Recent texts and discussion

6 posts / 0 new
Last post
baboon
Recent texts and discussion
Printer-friendly version

Recent texts and discussion

I agreed with the presentation and the emphasis on the conclusions of the Communist International because they are fundamental today for the stakes facing the working class and humanity.

Against Link, I don’t think it’s silly to state that, at a certain stage, a dying body enters a stage of decomposition; if it doesn’t do so then questions have to be raised about whether indeed this body is actually dying (decadent) or is it still very much alive with at least some progressive purpose? A rejection of capitalism’s decomposition – a final stage of its decay – has to call into question whether, from a communist perspective, this body is decaying at all and has finally served its purpose or does it have more to offer the working class and humanity? In short, I believe that this obsession with bourgeois graphs and figures, that can be useful if handled with care, showing capitalist growth is not only a rejection of decomposition but a calling into question of decadence and all the consequences that come from that.
If we leave WW2 and its consequent misery across the globe out of the equation for now, we’ve had seven decades of economic and social crisis generating misery for the working class – which through this period has, more or less, engaged in a war of attrition with the bourgeoisie. Recent major events, the pandemic, the effects of climate change, the profusion of and preparation for war, refugees and retreats behind walls and barbed wire, and now the further scourge of inflation have, during a period of significant technological advances by capitalism, brought the crises, misery and irrationality of capitalism to a further point, a qualitative shift in its decay into its final phase.
Link’s position that capitalist growth continually overcomes its problems – which he’s repeated several times – is also underlined by his uncritical use of the bourgeoisie figures for military spending, i.e., around 2.5% of GDP. This figure, widely disseminated by the bourgeoisie, is a complete fiction showing how the official figures from the state can be meaningless, mystifying and manipulated. The real figures for direct military spending are obscured and likely way above the bourgeoisie’s famous 2.5% and, much more than this; capitalism’s war economy is far wider and deeper than direct military spending.
Link several times talks about capitalism’s general and ongoing growth that is, he says, responsible for capitalism overcoming its problems.  The problem with this argument is that capitalism has never overcome its problems but at best put them off for a while the price of which is for them to become more chronic, i.e. capitalist solutions (“overcoming its problems”) only makes the situation worse; seven decades of misery since WW2 and all the problems of capitalism have continually worsened to the point of a qualitative change in the threat that they pose to the working class and humanity in general. No fundamental problems of capitalism have been overcome by capitalism and new, profound problems can be added which marks this period as one of the decomposition of a dying body. There have been previous attempts within the workers’ movement to show that capitalism can achieve an equilibrium between some form of growth and a status quo; they have all failed.

In response to Jaycee on the question of the US and China: I think that on the latter, as the ICC has stated, it has not been the clearest but its fundamentals linking it to decomposition are correct in my opinion. There is certainly no underestimation of the rise of the USA in relation to decadence (Jaycee’s position) . In fact for the ICC the rise of the USA is essential for its analysis of decadence (see for example: https://en.internationalism.org/content/17068/superpower-capitalist-deca...). The rise of the USA as a superpower, undisputed bloc leader and world policeman is as much a vital, essential component of capitalism’s decadence as its weakening is a major factor in its decomposition. Similarly, the rise of China, which has used debt as a motor force of its imperialist expansion, as a major power (and Russia’s “regeneration” by the way) is also an expression of decomposition.

In the report on the pandemic the text uses the, scientifically accepted, description of “waves” to describe the activity of this virus. I don’t think that this is a good description in that it tends to tail-end the idea of national and local expressions. There have been not been waves but a global tsunami of infections (a pandemic) that have been mitigated here and there by lock-downs and vaccine suppression. What very much remains are vast pools of viral activity of SARS-Cov-2 which, given its make-up, is I think “aware” that there is a threat to it and it must make the best use of these deep pools of infection to up its game and refine its response. There is certainly a threat of new virus outbreaks but this one (Sars-Cov-2), despite what the bourgeoisie want us to think (“live with it”), is very far from over yet.
I don’t think that the pandemic represents a “new stage” of decomposition but rather an affirmation of the acceleration of capitalist decay, a concentrated expression of decadence (part of a “string of disasters”, Luxemburg) and the growth of capitalist self-destruction. It also demonstrates a loss of control by the bourgeoisie as well as showing the working class and the poor, through deaths and long-term consequences, as the main victims of the virus.
In one of the reports highlighted for preparation for the discussion, the ICC put forward the position that so far decomposition has largely not affected the economy. I think that this needs more thought because the development of the war economy (the war on terror, the war on drugs, external and internal repression, etc) are all drains on the economy, the sterilisation of capital and can’t help but adversely affect the global economy.
But the pandemic, as an expression of decomposition, certainly directly and adversely affected the global and national economies in ways that are contradictory, surprising and destructive. The “just-in-time” economy has been knocked bandy as supply chains are dramatically thrown out of sync and, like the vaccination process itself, has brought forward more elements of everyman for himself as capitalism continues to try to “overcome” its problems. How, for example does capitalism “overcome” the contradiction between global production or global responses and the confines of the nation state and the national interest? The “overcoming” of the specific problems of the pandemic by the efforts of state capitalism has overcome nothing but simply added to the problems and the growing pauperisation of the working class. The weight of the pandemic on the class struggle has been heavy but it has nevertheless continued in the most difficult circumstances and, in response to this, we’ve seen the unions playing a more active role in the “interests of our members” and the interests of the nation-state.

The class struggle, undoubtedly affected by the outbreak and continuation of the pandemic and the development of which therefore is even more difficult to predict, remains a central question for revolutionaries and the class’ perspective is still there despite its difficulties.
In the resolution on the international situation (point 29), the ICC once again, against the concept of identity or partial struggles, affirms the economic crisis as the “ally of the proletariat”. Some years ago, at least a decade, (I think that we have to get used to longer time scales than we thought before – immediatism can be dangerous) a comrade from WR made the point on the website that the idea of the crisis as an ally of the class was to wish misery onto the back of the proletariat. That was it and the discussion went nowhere. I can see the point of the objection because at the time – as the ICC has taken on board now – there was a certain over-estimation of the immediate capacities of the working class, a certain triumphalism (“Roll on the crisis” sounded a bit like “come on if you think you’re hard enough”) which in my opinion was marked here and there by a concomitant under-estimation of the bourgeoisie. But nevertheless the position of the economic crisis as an ally of the working class is a correct one and one that gives a perspective to a developing but non-linear “school of defeats” struggle. Should the proletarian struggle reach such a point where it’s potentially able to threaten bourgeois rule in a significant way then I think that we can confidently say that, whatever their differences, the bourgeoisie will unite against such a threat. Even today, in the present free-for-all, each for themselves and centrifugal tendencies of capitalism, the bourgeoisie has been able to use its own weaknesses, not least from the effects of decomposition, in order to conduct telling ideological campaigns and attacks on the working class on an international scale. The bourgeoisie is very aware of the dangers of the class struggle and to this end has fanned various identity and partial elements in a work of division.

On the last point the question of these “sectional” struggles was an important one for the discussion to confront but there is still much to be said about the dangers of these type of “struggles” for the working class and the sense of some of the international situation texts about the weaknesses shown by revolutionaries to the Arab Spring “movement” for example, needs more consideration.

Top tip: if you want to take part in on-line discussions make sure that your new computer has a microphone.

 

 

 

Link
Here you go again Baboon off

Here you go again Baboon off on a rant and using misconstruction and distortion to attack others. I say to you, again, use political argument not this abusive and obsessive rejection of criticism. My point about growth is that it needs to be discussed and understand, not pushed aside because it doesn’t fit the schema as you seem to prefer

It is worth noting that the chair of the meeting asked specifically for contributions from those present that provided both support and criticisms for the ideas presented. I did this as far as I am aware constructively and I thought the discussion was useful and interesting and discussed some of the problems with the analysis of decadence without resorting to the sort absurd and unproductive accusations that criticisms mean decadence is being rejected which you and others have contributed in the past.

I did not say that decomposition is silly. That it just not true. I don’t know if you were at the meeting or reading a printout but you should easily have seen that you are wrong from Alf’s response to what I actually called silly.

I clearly said both in the meeting, and in the previous forum contributions to discussion that you refer to, that the concept of decadence is important. I do not support calls to reject the idea as a framework for understanding what is going on in capitalism, what I do say is that there is no one interpretation of decadence despite what you think, and I have argued for a while now that it needs reinterpretation

If you think the statistics others present are incorrect or misinterpreted then how about explaining why, instead of making accusations like ‘this obsession with bourgeois graphs and figures’. I would point out here that I took these statistics presented in the ICC Report on the Economic Situation:

  • For 2020, the World Bank recorded a global fall in output of 5.2%, which is 7% for the world's top 23 economies and 2.5% in the 'developing economies'. According to the World Bank, the fall in output is the worst since 1945 and "the first time since 1870 that so many economies have experienced a simultaneous fall in output"

which Alf also referred to in his presentation, and I used exactly the same source which shows this fall but also shows that capitalism keeps has actually been growing every year since 1960 apart from 2008 and the 2020, so perhaps you should be more careful about accusing others of an obsession with bourgeois statistics. I believe that putting the ICC’s use of facts into context makes for a different interpretation. All I have actually said about this is that the analysis of decomposition and decadence has to take this reality of GDP growth into account which is I why I have also previously repeated Luxemburg’s view about rigorous self criticism. None of us should not ignore reality, this just because it doesn’t fit a scenario.

The presidium in fact thanked me for putting up this link to the World Bank statistics to the discussion https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD . I don’t seem to be able to show the actual graph on this forum which is a shame but if you would care to look and have another interpretation then please do present it for discussion

What is also true is that several in the meeting responded and seriously discussed the point I made about growth - without necessarily agreeing with me.

I did not say that the growth in GDP solves all of capitalism’s problems. That is obviously not true. What I was referring to is that capitalism has had numerous crises and economic downturns and yet has always managed to recover and generate an upturn. There should be an explanation for this. Note that the ICC also suggests that 2022 may see a recovery in the economy in the aforementioned congress report. My viewpoint is not that different after all, so why the absurd criticism.

The criticism you raise about the 2.5% of GDP spent on armaments was simply a response to Kamerling’s statement that armaments spend in 1980 was 6 to 7% of world GDP. His source was the UN. I didn’t notice you criticising Kamerling nor contributing to that serious discussion.

Finally Jaycee’s comment on America and China was a sensible and thoughtful contribution on decadence was perfectly in line with the presidium calls for questions and discussion on interpreting decadence. It was me that suggested the ICC should simply admit to being wrong when it said that no new imperialist blocs were possible in this era. You missed abusing me for that one or do you agree with me?

jaycee
Firstly, as I possibly should

Firstly, as I possibly should have made clear in the meeting I still defend decadence and decomposition as important parts of a coherent picture of the present stage of history. The points I raised were aimed at clarifying and deepening these concepts rather than disregarding them.

Baboon: thanks for the link to the article on the rise of American dominance I will read when I get a chance. The point I was getting at was a more general; namely that there is a difference between particular powers and states and a mode of production as a totality. Capitalism as a whole was decadent in 1914,  ie a world market had been set up, there was no longer any social class other than the proletariat to contend with for the bourgeoisie  etc BUT America itself was still able to rise as a world power and thereby give capitalism a new lease of life to an extent (two world wars being its means to this is an expression of the overall context of decadence).

I think the point about China is important too; the ICC were mistaken in the view that no new super powers could emerge in decadence. There's nothing shameful in being wrong from time to time BUT I think errors like this need to be evaluated in detail and the possibility of underlying errors of understanding need to be analysed. The fact that China emerged as a result of the economic crisis and the collapse of the block system doesn't alter the fact that China has risen. Clearly the rise of China offers nothing for humanity and China are not outside of the general crisis of capitalism but the crisis effects different powers differently.  China's trajectory follows a slightly different ark than the wests; overall the context is the same. A planetary eco-system being destroyed and an economic system heading towards the abyss but the devil is in the detail; it seems to me that a key mechanism in how capitalism has continued to function is that there has always remained a power waiting in the wings to step into the wreckage and expand. Eventually this will not be the case as there will hardly be a world to rule/exploit at some point.

I will try to develop this idea more clearly and in a full essay form but I think there is often  an issue with scale when it comes to concepts like decadence and decomposition. They are concepts which are concerned with the totality of a mode of production and eras of history seen from the viewpoint of overall tendencies and trajectories; events express these tendencies but are not identical with them. Political power and imperialist status again express these larger tendencies but they can often take on a life of their own from time to time reflecting particular circumstances within this larger picture.

 

Forumteam
Statement

In the post of Baboon on this thread there are two points that needs further explanation for those comrades who are not so familiar with the discussions that took place on the Forum and during the virtual public meeting of the ICC on October 17, 2021

1. The first point concerns the sentence in the post of Baboon that says: “The real figures for direct military spending are obscured and likely way above the bourgeoisie’s famous 2.5% and, much more than this.” This sentence refers to the thread “Growth as Decay”, where Link answers the post of Kamerling, saying that, with regard to the armament industry, “your percentage may have been true in 1980 but according to the World Bank it was only 2.25% in 2015”.

2. The second point concerns the sentence in the post of Baboon that says: “I don’t think it’s silly to state that, at a certain stage, a dying body enters a stage of decomposition”. This sentence refers to the discussion at the virtual public meeting of the ICC where Link used the word “silly” to express his disagreement with the use of the expression “the final phase of capitalism” to indicate the phase of decomposition.

In his reply to Baboon, Link raises several counterpoints to Baboon's arguments and we welcome this contribution to the debate. But we don’t agree with the first sentence of his post where he writes  “Here you go again Baboon off on a rant and using misconstruction and distortion to attack others”. The post of Baboon is in no way "off on a rant”. Baboon has not attacked Link personally, but has -  in sharp but clear terms - developed a political argumentation, in an attempt to refute certain positions that are defended by Link, among others.

The Forum Team

baboon
It’s my opinion that part one

It’s my opinion that part one of the current text on the decline of the US superpower
https://en.internationalism.org/content/17068/superpower-capitalist-deca...

is one of the clearest explanations of the historical phenomenon of “growth” within decadent capitalism that I have read from the ICC. In continuity, part two, dealing with the accumulation of these contradictions within the period designated as “the decomposition of capitalism”, maintains the same Marxist rigour in examining this question from the point of view of the working class, particularly in relation to the dominance of the war economy:
“Today, armaments crystallise the nec plus ultra of technological perfection. The fabrication of sophisticated systems of destruction has become the symbol of a modem high-performance economy. However, these technological 'marvels', which have just shown their murderous efficiency in the Middle East, are, from the standpoint of production, of the economy, a gigantic waste. Weapons, unlike most other commodities, have the particular feature that once produced they are ejected from the productive cycle of capital. They serve neither to enlarge or replace constant capital (unlike machines, for example) nor to renew the labour power of the workers who set this constant capital in motion. Not only do weapons do nothing but destroy - they are already a destruction of capital in themselves, a sterilisation of wealth. When the USA, for example, announces that the defence budget represents 6 % of GNP, that means that 6% of the annually produced wealth has been destroyed. This 6% has to be withdrawn from overall production, which means that military production should be subtracted from annual growth, not added on as the economists do.”
This means that the figures for military spending produced by the bourgeoisie whether 6% in the case of the US or the fictitious 2.5% (or 2.3%) bandied around by the bourgeoisie, should not be added to GDP but subtracted from it in order to arrive at a figure that’s more in touch with reality. It also poses the question of other non-productive elements of the war economy being deducted rather than added to GDP (as they are now) in order to give a more accurate balance-sheet.

Following the ICC’s position in the text on “Militarism and Decomposition” describing militarism and war as central features of capitalism’s entry into its decadent period, then these elements have to become more pronounced and acute in the period of capitalism’s decomposition; part two again touches on the perspectives:
“Capitalism mobilises the entire productive apparatus for the sake of maintaining and constantly improving its military power. This explains why the US has lost its global economic competitiveness. Many American companies depend on investments via the Pentagon (Boeing, MacDonnell-Douglas, Texas Instruments, General Electric, Chrysler, etc.). These “investments” demand more and more dollars, so that the American debt has already reached 28 trillion dollars, i.e. 130% of its GDP. It is therefore no coincidence that the military sphere is increasingly colonising the state structure and will influence the increase in military budgets at the expense of other sectors. The difficulties and divisions that corrode the supposed unity of the bourgeoisie cannot but increase in this area, and internal strife will certainly intensify”. This “colonisation” of the state structures by the needs of imperialism (in decay) shows that the USA in the 21st century is beset by the same but growing fundamental contradictions that brought down the USSR in 1989 and though the former is in different circumstances and generally stronger the destructive spread of militarism and preparation for war will intensify.

The text also gives a powerful analysis of the rise of China as an expression of capitalism’s decomposition. At the origins of this position and discussion the main stress of the ICC regarding the collapse of the Soviet Union and the weakening of the US was that there was almost no possibility of the re-emergence of relatively coherent imperialist blocs. In fact, what the ICC position at the time stressed, was not only was the tendency to opposing imperialist blocs thwarted and permanently undermined by decomposition but that the opposite tendency, the tendency to centrifugal forces, the tendency of “everyman for himself” would become dominant – as indeed it has.

If we leave out a re-unified Germany because of its specific strengths and position then we see that virtually all the countries created by capitalism since the collapse of the eastern bloc express the development of “every man for himself” along with other elements of decomposition; the countries of the Balkans in the early 1990’s; Yemen 1992 and dozens of others including Sudan and Eritrea – all running imperialist sores in the ambient decay and expressing their own particular symptoms from it. China was built up by the west in order to help capitalism “overcome” its economic problems and, though the ICC could have given the impression that a new “super-power” the strength of China wasn’t on the horizon (though it has publicly confessed its “surprise” at China’s development). China will in all likelihood not become a “superpower” to the extent of being a coherent bloc leader and it remains a contradiction that cannot be overcome within the context of capitalism. China is an expression of and a growing factor in the death and decay of the capitalist system.

MH
Really?

baboon wrote:
“It’s my opinion that part one of the current text on the decline of the US superpower

https://en.internationalism.org/content/17068/superpower-capitalist-deca...

 

is one of the clearest explanations of the historical phenomenon of “growth” within decadent capitalism that I have read from the ICC.”

 

Really? I’ve gone back and re-read this. It contains a lot of empirical detail about the history of American imperialism, but I can’t find an explanation of ‘growth’ in decadence. There are certainly references to the fact that in decadence war takes on a permanent character and the fact that armaments are a waste for world capital, but if this was meant to explain growth in decadence surely you would expect it to deal with the causes of the post-WW2 boom, which cannot be understood without examining the role of the war economy in the USA?

The ICC discussed this in the 2000s, in its internal debate on the causes of the post-war boom (IR 136):

ICC wrote:
Between 1939 and 1945, the US economy doubled in size.[28] Mass production techniques were applied to existing industries (like shipbuilding). Whole new industries were created: mass production of aircraft, electronics and computing (the first computers were used to calculate ballistic trajectories), pharmaceuticals (with the discovery of penicillin), plastics - the list goes on and on. And although government debt peaked massively during the war, for the US bourgeoisie much of this development was pure capital accumulation as they bled the accumulated wealth of the British and French empires through arms orders.

 

Despite this overwhelming superiority, the United States was not without its problems at the end of the war, to say the least. We can summarise them as follows:

 

  1. Where to find outlets for the doubling of US industrial production that had taken place during the war?[29]
  2. How to uphold US national interests - now for the first time truly world wide - against the threat of Soviet expansionism?
  3. How to avoid major social upheavals and the potential threat from the working class - no fraction of the world bourgeoisie had forgotten October 1917 - especially in Europe.[30] 

Understanding how the United States set about attempting to resolve these problems is the key to understanding the post-war boom - and its failure in the 1970s.”

Unfortunately, the ICC was not able to conclude this debate, but at least it identified the role of the war economy in the USA in creating the conditions for this not-to-be-repeated ‘growth’ in decadence.

Perhaps it was simply not in the remit of the more recent article but a comparison suggests a regression in the ICC’s explanations of 'growth' in decadence, not an advance.