Growth as Decay

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Growth as Decay
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This is a response to the text posted by the ICC entitled 'Correspondence on the decadence of capitalism - Growth as Decay

Growth as Decay

I do like this title as i think it poses a lot of questions about the exact nature of capitalist decadence and I do hope it provokes a range of issues to discuss.

I think myself that the ‘growth as decay’ is particularly relevant to the complex issues of environmental degradation and pollution that capitalist is generating as well as over-fishing of the seas and excessive use of land for meat production, let alone overpopulation and the over-industrialisation of various regions of the globe. Furthermore there is the issue of the growth in waste production (not just armaments production) and how much of a negative impact that has on the system. It also leads to questions of policies within communism and whether it can/will mean a reduction in industrial production.

I recognise that the response does mention some of these issues but i do not agree however with the response’s focus on China as an example of ‘growth as decay’ nor, as the ICC previous called it, cancerous growth.

The actual question posed is “How can the ICC maintain that capitalism is a decadent system since 1914 when there has been such enormous growth in the capitalist system since then?” and I don’t think the ICC has answered this that well

This response does not really answer the actual question posed by the anonymous reader because it ignores the reality the reality of the high growth of capitalism particularly over the past half century. The response quotes from a text (4. Decadence: A total halt to the productive forces? | International Communist Current (internationalism.org) which correctly states that the ICC does not deny growth takes place but it ignores Part 6 of this text which does suggest that the growth rate of capitalism is slowing down. This analysis is a product of Luxemburg’s markets theory which sees a reduction in economic growth taking place as the regions of pre-capitalist markets diminish and should have been an important part of the ICC’s explanation of its views.

There has been an ‘enormous growth in the capitalist system’ as the questioner suggests but China is not the only source of growth within capitalism indeed as far as I can see there are a lot of far east nations that have seen rates of growth above the world average.  More than that though, ‘enormous economic growth’ has been true for the whole of the capitalist system and it is even true to say that the rate of growth of capitalism in decadence has been higher than the period we call ascendancy (see Sutton, A Critique of Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation, Chapters 11 and 12, for my explanation)

The ICC ignores the empirical reality of capitalism’s growth and this is needed to provide a solid basis for an analysis of decadence. I would suggest looking at C.McLeland’s text Has Capitalism entered its Decadence since 1914?’ which contains a more substantial range of empirical data about the last century than my text.  Whilst I do not agree with his analysis that decadence hasn’t started yet,  I do think his data is important to consider and discuss for all of us and particularly the ICC. I think the data itself provides a strong argument for a reconsideration of decadence not as an economic phenomenon but as a political or social phenomenon

The change in period around about 1914 is expressed by the completion of the world market, the completion of nation states as the major institutions of power, by the emergence of imperialism in the last part of the 19th century and its result in the financial imperialism of the 20th century, by the emergence of state capitalism and its domination of politics and the economy, by the onset of a period of wars and revolutions, by the strengthening of ideological control over the working class. The ongoing economic development of capitalism certainly brings about crises at various points in time for which the state can find no solutions only temporary panaceas and, as suggested, the issue of growth as decay.  I am not questioning the idea of decadence or obsolescence but i do this the factors that brought this about are more political and social than economic.

I presume I am agreeing with the reader when I say that any argument that poses capitalist decadence in purely economic terms ie as economic decline is in trouble because it just doesn’t fit the reality of capitalist economic and social development.
 

Amir1
The text (Growth as decay)

The text (Growth as decay) seeks to express the decline of capitalism by quoting Grundrisse the so-called 'Fragment on machines'. It should be noted; Grundrisse is a repository of Marx's collected information that has played a significant role in his scientific progress. But Marx's analyzes in this pamphlet have shortcomings that will later be corrected in Capital.

Amir1
The text (Growth as decay)

The text (Growth as decay) seeks to express the decline of capitalism by quoting Grundrisse the so-called 'Fragment on machines'. It should be noted; Grundrisse is a repository of Marx's collected information that has played a significant role in his scientific progress. But Marx's analyzes in this pamphlet have shortcomings that will later be corrected in Capital.

Kamerling
Reply to Link

The question of decadence is a very important question for the working class struggle. The change of period, from ascendance to decadence of capitalism, has major consequences for the methods of its struggle and for its overall perspective. But at first we must be clear on what we mean by decadence. In this response I therefore start with your post on Retrievers’ Digest where you write that we should not see decadence as something determined by economic categories: “The onset of decadence/obsolescence should not be seen as the onset of an economic crisis. It is not determined by the amount of non-capitalist markets available nor is it a product of a certain rate of profit and nor a certain amount of overproduction.” (Link, Free Retrievers’ Digest, November 6, 2020) And you affirm this position on this thread when you write that, in the end decadence is rather “a political or social phenomenon”. The empirical data in the article of C.McLeland, ‘Has Capitalism entered its Decadence since 1914?’, “provides a strong argument for a reconsideration of decadence not as an economic phenomenon but as a political or social phenomenon”. (Link, Growth as Decay)

It is true that decadence is more than a purely economic phenomenon; it is an expression of the historic crisis of the capitalist mode of production. Take for instance World War I. This war meant the beginning of decadence, but it was in itself not the expression of a preceding  economic crisis. And you seem to affirm this: Decadence/obsolescence is a political and social even a historical development that is not in itself an economic crisis”. (Link, Free Retrievers’ Digest, November 6, 2020) Therefore, I think, we can agree on the fact that decadence is more than a crisis of supply and demand, of a scarcity or overproduction of commodities, etc.

But your argument that decadence must not be considered as an economic phenomenon but as a political or social phenomenon” bends the stick too far and brings you in contradiction with the historical materialist method. Here I think we need to go back to basics and, citing three quotes of Marx, Engels and Pannekoek that shed more light on this question.

  • “The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.” (Karl Marx, Preface to A contribution to the critique of political economy, 1859)
  • If the various elements of the superstructure (…) also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles, the economic situation is the basis. (…) The ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life.” (Letter of F. Engels to J. Bloch, 1890)
  • “Marx's expression that the ideas and institutions of men are determined by the way they earn their living, thus implies (...) that the process of production brings men into certain relationships with each other which fill their lives, thus also determine their thoughts, wills and feelings.” (Anton Pannekoek, Historisch materialisme, 1919)

The theory of decadence is the concretisation of historical materialist method in the analysis of the evolution of modes of production. These quotes of Marx,  Engels and Pannekoek make it clear that a  historical event as crucial as the transition of the capitalist mode of production from ascendance to decadence cannot be explained by a phenomenon of the superstructure, but only in the context of the evolution of “the production and reproduction of real life”. The qualitative change in the conditions of world economy are caused by insoluble economic contradictions, by the increasingly sharpening antagonisms between the productive forces and the social relations of bourgeois society. In decadence these contradictions lead to continuously emerging economic crises, accompanied by political and social crises, including war, which take on a global character,expressing themselves on a world level.

It is a mistake to think that decadence or even the crucial role of markets outside direct conditions determined by capital was “invented” by Rosa Luxemburg. The need for a solvable demand exterior to capitalist relations was already pointed to by Marx in 1959: “The very existence of a profit upon any commodity presupposes a demand exterior to that of the labourer who has produced it.’” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Notebook IV – The Chapter on Capital). In a letter to F.K. Wischnewtsky in February 1886 Friedrich Engels had already written that the world market has its limitations in terms of solvable demand: “If there are three countries (say England, America and Germany) competing on comparatively equal terms for the possession of the Weltmarkt, there is no chance but chronic overproduction, one of the three being capable of supplying the whole quantity required”. (Engels to Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky, 1886)

That the economic crisis of capital would take on a permanent character was already foreseen by Engels too. In the Preface to the English edition of Capital Volume I” he writes: “The decennial cycle of stagnation, prosperity, over-production and crisis, ever recurrent from 1825 to 1867, seems indeed to have run its course; but only to land us in the slough of despond of a permanent and chronic depression” (Preface to the English edition of Capital Volume I - 1886)   And what he called “slough of despond of a permanent and chronic depression” was nothing else than the warning signal of the system’s entry into decadence, which would be marked by “chronic overproduction”, which Engels had already mentioned as well in his letter to F. K. Wischnewtsky in that same year.

It is a mystery to me how you finally come to following conclusion in your text of 17 May, but apart from your rejection of the word “decline”, I completely agree with your position thatwe should not see decadence as an issue of quantitative change, i.e. economic decline, but of qualitative change, i.e. the political and social changes demanded by the change in the economic environment”. (Link, Is Decadence an Economic Phenomenon?, Free Retrievers’ Digest, May 17, 2021)

It’s remarkable  that this position takes the change in the economic conditions as the point of departure for the political and social changes. But this is in contradiction with your position in November, when you wrote that the onset of decadence is not determined by any economic factor, and even with another phrase in the same text of 17 May, where you wrote that: “neither the falling rate of profit nor the markets theory can identify a specific numerical level of the factors that trigger decadence or even crises”. (Link, Is Decadence an Economic Phenomenon?, Free Retrievers’ Digest, May 17, 2021)

In contrast to the statement you make, i.e. that you are in agreement with the notion of decadence, I think you are in fact more and more calling it into question. For two main reasons:

1. The first one is in your contribution of November when you wrote that with regard to “decadence as an economic crisis, as permanent crisis, market saturation and a product of the lack of pre-capitalist markets” it is clear that “these explanations do not hold up any longer”. (Link, November 6, 2020 on Free Retrievers’ Digest)

2. In your contribution of May to add to this: “It seems to me appropriate therefore to use terms such as decadence and obsolescence for (…) the initial period from WW1 to the end of WW2, which correspond very much to ideas of war and revolution and catastrophe. Since then capitalism has restructured and the ruling class (…) has now regained relatively more control over its system.” (Link, Is Decadence an Economic Phenomenon?, Free Retrievers’ Digest, May 17, 2021)

In a subsequent  response I intend to develop on the war economy and the mass destruction in the past 30 years, the years which you call the period in which “capitalism has restructured and the ruling class (…) has now regained relatively more control over its system”. The aim of this response will be  to prove that in the course of decadence there has been growth in certain periods and certain parts of the world, but there has not been progress. Even if science and technology have made progress, or precisely because of their progress, the destructive forces in capitalism have become much stronger than the constructive forces. One cannot say anything substantial on economic growth if one does not take into account that this has been achieved at the expense of the nature, of the infrastructure, of the human habitat, of human beings, etc.

Link
reply to Kamerling

Thank you Kamerling for your detailed and thoughtful response.

I think I should start my reply by saying that I am not questioning the existence of decadence but that I am posing to myself and others questions about the orthodox (ICC) views on what decadence is. I don’t like the term decadence as much as I used to and I feel uncertainty about the best term to use to describe capitalism in this period ie is it decadent, decline, descent decay, obsolete. All of these can have common meanings but also do have different implications. However this is the ICC forum and I use the term decadence certainly in the meaning you use, the historical period of decline of a mode of production.

I agree you and yr explanation of historical materialism and that ultimately everything is built of the base of the relations of production, economic relations, but I don’t think we should interpret this deterministically. So I ask: is this period of decline necessarily a period of economic decline? Indeed the decline of previous societies seems to have been more the product of external factors. It was the growth of new societies that was about economics and productivity.

My questioning of decadence theory started with an attempt to understand that last 30-50 years economically and in terms of the weakness of the wc and the strength of the ruling class in this period. It is a period in which capitalism has been growing faster than it has ever before despite being plagued by economic contradictions, crises both political and economic and attacks on the wc. The primary question I was and am still trying to tackle is how to explain this contradiction? Luxemburg and Lenin etc were able to start the discussion on imperialism and decadence, in the 70s this was developed further but I think now after a further 50yrs there is a need to revisit and revise our understanding of decadence so that we understand better the situation today.

For some time on this forum I have made statements and posed questions about population growth since the 1950s as well as the growth rate of capitalism overall (I have brought this information together in my pamphlet A Critique of Luxemburg’s Theory of Accumulation) . I discovered recently C.McLelands text with very detailed economic information from the past century which presumably you have seen on Free Retriever. As I said, he believes that decadence has not yet started but I think that is because his interpretation of decadence is purely economic ie as these growth rates etc are so positive then cannot be decadence. It seems to me his view is based too heavily of ICCs framework of decadence and on Luxemburg’s economy theories. The ICC viewpoint has changed and it no longer suggests the markets are saturated nor that there is a limit to capitalism’s growth but it still argues that capitalism is in economic decline but for me this is ignoring reality.

My argument is that decadence theory and crisis theory should be separated. This period of decadence began, not with economic crises or purely economic factors such as an X% of RoP or overproduction, but with the completion of the world market and the national economies of the most developed countries at that time. The emergence of imperialism and state capitalism and world wars as opposed to private capitalism and colonialism represents a stage in the development of capitalism - not of economic crisis or decline. Lenin also noted that capitalism would continue to grow in this new phase. If you think decadence is an economic crisis or was triggered by economic factors then please explain specifically the economics problems. What you have said in your reply is simply that everything is about economics.

The quotes you use from Marx Engels and Pannekoek are excellent and I do not disagree with them. I do raise the question however of how we interpret this quote from Marx.

  • At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. (Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)

This is a generalisation so I want to ask exactly what does it mean? It is clearly as an explanation of the changes from one mode of production to another. For example from tribal to agricultural/slave society, from slave to feudal society from feudal to capitalism there were clearly developments in productivity and the old modes of production were clearly fetters on the development of human productivity. But what does it mean for capitalism’s period of decadence?. Each decadence was different and I see no proof that the fetter caused by the existing relations of production has to be seen as causing an economic decline. So what is a fetter? It could be anything from a complete stop to the economy to decline to a limitation of growth to a distortion of actual growth and in capitalism’s case to an attack on the working class.

Considering that capitalism unlike previous societies is based on ever-increasing economic growth because of the nature of the relations of production, then perhaps we should have been expecting ever increasing growth in decadence.

You suggest that I am calling into question decadence more and more, but I think you are just failing to understand my argument(probably my fault). You suggest that you agree that “we should not see decadence as an issue of quantitative change, i.e. economic decline, but of qualitative change, i.e. the political and social changes demanded by the change in the economic environment” but then you reject my argument that “decadence as an economic crisis, as permanent crisis, market saturation and a product of the lack of pre-capitalist market …. do not hold up any longer”. This seems contradictory.

But as I say capitalism is growing faster than ever, population is growing enormously and more capitalist nations now have developed economies, despite the reduction in non capitalist markets This tendency must mean that the markets are not saturated. You need to explain how and why decadence is an economic crisis, if that is what you mean, not simply assume or assert it.

Your second point in support of this criticism is a misunderstanding. What I actually said was ‘It seems to me appropriate therefore to use terms such as decadence and obsolescence for this period'  - which refers to the period since start of 20th century - and the remainder of the paragraph you quote is simply a description of phases of development during the 20th century up to the present. I don’t think you can question this and I certainly don’t question decadence here.

  • It is a mistake to think that decadence or even the crucial role of markets outside direct conditions determined by capital was “invented” by Rosa Luxemburg. The need for a solvable demand exterior to capitalist relations was already pointed to by Marx in 1959: “The very existence of a profit upon any commodity presupposes a demand exterior to that of the labourer who has produced it.’

I think you are mistaken here. Marx was quite happy to discuss foreign trade and trade with colonies without any suggestion of an absolute dependance on them for accumulation to take place. For him it didn’t matter where commodities came from, they simply became part of the normal functioning of capitalism’s markets. Furthermore, this quote you use says nothing about trade with external markets, it is solely about the relationship between the worker and the capitalist. This relationship existed from the very start of capitalism and is just the norm for capitalism. It is not even about overproduction, its about the creation of surplus value. It seems to me that overproduction only means something significant when we look at overproduction of the means of production.

  • 'The aim of this response will be  to prove that in the course of decadence there has been growth in certain periods and certain parts of the world, but there has not been progress. Even if science and technology have made progress, or precisely because of their progress, the destructive forces in capitalism have become much stronger than the constructive forces. One cannot say anything substantial on economic growth if one does not take into account that this has been achieved at the expense of the nature, of the infrastructure, of the human habitat, of human beings, etc.'

I presume this paragraph is about ‘growth as decay’ but I would like to understand more of what you mean by ‘destructive forces being stronger than constructive forces’ as I would agree that the issue is the ‘cost to humanity’ of the growth achieved. I would also look forward to you addressing directly the question of economic and population growth in capitalist decadence though because as I have argued I think it is far more than the uneven growth you mention.

Link
Kamerling, I was hoping you

Kamerling, I was hoping you would have provided a response by now so I have something to add in that I think my response missed a key point in your contribution.

  • The theory of decadence is the concretisation of historical materialist method in the analysis of the evolution of modes of production. These quotes of Marx,  Engels and Pannekoek make it clear that a historical event as crucial as the transition of the capitalist mode of production from ascendance to decadence cannot be explained by a phenomenon of the superstructure, but only in the context of the evolution of “the production and reproduction of real life”. The qualitative change in the conditions of world economy are caused by insoluble economic contradictions, by the increasingly sharpening antagonisms between the productive forces and the social relations of bourgeois society.

I don’t agree that Engels was saying that decadence can only by explained by economics of the mode of production. He does after all say the superstructure can influence the base ie the mode of production, so I don’t think your interpretation of this is necessarily correct. We should also consider the (external) environment of the mode of production too as having an influence on the development of that mode of production. This after all is precisely the core of Luxemburg’s analysis of how capital grows let alone declines.

I have been looking over the decadence of previous modes of production and with tribal society, yes its productivity was poor and it had many weaknesses but that does seem to have led to an economic crisis rather its decline was caused by the development of larger sedentary tribal groups using agricultural systems to feed themselves. Slave societies had strengths and limitations but roman society (the high point of slave systems??) got so large it couldn’t defend itself against the attacks of external, surrounding tribes. Feudal society developed out of the collapse of roman slave society forming localised agricultural communities but it disappeared because capitalism grew within it and was far more productive. These key factors could be characterised as external or environmental factors.

That’s very brief and sketchy I know but whilst the decadence of these societies showed up their limitations, it doesn’t appear to have begun with internal economic crises as such.

  • In decadence these contradictions lead to continuously emerging economic crises, accompanied by political and social crises, including war, which take on a global character, expressing themselves on a world level.

Now I agree with this characterisation of capitalism’s decadence. These contradictions are exacerbated within decadence because of the lack or weakness of solutions that capitalism has.

So I ask what brought about decadence? Lets agree that all modes of production have an ascendant and decadent period, it is as you say part of the evolution of all systems. They reach a ‘limit’ that they cannot go beyond and then comes decadence. If that limit is purely economic then it would be reasonable to agree with C.McL in his argument that decadence has not arrived yet because capital is still growing.

But then we have to explain the political socia as well as the economic changes that took place at the start of the 20th century as insignificant, but they weren’t!. As is said previously the main factors in the onset of decadence appear to be the completion fo the world market and of national markets. Yes they are based on the mode of production but I would argue they are a stage of development and part of capitalism’s evolution not an economic crises as such. Also note the importance of the external factor here in the situation at that time, and, as you suggest, today it is the natural world that appears as a major victim of the ravages of decadent capitalism. All of which brings us back to growth as decay and ongoing growth on a finite planet which appear to becoming more and more important factors in the decline of the system

Kamerling
Better late than never

In your initial post you write that the article “Growth as Decay” “ignores the reality of the high growth of capitalism particularly over the past half century” which “has been higher than the period we call ascendancy”. (Link, Growth as Decay) This may be true, but I think that this is not the essential question. The real question is what this “growth” really means, and what it expresses about the decadence of capitalism. Therefore we have to take a closer look at this “growth” you are so convinced of.

According to the ICC “capitalism’s growth in its epoch of decay is more akin to that of a malignant tumour than that of a healthy body progressing from infancy to adulthood”. (Understanding the decadence of capitalism, Correspondence with the International Communist Group (Russia) You may not be in agreement with the comparison of a malignant tumour, but I think that we agree that growth, or what is called prosperity, is not necessarily progress. You seem to recognise that there are “counterforces” such as “the vast amounts of waste production incurred in today’s society, let alone war itself and the general brutality of capitalism” as being “fetters on the production forces (both technical and human)”. (Link, Is Decadence an Economic phenomenon?; Free Retriever’s Digest, May 17, 2021)

Where we disagree however, and what is a serious underestimation of the destructive forces within capitalism, is when you call waste production, war, general brutality of capitalism, etc. “fetters on the productive forces”. You “suggest that the term ‘fetter’ is open to interpretation”. (Ibid) But what kind of interpretation? There can hardly be any doubt that war in decadence contributes to the descent of humanity into barbarism. In your last contribution on Free Retriever’s Digest you also see no analysis as to what barbarism actually is or how it comes about” (Ibid). The Junius pamphlet of Rosa Luxemburg is quite clear as to what barbarism actually is. But I think that you underestimate the destructive forces released by decadent capitalism.

In decadence the bourgeoisie is compelled to mobilise the whole nation, including the national economy behind the state in order to prepare for war. State capitalism is in essence a war economy. War economy needs “the increasingly powerful, omnipresent, and systematic control over the whole of social life exerted by the state apparatus, and in particular the executive”. (Platform if the ICC) And contrary to what you seem to imply in your contribution on Retriever’s Digest Is Decadence an Economic phenomenon? this tendency has not decreased but increased after the Second World War. The famous statement of Dwight Eisenhower about the military-industrial complex was already an indication in that direction.

According to a report of the UN in 1980 world arms expenditure was one million dollars per minute, representing 6 to 7% of total world production, 80% of which is spent by the few large industrial countries which devote a quarter to a third (depending on the country) of their annual budget to it. The existing armaments represent a capacity about ten times enough to destroy humanity and the Earth. And they have been used as well.  Between 1945 and 1980, the world had experienced no less than 130 local armed conflicts. The loss of human life during the years of "peace" approached that of the two world wars combined.

Although armed conflicts have continued unabated after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the period of the “new world order”, destruction has not only manifested itself in this field. Already in 1980s the ICC noticed an increase of grave accidents occurring in the heartlands of capitalism. “The proliferation of railway accidents, especially in the urban networks of advanced countries like France or Britain, has demonstrated (…) the disastrous result of every bourgeois state's policy of ‘rationalizing’ production.” (The decomposition of capitalist society, 1989) This example may seem banal, but it is not. It is not as spectacular as the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in 2001. But it shows how the bourgeoisie, at the most basic levels of capitalist infrastructure, is less and less able to prevent the productive forces from unleashing their destructive side and to wreak ever greater havoc.

Of course: there is destruction and destruction. There is destruction that paves the way for a new mode of production. This kind of destruction is inevitable and necessary and thus rational for leading to a higher economic formation. But destruction in decadence of capitalism is another matter; it is completely irrational because it leads literally to nothing. The resort to terrorism by an increasing number of states, especially after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, will bring no real reconstruction, no important new markets but heralds a deadly spiral of destruction. During the war in Vietnam Curtis LeMay, the Air Force general, said that that the US would bombard the regime in North Vietnam back to the Stone Age. This is exactly what destruction in decadence of capitalism has in store for us.

In the past century the destructive forces have increased in such a way that their capacity has become stronger than the forces of construction. This does not mean that more is destroyed than built in the world of to-day; we are not there yet. But the whole dynamic of decadence points in the direction of a qualitative deepening of capitalism’s capacity towards self-destruction.

Growth in a system that produces and deploys so many forces, which are destructive for nature, infrastructure, human habitat and human beings, must be strongly relativised if not downplayed. Take for instance the arms industry. Weapons are means of destruction, meant to destroy wealth. But their production (in itself) is already a destruction of wealth. For weapons have the particular feature that, once produced, they serve neither to enlarge or replace constant capital nor to renew the labour power. And yet, military production is added to the growth figures. In the case of capitalism we are dealing with destructive factors (what you call fetters), which poses fundamental questions about the nature and role of “growth” in decadent capitalism.

 

d-man
amnesia

I fear that I'm not getting smarter from reading the continuing threads on decadence. I'm saying this as someone who engaged in a lot of forum debates on the topic. On the other hand, perhaps for a newcomer it still could offer an opportunity to start their way into it, to have very general points (or sentiments) presented for dispute by comrade Link... On the economic aspect of decadence, from the top of my head, as far as my memory allows, I indicate a few (I'm sure I have forgotten already others):

- change of the 10-year cycle into shorter cycles (noted by Engels)

- rise of monopolies (incidentally even Kautsky in 1918 recognised the changed nature of capitalism, the power of finance capital, which rendered trade union struggles ineffective).

- change in central bank policy from discount of private notes (bills of exchange) to government bonds. The disappearance of gold from circulation (not due to evolutionary "progress", but connected to war preparation and start of war).

Link
Am I devaluing decadence as

Am I devaluing decadence as you suggest Kamerling?

I do not believe so and I do not see that you have explained why you think this in yr contributions. May I remind you of the quotes from Luxemburg about the need for rigorous self criticism in the work of revolutionaries. I suggest to you that this is a good time for theoretical reassessment of our understanding of how capitalism has developed over the past century or more. I am looking for more reality in explanations of the situation of the last 80s yrs and of today not the continued use of hyperbole to argue that capitalism is putrefying or liquifying or that great cataclysms are upon us. Frankly its is more valid to say capitalism’s growth has always been cancerous than just to pick out growth in China. There will be a time when the workers are massing against the state when such soap box language will be valid and useful but today it is about clarity of analysis.

You appear to argue that I am devaluing decadence by questioning what sort of fetter capitalism is on the productive forces but what I am pointing out is that the idea the capitalism as a fetter is not to be interpreted as simply as economic decline. This is the core of Luxemburg’s theory of capital accumulation and has been the core of the ICC’s interpretation of what happens in decadence. Yes the ICC has now accepted that growth is taking place but it still always emphasises economic decline and that the markets are reaching their limits. To quote the text you quoted from “This is the phenomenon we observed in the 80s and – as we noted in the first part of this article in IR 111 we are seeing it even more explicitly today. The more rotten capitalism has become, the more it passes from simple decline to outright disintegration(https://en.internationalism.org/ir/112_icu_decadence.html)

I am not devaluing decadence when I say that decadence is not simply about economic decline (and indeed wasn’t in previous exploiting societies), rather I am trying to clarify what capitalist decadence actually is whilst taking into account the reality of how capital has grown since WW2, how the world population has grown so enormously within decadence, how many eastern countries have been able to develop economically within decadence, how workers in the west are better off and work less hours than at the start of decadence. The ICC used to deny all this and still fails to incorporate these developments into a framework for understanding what is happening now. And of course Luxemburg’s theory of markets also says that the opposite should be true.  These factor need to be present in an analysis of how decadence is developing.

You are right of course that there are factors that count against these developments and I think I have expressed this in the texts you are quoting from. I fully accept yr anecdote about trains and can see that in the current drive for every larger transport ships which may mean cheap transport until something goes wrong like the Evergreen ship getting stuck in the Suez Canal and disrupting shipping for 3 months. Bitcoins are also becoming a significant example of capitalism’s misuse of new technologies and resources and there are many more examples. In particular though I still wish to hear more of your argument that growth is decay. I am beginning to feel this is more important than ever but this is not just about armaments expenditure.

The ICCs 24th Congress economic report says: “The process of ecological destruction (devastation and pollution of environmental and natural resources) goes back a long way. Imperialist war and the war economy have contributed to this process to an important extent. However, the question that arises is to what extent has this process negatively influenced the capitalist economy by hindering accumulation?”

Now I don’t want to criticise the focus given to environmental issues as it seems to me this is a major example of what we can call growth as decay and is also appearing more and more to be a reflection of decadent capitalism coming up against external limits imposed on it by the environment (and the same what that Luxemburg’s recognition of the creation of the world market defines the end of capitalist ascendancy). What I cannot agree with is that environmental degradation is an only important in as far as how it impacts economic decline.

Yr point about the size of armaments industry is an example of the poor use of statistics devalues arguments used to explain decadence. Yr percentage may have been true in 1980 but according to the World Bank it was only 2.25% in 2015. The ICC does this also in its latest report on the economic situation where it says that the world economy fell by 5% in 2020. It is true of course but according to the World Bank it is only the 2nd time there has been a fall since 1945 (the first being in 2009). This puts a different context on attempts to say capitalism is collapsing and such things should not be ignored if you wish to be credible.

Since the start of WW1 there were 30 yrs of war, crisis and revolution. Since 1945 there have been 80 years of growth accompanied by regional wars, economic crises, globalisation and restructuring of capital - all managed by (if I can call it that) mature state capitalism (mature in the sense that it was not so effective previously). During the past 40yrs or more I have continually heard how the economy is deteriorating and something dramatic will happen soon, yet here we still are, still awaiting a wc revolution or a real cataclysm!. Does this all not demand a reassessment of the tired old formulae?

I therefore do not accept that the reality of growth in decadence should be downplayed as this would prevent a better understanding of what is happening. It certainly wouldn’t be following a practice of rigourous self-criticism.

d-man
big tomato

To speak of "growth" in the abstract (or even "accumulation"), without defining or agreeing upon its correct criteria, will not raise the level of discussion beyond whether the capitalist glass is half-empty or half-full.

One major economic aspect of decadence, to repeat, is inflation (and its nature). This was recognised by Kautsky before WWI (also, the planned Socialist International Congress in 1914 was to devote itself to the inflation question); one of the causes was the disappearance of (rent-)free soil;

Quote:
The virgin soil of the newly opened territory was, under capitalistic conditions, rapidly exhausted by imprudent farming. To restore its old fruitfulness or to increase it, now required tremendous expenditure. In addition in our century the freedom from the pressure of the private ownership of property is at an end, as it existed in American agriculture and by its competition reduced European ground-rents. Even in America every place has its landlord, and can only be built upon if it pays ground-rent; that means if the prices of the local products are sufficiently high.

Ground-rent, a mark of high prices of agricultural products, grows and becomes itself the cause of still further increase in those prices. ... Every change in possession increases the burden of landlordism so much the more, the higher the prices of agricultural products, and accordingly ground rent.

This reminds me of the banal observation or complaint that the quality of food itself is declining; vegatables, meat increases in size, but their nutrional density (and taste) declines. Here's a simple analogy for the concept of "growth in decay" if one wants.

The environmental degradation does have an economic expression, namely people get more allergies (air pollution, plastics, poison, etc.) and other diseases, which impacts on their ability to perform labour.

The hours of labour were reduced perhaps officially around WWI, though since then in reality they probably increased (as well as intensified, ie the important Marxist category of labour intensity) eg by longer commutes (further work-home distance, busy traffic), irregular work shifts, and (in some cases almost 24/h) availability for work at home.

Link
I agree with you dman that

I agree with you dman that inflation is a feature of decadence and its something that doesnt get mentioned probably becuase its hard to establish a cause behind it.  I cant find the exact stats i had but in the UK during the 19th century inflation and deflation was a constant alternating feature and overall between 1800 and 1900 there was if i remember correctly approx 30% deflation whereas between 1900 and 2000 there has been about 7000% inflation.  Debt sounds an obvious reason but i dont think that can be the case as there was massive state debt in the early half of the 18th century due to wars.

Link
Kamerling, I remembered you

Kamerling, I remembered you made this comment about barbarism "The Junius pamphlet of Rosa Luxemburg is quite clear as to what barbarism actually is."  Could you be more precise please and explain what she actually said as i cannot find the appropriate quote and i am not sure if your link was to the Junius Pamphlet in general or just to Chapter 1?  Luxemburg's comments in Chapter 1 are specifically about the conditions in the middle of WW1 and she was called this barbarism which is quite reasonable at that time, world wars are barbaric,  but they are surely not what we can see today as the perspectives of Socialism or Barbarism.  The latter is the end of organised human society and of all modes of production and may come about as a consequence of future wars but it didnt happen at the end of WW1.  My point was that nobody has written an analysis to explain what this period of barbarism after the end of capitalism is and how it comes about ( I would not suggest that is an easy task).   So to repeat my question, does Luxemburg have something more precise to say what barbarism is apart from in Chapter 1 of the Junius Pamphlet or are you saying simply that Barbarism is a period of permanent or rather perpetual war?

d-man
barbarism as world war

Link wrote:
Luxemburg's comments in Chapter 1 are specifically about the conditions in the middle of WW1 and she was called this barbarism which is quite reasonable at that time, world wars are barbaric,  but they are surely not what we can see today as the perspectives of Socialism or Barbarism. The latter is the end of organised human society and of all modes of production and may come about as a consequence of future wars but it didnt happen at the end of WW1.  My point was that nobody has written an analysis to explain what this period of barbarism after the end of capitalism is and how it comes about ( I would not suggest that is an easy task).   So to repeat my question, does Luxemburg have something more precise to say what barbarism is apart from in Chapter 1 of the Junius Pamphlet or are you saying simply that Barbarism is a period of permanent or rather perpetual war?

Kautsky (just before WW1) also posited barbarism, synonymous with world war, as the alternative to socialism (the phrase originated with Marx allegedly). That understanding of barbarism, which you seem to find "quite reasonable at that time", is also found eg in the submission by the explicit Luxemburgist (ie adherent of her economic theory), Boris Roniger, to the 1920 Karlsbad congress (of the Deutschen Sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterpartei in der Tschechoslowakischen Republik). Roniger there (p. 92, Protokoll 1920) defines the period as one in which world war, interrupted only by brief periods of peace, becomes the normal condition of human society. Indeed already in 1920 it was common sense to many (not just some communists) that the next world war would come. And how do we define the start of that next world war? Didn't the non-Luxemburgist "Bordigists" already see it in the Spanish civil war (or what about the 1931 Japanese invastion of Manchuria)? You can question what "barbarism" precisely is, but equally you can say that what constitutes world war is "open to interpretation" as well (do we think its preparation and consequences occur in an alternative universe?).

Roniger (in 1920), however, accounted for the possibility of prevention of a world war, namely if capitalism organised itself, if it became a planned capitalism, with some central organisation, a bank-trust, and the trusts subordinating themselves to some plan (Roniger went on to write an unpublished book on Trustkapitalismus). I'm sure you know many others, non-communists, like Kautsky and Hilferding, expressed something like Roniger's idea. But in Roniger's view this (possible) prevention of world war didn't mean that capitalism would be saved, and he reiterated how "the relations of production become a fetter on the forces of production", and this is all within his Luxexmburgist framework. For more on his views on the limitation on technological advance, I direct researchers (and wonderfully resourceful academics) again to try to consult his (published and unpublished) works, specifically his 1931 doctorate thesis, which was a criticism of the Geneva production-statistics (from the standpoint of trust-capitalism).

--

Even in the middle of world war, to many people not directly involved in the fighting, even if they hear the cannons or see the explosions around the corner, life goes on and they don't get a feeling of absolute barbarism. I don't just mean that these people are narrow-minded philistine optimists. It can really seem, based on public news (and censorship, propaganda), that things are alright. The apparently easy concession by Link, that it is "reasonable" to think of world war as barbarism, is not at all common sense, as precisely during world war, everything is done to keep up appearances of normality, and most people are convinced that things are going well. So even if we were in the midst of a world war, Link may discover, that some people still won't be willing to call it barbarism.