Decadence Theory

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Fred
Decadence Theory
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The debates taking place recently on libcom about "decadence theory" have been stimulating and confusing at the same time. The ICC proposition that capitalism entered its decadent phase in around 1914 has taken a lot of bashing but continues to be supported by the ICC despite lots of evidence produced by libcommers to show that capitalism is really doing much better since the Second World War than it ever did before it.  

In their a-historical frame of mind many libcom posters can't accept the idea of a capitalism at one time "ascendent" and today "decadent" because they say rightly that it's always been a disgusting and inhuman system and that to distinguish a time within it when it was "good and growing" from a time when it became "bad and diseased" is just a ploy. 

But another position is to consider the decadence of capitalism to relate more to its social being than to its economic health so that its triumphant continuation as a money maker for the capitalist class does nothing to alleviate its continuing imposition of misery and austerity on everyone else;  even those off whom it succours itself most,  the working class. 

Yet there is the impression that the ICC requires capitalism to be both decadent economically and socially at the same time and that you can't have one without the other. And nobody on libcom  has made a distinction between decadence as an economic disease and decadence as a social poison. Nor has anyone suggested that the two don't always have to go together.  Till now that is.  

Nate wrote:
...capitalism is still capable of growth but is now socially regressive.
 

This quote Is brief and to the point.  The  ICC  might dismiss it however, because it must be a nonsense in Marxist terms or indeed in any economic analysis.   For how can "growth" be socially regressive? Unless of course capitalism in its later stages has become so removed and alienated from human life - the economy is now an ultra-reified abstraction  of almost supernatural proportions - as to bear little relationship to human existence.  (Somebody might point out that it nevet  did anyway) 

What does anyone else think about this?  Is a "socially regressive" capitalism still capable of growth?  Or is what appears to be the endless "growth" and prosperity of the financial system (despite Greece and the downturn in the Chinese stock markets) really a mirage? 

lem_
another question could be how

another question could be how can growth be economically regressive.

cells can grow in unhealthy ways.

like i said on another thread, i read that section of this

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/pr...

as saying that at some stage revolution is possible even outside times of overt crisis - both economic and social. so IMVHO saying capitalism is "doing a lot better" may be true for the capitalist, even for the working class, but not for the class for itself.

after-all, left communists think that e.g. the failure of the unions in the 70s isn't a sign that capitalism is ticking along just as nicely

> they say rightly that it's always been a disgusting and inhuman system

that doesn't mean it's not preferable to all the other [achievable] options.

 

lem_
to answer your explicit

to answer your explicit question tho

> capitalism in its later stages has become so removed and alienated from human life - the economy is now an ultra-reified abstraction  of almost supernatural proportions - as to bear little relationship to human existence

this has an obvious idealist tinge - i.e. without a class based analysis of what is happening when a relation of production is less human, you open the door to all sorts of oddities.

> is what appears to be the endless "growth" and prosperity of the financial system (despite Greece and the downturn in the Chinese stock markets) really a mirage? 

it is a mirage not because it doesn't feed the human essence, but because it is all the more fragile, prone to crisis and even (imho) prone to a communist "crisis".

i.e. a crisis that doesn't respond to some part problem, but overthrows the whole god damn lot

Fred
Hi lem.  What you call my

Hi lem.  What you call my "explicit question" isn't actually a question at all, but more a flight of fancy with what you call "an idealist tinge". I apologise if I have given offence. Fred. 

lem_
hey no not at all i'm not

hey no not at all i'm not offended !!!!!

i actually thought i was replying to SJ lol

Alf
social, economic....

I dont think Nate's sentence goes against anything we have been saying on that thread. One of the many quotes from Marx summarily dismissed as irrelevant to the discussion was one from the Grundrisse envisaging the possibility of growth itself being a form of decay, and I think this certainly applies to capitalism in the last 100 years. Look at the wonderful growth of the 'Soviet' economy while production was collapsing in the west in the 1930s. Look at the post-war boom. Look at China. All examples of growth, but definitely socially regressive in an epoch where communism is already possible and necessary. 

Our view of decadence, right back to the original decadence pamphlet in the 1970s, has always rejected the idea that decadence means a halt in the development of capitalism's own productive forces. A growing fetter, yes, precipitating all kinds of convulsions and desperate remedies at the economic level (state capitalism, abysmal debt, etc), and certainly a fetter on the real develoment of human potential. 

baboon
Growth

One of the arguments against growth in capitalism's decadence currently on libcom is that if decadence means growth then how come capitalism is decadent, i.e., decaying? It's a crude argument that misses out the global nature of capitalism's crisis from the turn of the twentieth century (this argument is linked in some ways to the left's discovery of global capitalism in the 1990's), underestimates the development of state capitalism and underestimattes the greater levels of debt needed to maintain even a minimal growth within capitalism. And it certainly underestimates the real and potential destruction of imperialism.

 

I've long thought that the recent rise of Chinese capitalism was a striking confirmation of the decadence of the whole system. Though its growth took place on a much larger scale than many of capitalism's other national economic "miracles" (some of them second time round miracles) it was fundamentally doomed to collapse as it grew; that is the ingredients for its collapse was in its very growth. At the beginning of the expression of this miracle, when its growth was around 15% or above, some Chinese economists were saying that taking the effects of pollution alone into account, this growth could be reduced to zero. I don't think that the Chinese economy will suddenly collapse - the bourgeoisie are already implementing state capitalist measures, like rigging the stock market, in order to prevent this happening. But the rapid slowdown in China appears to present more potential problems to the world economy than does the economic crisis in Greece for example.

 

In respect of the above, it's a pity that we haven't seen what the differences were in the ICC on this issue.

Alf
discussion on China

As I pointed out in one of the earlier posts on libcom, we have been very late in responding in depth to the whole question of China's economic and imperialist ascent, and similar phenomena. There is the beginning of a discussion in the ICC, which will give rise to texts and contributions, but until the discussion develops further, it is too soon to point to any substantial differences. 

lem_
"Our view of decadence, right

"Our view of decadence, right back to the original decadence pamphlet in the 1970s, has always rejected the idea that decadence means a halt in the development of capitalism's own productive forces. A growing fetter, yes, precipitating all kinds of convulsions and desperate remedies at the economic level (state capitalism, abysmal debt, etc), and certainly a fetter on the real develoment of human potential. "

and the libommers won't listen -- or what ??

Fred
cancerous growth

Thank you for your replies. I feel much better now.  (Is this subjective?) 

Yes: growth can be decay as the young Marx realised.  Growth can be a cancer on society. 

There is also the point that the money growth that posters like Artesian emphasise on libcom, is nothing when compared to the world's huge population. Share all this wonderful profit out between the world's vast population, rather than reserving it for the precious few, and we may all  end up with hardly  a couple of dimes to rub together.  

Capitalism doesn't and cannot satisfy humanity's and the planet's needs. Perhaps it never intended too. But we haven't always known that. Capitalism is  a failure. 

lem_
truth !

truth !

Fred
Thanks lem. 

Thanks lem. 

Fred
with apologies

With apologies to St. Paul, but couldn't resist. 

Quote:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have no  capital, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have no capital I am nothing.  

Capitalism is impatient and unkind; it is jealous and boastful; arrogant and rude. Capitalism insists  on its own way; is irritable and resentful; rejoices at wrong, but rejects the right. Capitalism bears nothing, believes nothing, hates  all things, endures nothing. 

 Capitalism never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfected capitalism comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways except for capitalism....So hopelessness, austerity and  capitalism abide, these three; but the greatest of these is capitalism.  

 

Message to web master.  If this post is vulgar and offensive to an unbearable  degree then please remove it. It's  a joke of a risky kind, I know!   

lem_
i think love religious love

i think love religious love too is quite silly.

if ever wittgenstein was wrong:

"The world of the happy man is a different one from that of the unhappy man" 

IMVHO anyway.

the actions of the happy man may be quite different...

Alf
greetings

welcome vainfone...I think we should probably have a thread for introductions, so that new participants on the forum can say something about their political history. 

We agree entirely that it was not once and for all complete in 1914-21. how else could it be? Decadence, decline, is a trajectory, a movement, most resembling a downward spiral, with many 'up' moments. 

Aufheben's article made no attempt whatever to get to the origins of the question in the thought of Marx. They began with the false claim that the concept of decadence was an invention of the Second International. 

It is indeed significant that at a certain point of the series, they realised at some level that their whole premise was flawed. 

We touched on this in the last article (so far) in our own most recent series on decadence

https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201206/4981/decadenc...

Draba
Aufheben did confused criticism of decadence

Unfortunately, most of those who are critical to the theory of decadence have not understood the theory or have a mechanical conception of class society's development. One of these was, Aufheben, with confused criticism of decadence and idealist understanding of the development of the society. Aufheben criticized the theory of decadence (Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory?). I just want to point out some points:

1.The theory of decadence of capitalism is not a product of the ICC without the ICC contributed to development of the theory of decadence.

2.The theory of decadence of capitalism is not equal to crisis mechanism of the decadence

3.There are many crisis mechanism theories including profit rates, Market mechanism and etc

4.An attack on the theory of decadence is an attack on Marxism

Draba
Aufheben did confused criticism of decadence

Unfortunately, most of those who are critical to the theory of decadence have not understood the theory or have a mechanical conception of class society's development. One of these was, Aufheben, with confused criticism of decadence and idealist understanding of the development of the society. Aufheben criticized the theory of decadence (Decadence: The Theory of Decline or the Decline of Theory?). I just want to point out some points:
1.The theory of decadence of capitalism is not a product of the ICC without the ICC contributed to development of the theory of decadence.
2.The theory of decadence of capitalism is not equal to crisis mechanism of the decadence
3.There are many crisis mechanism theories including profit rates, Market mechanism and etc
4.An attack on the theory of decadence is an attack on Marxism

Fred
controlling our own lives

post deleted

Fred
controlling our own lives

Trying to post this piece this morning was a nightmare again. I kept being told "Safari cannot connect". Just lately this happens all the time especially with this web site. Actually with this site alone. So I gave up and switched off.  Now I find it was actually posted 5 times. 

When this happens again can't the web master just delete all the extra postings? 

Fred
controlling our own lives

Safari cannot open the page because the network connection was lost. 

Fred
controlling our own lives

Thank you draba for providing the link to the excellent article about Aufheben. Reading it has helped clarify why aspects of the libcom site can seem  somewhat hollow and empty  with its enormous libcom emphasis on "life style" politics, and constant harping on among posters about "personal problems" and what the ICC calls "compartmentalised issues" such as women, gays, transsexuals, skin-colour politics and the like.

 What many posters on libcom are really concerned with isn't communism at all, but with what they see as their lack of control over their own lives which they believe will somehow be attained if only society embraced anarchism.   But that anarchists should be so pre-occupied with matters of control - though it is always presented as  a subjective control; a control  of one's own very personal and highly commoditised subjective self, but which type of control alone leads to freedom - can seem a touch contradictory. 

But what has this to do with Aufheben?  Here is a quote from the ICC article draba recommends. 

 

ICC wrote:
 A revolutionary subject can only recognise itself if it recognises historical necessity. Marxism and the working class can only develop in conjunction with each other.

Would-be revolutionaries, who want to reject this objectivity, and assert their own problems while denying those of the outside world, are by definition incapable of playing a revolutionary role. The preoccupation with ‘a lack of control of our lives’ to the exclusion of economic necessity (when they are both insolubly linked) is characteristic not of the working class, but of strata caught between the two main classes in society. It is a preoccupation typical of layers of the population who are drawn to assert their subjective power because they have no stable or significant objective power in society. In particular there are those who, while radicalised by the economic crisis, feel this crisis as a loss of the value of the intellectual or artistic talents by which they make a living. Their idea of revolution is to assert their disappearing subjectivity to the hilt, but their rage against society, which is part of a self-loathing resulting from social impotence, is directed not against the bourgeoisie but also against the working class which ‘materialistically’ and ‘selfishly’ defends its economic interests.

It would seem that Aufheben is dominated exactly by this petit-bourgeois outlook: it sees the world in terms of definite material class interests but only in terms of its precious subjectivity: it opposes the theory of decadence not because it thinks it doesn’t explain the real world, but because this theory denies its ‘freedom’ and ‘creativity’. From such a standpoint it is impossible to identify either the revolutionary class or the bourgeoisie.

 

In so far as libcom embraces anything that can clearly be seen to be underpinned by a political theory then what Audheben has to say must be it. But it goes no further than an obsession with the lack of control of our lives which anarchism can give back without apparently having to change anything. Just like that!  But then as so many anarchists as represented on libcom have no time for decadence and don't even see the capitalist economy as suffering anything other than a temporary blip soon to pass, like all the previous blips including two world wars, then life style politics and modernism can rule the roost uncritically. 

Fred
controlling our own lives

"Marxism and the working class can only develop in conjunction with each other." 

 

This may seem obvious but it isn't really. 

Fred
controlling our own lives

I apologise to anyone who finds this cock-up as irritating as I do.