Issues with Decadence Theory

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Issues with Decadence Theory
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Ive been trying to catch up on the discussions on decadence on libcom and in particular the concerns expressed by MH and Baboon about the ICCs ‘internal’ discussions on China

 

First of all im not so sure that Alf meant there had been a significant departure in the ICCs understanding.  He actually said: “…particularly the question of the rapid development of industrialisation in China and other Asian countries. These developments do pose a challenge to the theory of decadence and one that we have been late in responding to. But whether they refute the overall analysis is another matter. “

 

It would be far more surprising if our understanding of decadence did not change as decadence itself progressed.   Additionally, im quite glad to see evidence of political discussion taking place internally

 

I do think the concept of ascendance and decadence is a fundamental element of historical materialism and hence Marxism’s view of history.  It is a fundamental tool to analyse events in this period.

 

Im quite happy however to ask what the issues/problems are with decadence theory and how has it changed and developed?  I think these are useful questions.  For example in its early days – say the first half of the 20th century, it was easy to use phrases like collapse,  a permanent crisis, a period of revolutions and wars, no reforms, impoverishment & pauperization, no new imperialist powers.  They now feel like shorthand terms – they have value but don’t describe accurately what has happened and as a result don’t help persuade others of the value of decadence theory.  After a century of decadence, society has experienced not only the wars but massive industrial development, massive technological development, massive social change, massive changes in daily life, living standards, cultures.  It is understandable hard to persuade anyone that these changes are signs of collapse/decline etc.

 

So does the economic development of India and China challenge decadence theory?  No I don’t think so but I do think it raises challenge for crisis theory. Perhaps one lesson we should learn from the last half century that markets theories and FROP theories are crisis theories not explanations of decadence and that Decadence is a qualitative change in period not an economic crisis as such.

 

India and China have populations of 2 billion between them, Africa another billion.  Is their development related to internal extra capitalist markets or global capital or both?  If so what does this say about the level of extra capitalist markets in 1914 (again a shorthand I know)?  Someone more knowledgeable than me can detail the answers here but I suspect that it is not actually relevant to decadence theory even if it is relevant to the rate of economic growth. 

 

I suspect too that their development, rapid in relation to the rest of the world, is more of a problem for the concept of decomposition since 1990.

 

In some ways I am more concerned about the overall world population growth to 7billion today from 1.5 billion at the start of the 20th century. It has doubled since 1970.  How?  Again Ive never quite understood the link between economic cycles and population reqts of capitalism but does capitalism enable or even cause this growth? If not, doesn’t that mean it’s a product of extra capitalist markets?  Ermm does that mean they are growing???

 

In terms of crisis theory, as ive indicated before, i question the concept that economic growth is due to the existence of pre-capitalist markets.  They facilitate faster growth clearly but I cant accept Luxemburg’s idea that no accumulation takes place without pre or extra capitalist markets.  This idea clearly clashes with any understanding of the reconstruction post WW2.  More than that however the scale of postwar economic development and the management of the economic crisis since the 1970s generates problems for a simplistic interpretation of war reconstruction crisis cycle

lem_
hi link i wanted to give my

hi link i wanted to give my two cents after skimming your response... i don't think i care if decadence theory bites well or is a disaster. it seems that things are getting worse in important ways, and i just can't see how social democracy etc. is historically grounded.

whether or not the crises will materialise in ways that the communist left are habituated to, is (perhaps) quite a good question.

... it may not be that objective living conditions are improving at a fascinating rate, one which isn't really slowly. but i personally feel that subjective conditions are worsening and that this rate is unsustainable based on the nature of technology as well as the economy..

 

those are my two cents :-)

LBird
What is 'decadence'?

Link, I've also been reading the thread on LibCom, in the hope of finding out what 'decadence' means in this theory.

Frankly, like most readers (from the responses, at least), I still haven't a clue.

Could anyone (ICC or not) give a simple definition of 'decadence'?

By that, I mean some 'thing' (process, event, ideology, person, society, product, etc.) that was present (or absent) in, say, 1850, which was then absent (or present) in, say, 1950, and which allows us to regard 1914 (approximately) as the turning point for the emergence of 'decadence'.

Given what I consider to be very generous parameters about 'what IT is', can't someone explain, in a way that can then be easily passed on to other workers?

Perhaps even to the readers of LibCom and other sites.

lem_
easy !

https://en.internationalism.org/icc/200412/608/3-decadence-capitalism

"The [irresolvable] crisis of over-production [meaning]... war... dehumanisation... decomposition of... ideology... values... art."

"more and more murderous wars and a more and more systematic, rational and scientific exploitation"

It's not a difficult question: a more difficult question would be how it departs from Marx or why believe it

lem_
in other words: the markets

in other words: the markets are irreversibly flooded and the only way for capital to survive is through nationalist war and stupidity

lem_
Hi I have a question, where

Hi I have a question, where is the theory from in Marx?

"At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure... No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society."

A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

At first glance it seems that this is one process, that first capital is necessary, then a fetter. But it seems that the ICC divide it up: the productive forces are insufficiently developed; sufficiently; in conflict. Do please forgive my silliness if that's wrong.

Anyway, I do wonder what reasons there are to interpret this passage in a tripartiate way. It really does seem more intuitive, deeper that way. I think that it seems less mechanical - and less likely to create mechanical thinking about decomposition [oh we've "modelled" it]. Are there Hegelian reasons? I mean if we think of conflict as the negation of capitalism [and it does begin the "era" of revolution], rather than simply sufficiency, then it does IMHO make sense to posit a mid term - however fictional it is - between those two poles, the how of it happening; the exhaustion of capitalism before it needs to give up

Link
Conflict between development of production and its social form

“To the extent that the labour process is solely a process between man and nature, its simple elements remain common to all social forms of development.  But each specific historical form of this process further develops its material foundations and social forms.  Whenever a certain stage of maturity has been reached, the specific historical form is discarded and makes way for a higher one.  The moment of arrival of such a crisis is disclosed by the depth and breadth attained by the contradictions and antagonism between the distribution relations and thus the specific historical form of their corresponding production relations, on the one hand, and the productive forces, the production powers and the development of their agencies, on the other hand.  A conflict then ensues between the material development of production and its social form”

Marx Capital Vol 3 Chapter LI

 

Marx did not use the term decadence but he clearly outlined in the quote you used Lem and the above quote above, that for each mode of production  there is a period of progressiveness followed by a period of  internal conflict and hence decline.  This is what the ICC and others started to call Decadence.  Marx also clearly indicated that capitalism could create no new class within the old society that could develop the productive forces further. So for capitalism the conflict remains between the bourgeoisie and the working class and the outlook remains either barbarism or socialism.

So Lem i would not criticise the way you expressed decadence of capitalism.  however i would stress that the concept of ascendancy and decadence is first of all a view of the process that  ALL class societies go through to develop and evolve.  How this applies to capitalism is very specific to capitalism and how the real history of capitalism actually evolves.  I would not start therefore with describing decadence in terms of falling incomes, production, economic crisis, no new imperialisms etc. (I noted one argument on libcom that the quality of motor cars was deterioriating - frankly this is just not true anyway but how could reductions in quality define decadence)  These issues maybe real but they are secondary effects, they are not individually essential causes of decadence.

Lbird does that address your point too?  

lem_
hey LInk, thanks for the

hey LInk, thanks for the reply - i really do want to get to grips with this idea so may i please ask

a) what you mean by "so" there; i cannot quite find a progression of thought there unless it's that i missed something important out ??

b) is my way of expressing decadence one, which you critisized, something which you consider reactionary in any way :-) ?

 

cheers !

edited to add - i would probably consider the movement you described from the realities of it to an expression (perhaps like mine ?) as definitely a necessary one, but also one which proves it 

MH
Link, I’ve been reflecting on

Link, I’ve been reflecting on the libcom discussion as well. I agree with much of what you say.

The main problem in the discussion with the opponents/sceptics of what they inaccurately term “decadence theory” is that they don’t just disagree with capitalist decadence; they don’t believe it was ever ascendant either. In fact there seems to be disagreement with the entire framework of examining modes of production in terms of their rise and fall/youth and senility at all.

Since, as was pointed out, this is at the heart of historical materialism, this leaves us without a shared framework, to say the least…

For LBird’s benefit, this whole question is dealt with in some depth in this series of articles.

In fact I was left wondering whether the opponents of decadence have a framework for understanding the evolution of capitalism at all. It’s as if capitalism just … appeared in the midst of feudalism and since then has just … evolved and developed, gone through cyclical crises, got better, got worse…

As far as I can see you are left with empiricism. If not, what?

The bourgeoisie of course believes that capitalism is eternal. While we don’t believe it will inevitably collapse, and will have to be consciously destroyed, we are able to use our understanding of historical materialism to expose and undermine this central lie. As a class society, capitalism goes through a phase of ascendant growth before the relations of production it has brought into existence, capital and wage labour, inevitably begin to conflict with the further growth of the productive forces. If this point is never to be reached, or is a meaningless concept, how and why is capitalism not eternal?

Moving on to some of the points you raise, I did begin to feel in the discussion that there was some confusion of terms. Inevitably the use of terms like decadence and decay, especially if you resort to dictionary definitions, tends to give the impression that we are excluding the possibility of growth – which is of course not our position. This is why I particularly like Marx’s description of decadence as an epoch of acute crises, convulsions and struggles – none of which excludes the possibility of growth as well.

Link wrote:

Im quite happy however to ask what the issues/problems are with decadence theory and how has it changed and developed?  I think these are useful questions.  For example in its early days – say the first half of the 20th century, it was easy to use phrases like collapse,  a permanent crisis, a period of revolutions and wars, no reforms, impoverishment & pauperization, no new imperialist powers.  They now feel like shorthand terms – they have value but don’t describe accurately what has happened and as a result don’t help persuade others of the value of decadence theory.  After a century of decadence, society has experienced not only the wars but massive industrial development, massive technological development, massive social change, massive changes in daily life, living standards, cultures.  It is understandable hard to persuade anyone that these changes are signs of collapse/decline etc.

Yes I think these are good points. Actually, re-reading the decadence pamphlet, which of course says very clearly that decadence does not mean a total halt in the productive forces, it also says “... above all, living for competition alone (on a national and international scale), capitalism cannot exist without developing."(my emphasis)

100 years into capitalist decadence we need to place more emphasis on this central point.

Lastly it seems to me that a missing element in the discussion is a comparison between the rates of growth that capitalism has achieved in decadence and those it might have been expected to achieve if it had not entered decadence; in other words, while we might see rapid or spectacular signs of development in decadence eg in China and India, how much more rapid or spectacular would such signs have been if ascendance had (hypothetically) been able to continue? (see the graph in the Decadence pamphlet showing estimates of hypothetical growth). This may be worth expanding on.

 

Pierre
You know what I think? I

You know what I think? I think certain left communists can't deal with being wrong, so they run off to other forums where they know their ideas will be met with less resistance.

To me the Libcop decadence thread posed a fundamental question. What scientific evidence do we have to support the theory? Not one comrade had any solutions. Not one comrade made a worth while intervention.

So decadence theory will continue being the magical unicorn. And the ICC and it's close supporters will continue to behave in a manner befitting of a masonic lodge, keeping any serious discussion "in-house".

MH
You know what I think?

You know what I think? Whatever your motives for starting the thread on libcom,  your question was immediately answered by Alf, who set out the ICC’s response. You never attempted to engage with this.

So what I suggest is, if you do have serious questions about decadence, or anything else for that matter, instead of posting spam cat cartoons why don’t you raise them here, and let’s have a real  debate.

slothjabber
Markers

LBird wrote:

...

Could anyone (ICC or not) give a simple definition of 'decadence'?

By that, I mean some 'thing' (process, event, ideology, person, society, product, etc.) that was present (or absent) in, say, 1850, which was then absent (or present) in, say, 1950, and which allows us to regard 1914 (approximately) as the turning point for the emergence of 'decadence'....

 

Absent in 1850, present in 1950: the world market.

 

Allowing us to use 1914 as a marker: the fact that competition for the emerging world market led to WWI.

Tagore2
World market

Quote:

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

Karl Marx, the Communist Manifesto, ch. 1. 1848.

LBird
Factor of 'decadence': 'world market'?

slothjabber wrote:

LBird wrote:

...

Could anyone (ICC or not) give a simple definition of 'decadence'?

By that, I mean some 'thing' (process, event, ideology, person, society, product, etc.) that was present (or absent) in, say, 1850, which was then absent (or present) in, say, 1950, and which allows us to regard 1914 (approximately) as the turning point for the emergence of 'decadence'....

 

Absent in 1850, present in 1950: the world market.

 

Allowing us to use 1914 as a marker: the fact that competition for the emerging world market led to WWI.

Thanks for that, sj!

It at least gives us a starting point for a discussion about 'decadence'.

So, what is it about the 'world market' of the mid-20th century, that makes it 'decadent', when compared with the (presumeably) 'minor market' of the mid-19th century?

Is the factor that determines 'decadence' one of 'extent' (but with still some room for a little expansion) or one of 'completedness' (end of expansionary phase)?

Or is it 'war competition' (market expansion by other means)?

Link
I agree with MHs problems with ahistorical world views

I agree that those arguing against decadence have a basically ahistorical view let alone those on libcom that just like to provoke or take the piss. 

The ICC drew me into Marxism socialism etc so I have always had that historical framework to analyse things with and find it hard to understand those that have a knowledge of marx yet don’t try to relate an understanding of issues to the relevant periods in history.  The leftists are even weirder because they will try to understand things in historical terms, up until WW1 and from then on things become eternally the same. 

 

One of the strengths of the FROP theory is that it emphasises the drive for capitalism to maintain growth rates but also its inability to do so in practice.  It is only a healthy system when it can keep growing at a high rate and clearly in what we see as decadence it cant do so. I would therefore also agree that growth rates are a fairly fundamental sign of the health or otherwise of capitalism and one of the key issues to emphasise.  I am not sure there are any other features unique to the period.

 

We see the period of decadence as having been demarcated by WW1 and the onset of a revolutionary wave and the only real indicator of this is that capitalism has completed the world market and our interpretation of that achievement is that capitalism has completed its historical mission.   I see the decadence theory as a tool for understanding this period though in that there are not specific features of society that have a label saying this is decadence (perhaps the proof that lbird and jamal are looking for); its the theory that puts events into a context. Even with the TUs and the Labour Party for example, they have been integrated into the system and behave like shit but its only our theory of decadence and the need for revolution that us to say that they cannot be reclaimed to the wc.

Link
the world market

Lbird, just seen your last entry and i think ive partly answered that though.  I would add that i see that period of the late 19th century as when capitalism was completing a process of building nation states and national markets (politically socially and economically) and thereby completing a world market.  The major nations were in place and they dominated the world even if others werent fully formed nation states with national markets. This obviously happened over a period of time and we use 1914 as the indicator to say that this process had completed.  I think this is  a judgement we use to understand and interpret  events from that point time onwards

LBird
Doubts remain

Link wrote:

Lbird, just seen your last entry and i think ive partly answered that though.  I would add that i see that period of the last 19th century as when capitalism was completing a process of building nation states and national markets (politically socially and economically) and thereby completing a world market.  The major nations were in place and they dominated the world even if others werent fully formed nation states with national markets. This obviously happened over a period of time and we use 1914 as the indicator to say that this process had completed.  I think this is  a judgement we use to understand and interpret  events from that point time onwards

[my bold]

Thanks for your continuing attempts to illustrate this theory, Link

But... my problem with what you've said, is that the nation-state of China (probably going to be the most important of the 21st century), not only wasn't 'in place' as a 'major nation' in 1914, but wasn't even a modern 'nation' and was barely even a cohesive state of any sort.

This is before we consider the rest of the BRICs, or Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, nuclear powers like Israel and Pakistan, regional powers like Iran...

In fact, since 1914, it seems capitalism has become ever more a stronger system, and many nations have developed since well after 1950.

Surely you can see my genuine doubts regarding a theory of a 'decadent' phase beginning in 1914?

To me, it would at least make more sense to date 1980-90 as a turning point (collapse of USSR etc, 1989 movement in China, Thatcher and Reagan), if not even to regard 'decadence' as still a future period.

Link
lem

The quote you used from Marx is an excellent one and i do not see a problem in the way you interpreted it.  If the ICC use the theory in one article to emphasise one aspect of decadence over another, I dont think that necessarily conflicts with other viewpoints.  We are all really generalising and simplifying events in order to be able to understand them 

For my personal benefit i have always thought the approach to use of credit as one main aspect that helped me grasp ascendance and decadence rather than the level of production forces which is rather too broad a thing.  Up to the Victorian age credit was something that you just didnt do; you only bought things if you had saved enough to have the cash up front.  For me this 'high ideal' is the healthy capitalist view to life and money and the highpoint of capitalist society.  Nowadays we cant hold to these 'high ideals' and credit is part of the normal way of life for individuals as well as industry.  For me this is a major indicator of the qualitative decline of capitalism.

As for my use of the word 'so', there was nothing to specific meant by it and  i think you could ignore it without changing my meaning 

Link
world market

Lbird, I guess this is how i would want to stress my sentence "The major nations were in place and they dominated the world even if others werent fully formed nation states with national markets".  The domination of the world is the key point that means there is a world capitalist market in place even if it is not total. In the early capitalist countries, the end of the period had been reached where they were developing their own internal national markets and their competition on a world market meant the onset of a period of imperialist policies.  That is the period of relative domination of the world market.

 As you say new economies are emerging now, and you could also look back at the emergence of the USA as a world power as see that as taking place within what i would call decadence.   I do not see this as a problem, just as events and phases within decadence.  Capitalism can never not grow or develop hence i have also emphasised the word 'relative' too.  Even though specific regions or industries can be identified that can be and have developed within decadence this does not change a view that capitalism had achieved a world domination by the start of the 20th century, for me anyway

I would say that since the start of the 20th century, Capitalism as a world system has been searching out new ways of responding to the economic difficulties it has to expand precisely because that world market is substantially in place. The results of this are things such as   world war and reconstruction periods, intensification of marketing systems, more efficient logistics and production techniques, intensification of the exploitation of workers, new materials technologies, new communications technologies and concerted exploitation of underdeveloped labour markets in the far east is one of those responses.

Hope that makes sense because I do agree it is all a relative judgement on how capitalism has progressed.  What i also find interesting is just how revolutionaries in the pre WW1 period were so sure that the period had changed and that the world was then in a period of wars and revolutions.  Ok they didnt call it decadence but they were understanding the same process and they must have had far less evidence to go on to make that judgement than we have now.

 

LBird
Judgements, theories, history and evidence

Link wrote:

Hope that makes sense because I do agree it is all a relative judgement on how capitalism has progressed.  What i also find interesting is just how revolutionaries in the pre WW1 period were so sure that the period had changed and that the world was then in a period of wars and revolutions.  Ok they didnt call it decadence but they were understanding the same process and they must have had far less evidence to go on to make that judgement than we have now.

Whilst I applaud your continuing attempts, Link, I'm afraid I still can't 'make sense' of the theory.

As you say, it's 'all a relative judgement', and my judgement is that the 'revolutionaries in the pre WW1 period' were entirely wrong, and that that error of judgement is continued with the 'theory of decadence', today.

You're right about one thing, though, they did have 'far less evidence to go on...than we have now'. But the upshot of all the later evidence seems to be proving them wrong then (whatever its name), and 'decadence' wrong now.

Pierre
Re: cats

MH wrote:
instead of posting spam cat cartoons why don’t you raise them here, and let’s have a real  debate.
Pierre
The rigid discipline of an RO
baboon
I agree with MH about the

I agree with MH about the surprising lack of any feasable alternative to the concept of captialist decadence on the libcom thread. I also agree that this latter question is up for being defined more clearly and most certainly agree with him that the "anti-decadent" postions on libcom, when they are confronted, almost immediately default more or less to the position of the bourgeoisie that the capitalist system is the natural expression of what has been, is, and ever will be. With this framework there is no room, no perspective for any type of alternative to the present system.

 

'm finding Jamal's posts ever more nasty and spiteful. Not for the first time above he puts his own sordid actions onto others. He says that members of the ICC run off to other forums because they are frightened to put their views on here. But it was the hypocrit Jamal who went running to libcom, a site that he had previously slagged off, in order to get his own distorted views heard - and to have a dig at the ICC at the same time.

lem_
hey Link, thanks that's

hey Link, thanks that's reassuring.

thanks.

 

as to empirical failure, i'm well used to not caring abou ad hoc-ness etc. in what was in the 19th century called a "science". e.g. phenomenology does the same - it's not meant to compete with the claims of 21st century hypotheses, it's meant to rigorously make sense of them

lem_
i think that marxism is more

i think that marxism is more a psychological science than a sociological one... that it's wrong to claim that there are increasingly more virulent crises in the economy, but that they are becoming uncreasingly disturbed.

phenomenology is about psychology.

 

potentially anyway - i think there has to room for philosophy, thought etc.

Alf
conduct unbecoming

Jamal, I think you are showing a real lack of respect for comrades on this forum. You are not engaging in a discussion; you are simply throwing insults around, as you are also beginning to do on the libcom thread on decadence, where you claim that the internal life of the ICC is like a madhouse. You even refer to libcom itself as "libcop", a term we don't accept, for all our criticims of the libcom collective's own behaviour over the Aufheben affair. Time to consider carefully where all this aggression and anger is taking you. 

lem_
I've seen it before, people

I've seen it before, people decide a site is unimportant and that they dislike something on someone on there... So calmly go about it.

I'm suggesting that it's not so much anger; it's... bad tho, I think it reflects badly on someone.

 

But jamal, you don't seem mean or malicious :-)

Amir1
to jamal

jamal goodbye and go.. where you com and please your live

Fred
reply to link's provocative statement

link wrote:
After a century of decadence, society has experienced not only the wars but massive industrial development, massive technological development, massive social change, massive changes in daily life, living standards, cultures.  It is understandable hard to persuade anyone that these changes are signs of collapse/decline etc.
 

Why would it be hard to persuade anyone that the two world wars weren't signs of collapse, or at least signs that all wasn't well with the world?  As to "massive social change, massive changes in daily life, living standards, cultures" that they are all "massive" doesn't have to mean they are  desirable or beneficial. There's  been a massive increase in world population, not necessarily good,  but increases too in famines, and the cost and availability of decent food. The world population increase means millions of people in what used to be called the Third World now live in mega-cities in appalling conditions of unsanitary overcrowding, with lack of adequate health care provision, education and security.  Not to mention the misery of it all.  There has been massive technological development, which, released from capitalism's constraints could start to point  humanity in the direction of freedom,  but because of capitalist relations of production it really only serves the interests of of those wealthy enough to buy it, together with  the leisure time needed to enjoy it. What use would an iPad be in a Phillipine slum other than to sell it cheap for food or medicine?  And have  there truly been improving changes in daily life and living standards compared say to life in for example 1955?  In the West were not the fifties and sixties times of full-employment, easily available health care including dentists, higher education available to all but the poorest folk, with cheap and easy uncrowded travel on roads  and railway systems?  Bliss was it in that temporary dawn to be alive - though in fact it was all the most stultifying and boring existence ever yet invented. (I doubt the bourgeoisie would  agree with this however.)  So I think measuring decadence is not as easy as it seems.  The quantities and advanced technological nature of commodities available for purchase on the market today  may seem stupendously mind-bogglingly wonderful compared to what was on sale in 1955 but are human beings any better off for it all?  Has the quality of human life improved hand-in-hand with the capitalist economy's unbounded success and miraculous achievements? Opponents of decadence on the libcom forum would easily dismiss this naive question, because to ask whether human beings are any better off is silly because how would you measure it?  You might try and "measure" it a bit in the realm of culture.  In which case the 20th century comes  off extremely badly in the realms of literature, painting and music in comparison with the 19th. "That's just your opinion," replies a critic, "and doesn't prove that capitalism was ascendant then but isn't now," though I think it does.  But it seems to me that measuring the presence or absence of growth, prosperity and happiness in a society on the rate of profit alone is not the only way of doing it. And even the rate of profit isn't doing so well these days, so what is to be done? 

slothjabber
World market

LBird wrote:
...

Thanks for that, sj!

It at least gives us a starting point for a discussion about 'decadence'.

So, what is it about the 'world market' of the mid-20th century, that makes it 'decadent', when compared with the (presumeably) 'minor market' of the mid-19th century?

Is the factor that determines 'decadence' one of 'extent' (but with still some room for a little expansion) or one of 'completedness' (end of expansionary phase)?

Or is it 'war competition' (market expansion by other means)?

 

It is not the world market that is decadent, but capitalism as a world system. In fact, it is decadent from the point that (there isn't really a 'point' as in 'on a Tuesday in March 1912' or whatever) that the world market is in place. Much as one is going downhill from the point where one has passed the crest of the hill, even if one might still be very high and the bottom a long way off.

 

I don't really think that war is 'market expansion' so much as 'market redivision'. The size of the pie remains the same (it may indeed get smaller as it is mushed and crumbled) but the people fighting over the portions increase or lose their share. So capitalism ddoesn't exapnd because of war, but German capitalism or US capitalism or Korean capitalism might. Equally Chinese or Brazilian or whoever else's capitalism might expand even without war, but this is at the expense of inductrial decline somewhere else. The pie isn't getting bigger; it's just the size of the slices that are changing.

 

So, yes, I think 'competedness' is the point. Once capitalism has completed the world market, created an international proletariat, developed international communications, we don't 'need' it any more. We can, at that point, regard the technological basis of socialist society as being complete.

 

Of course, it is possible for capitalism to 'expand' but only by commodifying more and more of our lives. It increases in 'depth' rather than extent.

 

LBird
Completedness?

slothjabber wrote:
So, yes, I think 'completedness' is the point.

Once again, sj, thanks for a succinct answer, which is what most comrades struggling to get a hang of 'decadence theory' need to get started.

But, once again, when I'm given an answer that I can understand (ie. not having to wade through pages of a dense text, which often contains even more unfamiliar concepts, and which only obfuscates any initial understanding of 'decadence'), I am able, not only to understand, but also to disagree.

I think that any theory that sees capitalism as 'complete' by '1914', in any sense whatsoever, is simply wrong. Everything else I know about history, ideology, states, nations, culture, economics, art, music, cinema, etc., etc., even wars, disagrees with that date as THE key turning point in our world.

As I've said before, if the key date was around 1980/90, I could possibly contemplate digging further into the 'dense texts' to deepen my understanding of the 'theory', to try to see if the 'theory' then has any merit, but since the 'theory of decadence' seems to fundamentally rely on '1914' as THE key date, I can't give it the basic credence required, to spend more time on it.

Put simply, in my opinion, capitalism wasn't 'completed' in 1914.

MH
Edit

Edit

Link
Fred I think you were

Fred I think you were basically agreeing with me  werent you.  Whatever physical developments in technology production, science etc that capitalism has been capable of and is still capable of, there is a conflict with its ability to provide a real quality of life for people.  As for your initial question as to why it would be hard to persuade anyone that capitalism is in decline, then you only have to look at lbirds contribution above. He is no different to the majority of the population who may be worried about what is happening to the world but dont see the current system as anything different to what ever happened in history.  ‘Markets, wars, work, slavery theft good people, bad people have always existed cos its human nature isn’t it’  goes the refrain.  It is the conventional view of the world and if you have an ahistorical view like that how can you have a view that capitalism is only a temporary system that have a period of growth and a period of decline just like any individual industry.

 

Lbird if you reread slothjabbers comments I think you will find he didn’t say capitalism is complete but that it had completed its historic role, but thats the thing you wont agree with; the idea that capitalism was a one point a new system that expanded and grew whereas today the conditions are qualitatively different. 

LBird
Periodisation can be rough

I think we might have crossed our wires, MH.

You wrote 1880/90, whereas I wrote 1980/90.

From what I've said, I'm even less likely to think that the late 19th century saw the 'completedness' of capitalism.

As to '3pm 4th August 1914', I specifically said that '1914' was only a mere date, not a 'defining moment or event', and gave the parameters from 1850 to1950, to allow the proponents of 'decadence theory' plenty of leeway to make their case.

So, to be clear once again, I think that any 'theory' that claims capitalism was complete as late as 1950 has no credence.

I'm inclined to think that any period of 'decadence' still lies in the future (and perhaps quite distant future ).

LBird
Mobile goalposts?

Link wrote:

Lbird if you reread slothjabbers comments I think you will find he didn’t say capitalism is complete but that it had completed its historic role, but thats the thing you wont agree with; the idea that capitalism was a one point a new system that expanded and grew whereas today the conditions are qualitatively different. 

But now you're changing what sj said. He didn't mention 'historic role', as far as I can remember.

This is a real problem with trying to get to grips with 'decadence theory': its explainers keep changing what they say, and so comrades attempting critical discussion are constantly side-tracked.

Furthermore, what is capitalism's 'historic role'?

If I was to accept the teleology implicit in that formulation, I'd include in that 'role' the production of mass proletarian class consciousness.

I think everyone would accept that this doesn't exist at present (and many, including me, would say that it never has, on the world scale necessary), so, once more regarding 'decadence', I don't think that any 'historic role' was 'completed' by '1914', either.

 

lem_
well LBird it depends on what

well LBird it depends on what you think complete means? exhausted, or still changing?

lem_
i'm not sure teleology is the

i'm not sure teleology is the right term: no-one says that the role of capitalism was its "purpose" or explains its existence by its "purpose", or claims that its role is its "purpose" rather than causal.

if one denies any reality to class cosnciosuness: then sure.

 

i find the anarchist objection to the idea of class consciosuenss, calling it pernicious etc. idea, quite baflfing. history - even the present - is littered with people with highly objectionable and materially dangerous ideas, and that they are right isnt really one of those.

slothjabber
world market - again

LBird wrote:

slothjabber wrote:
So, yes, I think 'completedness' is the point.

Once again, sj, thanks for a succinct answer, which is what most comrades struggling to get a hang of 'decadence theory' need to get started.

But, once again, when I'm given an answer that I can understand (ie. not having to wade through pages of a dense text, which often contains even more unfamiliar concepts, and which only obfuscates any initial understanding of 'decadence'), I am able, not only to understand, but also to disagree.

I think that any theory that sees capitalism as 'complete' by '1914', in any sense whatsoever, is simply wrong...

... Put simply, in my opinion, capitalism wasn't 'completed' in 1914.

 

As this discussion is currently going on on LibCom I somewhat forget which example I've given on which forum, so... stop me if you've heard this before.

 

1914 isn't the key date, not if we're looking at the development of the tendencies that the ICC calls 'decadence'. 1914 is the point where the tendencies are deemed to have definitively established themselves. If - and all I'm asking for at the moment is that you follow the train of thought, not accept the evidence that the train of thought is based on - WWI is proof that capitalism is decedent, then it seems to me that capitalism must have been approaching this state (the tendencies that the ICC sees as decadence must have been increasing) in the period before 1914. The SPGB formed in 1904 claiming that the material conditions for a socialist society were in place and the task of the working class was from that point to work towards the creation of a socialist society. Though the SPGB don't use the expression 'decadent' (in fact, they denegrate the term) they do use the word 'obsolete'. The idea however is the same - capitalism has reached then end of the period where its development can be thought to constitute an overall benefit to humanity and its continued existence can be instead seen as a hinderance to the development of a decent human community. I can't remember which of Pannekoek's texts express a similar conception in the years before WWI, I need to go back and re-read them, but the point here is the war was seen as providing incontrovertible evidence of an earlier-identified trend.

 

On that trend - it is not capitalism that is complete, it is as I said before:

 

slothjabber wrote:
...

Absent in 1850, present in 1950: the world market.

 

Allowing us to use 1914 as a marker: the fact that competition for the emerging world market led to WWI.

 

Do you think there was a world market in 1850? Was the economy of the world in 1850 the same as in 1950? Those of us that argue for decadence theory think the world market was complete by the early 20th. If you are looking for the idea of an 'historic mission' then this is it, at least in part. Capitalism 'needs' (in order to create the conditions for a proletarian revolution) to create a world proletariat and developed communications and productive technology, including a world market.

 

Do you think that WWI was not caused by the friction between established imperial powers (eg Britain, France, Austria) and capitalist 'late-comers' (eg Germany, Italy, Russia) attempting to either provoke or resist a new carve-up of global territory? If you think this is what happened, can you explain why this was necessary, if the world market wasn't complete until 1990? If you don't think this is what happened, can you explain what WWI was about? Can you explain what the Agadir Crisis and the Tangier Crisis, and even the Fashoda Incident, were about, if they weren't clashes between established and/or rising imperial powers over control of territory?

 

By the early 20th century, the majority of the globe had been assimilated into one or other of the imperial systems or blocs. The First World War marks the point where it becomes impossible to establish 'new' colonies: the only option is to take them from other imperial blocs.

 

Do you agree with the statement in the above paragraph?

LBird
Are the goalposts decadent, too?

I'm a bit confused, sj.

First, you say that '1914' is not a key date, and then give '1914' as a key date. The only thing that has changed is the issue which you argue that '1914' is key to.

I am genuinely trying to follow your 'train of thought' (over several posts), but this is yet another example of me attempting to use what I've been told previously about 'decadence' to criticise 'decadence', and then the goalposts being moved. Now, as far as I can tell, stressing '1914' is both a mistake on my part, but also valid on your part.

Regarding the SPGB, 'material conditions' and 'obsolete', I disagree with them, too, that socialism was possible in 1904, 1914, 1917, 1926, 1936 or even today.

Why? Simply, because a necessary 'condition' ('material' or otherwise) for socialism is mass proletarian class consciousness. That has never yet obtained in history, and clearly isn't present today, either.

I disagree with Pannekoek, too, on a number of issues.

Finally, I obviously agree with your details of history, but the issue is, 'what do those details mean?'.

That meaning is precisely what is at stake in the debate about 'decadence'.

lem_
hey i don't feel valued lol.

hey i don't feel valued lol.

slothjabber
meaning

LBird wrote:

I'm a bit confused, sj.

First, you say that '1914' is not a key date, and then give '1914' as a key date. The only thing that has changed is the issue which you argue that '1914' is key to...

slothjabber wrote:

1914 isn't the key date... 1914 is the point where the tendencies are deemed to have definitively established themselves... capitalism must have been approaching this state (the tendencies that the ICC sees as decadence must have been increasing) in the period before 1914. The SPGB formed in 1904 claiming that the material conditions for a socialist society were in place and the task of the working class was from that point to work towards the creation of a socialist society... capitalism has reached then end of the period where its development can be thought to constitute an overall benefit to humanity and its continued existence can be instead seen as a hinderance to the development of a decent human community. I can't remember which of Pannekoek's texts express a similar conception in the years before WWI, I need to go back and re-read them, but the point here is the war was seen as providing incontrovertible evidence of an earlier-identified trend...

Allowing us to use 1914 as a marker [which is what you asked for]: the fact that competition for the emerging world market led to WWI [meaning that this dynamic must have pre-existed WWI]...

...can you explain what WWI [1914] was about? Can you explain what the Agadir Crisis [1911] and the Tangier Crisis [1905], and even the Fashoda Incident [1898], were about...?

By the early 20th century, the majority of the globe had been assimilated into one or other of the imperial systems or blocs. The First World War marks the point [NB not 'is' the point] where it becomes impossible to establish 'new' colonies...

I don't think that you can show that I have given 1914 as a 'key date', nor do I think you can show that anything has 'changed'. If you want to quote either what has been changed, or where I say that 1914 is a key date, please do so.

The First World War does not 'cause' decadence. The First Wold War is the result of certain factors. Those factors must preceed the First World War.

You asked about what was different in 1950 from 1850, and what was the significance of 1914. I tried to explain that the difference was the division of the world between competing capitalist blocs which was complete in 1950 and not complete in 1850; and that the significance of the First World War was that it marked the point when that process had been completed. Not when it occurred or started. Was seen to be complete. In other words, decadence started before August 1914.

However, as decadence is not 'an event' but a combination of process and tendency (the formal domination of the entire world is not actually necessary, just the vast majority of it, because no emerging imperial nation was going to ride to its place in the sun on the back of establishing a single colony in Ethiopia) the 'point in time' is fuzzy. But WWI demonstrates that, by 1914 (not 'in 1914') imperial nations dominated the earth in a way that they did not 60 years earlier and that they still did 40 years later.

Put as simply as I can: in 1850, the majority of the world (in land area, or by population) was not dominated by capitalist states. In 1900, the majority of the world was dominated by capitalist states. This domination of the world (the defeat of feudalism, the creation of predominantly European empires, the creation of the world market) was complete by the early C20th; WWI is the signal that henceforward, any rising capitalist power needs to take colonies (militarily or economically) from another bloc/system, rather than creating their own colony.

 

LBird wrote:
...

I am genuinely trying to follow your 'train of thought' (over several posts), but this is yet another example of me attempting to use what I've been told previously about 'decadence' to criticise 'decadence', and then the goalposts being moved. Now, as far as I can tell, stressing '1914' is both a mistake on my part, but also valid on your part.

Regarding the SPGB, 'material conditions' and 'obsolete', I disagree with them, too, that socialism was possible in 1904, 1914, 1917, 1926, 1936 or even today...

 

I'm aware you disagree. What I'm trying to do is demonstrate that the date of 1914 is not as important as you seem to think. The point where the patient is pronounced dead is not the same as the time of death, or the point where the patient is too far gone to save, or the point where the patient becomes bedbound, or the point that the patient starts to feel a bit poorly, or the point where the patient contracts the virus. Analogy, however: capitalism isn't dead. Decadence is an acknowledgement that it has ceased to have a positve dynamic for humanity. The definitive marker' for this, the incontrovertible demonstration that capitalism no longer had the capacity to advance human happiness, was WWI.

 

LBird wrote:
...

Why? Simply, because a necessary 'condition' ('material' or otherwise) for socialism is mass proletarian class consciousness. That has never yet obtained in history, and clearly isn't present today, either.

I disagree with Pannekoek, too, on a number of issues...

 

I don't think anyon'e said that class consciousness (or lack of it) is not a factor. That 'material or otherwise' however is rather telling. To climb a ladder, you need a ladder, and the urge to climb. The urge to climb is of little use without a ladder. In this analogy (and that's all it is) capitalism made a ladder. We have to want to climb it (analogy, not 1:1 correspondence with reality).

The point is capitalism produced the material conditions - the development of transport infrastructure, mass communication, productive development, the world market, a global proletariat.

Capitalism will not mechanically 'produce' class consciousness. That's up to the working class (not socialist intellectuals, as I'm sure I don't have to remind you).

 

LBird wrote:
...

Finally, I obviously agree with your details of history, but the issue is, 'what do those details mean?'.

That meaning is precisely what is at stake in the debate about 'decadence'.

 

I thought we might check first whether there wasn't some underlying difference of opinion over the details. If you thought that WWI had different causes, there would be no reason why our discussions would have produced anything other than confusion.

So, we are in agreement that by the ealy 20th century, the majority of the world had been divided up into the colonies and spheres of influence of a variety of competing capitalist powers, and that the conflicts between these powers over these spheres of influence led to what we call WWI. Are we agreed that this is 'the same' as 1950 (ie there hasn't been a point post-1900 when the world has not been so divided), but that this is different to 1850, when the world was not divided in this way? In other words on the metric of the world market (which is what I referred to several days ago in this discussion) 1900=1950=2000, whereas, 1850 =/= 1900 etc?

LBird
Why go round the houses?

sj, I know that you're doing your best, and genuinely trying to help me.

But, can't you just give me an explanation of the 'theory of decadence'?

Please, comrade.

slothjabber
simplest

Because capitalism is in position where it has completed the world market, disposed of feudalism, created an international proletariat, and developed communications and productive technology, it is no longer a revolutionary social system; now, capitalism increasingly prevents the possibility of a socialist society, and develops increasing means to control society and ultimately destroy humanity.

LBird
Quick summary of my views

slothjabber wrote:

Because capitalism is in position where it has completed the world market, disposed of feudalism, created an international proletariat, and developed communications and productive technology, it is no longer a revolutionary social system; now, capitalism increasingly prevents the possibility of a socialist society, and develops increasing means to control society and ultimately destroy humanity.

Thanks once again, sj.

It seems to me that the two key points are (ignoring any dates):

1. Capitalism is no longer revolutionary;

2. Capitalism is now only destructive.

I think that these theses are still untrue today (and so clearly were in the past).

I think capitalism is still creative, in that it is both still revolutionising large areas of production in first and third worlds, and it still has the potential to push workers internationally to develop their consciousness and organisation.

If there is to be a period of 'decadence' (a theory that I'm still open to being persuaded about), then I think it is still in the future.

slothjabber
basis?

If you think that capitalism isn't decadent, then what is the economic basis for your theory of 'decadence-in-the-future'? What, economically, is likely to change for capitalism? If you are 'open' to being persuaded about decadence, then to me that has to mean you can only be open to being persuaded that it has been decadent for more than a century. There isn't, as far as I know, a 'theory of decadence' that starts in 1989 or 2008 or 2030.

What do you mean by 'revolutionising production'? I don't think anyone has said that capitalism doesn't do this. What I said was 'disposes of feudalism'. Do you think there are any feudal countries that capitalism is bringing into the 19th century? Do you think that capitalism has a positive developmental role? Are there, for example, national entities that should be supported or fractions of the bourgeoisie that shouldbe supported? The implications of 'capitalism is still revolutionary' to me are that you must think this is the case. If there is no revolutionary bourgeoisie, however, then there is no revolutionary capitalism either. Developing productive forces, certainly, but has that development moved from 'necessity' (ie necessary to develop the material bases of socialist society) to being 'unhealthy growth', like cancer?

 

lem_
i'm not being silly, i've

i'm not being silly, i've made pretty IMO sound arguments, mostly to try and convince LBIrd they're over-complicating things. these are ignored.

i guess i won't bother doing so again

LBird
End of the road, for this discussion, if not capitalism?

I can only answer with my opinions about the 'theory of decadence' based upon what you have told me, sj.

I don't agree that capitalism is any sort of 'spent force', or that it is only a 'destructive force'.

I think that it might become either of those in the future, perhaps sooner than is anticipated by me and others, but I don't think that it has yet, and certainly hadn't a century ago.

MH
deja vu?

LBird wrote:

I can only answer with my opinions about the 'theory of decadence' based upon what you have told me, sj.

That’s a little disingenuous isn’t it, considering we’ve been around the block with you on this at least once before? In 2013 you even managed to read part of the ICC’s decadence pamphlet. Why not do some more reading and then come back for a more informed discussion?

LBird August 20 2013 wrote:

My attempt to summarise ‘decadence theory’, based on ICC's statement, posted above:

‘Decadence’ is a ‘state of generalised crisis’.

Economically, social relations conflict with, and slow down, production.

And this slowing down affects and undermines the superstructure.

Immorality, irrationality and pessimism grow.

Ruling class internal disagreements develop.

Class struggles develop.

The state is strengthened by these developments.

In my opinion, the period from 1914 until today does not exhibit these characteristics which are said to constitute ‘decadence’.

There hasn’t been a hundred years of ‘generalised crisis’, production has clearly not slowed down, the 20th century has seen a great advance in all sorts of moral and rational questions, and could even be said to be characterised by ‘optimism’. There have certainly been periods of tremendous destruction, waste and barbarity, but to say that these periods amount to ‘decadence’ is, in my opinion, to go too far. In terms of classes, the 20th century has clearly seen more unity within the world ruling class, even given its divisions, and communist consciousness has lessened, to the point where would see this as a product of capitalist development, not decadence.

If anyone doesn’t agree with my list, or my conclusions, be my guest, and post another list of what ‘decadence’ consists of, and we can discuss this further.

LBird
Time to question the theory itself, rather than comrades?

There's nothing 'disingenuous' from my point of view, MH.

I've based my answers on this thread, on what I've read on this thread.

The fact that you can produce something that I wrote two years ago, and that I'd forgotten about, but which echoes my answers now, makes me think that I've just about sussed 'decadence theory', and been consistent in my appreciation.

If you don't like my answers, think about changing the theory, rather than questioning the genuineness and sincerity of comrades' questions and motives.

slothjabber
don't agree with whom?

LBird wrote:

I can only answer with my opinions about the 'theory of decadence' based upon what you have told me, sj.

I don't agree that capitalism is any sort of 'spent force', or that it is only a 'destructive force'...

 

And who has said either of these things? I've said capitalism continues to grow, like a cancer. I have said that it continues to revolutionise the means of production, but that these are increasingly, not totally, geared towards threatening humanity with destruction.

So it looks like you're rejecting the theory on a characterisation of it that hasn't been made.

 

LBird wrote:
...

I think that it might become either of those in the future, perhaps sooner than is anticipated by me and others, but I don't think that it has yet, and certainly hadn't a century ago.

 

I doubt that will ever be a 'spent force' or 'only' destructive. I cannot see how it could be. So your 'anti-decadentism' is more eschatological than my 'decadentism'. And again, if no-one is claiming what you say we are now, nor are we claiming it for more than a century ago.

LBird
Still no clearer

Once more, sj, I'm lost by your last post.

I've repeated what you've said, in my words, but now you reject that explanation.

If my characterisation, of what I think that you've said, is wrong, then it shows how unclear your formulation is, to those trying to understand it.

slothjabber
your words and your meanings

You have used your words to describe your meanings. They aren't the meanings I gave you, so don't try to pin them on me. No-where did I say capitalism was a 'spent force' or 'only destructive'. You have changed the meaning of what I have said (probably, why you earlier claimed I had changed what I was saying, without providing any evidence).

When Humpty Dumpty speaks, he uses words however he wants. You, unlike Humpty Dumpty, do not have the tongue of an egg, but the ears (technically, the eyes, but never mind). You hear what you want to hear. You invent arguments other people have not made, in order to disagree with them.

If you think I said capitalism was a 'spent force' or 'only destructive', show where I said either of those things. If you don't think I said them, why claim I did, except to create a strawman?

LBird
Blaming the listener, rather than the transmitter

sj, if you can't stand someone saying that your explanations are unclear, you'll never learn to explain your ideas properly to other workers.

The upshot of this discussion is that, as far as I can tell (after asking its proponents to explain it), the theory of decadence is not a useful theory for workers.

If you're satisfied with the conclusion that you're being 'strawmanned', it's your loss.

As for me, I'm still not satisfied that 'decadence' has been explained to me, properly. But soon, perhaps, like many on LibCom, I'll be forced to the conclusion that it can't be explained, because it's nonesense, and that its proponents have no choice other than to blame other workers for having a critical turn of mind. That is, workers won't just accept garbled, unclear claims as 'true'.

slothjabber
Not sure you want explanations

I've attempted to explain the theory - very simply, as you asked - and yet, when you supposedly encapsulate it, it isn't what I've said. So I asked you to quote where I've said that capitalism is a 'spent force' or 'only destructive', but you can't. That means, I think, that the encapsulation you gave was your creation rather than something I said. I don't think that's my fault.

However, I will try to explain it again, in a different way, if you wish. If, however, you want to declare that decadence is no use, because you make up what other people have said about it, that's up to you, but don't blame it on the rest of us.

LBird
Rethinking terms

slothjabber wrote:

I've attempted to explain the theory - very simply, as you asked - and yet, when you supposedly encapsulate it, it isn't what I've said. So I asked you to quote where I've said that capitalism is a 'spent force' or 'only destructive', but you can't. That means, I think, that the encapsulation you gave was your creation rather than something I said. I don't think that's my fault.

However, I will try to explain it again, in a different way, if you wish.

Rather than 'explain again', I'd prefer you to read your own post prior to my 'spent force' and 'only destructive' post, and try to understand why your words of explanation can be construed as I did.

I still stand by those terms, which explain better what you wrote.

If you don't mean 'spent force', then don't use words that mean that, and then feel that you're being 'strawmanned'.

I'm entitled to 'sum up' or 're-phrase', if only to clarify for you where you're leading others astray, with your current explanations.

You need to think through why I've chosen those terms; of course, if you really believe that I'm just doing all this to waste my time and yours, then there's nothing more to be said.

slothjabber
not my business

I don't have to prove you honest but mistaken, Lbird.

I'm happy that anyone reading the thread can understand what I wrote.

On the other hand, I don't think what you claim as a characterisation of what I wrote is accurate.

I know I'm honest, but I don't know I'm not an idiot. I don't think I am, but I might be too stupid to tell.

I don't know anything about you.

I think, on the whole, that if you want to make claims about what I said, it's up to you to justify them. I can just say what you wrote isn't true, and refer third parties to the thread. As I say, it's my judgement that the evidence in front of us backs up my contention not yours.

LBird
Honesty is not an issue

I think that you are genuinely trying to explain 'decadence' theory to me, sj. I don't doubt your honesty (or your Communist beliefs, which I share), and I don't think that you're an 'idiot'. On the contrary.

What I do think is that, on the surface, your explanation is poor; but it seems that all those who try to explain share this apparent inability to explain 'decadence'.

This is why I genuinely think that it's not some personal failing of yours, but a failure of the 'theory of decadence'.

I think you are trying to explain the inexplicable, and thus it's not related to any moral failings on your part.

Put simply, it's a political disagreement, rooted in philosophical differences, I suspect.

As you conclude, it's up to 'third parties' and their judgement. If they now have a clear understanding of 'decadence', then your explanations have worked for them, if not for me.

After all, that's your basic purpose: to explain the theory of decadence to as many workers as possible.

This worker just doesn't agree with it, given what I've read.

 

slothjabber
Agreement isn't the issue

In the end I don't really care if you agree or not with decadence as the ICC expresses it, or as I've tried to explain it to you. It doesn't much matter in the long run. Either the working class will start struggling more massively against capuitalism or it won't. This forum and the understanding and opinions of people on it is not, in the long run, the crucial deciding factor in whether or not the working class revolts against capitalism.

What I do care about is that you claim you disagree with the theory, but when you explain what you disagree with, it isn't decadence theory, it's something you've made up, which you are passing off as decadence theory.

 

LBird
Dodgy strategy

slothjabber wrote:

What I do care about is that you claim you disagree with the theory, but when you explain what you disagree with, it isn't decadence theory, it's something you've made up, which you are passing off as decadence theory.

I'm quite prepared to admit that I've 'made it up', but that's because can't make head nor tail of the 'explanations' offered by the proponents of the 'theory of decadence'.

When I try to summarise what I think is being said, the proponents get shirty, and say that's not it, but then go on to fail to explain, again and again.

If it was just me, I'd accept that I'm just a bit dim regarding this issue, but it's clear from other discussions, here and elsewhere, that I seem to be in a large majority.

This should be a concern to both you and the ICC, but apparently you'd rather blame those trying to understand. It's not a good strategy, comrades.

slothjabber
Fail to explain?

I've offered to try to explain things differently, but you've rejected the offer. Again, it looks like you are rejecting the theory on the basis that you have already decided to reject it, not because in itself there's anything wrong with it. You say you don't understand it. And? I don't understand economics, it doesn't mean I get my beans for free. Just because one doesn't understand something it doesn't mean one is free from its effects.

Do you accept that in 1850, many areas of the globe, and many people in the world, were not under the domination of capitalist states?

That seems to me a reasonable place to start.

 

LBird
End of the path? Certainly my tether

I'll tell you a 'reasonable place to start', sj.

Tell me the bloody 'theory', for god's sake.

It's your job to explain, the whole route, not mine to be led down the garden path, step by step.

LBird
Loaded question

slothjabber wrote:

Do you accept that in 1850, many areas of the globe, and many people in the world, were not under the domination of capitalist states?

The trouble with this, is that in 1950, the same can be said, depending upon one's theory of what 'capitalist states' means, and what 'domination' means.

I can answer both yes and no to your question, so I want to know where it will lead.

Sorry for my impatience, but there has to come a point where I give up trying.

 

slothjabber
Decide what you want

I'm still trying to provide this:

 

LBird wrote:

...

Could anyone (ICC or not) give a simple definition of 'decadence'?

By that, I mean some 'thing' (process, event, ideology, person, society, product, etc.) that was present (or absent) in, say, 1850, which was then absent (or present) in, say, 1950, and which allows us to regard 1914 (approximately) as the turning point for the emergence of 'decadence'.

Given what I consider to be very generous parameters about 'what IT is', can't someone explain, in a way that can then be easily passed on to other workers?...

 

The 'theory' is even simpler.

Capitalism has long passed the point where its existence is can reasonably be regarded as a benefit to humanity.

You are, of course, able to disagree with that. I don't.

LBird
Decadence, schmecadence

slothjabber wrote:

I'm still trying to provide this:

 

LBird wrote:

...

Could anyone (ICC or not) give a simple definition of 'decadence'?

By that, I mean some 'thing' (process, event, ideology, person, society, product, etc.) that was present (or absent) in, say, 1850, which was then absent (or present) in, say, 1950, and which allows us to regard 1914 (approximately) as the turning point for the emergence of 'decadence'.

Given what I consider to be very generous parameters about 'what IT is', can't someone explain, in a way that can then be easily passed on to other workers?...

 

The 'theory' is even simpler.

Capitalism has long passed the point where its existence is can reasonably be regarded as a benefit to humanity.

You are, of course, able to disagree with that. I don't.

Yeah, because I'm a working class person, who has heard personally from family members how much more terrible a worker's 'existence' was in the past (mum being hungry in the 30s, uncles conscripted to fight in the desert and Burma) and I've studied history, which only confirms these family and personal anecdotes (including paying for doctors, living in wet slums, boots from the police station, great grandfather dying in workhouse).

Ask any worker today in the UK if they think that 'capitalism' hasn't given them a better life, and would they prefer a return to pre-1914, and your 'theory' will be laughed out of the pub.

Now, as a Communist, am I aware of the terrible conditions and wars suffered by workers throughout the world today? Of course I am.

But, are the workers of the world conscious that there is a more beneficial way of producing their needs? Does the past seem to have been a period of progress, but which ended at the beginning of the 20th century?

Any 'theory' that is telling workers, in effect, that 'things used to be good, but now they're not', is going nowhere.

Put simply, capitalism is a 'double-edged sword', not 'decadent'.

You might not like or agree with my 'strawman' of your 'theory', but there you have my understanding of it.

jaycee
I think there are a few

I think there are a few things happening i this debate, the claim being made here and on libcom that 'decadence' is a 'vague and unclear theory' and unverifiable/unscientific has popped up more and more and i think this needs to be addressed.

Decadence is not one theory alone but is an idea with an extremely long history and one which has a lot of different aspects to it. The Marxist theory of decadence is an attempt to provide a 'scientific' anlysis of why/how societies decline. The fact that societies have a tendency to rise and fall is as old as civilization itself (although every particular civilization tends to view themselves as exepmt from this and eternal). Marxism locates the drive of this tendency to be found in social relations and their connection with the means of production and theirrelation to the society/culture as a whole.

There are different aspects to a societies 'rise' and 'fall'; some are to do with the health of that society in itself i.e. with Rome for example we see that there was a certain point at which the need for new lands/slaves became unsustainable/a drain on the civilization as a whole and at that point it can be said to be decadent i.e on a historical trajectory towards its eventual collapse which took a good few hundred years. We have only had one century of capitalist decadence and its hugely unlikely humanity/capitalism itself can stand another. This is the type of time-span and viewpoint which a theory of decadence needs i.e a truly historic perspective.

The other aspect of decadence is to do with progress. The self-satisfied, linear, technocentric view of progress which the bourgeosie had in the 19th century and the horrors of the 20th have almost discredited the very idea of progress but I don't think it can be simply discarded as an idea. Capitalism was always a horrible system and always committed unspeakable outrages, no serious thinker can dispute this; however as  new social formtion and a bearer of new ideas and practices capitalism was progressive for a while. The Rennaisance while in some ways a eurocentric idea was the birth of a new class with a new outlook which would go on to take over the world. It allowed for great steps forward, as did the enlightenment (again being a bourgeois phenomenon all these steps forward were also steps backward into greater alienation and all the typical bourgeois problems). The 19th century also allowed for great progress, mainly technological but social in terms of getting rid of Feudalism and laying the basis of communism. The 20th century starts at apoint when the capitalist power have reached global dominion and the pre-capitalist areas that exist are no longer at the heart of the system and therefore are of less importance in terms of capitalism being needed their in order to reach communism.

The idea that capitalim was necessary for communism to be reached was a central idea to Marx's view (even if it became mechanicaly applied and exagerated by some of his 'followers'). This can be called teleological but first of all that in itself is not an argument ginst it just another dogmatic swear word which too often passes for thinking these days; secondly as communists we want communism that in itself is a teleological position and that means the anti-decadentists have to answer the uetion 'was communism possible at any time?' if not was capitalim a necessary stage to pass through to get there? If the answer to these questions is yes then you do believe in some form of decadence theory.

Whatever progress in living standards which occurred in the 20th cenury (mainly as a result of WW2 and the reconstruction after it) that progress has not only ended but is now being clearly reversed. Also the economic/material well being of workers in that period (largely exagerated as well) should not be seperated from a lot of social declines, i.e loss of even elementry forms of community and even family. Also this raise in living standards was purely meant as a repressive/ reactionary ploy to maintain power and was in the main a response to the fear of communism; showing that the revolutionary urges of the early bourgeoisie had fully reached their limit. However this isn't really the point to focus on right now I don't think. A few good harvest in Feudal Europe in the 1500s woud not have meant feudalism was not a decadent social formation. 

The idea of constant crisis is a caricature of decadence, the kernal of truth in it is that just as Rome reched the limits of its expansive capabilities so too has capitalism and can only continue by destroying the plnet/humanity and eating its corrupting, cancerous way into every aspect of life. 

jaycee
I think there are a few

double post

LBird
Links between 'decadence' and 'possibility of communism'

jaycee wrote:

 the anti-decadentists have to answer the question 'was communism possible at any time?' if not was capitalim a necessary stage to pass through to get there? If the answer to these questions is yes then you do believe in some form of decadence theory.

No, communism was not 'possible at any time', because the international proletariat did not have the requisite class consciousness, both to critically oppose capitalism and to creatively build for communism.

jaycee wrote:

Whatever progress in living standards which occurred in the 20th cenury (mainly as a result of WW2 and the reconstruction after it) that progress has not only ended but is now being clearly reversed. 

So, there was 'progress' in the period after 1914 - and if it has now ended, this makes more sense in a 'theory of decadence' which focusses on 1980/90, as I suggested earlier.

These are separate issues ('decadence' itself, and its 'dating'), but it's clear to me that any 'dating' to c. 1914 undermines the 'theory' entirely.

slothjabber
Some actual agreement

LBird wrote:

...

Put simply, capitalism is a 'double-edged sword', not 'decadent'.

You might not like or agree with my 'strawman' of your 'theory', but there you have my understanding of it.

I agree. Capitalism is a double eged sword, and always has been. Capitalism has always had socially-positive and socially-negative effects. Decadence dodesn't say 'everything used to be good, now it is bad', it say that the spcecific conditions that were in place when capitalism was developing (from say 1500-1900) no longer apply. This means that the relationship between the 'edges' has changed. Because the 'positive' developmental effects of capitalism involved doing away with feudalism and brining the world into a single economic system - and that work is done - the negatives of environmental destruction and war that capitalism increasingly engenders outweigh the benefits.

 

 

LBird wrote:

...

Ask any worker today in the UK if they think that 'capitalism' hasn't given them a better life, and would they prefer a return to pre-1914, and your 'theory' will be laughed out of the pub.

Now, as a Communist, am I aware of the terrible conditions and wars suffered by workers throughout the world today? Of course I am...

 

But we're analysing capitalism as a world system, not just looking at the relatively-few places where it has managed to achieve some stability. Life for most in the UK may be better than it was in the 1930s (when capitalism was also decadent) but this doesn't mean that it's working for the benefit of humanity.

 

 

 

baboon
It's a refrain on libcom that

It's a refrain on libcom that "there's always been war and misery" or, at best, capitalism has always posed wars and misery. "Always wars and misery" thus equates to an argument that rejecfts capitalist decadence. Cerrtainly, since the beginnings of civilisation, there has been "wars and misery", rich against poor and oppressors over the oppressed. But the bourgeoisie, as a revolutionary class, said that all this was in the past and now was a new period where its capitalism was an overcoming of all the contradictions of humanity, an eternal and natural system that was for the good of all mankind. Communists at the time said we will go along with your reforms, but just you wait...

 

Despite the libcom anti-decadent arguments it's clear that the scale of warfare and misery in this period is far greater in scale than anything that's gone before and that is leaving out entirely the current downward trajectory and the very real threat posed to humanity by the continuation of capitalism. One of the less sophisticaed arguments on libcom against decadence was that the working class had washing machines ("white goods") but this is really the essence of the "capitalism is still progressive" argument shared by all the anti-decadence positions, i.e., people are "better off". Fred has dealt with this argument in some detial above in that we are "better off" in exchange for an increasing corruption in all our human relationships and Sloth points out above, that this "better off" only applies to pockets here and there at given times. And Jaycee makes the point that even where this "better off" partially exists, it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We are certainly living longer than we were a century ago but one of the central demands of the EU and the IMF over Greece is that Greeks are living too long and something must be done about that. This idea that the retired, the weak, the sick, the unemployed are a burden whose life should be cut short or made as miserable as possible is one that is shared by the whole bourgeoisie.

 

I've worked in a major advanced capitalist country for over fifty years on about average wages all my working life.  I have never, throughout that entire period, known a time that was free from worry, instability, unemployment, wage cuts, attacks on social and working conditions and general misery emanating from the system. And | live in one the most stable and richest capitalist countries in the world that has not known war directly but, as a major imperialist power, has exported its warfare all over the globe..

LBird
Swords - shiny and cutting twice, or rusty and snapping once?

From what slothjabber and baboon have just written, it still seems, to me, to fit better with a 'theory' of 'double-edged change', rather than 'decadence'. The latter over-emphasises 'one-edge'.

There would be no problem with 'double-edge' theory of stressing the 'destructive' sweep of one 'edge of the sword', and showing that we are now enduring such a 'sweep', and raising the question of why we workers have to endure this at all, but we can also retain a theoretical explanation for the other 'sweep' should the 'sword' turn, and (some) workers seem to benefit.

But... I suspect that the whole purpose of 'decadence' is to stress the 'finality' of this period, and the need for 'immediate action, now!', so 'join the party, quickly', etc.

Any 'theory' which leaves potential for (even short-lived) 'good times', during which the proletariat still has further time to muse, educate itself, think critically, and develop the necessary class consciousness, has less appeal to those who want 'action, now!', and who believe that they themselves already have the consciousness required.

To me, it's widespread, conscious, democratic organisation, or it's nothing to do with Communism. I see 'decadence' as 'shortcut-ism'.

slothjabber
So what are capitalism's good points?

Decadence is based on the belief that capitalism is more negative than positive for humanity in this period.

 

If you disagree with it, do you think capitalism is mostly good?

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