request for clarification: barbarism / decay

15 posts / 0 new
Last post
request for clarification: barbarism / decay
Printer-friendly version



did marx predict a point at which the working class is irreversibily defeated? i know that irreversibly defeat is not the same concept as "decay", but what comes after captial's decay?

i assume that that's not the idea behind the concept of "socialism and barbarism": that irrersible defeat or communism are the only two ways that capitalism can now shift?

do you wonder if capital wasn't *decaying* until about the time of the financial crisis? if not, then what has changed, because it really seems that something has!

thanks for any replies :-)


edit i have edited this into being readable: sorry for any confusion!!

defeat and decadence

A quick response in the spirit of things:

I don't recall any notes of Marx on a definitive defeat of the working class except the "mutual ruin of contending classes" in the Communist Manifesto - a concept which underlines the ICC's analysis of the dangers of decomposition to the working class. There's also the quotes from Marx (in Grundrisse, I think) about how often the working class is defeated, thrown down, repulsed and has to start from scratch again in  order to take up and pursue its struggle anew.

On the second point, I think that World War One is a dramatic indication of the outworn nature of capitalism (its economy wasn't doing too bad at the time) and the necessity and possibility of revolution. The financial crisis of the 30s was a further example of the decay of this mode of production leading directly into the second world war - and the wars that have wracked capitalism ever since. The latest expressions of the economic crisis, 2008 onwards, have seen the chickens coming home to roost as the palliative of  debt and more debt has worn out leaving the bourgeoisie in its present conundrum.

About the working class being

About the working class being defeated...doesn't it have to make a definite well-organized, self-organized international attack against capitalism before it can suffer a defeat? In the present economic circumstances, with the bourgeoisie itching for wars, such a defeat could well be irreversible, and fatal for humanity and the planet. Isn't that what "socialism or barbarism" means? Either we do make a successful revolution and overthrow the bourgeoisie- thus setting the scene for the building of a communist world - or we all sink into unfathomable depths of misery, deprivation and despair. And following such a defeat who knows what new horrors a desperate bourgeoisie, ravaged by it's own appalling failures, will unleash on us all; including of course it's own completely irrational self, expressed through warring gangs of thugs and terrorists as in Syria already!

Regarding capitalist decay. The ICC and others say the system entered it's probable final state of decay around 1970. To most of us that wasn't apparent at the time, though there were many ferocious strikes around the world, as workers' living standards came under attack. This attack has never ceased. But only in 2008 and the well-publicized financial crisis did capitalism's real condition - bankruptcy! - begin to be understood as a fact by increasing numbers of us. This "bankruptcy", and our rulers' various efforts at hiding it, or solving it, or pretending it'll just go away with yet another loan (as the latest Spanish prime minister tries to kid us) gets worse, and becomes more blatant, and apparently more incurable, on a daily basis.

So what do we do? Do we just grin and bear it? Do we wait for it to go away? It won't! Do we want to go on suffering under it's collapse and the increasing austerity thrust upon us by our rulers, in order to try and save it, which they clearly can't? Or we take matters into our own hands, consciously get rid of it once and for all, and work to build our new society free from fear of what's to come? The choice lem is ours.

defeat in the period of decomposition

The theses on decomposition argues that the danger facing the working class is that it can be ground down by decomposition even before it is able to mount a major attack on the system. In contrast to the previous threat of world war, which did require a full-on defeat, the defeat brought about by decomposition can be a slower but more insidious process: 

In fact, we have to highlight the fact that today, contrary to the situation in the 1970’s, 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.

Workers' struggles

Alf wrote:

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.

Interesting. although I think I remember some suggestion that the workers' struggle (something that is short of revolution) can in fact act as a certain counter-weight to elements of decomposition by posing solidarity and social empathy against "everyman for himself." What does it mean that the wokers' struggles can "oppose the collapse of the economy"?


Hmmm...not a clear formulation, but I think it is trying to get to the point that the deepening economic crisis, with its train of attacks on workers' living standards, creates the best conditions for a class response, it is far harder to respond to the phenomena of decomposition on a class basis (example: crime and drug addiction)  and it can can only reverse the process of decomposition when it has reached a very high level of social and political organisation; 

Doesn't jk have a point, that

Doesn't jk have a point, that struggle can (may) act as a counter-weight to decomposition? Could we not see struggle and decomposition as in a dialectical relationship?

The theses say that the workers "are powerless, within this system, to hinder decomposition", but Alf says that the class "can only reverse the process of decomposition when it has reached a very high-level of social and political organization". The latter "high level" though will still be within this system wont it? So do we have in the theses another unclear formulation here?

Has anything been written in

Has anything been written in the past few years addressing these questions that jk and Fred have raised?

I'm also curious about the idea that workers "are powerless, within this system, to hinder decomposition" and Fred's point that a very high level of consciousness could happen "within this system".


The class can respond to decomposition - the Indignados movement was an example of that. But it would take a revolutionary level of struggle to reverse it; let's just consider the world situation since the retreat of the social movements of 2011-13, above all the acceleration of irrational imperialist conflicts. In other words, a revolutionary rupture, which begins within the system but begins to overturn it. 

Yes please

I think the phrase 'revolutionary rupture' has a lot to recommend it. It suggests numerous other discussions that have been going on, such as the relationship of the working class's material conditions to class consciousness and the relationship of class consciousness to the consciousness of inviduals; also, the question of the 'balance of class forces'.

I think it's interesting that Alf is identifying the 'retreat of the social movements' since 2013 - I wasn't aware that the ICC had decided that the working class had 'gone onto the back foot', as it were, but it is certainly the viewpoint that I was trying to elaborate some while ago with the questioning of the notion that Turkey and Brazil, for example, showed the example of 'the workers going to the streets (positive)' rather than 'the working class liquidating itself in the ideology of the citizen (negative)'. I was discussing with another ICC sympathiser reccently and he seemed quite surprised that I hadn't picked up on the shift in perspective but really I hadn't. I'm sure we could argue about details (for instance I'd probably say  the 'social movements' peaked in 2012) but perhaps we're in agreement about the current dynamic.

So - no 'revolutionary rupture', we're all agreed. But the 'necessary conditions' for the revolutionary rupture? Some combination of 1-anger at the working class's own situation, 2-crisis in the state, and 3-some semblance of revolutionary consciousness or even confidence among the class, I would think.

As it's not the job of revolutionaries to make the condition of the working class worse, nor to provoke crises in the state (through terrorism or other such methods) it seems that the best we can hope to do is increase the working class's anger at its situation and try to help to develop confidence in the possibilities of 'rupture'. Of course, the question then becomes 'how?'. The ICC is committed to being 'an active factor in the generalisation of class consciousness'. So, how to do that more effectively, so that when the other conditions for the 'rupture' are present, the revolutionary minoirities, and the working class itlself, are not lacking the necessary tools?

Re Social Movement Retreat

See the June 2014 article still on the front page in English: Egyptian Elections: The 'Arab Spring' passes from Hope to Terror'. I believe it sums up
a) the ICC's recognition that the 'social movements' of 2007-2012 were part and parcel of the historic class struggle and
b) that they have faded, leaving (temporarilly?) the destruction of imperialism and decomposition as the most obvious manifestations of life in late capitalist society.

The discussion about ROs and class consciousness will, of course, take a little longer.

I'm a bit confused.

I'm a bit confused. Alf you mention that the social movements of a couple years ago were the working class responding to decomposition, or in other words, a class response.

What qualifies it as such? To quote the article KT has linked to:

Egyption Elections: The Arab Spring Passes from Hope to Terror wrote:
But these revolts never escaped the profound ideological illusions of those who took part in them. They were in essence the response of a new generation of the working class, faced with a capitalist system mired in an insoluble economic crisis and with a future of insecurity, unemployment and austerity. These revolts saw themselves as revolutions, even as part of a world revolution, but they were the product of a proletariat which has largely lost its sense of identity as a class, forgotten its real history and its traditions of struggle. The participants acted in their hundreds of thousands, but they still largely saw themselves as citizens, individuals, not as part of an associated class.

I agree with these points but it leaves me very confused. If it was a class response, by these terms, it must not have been a self-conscious (in terms of proletarian consciousness) or revolutionary one. If it was a class response, it was a confused response without knowledge of workers history or their traditions of struggle. They largely saw themselves a citizens, etc.

So why does this qualify, what makes it a class response?

Do we need terms/phrases/distinctions between conscious class responses and a non-conscious response? Or is it simply that one kind of response is not an expression of the working class struggling against capitalism and one is a conscious expression? It again begs the question do workers have to be anti-capitalist to be anti-capitalist?

Are these abstractions real and useful distinctions? What makes the thing the thing? The impression I got back in June when I first read the article is that these social movements did not constitute a class response.

the destruction of

the destruction of imperialism and decomposition as the most obvious manifestations of life in late capitalist society.

i assume that you mean imperialism is destroying the working class, not that it is in decline?

i think i am the personal opinion [and this is what i am getting to with the OP, badly] that imperialism is in its death throes. perhaps, in my middle class internet life, i miss too readily the importance of the concept. but could the final phase of capitalism not be the decline of a nationalist ruling class?

perhaps isreal, russia etc., is a distraction. perhaps war and social crisis is now the only way for capitalists to divide the working class along national lines; rather than economic heterogenity among nations, i mean.


that was what i was getting at!!

This is how these movements

This is how these movements (and others) were defined in the resolution on the international situation from the the last ICC congress


6) It’s in this context of crisis, of decomposition and the fragile subjective state of the proletariat that we can understand the weaknesses, insufficiencies and errors as well as the potential strength of the struggle, confirming us in our conviction that the communist perspective does not derive in an automatic or mechanical way from determined circumstances. Thus, during the last two years, we have seen the development of movements which we have described with the metaphor of the five streams:

  1. Social movements of young people in precarious work, unemployed or still studying, which began with the struggle against the CPE in 2006, continued with the youth revolt in Greece in 2008 and culminated with the movement of the Indignados and Occupy in 2011;

  2. Movements which were massive but which were well contained by the bourgeoisie preparing the ground in advance, as in France 2007, France and Britain in 2010, Greece in 2010-12, etc;

  3. Movements which suffered from a weight of inter-classism, like Tunisia and Egypt in 2011;

  4. Germs of massive strikes as in Egypt in 2007, Vigo (Spain) in 2006, China in 2009;

  5. The development of struggles in the factories or in localised industrial sectors but which contained promising signs, such as Lindsey in 2009, Tekel in 2010, electricians in the UK in 2011.

These five streams belong to the working class despite their differences; each one in its own way expresses an effort by the proletariat to find itself again, despite the difficulties and obstacles which the bourgeoisie puts in its way. Each one contained a dynamic of research, of clarification, of preparing the social soil. At different levels they are part of the search “for the word that will lead us to socialism” (as Rosa Luxemburg put it, referring to the workers’ councils) via the general assemblies. The most advanced expressions of this tendency were the Indignados and Occupy movements - especially in Spain - because they were the ones which most clearly showed the tensions, contradictions and potential of the class struggle today. Despite the presence of strata coming from the impoverished petty bourgeoisie, the proletarian imprint of these movements manifested itself in the search for solidarity, in the assemblies, in the attempts to develop a culture of debate, in the capacity to avoid the traps of repression, in the seeds of internationalism, and in an acute sensibility towards subjective and cultural elements. And it is through this dimension of preparing the subjective terrain that these movements show all their importance for the future.


The quote from the article on the Arab spring doesn't, in my opinion, contradict this analysis, it merely emphasises that while while the majority of these movements were expressions of the proletariat, or at least bore a strong imprint from it, the subjective understanding of the participants was often 'below' the objective level in that they saw their movement as one of citizens fighting for 'real democracy'. In some cases, such as Spain, there was a more definite proletarian wing which saw that the reall issue is class against class and were opposed to 'democratic' reformism



what about something like

what about something like anonymous?

Anons were early supporters of the global Occupy movement and the Arab Spring.

i knew a few people who were quite supportive of occupy; if their consciousness was maturing then they weren't entrely aware of that and perhaps that is why the movements, eventually, tailed off. there was not enough sense of coming to understanding, only of acting on the understanding they had. perhaps this is its mild spectacle element.


anyway, it's reassuring to see that the icc couldn'tbbe accused of being overly cynical!!