalist mode of production could be decadent: “For, with the end of World War II, the capitalist mode of production entered a period of accumulation almost without precedent since the passage to the phase of labour’s real submission to capital” (CoC no. 22). “The frantic accumulation which followed World War II has swept away all Luxemburg-based sophisms...”

1 – ON THE THEORETICAL LEVEL

We will not here go back over a subject that has already been dealt with at length in our press (International Review no. 13, 16, 19, 21, 22, 29, 30). We will limit ourselves to pointing out the thoroughly dishonest practice of our contradictors, who deform our positions knowingly, in order to make an absurdity appear where none exists. The procedure consists of pretending that for the ICC, decadence = total inexistence of extra-capitalist markets: “If, as the ICC claims, the extra-capitalist markets have disappeared – at least qualitatively – then we cannot see what the better exploitation of old markets means. Either these are capitalist markets and their role is zero as far as accumulation is concerned, or they are extra-capitalist markets, in which case we cannot see how something which no longer exists can play any role at all”.

On this kind of basis it is not difficult for CoC to demonstrate the impossibility of any enlarged accumulation since 1914. But, for us as for Rosa Luxemburg, the decadence of capitalism is characterised not by the disappearance of extra-capitalist markets, but the inadequacy of extra-capitalist markets in relation to capital’s need for enlarged accumulation. That is to say, that the mass of surplus value realised in extra-capitalist markets is too small for it to be possible to realise the total mass of surplus value that capitalism produces. A fraction of total capital can no longer be sold on the world market, and this over production, from being an episodic obstacle in ascendant capitalism, becomes a permanent one in decadence. Enlarged accumulation has therefore been slowed down, but this does not mean that it has disappeared. Capitalism’s economic history since 1914 is the history of the palliatives aimed at cutting this Gordian knot, and their ineffectiveness – demonstrated, amongst other things, by the two World Wars (see below).

2 - ON THE GENERAL QUANTITATIVE LEVEL

To illustrate concretely how capitalist social relations of production hold back the productive forces (i.e., the decadence of capitalism), we have calculated what industrial production would have been without the braking effect, since 1913, of the social relations of production. We then compare this hypothetical index of industrial production (2401) to the real index (1440) over the same period (1913-83).

To do so, we have applied the rate of growth during the last phase of capitalist ascendancy (Kondratieff’s “phase A” (1895-1913) [7]) to the whole phase of decadence (1913-1983): we then compare real growth in 1983 (=1440) to potential growth (=2401 – application of a 4.65% growth rate to the same period), ie what it would have been without the obstacle of the inadequacy of the market. We can see that industrial production in decadence reaches 60% of what it could have been, in short that the braking power of capitalist social relations on the forces of production is in the order of 40%. Again, this is underestimated for three reasons:

a) We should extrapolate the rate of 4.65%, not linearly but exponentially, which is the tendency during the various prosperous phases of ascendant capitalism (Kondratieff’s “phase A”), given capital’s increasing technical perfection (1786-1820: 2.4%; 1840-70: 3.28%; 1894-1913: 4.65%).

b) Real growth in decadent capitalism, to the extent that it is doped by a whole series of tricks (a point which we will expand on in a forthcoming article), which must be discounted. For example, arms production – the non-productive sector – grows strongly in decadence as a proportion of the World Domestic Product, from 1.77% in 1908 to 2.5% in 1913, and to 8.3% in 1981 [8]. It therefore grows still more strongly as a part of the World Industrial Product index, since the latter’s share of the WDP decreases during decadence.

c) Since the present crisis has continued, the stagnation of growth rates since 1983 would only increase the difference.

If we add up all these elements, we easily reach a braking effect on the productive forces of about 50%.

Why do we choose the growth rates for the period 1895-1913, and not those for the whole of the ascendant period?

a) Because we have to compare what is comparable. In its early days, capitalism was held back by other braking effects: the survival of relations of production inherited from feudalism. Production was not yet wholly capitalist (widespread survival of cottage industry, etc.), whereas this was the case by 1895-1913.

b) Because the period 1895-1913 follows the main phase of imperialist expansion (colonial conquests), which took place during the previous phase (1873-95) [9]. This is therefore a period which the best reflects capitalism’s productive potential when it has an “unlimited” market at its disposal. This wholly suits our objective, which is to compare capitalism with and without a braking effect.

c) Because we therefore negate the exponential tendency of growth rates to increase over time.

These elements put definitively in their place all the myths of “a capitalism growing twice as fast in decadence as in ascendancy”.  Souyri’s “demonstration” which the GCI relies on is nothing more than a gross mystification, since it compares two incomparable periods:

a) For the GCI and for Souyri, the period 1952-72 is supposed to represent decadence, when in fact it excludes the two world wars (14-18 and 39-45) and the two crises (29-39 and 71-..)!

b) It compares a homogeneous period of 22 years of doped growth, with a heterogeneous phase of 44 years of normal capitalist life (this last includes a phase of relative slowdown in 1870-94 (3.27%) leading on to massive colonialism, which then opens up a phase of strong growth in 1894-1913 (4.65%).

c) It compares two periods where growth’s foundations are qualitatively different (see below).

Decadence is far from being a “vulgar sclerotic schema plastered over a reality that disproves it constantly”. On the contrary, it is an objective reality that has been confirmed with every passing day since the beginning of the century.

3 – ON THE QUALITATIVE LEVEL

The decadence of a mode of production cannot be measured simply in the light of statistics. The phenomenon can only be grasped through a whole series of quantitative, but also qualitative and superstructural aspects: our critics pretend not to know this, so as to avoid having to say anything about it, being happy enough to brandish the figures whose value we have just demonstrated.

a) The cycle of life in ascendancy and decadence

In ascendant capitalism’s overall dynamic, growth is a continuous progression, with slight fluctuations. It follows a rhythm of cycles of crisis – prosperity – lesser crisis – increased prosperity – etc. In decadence, apart from the overall braking effect that we have been above, growth undergoes intense and previously unheard-of fluctuations: two world wars, a marked slowdown during the last 15 years, and even stagnation during the last ten. World trade has never undergone such violent contractions (stagnation between 1913 and 1940, a marked slowdown in recent years), illustrating the permanent problem, in decadence, of inadequate markets.


 

TABLE 1


1ST SPIRAL

 

 

CRISIS

WAR

DRUGGED RECONSTRUCTION

1913: 1.5 Years of crisis

1914-18: 4 years and 20 million deaths

1918-29: 10 years

2ND SPIRAL

 

 

CRISIS

WAR

DRUGGED RECONSTRUCTION

1929-39: 10 Years of crisis

1939-45: 6 years, 50 million deaths and massive destruction

1945-67: 22 years

3RD SPIRAL

 

 

CRISIS

WAR

SOCIALISM OR BARBARISM

1967 - … already 20 years of crisis

A war that would be irreparable for humanity, or revolution

 

 

Table no. 1 illustrates the cyclical rhythm of capitalism in decadence: a rising spiral of crisis – war – reconstruction – ten-fold crisis – ten-fold war – doped reconstruction... But decadence has a history, and does not eternally repeat the same cycle. We are living at the beginning of the 3rd spiral, and what is at stake today is Engels’ old battle-cry: “Socialism or barbarism”.  “The triumph of imperialism leads to the destruction of civilisation, sporadically during a modern war and forever, if the period of world wars that has just begun [1914, ed.] is allowed to take its damnable course to its ultimate conclusion. Thus we stand today, as Friedrich Engels prophesied more than a generation ago.... [before] the dilemma of world history, its inevitable choice, whose scales are trembling in the  balance awaiting the decision of the proletariat. Upon it depends the future of civilisation and humanity.”  (Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of Social Democracy (The Junius Pamphlet))

 


 

b) War in capitalist ascendancy and decadence

“IV – WHAT IS HISTORICALLY AT STAKE IN DECADENT CAPITALISM. Since the opening of capitalism’s imperialist phase at the beginning of this century, evolution has oscillated between imperialist war and proletarian revolution. In the epoch of capitalist growth, wars cleared the way for the expansion of the productive forces by the destruction of outmoded relations of production. In the phase of capitalist decadence, wars have no other function than the destruction of excess wealth...” (“Resolution on the Constitution of the International Bureau of the Fractions of the Communist Left”, in OCTOBRE NO. 1, Feb. 1938).

During ascendancy, wars appeared essentially in phases of capitalist expansion (Kondratieff’s “A phase”), as products of the dynamic of an expanding system :

1790-1815

revolutionary and empire-building wars (Napoleonic).

1850-1873

Crimean and Mexican Wars, American Civil War, wars of national unification (Germany and Italy), Franco-Prussian War (1870).

1895-1913

Hispano-US, Russo-Japanese, Balkan wars.

 

Generally speaking, the function of war in the 19th century was to ensure the unity of each capitalist nation (wars of national unification) and/or the territorial extension (colonial wars) necessary for its development. In this sense, and despite its attending disasters, war was a moment of capital’s progressive nature: as long as it allowed capital to develop, then it was the necessary cost of enlarging the market, and therefore production. This is why Marx spoke of some wars being progressive. Wars were then, a) limited to 2 or 3 adjacent countries, b) of short duration, c) did little damage, d) were conducted by specialised armies and required little mobilisation of the population, and e) were declared with a rational goal of economic gain. They determined, for both victors and vanquished, a new expansion. The Franco-Prussian war is a typical example: it was a decisive step in the formation of the German nation, in other words in laying the foundations for a fantastic development of the productive forces and the constitution of the most important sector of Western Europe’s industrial proletariat; at the same time, the war lasted less than a year, casualties were relatively low, and it did not greatly handicap the defeated country.

In decadence, by contrast, wars appear as a result of crises (see Table 1), as a product of the dynamic of a shrinking system. In a period where there is no longer any question of forming new national units, or of any real independence, all wars take on an inter-imperialist character. Wars are a) generalised worldwide because their roots lie in the permanent contraction of the world market relative to the demands of accumulation, b) they are of long duration, c) they cause massive destruction, d) they mobilise the whole world economy and the entire population of the belligerent countries, e) they lose all economic function, and become completely irrational. They are no longer an aspect of the development of the productive forces, but of their destruction. They are no longer moments in the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, but moments of convulsion in a decadent system. Whereas in the past, a clear winner emerged, and the war’s outcome did not jeopardise the development of either protagonist, in the two World Wars both victors and vanquished emerged weakened, to the benefit of a third scoundrel: the United States. The victors were unable to extract the cost of the war from the vanquished (contrary to the heavy ransom in gold paid to Germany by France at the end of the Franco-Prussian war). This illustrates the fact that in decadence, the development of one is built on the ruin of others. Previously, military power upheld and guaranteed economic positions won or to be won; today, the economy is increasingly an auxiliary of military strategy.

ACC and CoC refuse to recognise this qualitative difference between wars pre- and post-1914: “At this level, we want to relativise even the affirmation of World War (...) All capitalist wars have therefore an essentially international content (...) What changes is therefore not the invariant worldwide content (whether the decadentists like it or not), but its extent and depth, each time more truly worldwide and catastrophic” (ACC no. 1). With a touch of irony, CoC tries to oppose us to Rosa Luxemburg, for whom “...militarism is not characteristic of a particular phase of the capitalist mode of production” (CoC no. 22). This groups forgets that, while it is indeed true that for Luxemburg “...war accompanies all the historic phases of accumulation”, it is also true that for her, the function of both war and militarism change with the capitalist system’s entry into decadence: “Capitalist desire for imperialist expansion, as the expression of its highest maturity in the last period of its life, has the economic tendency to change the whole world into capitalistically producing nations (...) World war is a turning point in the history of capitalism (...) Today war no longer functions as a dynamic method capable of winning for new-born capitalism the conditions of its national expansion (...) this war creates a phenomenon unknown in previous modern wars: the economic ruin of all the countries taking part in it”  (Rosa Luxemburg, Ibid).

If the image of decadence is of a body growing in clothes that have become too tight for it, then war marks this body’s need to cannibalise itself, to devour its own substance to stop the clothes splitting; this is the meaning of such massive destruction of the productive forces. Life as part of rival blocs, war, have become permanent aspects of capitalism, its very life even.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF STATE CAPITALISM

The state’s development in every domain, its increasing grip on the whole of social life, is an unequivocal characteristic of periods of decadence. All previous modes of production, whether Asiatic, antique, or feudal, underwent such a hypertrophy of the state apparatus (we will come back to this later).  The same is true of capitalism. A mode of production which:

-- on the economic level has become a hindrance to the development of the productive forces, expressed in increasingly serious crisis and malfunctions;

-- on the social level, is contested by the new revolutionary class bearing the new social relations of production and by the exploited class through an increasingly bitter class struggle;

-- on the political level is constantly torn by the internal antagonisms of the ruling class leading to increasingly murderous and destructive internecine wars:

-- on the ideological level undergoes the increasing decomposition of its own values; reacts by armour-plating its own structures by means of one appropriate instrument: the state.

In decadence, state capitalism:

-- replaces private initiative, which has more and more difficulty in surviving in a super-saturated market;

-- controls a developed proletariat which has become a permanent threat to the bourgeoisie, through the old working class organisations (“Socialist” and “Communist” Parties, trades unions) as well as a whole series of social mechanisms aimed at tying the working class to the state (social security, etc);

-- disciplines the particular fractions of capital in the general interests of the system as a whole. We can, in part, measure this process in the state’s share of GNP. We show below graphs that illustrate this indicator for three countries.

 







The change that takes place in 1914 is quite clear. The state’s share in the economy remains constant throughout capitalism’s long ascendant period; it then grows during decadence, to each an average of around 50% of GNP (47% in 1982 for the 22 most industrialised countries in the OECD).

The EFICC does not yet openly criticise the theory of capitalist decadence, but is abandoning it little by little, insidiously, in one “contribution to discussion” after another, that are so many milestones in its regression. Its “contribution” on state capitalism in Internationalist Perspective no. 7 is a flagrant illustration.

For the EFICC, decadence is no longer explained essentially by the worldwide lack of extra-capitalist markets, but by the mechanism of the passage from the formal to the real operation of capital: “It is this passage that pushes the capitalist mode of production towards permanent crisis, which makes the contradictions of the capitalist process of production insoluble (...) [there is an] inextricable link between this passage and the decadence of capitalism”. The same is true of the development of state capitalism: “In this respect, it is essential to recognise the no less decisive role played by the passage from forma domination to real domination in the development of state capitalism (...) The origin of state capitalism must likewise be sought in the fundamental economic transformation within the capitalist mode of production, brought about by the passage from the formal to the real domination of capital”. On this basis, the EFICC, with so many regressions already behind it, criticises our thesis of the restriction of the law of value’s field of operation, in the name of the post World War II development of free trade: “Thus, far from going with a restriction in the application of the law of value, state capitalism marks its greatest extension”. Along the same lines, the EFICC introduces the idea that the aim of war is the destruction of capital. Discovering the unpublished 6th chapter of Marx’s Capital 20 years after the modernists, the EFICC draws from it the inspiration necessary for the abandonment of coherent revolutionary positions.

a) This “group” is confusing two diametrical opposites: on the one hand, the transition from capital’s formal to its real domination, i.e. a more productive means of organising production, a more effective mode of extraction of surplus value, and on the other state capitalism, which is a response to capital’s difficulties of survival, in realising all the surplus value produced. One is an answer to “how better to develop capital”; the other is a response to the blockage of this development. One proposes a new mechanism for the extraction of surplus value; the other is a perversion of this mechanism in order to survive within the framework of a permanent crisis.

b) When it situates the passage from the formal to the real domination of capital at the watershed of the 20th century, the EFICC gets it wrong... by a century. State capitalism develops with capitalism’s decadence, whereas the passage to real domination takes place during the ascendant phase. Marx shows that capitalist relations of production first of all take over production as they inherent it from previous modes of production: this is the period of formal submission to capital, and is situated in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is only later that capitalism truly subjects the forces of production, thus determining the industrial revolution of the 18th and early 19th centuries. As the OPI explains very well: “If the epoch of decadence did correspond to the transition to the real domination of the labour process, then we would have to place it at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Once again, we are confronted with the tendency to dilute the determined epoch of decadence within capitalism’s general development.” (International Review no. 52)

c) State capitalism is the expression of the contradiction between the worldwide socialisation of production, and the national basis of capitalist social relations of production. It demonstrates decadent capitalism’s inability to go beyond the framework of the state, which has become too restricted to contain the development of the productive forces. The whole of decadence is there to demonstrate this:

i) The limits of the international organisations invoked at such length by the EFICC’s argumentation. What is happening is an increasing development of national rivalries, which can only be taken in hand by the state, not a growing cooperation between states, even if this does exist at a minimum level within the framework of the policies forced on each bloc.

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. Dazzled by the reconstruction, the GATT, the World Bank... and above all by bourgeois propaganda, the EFICC don’t know what they’re talking about.

The CoC is right about one thing, it’s when they talk about the EFICC in these terms: “The EFICC has undertaken to think; for the moment it is floundering in the insurmountable contradictions of the theory of decadence, and it is only drawing tighter the noose that is strangling it. There are only two ways out of all this theoretical agitation: either the EFICC breaks with the theory of decadence, or it will, and this for the moment is more likely, stop thinking of its own accord” (no. 22).

d) A brake on the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, and on the integration of labour power

In all previous societies, decadence meant a halt to the geographic expansion of their social relations of production, and a brake on the integration of labour power. The decadence of Rome: with the end of Roman expansion came fall in population, the increasing ejection of workers from the productive process, the development of new relations production on the edges of the Roman empire. The decadence of feudalism: an end to land clearance, stagnation of the population, flight of peasants to the towns, development of capitalist relations of production.

An analogous process develops within the decadence of capitalism (apart from the development of new relations of production which can only be installed after the worldwide seizure of power). In the ascendant phase, the existence of virgin markets to conquer, both internally and externally, the low level of capital needed for industrial takeoff, the weak penetration by dominant countries’ capital, allowed various countries to hitch their economies to the locomotive of the industrial revolution, and gain a real political independence. Since then, the situation has been virtually frozen, the economic conditions of decadence remove any real possibilities for the emergence and development of new independent nations; worse still, the gap between the first industrialised countries and those of the “Third World” is getting wider.


 

TABLE 2: Evolution of the gap between the ratio GNP/population in the under-developed and developed countries from 1850 to 1980. (Source: P. Bairoch and World Bank)

Year

Average gap

1850

1/5

1900

1/6

1930

1/7.5

1950

1/10

1970

1/14

1980

1/16

 


 

Whereas in ascendancy, the gap remains quasi constant, in decadence it leaps from 1/6 to 1/16. In his book Le Tiersomonde dans L’impasse, Bairoch has published a table illustrating the halt in the geographic expansion of the industrial revolution, and the relative reduction in the population affected by it (!) in the decadence of capitalism.


 

TABLE 3

Dates

Number of Countries

% in relation to world population

1700

0

0

1760

1

1

1800

6

6

1860

11

14

1930

28

37

1960

28

32

1970

28

30



Whereas in ascendancy, the population integrated into the productive process grew faster than the population itself, today we are seeing the expulsion of growing masses from the system. Capitalism has completed its progressive role in particular through one of the main productive forces: labour power. CoC can swamp us with pages of prose full of figures that show the greater increase during decadence of the percentage of wage-earners in the working population in ....France, that does not alter the reality of the phenomenon on a world level (which is the only valid scale for understanding the phenomenon). At this level, CoC’s population figures show nothing at all... unless it is the demographic explosion in the Third World! The working population is meaningless as an indicator of the population’s integration into capitalist relations of production; it merely measures a demographic relationship of active age sets (15 or 20 years to 60 or 65 years, according to the definitions) within the total population. If CoC took the trouble to think, to learn to read statistics and to count, it would see clearly, what it only glimpses at the end of a sentence, the extent of the development of this ... “growing mass of the absolutely impoverished who have no solution other than to die of hunger”.

 

In a forthcoming article, we will examine the bases that made the post-war reconstruction possible, and so answer the third kind of arguments that have been thrown at us (“fantastic” growth rates following World War II). But above all, we will demonstrate that this convulsion of capitalism in decadence is one of doped growth created by a system at bay. The methods used to produce it (massive indebtedness, state intervention, growing military, production, unproductive costs etc.) are wearing out, opening the way to an unprecedented crisis. We will also show that behind the rejection of the idea of decadence hides the rejection of the marxist conception of historical evolution, which is the foundation of the necessity of communism.

C. McL

 






[1] GCI: Groupe Communiste Internationaliste, BP54/Bxl 31/1060 Bruxelles/Belgium, which publishes the review Le Communiste.

[2] FOR : Ferment Ouvrier Revolutionaire, BP 329/75624 Paris/Codex 13/France, which publishes the review Alarme.

[3] EFICC : External Fraction of the ICC, BM Box 8154/London WC1N 3XX/Great Britain, which publishes the review Internationalist Perspective  (IP).

[4] CoC : Communisme ou Civilisation, BP 88/75722 Paris/Codex 15/France, which publishes the review of the same name.

[5] ACC : A Contre Courant, BP 1666/Centre Monnaie/ 1000 Bruxelles/Belgium, which publishes the review of the same name.

[6] Founder and leading figure of the Italian CP during its first years of existence. Following a during its fist years of existence. Following a political eclipse, he worked within the Parti Commniste Internationaliste (1946), since disappeared.

[7] W.W. Rostow, The world economy, history and prospect, University of Texas Press, 1978.

[8] Percentage calculated from the series of World GNPs (1750-1980) by P. Bairoch (“International Industrial Levels from 1750 to 1980”, in Journal of European Economic History), and SIPRI statistics on world military spending from 1908 to the present day.

[9] In Britain, the high point of cottage and craft industry was reached about 1820. In France, about 1865-70. In Belgium, the second country after Britain to undergo the industrial revolution, there were in 1846, 406,000 workers in industry, but at the same time there were still 225,000 workers in cottage industry (more, if we were to count seasonal workers). (Data from P. Dockes and B.Rosier in Rhythmes Economiques, ed. Maspero; and unpublished doctoral thesis by C. Vandermotten on Belgian industrialisation).