Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism

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The collapse of the Eastern imperialist bloc has brought us a new confirmation of capitalism's entry into a new phase in its period of decadence: the phase of general social decomposition. Even before the events in the East, the ICC had already highlighted this historical phenomenon (see in particular no 57 of the International Review). These events, and the world's entry into a period of unprecedented  instability, oblige revolutionaries to pay extreme attention to the analysis of this phenomenon, its causes and its implications, and to point out what is at stake in this new historical situation.

1) All previous modes of production have un­dergone a phase of ascendancy and decadence. For marxism, the first period corresponds to the compatibility between the relations of produc­tion, and the level of development of society's productive forces; the second expresses the fact that the relations of production have become too narrow to contain this development. Contrary to the aberrations put forward by the Bordigists, capitalism is no exception to this rule. Since the beginning of this century, and especially since World War I, revolutionaries have demonstrated that this mode of production has, in its turn, entered its phase of decadence. However, it would be wrong to be satisfied with stating that capitalism is simply following in the path of previous modes of production. It is also important to underline the fundamental differences between the decadence of capitalism and that of past societies.

In reality, capitalism's decadence, as we have known it since the beginning of the 20th cen­tury, appears as the period of "ultra-deca­dence" (if we can put it like this). Compared to the decadence of previous societies (feudalism and Asiatic despotism), it is placed at a quite different level, since:

- capitalism is the first society in history which exists on a world scale, which has sub­jected the entire planet to its own laws; conse­quently, its decadence marks the whole of hu­man society;

- whereas in past societies, the new pro­ductive relations which were to supersede the old were able to develop alongside the latter, within society - which to a certain extent lim­ited the effects and the degree of social decadence - communist society, which alone can fol­low capitalism, cannot develop at all within it; the regeneration of society is thus completely impossible without the violent overthrow of the bourgeois class and the eradication of capitalist relations of p roduction;

- the historic crisis of the economy which lies at the origin of capitalism's decadence does not spring from a problem of under-production, as was the case in previous societies, but on the contrary from a problem of over-production; this has the effect (due in particular to the monstrous contrast between the productive forces' enormous potential and the atrocious misery existing throughout the world) of plunging society into a depth of barbarity, characteristic of any decadent society, greater than any in the past;

- with the historic tendency towards state capitalism, the extreme overdevelopment of the state typical of periods of decadence has reached its most complete form: the all but total absorption of civil society by the monster of the state;

- although previous periods of decadence have been marked by military conflict, these were out of all proportion to the world wars which have already twice ravaged capitalist so­ciety.

In the final analysis, the difference between the extent and depth of capitalist decadence and those of previous societies cannot be reduced to a mere question of quantity. This quantity it­self expresses a new and different quality. The decadence of capitalism:

- is the decadence of the last class society, the last society based on the exploitation of man by man, and the last to be subjected to scarcity and the constraints of the economy;

- and is the first to menace humanity's very survival, the first which could destroy the human race.

2) Elements of decomposition are to be found in all decadent societies: the dislocation of the so­cial body, the rot of its political, economic, and ideological structures, etc. The same has been true of capitalism since the beginning of its decadent period. However, just as we need to establish the distinction between capitalist decadence and those of previous societies, so it is vital to highlight the fundamental distinction between the elements of decomposition which have infected capitalism since the beginning of the century and the generalized decomposition which is infecting the system today, and which can only get worse. Here again, quite apart from the strictly quantitative aspect, the phe­nomenon of social decomposition has today reached such a breadth and depth that it has taken on a new and unique quality, revealing decadent capitalism's entry into a new and final phase of its history: the phase where decompo­sition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution.

In this sense it would be wrong to identify decadence and decomposition. While the phase of decomposition is inconceivable outside deca­dence, we can perfectly well conceive of a pe­riod of decadence which does not necessarily lead to a phase of decomposition.

3) In fact, just as capitalism itself traverses different historic periods - birth, ascendancy, decadence - so each of these periods itself con­sists of several distinct phases. For example, capitalism's ascendant period can be divided into the successive phases of the free market, shareholding, monopoly, financial capital, colonial conquest, and the establishment of the world market. In the same way, the decadent period also has its history: imperialism, world wars, state capitalism, permanent crisis, and today, decomposition. These are different and succes­sive aspects of the life of capitalism, each one characteristic of a specific phase, although they may have pre-dated it, and/or continued to ex­ist after it. For example, although wage labor existed already under feudalism, or even Asiatic despotism (just as slavery and serfdom survived under capitalism), it is only under capitalism that wage labor has reached a dominant posi­tion within society. Similarly, while imperialism existed during capitalism's ascendant period, it is only in the decadent period that it became predominant within society and in international relations, to the point where revolutionaries of the period identified it with the decadence of capitalism itself.

The phase of capitalist society's decomposi­tion is thus not simply the chronological contin­uation of those characterized by state capitalism and the permanent crisis. To the extent that contradictions and expressions of decadent cap­italism that mark its successive phases do not disappear with time, but continue and deepen, the phase of decomposition appears as the re­sult of an accumulation of all the characteristics of a moribund system, completing the 75-year death agony of a historically condemned mode of production. Concretely, not only do the imperi­alist nature of all states, the threat of world war, the absorption of civil society by the state Moloch, and the permanent crisis of the capital­ist economy all continue during the phase of decomposition, they reach a synthesis and an ultimate conclusion within it. Decomposition is thus the result:

- of the duration (70 years, ie longer than the industrial revolution) of the decadence of a system one of whose major characteristics is the extraordinary speed with which it transforms society (10 years in the life of capitalism are the equivalent of 100 years of Asiatic despo­tism);

- and of the accumulation of contradictions which this decadence has unleashed.

It constitutes the final point of convergence for all the fantastic convulsions which have shaken society and the different classes within it since the beginning of the century, in an in­fernal cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-new crisis:

- two imperialist massacres which have bled white most of the world's major countries, and which have dealt the whole of humanity blows of unprecedented brutality;

- a revolutionary wave which made the world bourgeoisie tremble, and which died in the most atrocious form of counter-revolution (Stalinism and fascism) as well as the most cyni­cal ("democracy" and anti-fascism);

- the periodic return of an absolute pauperization, and a degree of poverty for the working masses which had seemed banished;

- the development of the most widespread and deadly famines in human history

- the capitalist economy's 20 year dive into a new open crisis, without the bourgeois being able to take it to its logical conclusion (which of course is not a solution) - world war - due to their inability to control the working class.

4) This last point is precisely the new, specific, and unprecedented element which in the last in­stance has determined decadent capitalism's en­try into a new phase of its own history: decom­position. The open crisis which developed at the end of the 1960s, as a result of the end of the post-World War II reconstruction period, opened the way once again to the historic alter­native: world war or generalized class con­frontations leading to the proletarian revolution. Unlike the open crisis of the 1930s, the present crisis has developed at a time when the working class is no longer weighed down by the counter-revolution. With its historic resurgence from 1968 onwards, the class has proven that the bourgeoisie did not have its hands free to unleash a Third World War. At the same time, although the proletariat has been strong enough to prevent this from happening, it is still un­able to overthrow capitalism, since:

- the crisis is developing at a much slower rhythm than in the past;

- the development of its consciousness and of its political organizations has been set back by the break in organic continuity with the organizations of the past, itself a result of the depth and duration of the counter-revolution.

In this situation, where society's two decisive - and antagonistic - classes confront each other without either being able to impose its own definitive response, history nonetheless does not just come to a stop. Still less for capitalism than for preceding social forms, is a "freeze" or a "stagnation" of social life possible. As crisis­-ridden capitalism's contradictions can only get deeper, the bourgeoisie's inability to offer the slightest perspective for society as a whole, and the proletariat's inability, for the moment, openly to set forward its own historic perspective, can only lead to a situation of generalized decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet.

5) In fact, no mode of p roduct.ion can live, de­velop, maintain itself on a viable basis and en­sure social cohesion, if it is unable to present a perspective for the whole of the society which it dominates. And this is especially true of capitalism, which is the most dynamic mode of production in history, When capitalist relations of production provided an appropriate frame­work for the development of the productive forces, then the perspective of the historic progress of capitalist society merged with that of humanity as a whole. In these circumstances, and despite class antagonisms or rivalries be­tween fractions (especially national) of the rul­ing class, the whole of social life could develop free from the threat of major convulsions. When the relations of production become a hin­drance for the development of the productive forces, they become barriers to social develop­ment, so determining society's entry into a pe­riod of decadence; the result is the appearance of the kind of convulsions we have witnessed over the last 75 years. In this framework, the kind of perspective that capitalism could offer society was obviously contained in the specific limits made possible by decadence:

- the "sacred union", the mobilization of all economic, political, and military forces around the national state for the "defense of the fatherland", of "civilization", etc;

- the "union of democrats" and "defenders of civilization" against the "hydra of Bolshevik barbarism";

- economic mobilization to rebuild the ruins of war;

- ideological, political, economic, and military mobilization for the conquest of "lebensraum", or against the "fa scist menace".

Needless to say, none of these perspectives offered any kind of "solution" to the contradic­tions of capitalism. However, for the bour­geoisie they all had the advantage of containing a "realistic" objective: either the preservation of its system from the threat from its class en­emy, the proletariat, the direct preparation and unleashing of world war, or the post-war eco­nomic recovery. By contrast, in a historical situation where the working class is not yet ca­pable of entering the combat for its own, and the only "realistic" perspective - the communist revolution - but where the ruling class is not able either to put forward the slightest per­spective of its own, even in the short term, the latter's previous ability during the period of decadence to limit and control the phenomenon of decomposition cannot help but collapse under the repeated blows of the crisis. This is why today's situation of open crisis is radically dif­ferent from its predecessor of the 1930s, The fact that the latter did not lead to a phase of decomposition is not simply due to the fact that it only lasted 10 years, whereas today's crisis has already lasted 20, but above all to the bourgeoisie's ability to put forward an "answer". Certainly, this "answer" was incredi­bly brutal, suicidal even, bringing in its wake the greatest catastrophe of human history; nonetheless, in the absence of any significant response from the proletariat, this was the pole around which the bourgeoisie was able to organize society's productive, political, and ideo­logical apparatus. Today, by contrast, precisely because for 20 years the proletariat has been able to keep this kind of "answer" at bay, the bourgeoisie is totally incapable of mobilizing so­ciety's different components, including within the ruling class, around any common objective other than a step by step, but doomed, resis­tance to the advancing crisis.

6) Thus, even if the phase of decomposition appears as the conclusion, the synthesis of all the successive contradictions and expressions of capitalist decadence:

- it falls entirely within the cycle of crisis­-war-reconstruction-renewed crisis;

- it wallows in the militarist orgy typical of all periods of decadence, and which for 20 years has been a prime aggravating factor of the open crisis;

- it is the result of the bourgeoisie's ability (acquired after the crisis of the 1930's) to slow down the rhythm, in particular thanks to state capitalist measures taken at the bloc level;

- it is also the result of the ruling class' experience, gained during two world wars, which prevents it from embarking on the adventure of a worldwide imperialist confrontation without the proletariat's active political participation;

- finally, it is the result of the ability of today's working class to spring the traps of the counter-revolutionary period, but also of the class' political immaturity, inherited from this same counter-revolution.

This phase of decomposition is fundamentally determined by unprecedented and unexpected historical conditions: a situation of temporary "social stalemate" due to the mutual "neutralization" of the two fundamental classes, each preventing the other from providing a definitive response to the capitalist crisis. The expressions of this decomposition, the conditions of its evolution and its implications can only be examined by putting this factor in the forefront.

7) If we consider decomposition's essential characteristics, as they appear today, we can in fact note that this absence of perspective is their common denominator:

- the proliferation of famines in the "Third World" countries, alongside the destruction of agricultural produce and the enforced non-cul­tivation of large tracts of farming land;

- the transformation of the "Third World" into a vast slum, where hundreds of millions of human beings survive like rats in the sewers;

- the development of the same phenomenon in the heart of the major cities in the "advanced" countries, where the number of homeless and destitute has grown constantly, to the point where in some districts life expectancy is lower than in the backward countries;

- the recent proliferation of "accidental" catastrophes (air crashes, trains and subways becoming mobile coffins, not only in backward countries like India or the USSR, but at the heart of Western cities like Paris and London);

- the increasingly devastating effects, on the human, social, and economic levels, of "natural" disasters (floods, droughts, earth­quakes, hurricanes), against which mankind seems ever more helpless, while technology advances and makes available all the means of protection necessary (dykes, irrigation systems, earthquake or storm-resistant buildings, etc), and the factories that build them are closed and their workers laid off;

- the degradation of the environment, which is reaching staggering dimensions (undrinkable water, dead rivers, sewage-infested oceans, un­breathable air in the cities, tens of thousands of square kilometers contaminated by radio-ac­tivity in the Ukraine and Byelorussia) and men­aces the equilibrium of the entire planet with the destruction of the Amazon rain-forest (the lungs of the earth), the "greenhouse effect", and the destruction of the ozone layer;

- the scale and the proliferation of all these economic and social calamities, which spring generally speaking from the decadence of the system itself, reveals the fact that this system is trapped in a complete dead-end, and has no future to propose to the greater part of the world population other than a growing and unimaginable barbarity. This is a system where economic policy, research, investment are all conducted to the detriment of humanity's future, and even to the detriment of the system itself.

8) But the signs of society's total lack of per­spectives today are still more evident on the political and ideological level. We only need to consider:

- the incredible, and prosperous, corruption of the political apparatus, the deluge of scan­dals in most countries, as in Japan (where it is more and more difficult to distinguish the gov­ernment apparatus from gangland), in Spain (where the right hand man of the socialist gov­ernment is implicated), or in Belgium, Italy, and France (where the parliamentary deputies have just declared an amnesty to cover their own misdemeanors);

- the development of terrorism, or the seizure of hostages, as methods of warfare be­tween states, to the detriment of the "laws" that capitalism established in the past to "regulate" the conflicts between different ruling class factions;

- the constant increase in criminality, inse­curity, and urban violence, as well as the fact that more and more children are falling prey to this violence and to prostitution;

- the development of nihilism, despair, and suicide amongst young people (expressed for ex­ample in the punk slogan "no future" and the urban riots in Britain), and of the hatred and xenophobia infecting the "skinheads" and "hooligans" who take the opportunity of sport­ing events to terrorize the population at large;

- the tidal waves of drug addiction, which have now become a mass phenomenon and a powerful element in the corruption of states and financial organisms;" sparing no corner of the planet, especially prevalent among young people, it is less and less a flight into fantasy and illu­sion, but rather ever closer to madness and suicide;

- the profusion of sects, the renewal of the religious spirit including in the advanced coun­tries, the rejection of rational, coherent thought even amongst certain "scientists"; a phenomenon which dominates the media with their idiotic shows and mind-numbing advertising;

- the invasion of the same media by the spectacle of violence, horror, blood, massacres, even in programs designed for children;

- the vacuity and venality of all "artistic" production: literature, music, painting, archi­tecture, are unable to express anything but anxiety, despair, the breakdown of coherent thought, the void;

- the "every man for himself", marginalization, the atomization of the individual, the de­struction of family relationships, the exclusion of old people from social life, the annihilation of love and affection and its replacement by pornography, commercialized sport ruled by the media, these mass gatherings of young people in a state of collective hysteria that passes for song and dance, a sinister substitute for com­pletely non-existent solidarity and social ties.

All these signs of the social putrefaction which is invading every pore of human society on a scale never seen before, can only express one thing: not only the dislocation of bourgeois society, but the destruction of the very princi­ple of collective life in a society devoid of the slightest project or perspective, even in the short term, and however illusory.

9) Amongst the major characteristics of capi­talist society's decomposition, we should empha­size the bourgeoisie's growing difficulty in controlling the evolution of the political situa­tion. Obviously, this is a result of the ruling class' increasing loss of control over its eco­nomic apparatus, the infrastructure of society. The historic dead-end in which the capitalist mode of production finds itself trapped, the successive failures of the bourgeoisie's different policies, the permanent flight into debt as a condition for the survival of the world economy, cannot but effect the political apparatus which is itself incapable of imposing on society, and especially on the working class, the "discipline" and acquiescence necessary to mobilize all its strength for a new world war, which is the only historic "response" that the bourgeoisie has to give. The absence of any perspective (other than day-to-day stop-gap measures to prop up the economy) around which it could mobilize as a class, and at the same time the fact that the proletariat does not yet threaten its own sur­vival, creates within the ruling class, and espe­cially within its political apparatus, a growing tendency towards indiscipline and an attitude of "every man for himself". This phenomenon in particular allows us to explain the collapse of Stalinism and the entire Eastern imperialist bloc. Overall, this collapse is a consequence of the capitalist world economic crisis; nor should we forget to take account in our analyses of the specificities of the Stalinist regimes as a result of their origins (see our 'Theses on the eco­nomic. and political crisis in the USSR and the Eastern bloc countries' in International Review no 60).

However, we cannot fully understand this unprecedented collapse from within of an entire imperialist bloc, in the absence of either world war or revolution, without incorporating into the analytical framework this other unprecedented element: society's entry into the phase of de­composition that we can see today.

The extreme centralization and complete stat­ification of the economy, the confusion between the economic and political apparatus, the perma­nent and large-scale cheating with the law of value, the mobilization of all economic resources around war production, all characteristic of the Stalinist regimes, were well adapted to a context of imperialist war (these regimes emerged victo­rious from World War II). But they have been brutally confronted with their own limitations as the bourgeoisie has been compelled for years to face a continually worsening economic crisis without being able to unleash this same imperi­alist war. In particular, the "don't give a damn" attitude which has developed in the ab­sence of any market sanction (and which the reestablishment of the market aims to eliminate) would have been inconceivable during the war, when the prime concern of the workers, and in­deed of those in charge of the economy, was the gun they had pointed at their heads.

The spectacle which the USSR and its satel­lites are offering us today, of a complete rout within the state apparatus itself, and the ruling class' loss of control over its own political strategy is in reality only the caricature (due to the specificities of the Stalinist regimes) of a much more general phenomenon affecting the whole world ruling class, and which is specific to the phase of decomposition.

10) This general tendency for the bourgeoisie to lose control of its own policies was one of the primary factors in the Eastern bloc's col­lapse; this collapse can only accentuate the ten­dency:

- because of the resulting aggravation of the economic crisis;

- because of the disintegration of the Western bloc which is implied by the disappear­ance of its rival;

- because the temporary disappearance of the perspective of world war will exacerbate the rivalries between different bourgeois factions (between national factions especially, but also between cliques within national states).

Such a destabilization of bourgeois political life is illustrated, for example, by the alarm of the bourgeoisie's more stable fractions at the possibility of contamination by the chaos devel­oping within the countries of the ex-Eastern bloc, and which could eventually make it inca­pable of reorganizing the world in two imperial­ist blocs.

The aggravation of the economic crisis neces­sarily sharpens inter-state imperialist rivalries. The exacerbation of military confrontations be­tween states is thus implicit in the present sit­uation. By contrast, the formation of a new economic, political and military structure re­grouping these different states presupposes a discipline amongst them which the phenomenon of decomposition will make more and more prob­lematic. The decomposition of capital is already partly responsible for the disappearance of the system of blocs inherited from World War II. By preventing the formation of a new system of blocs, it may well not only reduce the likelihood of world war, but eliminate this perspective al­together.

11) However, the possibility of such a change in capitalism's overall perspective as a result of the fundamental transformation that decomposi­tion has introduced into social life, in no way alters the ultimate that this system reserves for humanity should the proletariat prove incapable of overthrowing it. Marx and Engels were al­ready able to set out the general historical per­spective for society in the form: "socialism or barbarism". Since then, the development of capitalism has made this judgment more precise, and more serious, in the successive shape of:

- "war or revolution", which was the for­mulation adopted by the revolutionaries before World War I, and which was one of the founda­tions of the Communist International;

- "communist revolution or the destruction of humanity" was the formulation imposed after World War II by the appearance of nuclear weapons.

Today, with the disappearance of the Eastern bloc, this terrifying prospect remains entirely valid. But today, we have to clarify the fact that the destruction of humanity may come about as a result of imperialist world war, or the decomposition of society.

We cannot consider this decomposition as a step backwards. Although it may provoke the resurgence of aspects typical of capitalism's past, in particular its ascendant period, eg:

- the world's non-division into imperialist blocs;

- the resulting fact that struggles between nations (whose present aggravation, especially in the old Eastern bloc, is certainly an expres­sion of decomposition) can no longer be consid­ered as episodes in the confrontation between the two blocs;

- this decomposition does not lead back to a previous form of capitalism's life. Capitalism is like a person in "second childhood". The loss of certain traits acquired with maturity, and the return of those typical of childhood (fragility, dependence, weakness of reasoning), is not accompanied by a return to childhood vitality. Human civilization today is losing some of its gains (eg mastery over nature); this does not mean that it has recovered the capacity for progress and conquest which characterized es­pecially ascendant capitalism. The course of history cannot be turned back: as its name suggests, decomposition leads to social disloca­tion and putrefaction, to the void. Left to its own devices, it will lead humanity to the same fate as world war.

In the end, it is all the same whether we are wiped out in a rain of thermo-nuclear bombs, or by pollution, radioactivity from nuclear power stations, famine, epidemics, and the massacres of innumerable small wars (where nuclear weapons might also be used). The only difference be­tween these two forms of annihilation lies in that one is quick, while the other will be slower, and would consequently provoke still more suffering.

12) It is vital that the proletariat, and the rev­olutionaries within it, grasp the full extent of the deadly threat that decomposition represents for society as a whole. At a moment when paci­fist illusions are likely to develop, as the possi­bility of world war recedes, we must fight with the utmost energy any tendency within the working class to seek for consolation, and to hide from the extreme gravity of the world situ­ation. In particular, it would be both false and dangerous to consider that because decomposi­tion is a reality, it is also a necessity in the path towards revolution.

We must take care not to confuse reality and necessity. Engels sharply criticized Hegel's formulation, "Everything that is rational is real, and everything that is real is rational", reject­ing the second half of this formulation and giving the example of the monarchy in Germany, which was real but not in the least rational (we could also apply Engels' reasoning today to the monarchies of Britain, Holland, Belgium, etc). Decomposition is a fact, a reality today. This does not in the least prove its necessity for the proletarian revolution. Such an approach would call into question the revolution of October 1917, and the whole revolutionary wave that suc­ceeded it, which both took place outside the pe­riod of capital's decomposition. In fact, the im­perious need to establish a clear distinction between the decadence of capitalism and this specific, final, phase of decadence arises from this question of reality and necessity: capital­ism's decadence was necessary for the prole­tariat to be able to overthrow the system; by contrast, the appearance of this specific phase of decomposition as a result of the continuation of the decadent period without its leading to a proletarian revolution, was in no way a neces­sary stage for the proletariat on the road to­wards its emancipation.

In this sense, the phase of decomposition re­sembles that of the imperialist war. The war of 1914 was a fundamental fact, and the revolution­aries and the working class of the epoch obvi­ously had to take account of it; however, this in no way implies that it was a necessary condition for the revolution. Only the Bordigists put forward this idea. The ICC has already shown that war is far from being a particularly favor­able condition for the outbreak of the interna­tional revolution. And to settle the question, we need only consider the perspective of a Third World War.

13) In fact, we must be especially clear on the danger of decomposition for the proletariat's ability to raise itself to the level of its historic task. Just as the unleashing of the imperialist war at the heart of the "civilized" world was "a bloodletting which [may have] mortally weakened the European workers' movement", which "threatened to bury the perspectives for so­cialism under the ruins piled up by imperialist barbarism" by "cutting down on the battlefield ( ... ) the best forces ( ... ) of international social­ism, the vanguard troops of the whole world proletariat" (Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis in the Social Democracy), so the decomposition of soci­ety, which can only get worse, may in the years to come cut down the best forces of the prole­tariat and definitively compromise the perspec­tive of communism. This is because, as capital­ism rots, the resulting poison infects all the el­ements of society, including the proletariat.

In particular, although the weakening grip of bourgeois ideology as a result of capitalism's entry into decadence was one of the conditions for revolution, the decomposition of the same ideology as it is developing appears essentially as an obstacle to the development of proletarian consciousness.

Clearly, ideological decomposition affects first and foremost the capitalist class itself, and by contagion the petty bourgeois strata who have no autonomy as a class. We can even say that the latter identify especially closely with this decomposition in that their own specific future, without any future as a class, fits perfectly with the major cause of this ideological decom­position: the absence of any immediate perspec­tive for society as a whole. Only the proletariat bears within it a perspective for humanity. In this sense, the greatest capacity for resistance to this decomposition lies within its ranks. However, this does not mean that the proletariat is immune, particularly since it lives alongside the petty bourgeoisie which is one of the major carriers of the infection. The different elements which constitute the strength of the working class directly confront the various facets of this ideological decomposition:

- solidarity and collective action are faced with the atomization of "look out for number one";

- the need for organization confronts social decomposition, the disintegration of the relation­ships which form the basis for all social life;

- the proletariat's confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly sapped by the all-pervasive despair and nihilism within so­ciety;

- consciousness, lucidity, coherent and uni­fied thought, the taste for theory, have a hard time making headway in the midst of the flight into illusions, drugs, sects, mysticism, the re­jection or destruction of thought which are characteristic of our epoch.

14) Clearly, one factor that aggravates this sit­uation is the fact that a large proportion of young working class generations are subjected to the full weight of unemployment even before they have had the opportunity to experience in the workplace, in the company of comrades in work and struggle, the collective life of the working class. In fact, although unemployment (which is a direct result of the economic crisis) is not in itself an expression of decomposition, its effects make it an important element of this decomposition. While in general terms it may help to reveal capitalism's inability to secure a future for the workers, it is nonetheless today a powerful factor in the "lumpenization" of cer­tain sectors of the class, especially of young workers, which therefore weakens the class' present and future political capacities. Throughout the 1980s, which have witnessed a considerable increase in unemployment, this sit­uation has been expressed in the absence of any important movements or attempts at organization by unemployed workers. The fact that during the 1930s, in the midst of the counter­revolution, the proletariat, especially in the United States, was able to adopt these forms of struggle, well illustrates by contrast the weight of unemployment on the development of prole­tarian consciousness, as a result of decomposi­tion.

15) However, it is not only through unemploy­ment that decomposition has weighed on the de­velopment of proletarian consciousness. Even if we leave aside the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the death agony of Stalinism (which are ex­pressions of the phase of decomposition and which have provoked a significant retreat in class consciousness), we must consider that the difficulty the working class has had in putting forward the perspective of the unification of the struggle - despite the fact that this same ques­tion was contained in the dynamic of its combat against capital's increasingly frontal attacks - is in large measure a result of the pressure cre­ated by decomposition. In particular, the pro­letariat's hesitation in raising its struggle to a higher level, although it was already a general characteristic of the movement of the class struggle when Marx analyzed it in the 18th Brumaire, has nonetheless been heightened by this lack of self-confidence and confidence in the future which decomposition creates within the class. In particular, the ideology of "look after number one", especially strong in the pre­sent period, has increased the success of the sectionalist traps that the bourgeois has laid for the workers' struggles in recent years.

Throughout the 1980s, the decomposition of capitalist society has thus put a break on the process of coming to consciousness within the working class. We have already identified other elements which help to slow down this process:

- the slow rhythm of the crisis itself;

- the weakness of the class' political organizations as a result of the organic break between the formations of the past, and those which reemerged with the historic recovery in class combat at the end of the 1960's.

However, it is also necessary to take account of the pressure created by social decomposition. Whereas the passage of time reduces the effects of the first two factors, it increases the weight of the latter. It is thus fundamental to under­stand that the longer the proletariat takes to overthrow capitalism, the greater will be the dangers and the dangerous effects of decompo­sition.

16) In fact, we have to highlight the fact that today, time is no longer on the side of the working class. As long as society was threat­ened with destruction by imperialist war alone, the mere fact of the proletarian struggle was sufficient to bar the way to this destruction. But unlike imperialist war, which depended on the proletariat's adherence to the bourgeoisie's "ideals", social decomposition can destroy hu­manity without controlling the working class. For while the workers' struggles can oppose the collapse of the economy, they are powerless, within this system, to hinder decomposition. Thus, while the threat posed by decomposition may seem more far-off than that of world war (were the conditions for it present, which is not the case today), it is by contrast far more in­sidious.

The workers' resistance to the effects of the crisis is no longer enough: only the communist revolution can put an end to the threat of de­composition. Similarly, in the period to come, the proletariat cannot hope to profit from the weakening that decomposition provokes within the bourgeoisie itself. During this period, it must aim to resist the noxious effects of decom­position in its own ranks, counting only on its own strength and on its ability to struggle col­lectively and in solidarity to defend its inter­ests as an exploited class (although revolution­ary propaganda must constantly emphasize the dangers of social decomposition). Only in the revolutionary period, when the proletariat is on the offensive, when the proletariat is on the offensive, when it has directly and openly taken up arms for its own historic perspective, will it be able to use certain effects of decom­position, in particular of bourgeois ideology and of the forces of capitalist power, for leverage, and turn them against capital.

17) Understanding the serious threat that the historical phenomenon of decomposition poses for the working class and for the whole of humanity should not lead the class, and especially its revolutionary minorities, to adopt a fatalist at­titude. Today, the historical perspective re­mains completely open. Despite the blow that the Eastern bloc's collapse has dealt to prole­tarian consciousness, the class has not suffered any major defeats on the terrain of its struggle. In this sense, its combativity remains virtually intact. Moreover, and this is the element which in the final analysis which will determine the outcome of the world situation, the inexorable aggravation of the capitalist crisis constitutes the essential stimulant for the class struggle and development of consciousness, the precon­dition for its ability to resist the poison dis­tilled by the social rot. For while there is no basis for the unification of the class in the partial struggles against the effects of decompo­sition, nonetheless its struggle against the di­rect effects of the crisis constitutes the basis for the development of its class strength and unity. This is the case because:

- while the effects of decomposition (eg pollution, drugs, insecurity) hit the different strata of society in much the same way and form a fertile ground for aclassist campaigns and mystifications (ecology, anti-nuclear movements, anti-racist mobilizations, etc), the eco­nomic attacks (falling real wages, layoffs, in­creasing productivity, etc) resulting directly from the crisis hit the proletariat (ie the class that produces surplus value and confronts cap­italism on this terrain) directly and specifically;

- unlike social decomposition which essen­tially effects the superstructure, the economic crisis directly attacks the foundations on which this superstructure rests; in this sense, it lays bare all the barbarity that is battening on soci­ety, thus allowing the proletariat to become aware of the need to change the system radi­cally, rather than trying to improve certain as­pects of it.

However, the economic crisis cannot by itself resolve all the problems that the proletariat must. confront now and still more in the future. The working class will only be able to answer capital's attacks blow for blow, and finally go onto the offensive and overthrow this barbaric system thanks to:

- an awareness of what is at stake in the present historical situation, and in particular of the mortal danger that social decomposition holds over humanity;

- its determination to continue, develop and unite its class combat;

- its ability to spring the many traps that the bourgeoisie, however decomposed itself, will not fail to set in its path.

Revolutionaries have the responsibility to take an active part in the development of this combat of the proletariat.


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