Decadence After 1968

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mhou
Decadence After 1968
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The published internal debates on the nature of the post-war boom were very interesting. The period following the end of the post-war boom saw a number of changes in the composition of the capitalist productive regime, of the proletariat, and a changing role for the state in the era of state capitalism. The 'emerging' nations, 'workshop nations': despite capital limiting its geographic expansion (the advanced countries) it integrated the rest of the world- but in the framework of decadence, how do we understand the movement of productive industry to highly concentrated areas in the periphery?

"Metropolitan capitalism, sinking under the weight of a productive apparatus which it can no longer make full use of, cannot tolerate the constitution in the colonies of new industrialized capitalist states capable of competing with it, as was the case with the old colonies like Canada, Austrailia and America. Imperialism stands against any developed industrialization, any economic emancipation, any national bourgeois revolution." - Bilan 1937

Alf
development in the 'peripheries'

This is a very important question. For many the industrial development of the 'peripheral' countries, especially China, is a refutation of decadence. I don't think it is, but this doesn't mean that there is an easy response to the question mhou poses, or that we can answer with pre-established schema. I don't have time right now to respond, but I will try to come back soon and hope that others will also contribute

ernie
A challenge

mhou poses a profound question for all those who defend the concept of decadence: how can we say capitalism is decadent when over the last 30 years we have seen the massive expansion of accumulation in China, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, etc. The industrial proletariat in the so-called peripheral countries in 1980 equalled that of the advanced countries, now there are twice as many industrial workers in these regions as in the advanced ones! Thus, during a period which we discribe as one of economic crisis we have seen the growth of the proletariat and massive expansion of certain economies. This is not simply a question of the moving of jobs from the advanced to poorer countries but of an actual growth of the industrial proletariat. However, this poses the question: if there has been this process of capitalist accumulation why is it that the central countries of capitalism have been entrapped in economic crisis? For example, Japan which is closest to China and which exports to and invests in China, has been stagnating for over a quater of a century. But even this is not so simple, German capitalism has done very well thank you out of exporting machinary, etc to China etc. Also to be taken into consideration is the policy of cheap credit pursued in the central countries especially the US in the 1990s and 2000s which feed the growth of China etc.

Robert Brenner, in his extremely interesting analysis of the world economy since WW2, says that all that has happened is that over the past 30 years is that more surplus productive capacity has been heaped on top of the already existing existing levels of over-capacity and that the prospect for capitalism is long-drawn out stagnation.

The main danger of marxists in this situation is to get caught up in the glare of the headlights of surface appearances and to lose a sense of the totality of capitalism. China may have grown but so has its war machine and the imperialist tensions in the region. Also whole areas of the world economy have been sudsumed in barbarism: Iraq, Congo, Afghanistan, increasing Pakistan, now Syria and potentially its neighbours, the Southern boarder of the world's major power is witness to a bloody barbaric "drugs" war that has left 60.000 dead in Northern Mexico.

For revolutionaries the question of decadence is not simply an economic phenomena but the decay and obsolence of the whole social system. For Lenin, Luxemburg etc Wold War One was the defining moment of capitalism's step over the threshold of decadence. War and militarism became a defining characteristic of decadence. Thus, despite the apparent growth after WW2, or since 68 what has marked capitalism has been wars, civil wars, barbarism and now increasing chaos. Along with this has gone the ever more totalitarian control of society by the capitalist state, which now seeks to control our lives from before birth to death.

 

mhou
Quote:For revolutionaries the

Quote:
For revolutionaries the question of decadence is not simply an economic phenomena but the decay and obsolence of the whole social system.

This is probably the most important point.

I agree that these developments do not refute decadence theory (neither the post-war boom or the post-crisis restructuring/recomposition). What strikes me about the Bilan quote is that post-1968 developments do not necessarily contradict what the Italian communist left theorized about the nature of capitalism: the 'path to modernity' of nations like China and Bangladesh and the history of capital development in the periphery does appear to be qualitatively different from that taken by nations like Japan and Germany a century earlier 

Alternative explanations for these developments in places like Brazil, India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc. have not been very compelling. Groups like Theorie Communiste who periodize capitalism on its formal to real subsumption of labor have been calling the post-1968/1973 period the 'second phase' of real subsumption; which seems false given Marx's description of that phenomenon as a process rather than a static phase (I don't know how capitalist society can transition from 'real subsumption of labor' to 'the real, real subsumption of labor').

Quote:
Robert Brenner, in his extremely interesting analysis of the world economy since WW2, says that all that has happened is that over the past 30 years is that more surplus productive capacity has been heaped on top of the already existing existing levels of over-capacity and that the prospect for capitalism is long-drawn out stagnation.

That does sound interesting, and largely in line with the description of capital's permanent crisis of overproduction (and sounds like a reasonable description of the enormous productive complex's concentrated in areas of India, China, etc.). It also fits the application of historical materialism to the experience and phenomenon of capitalism (decadence) which says that capitalism has not only created the possibility of a new society, but that the longer it exists as the dominant social system, more and more dire situations will befall humanity.

LBird
'Decadence', but which mode?

Alf wrote:
For many the industrial development of the 'peripheral' countries, especially China, is a refutation of decadence.

Couldn't it be argued that the decay is actually within a previous mode of production, not capitalism, so that what's decaying is a 'peasant' mode of production, rather than capitalism? That is, capitalism since 1914 has been continuing to expand, rather than enter a period of 'decadence'.

ernie wrote:
mhou poses a profound question for all those who defend the concept of decadence: how can we say capitalism is decadent when over the last 30 years we have seen the massive expansion of accumulation in China, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, etc. The industrial proletariat in the so-called peripheral countries in 1980 equalled that of the advanced countries, now there are twice as many industrial workers in these regions as in the advanced ones! Thus, during a period which we describe as one of economic crisis we have seen the growth of the proletariat and massive expansion of certain economies.
[my bold]

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that capitalism has even yet exhausted all of its development potential, no matter its concommitant destructive potential.

While the proletariat displays no (or very little indeed) inherent capacity to develop Communist ideas as a prelude to struggle, I think that capitalism will continue on its paradoxical path of creation/destruction.

baboon
I entirely agree with Ernie's

I entirely agree with Ernie's post. I don't see that China contradicts decadence but rather confirms it in that in a few short years it's gone from boom, on the basis of extremely cheap and pliable peasant labour, to almost bust. There have been estimates that say if pollution was taken into account, ie, put on the balance-sheet of the Chinese economy, there would be no real growth. The Chinese bourgeoisie still have to deal with an undefeated proletariat. And to Ernie's examples of imperialism, decay, devastation (never to be re-built devastation) and generalising chaos, I would add the growing ecological threat that capitalism poses to humanity.

LBird
Does 'pollution' equal 'anti-growth'?

baboon wrote:
There have been estimates that say if pollution was taken into account, ie, put on the balance-sheet of the Chinese economy, there would be no real growth.

But, by the same reasoning, couldn't the same have been said of the British economy in the 19th century?

If so, we could conclude that 'decadence' started in 1814, when 'real', labour-powered, capitalism was industrialised!

Alf
global ecology

The development of the British economy was filthy and polluting in the extreme, but it did not pose a threat to the entire planetary environment. 

The productive forces required for communism on a world scale already existed in 1917. if the revolution had been successful at that time, it would not have faced the huge difficulties at the ecological level which will be posed to a future revolution. 'Growth' since that period is symbolised, among other things,  by the vast megacities spreading like cancer across the planet, and which will make the abolition of the separation between town and country a much grater task in the future than it would have been at that time. 

mhou
That seems to be a key point

That seems to be a key point of disagreement between various explanations for periodising capitalism: whether or not communism was possible in 1917. Writings by people like Dauve say it wasn't; and only now that sprawl and proletarianization has become so dominating is it possible. I agree that the implications of these developments (Alf's description of 'urbanization'/ dense 'megacities' as a cancer on the planet) , when looked at from the crisis of capitalism since the turn of the 20th century to today and the productive capacity of all factories (capacities far greater than marketability and even greater than human need) suggest the entire system has been 'ripe' or pregnant with a new society for a long time.

KT
Long-winded thoughts on decadence

There are and have been many discussions, at different times and places, about the concept of the ascendence and decadence of class societies in general, and how this applies, if it applies, to capitalism in particular. These discussions, their conclusions, and the active defence and deepening of them are, IMHO, of the utmost importance because, I would argue, the entire current communist project stands or falls on the notion of decadence. Without decadence theory, why not support the Labour Party? Why not seek out the most progressive factions of the bourgeoisie? Why not chose between the Egyptian army or the Moslem Brotherhood? Or the US army and the Taliban? Why indeed, make a proletarian revolution at this point in history?

Anarchists may reply that it’s necessary because capitalism is shit (agreed): but that’s never been enough for Marxists. For them, for us, the question has always been: has capitalism, the current mode of production, truly exhausted its potential of developing the productive forces thereby laying the basis of communism? And the other side of that same coin: has the current way of organising society become a fetter on the further development of social reproduction: indeed, is it threatening this vital need of society to replicate, hone and improve its way of life and on the contrary, announcing a regression in the ability of humanity to maintain itself?

I’ve long been convinced about the notion of decadence and its application to the past 100 years of capitalist society. But those who formulated and defended this concept – either in 1917 or in the 1930s, or in the 70s and beyond (myself included) - were not perfect beings and were prisoners of their time and victims of that perennial Marxist ‘foible’ – over-eagerness or, in other words, a shortening of the historical perspective (immediatism is another word for it).

Look again at the quote from Bilan that Mhou reproduced:

"Metropolitan capitalism, sinking under the weight of a productive apparatus which it can no longer make full use of, cannot tolerate the constitution in the colonies of new industrialized capitalist states capable of competing with it, as was the case with the old colonies like Canada, Austrailia and America. Imperialism stands against any developed industrialization, any economic emancipation, any national bourgeois revolution." - Bilan 1937

Subsequent reality appears to contradict this statement. To be sure, it was written on the eve of the 2nd imperialist world war whose massive destruction in one sense verifies the claim. But it was nonetheless necessary for Bilan’s successors to explain why, how and under what precise circumstances (the weight of the dominant imperialism, the US, dismantling the previous empires of France, the Netherlands, the UK and others under the guise of ‘national independence’), countries like India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, etc, did indeed achieve a ‘national independence’ and a degree of development of the productive forces. In short, the concept of decadence remains, but how it unfolds in reality, and how communists explain this reality, undergoes change. Marxism would be a dead, fixed and fixated system if this were not the case.

Furthermore, consider this, from one of my favourite ICC texts, The Proletarian Struggle Under Decadence (International Review 23, 1980), I think - https://en.internationalism.org/ir/023_proletariat_under_decadence.html

In a section dealing with The Development of New Capitalist Units, the article says:

“The period of capitalist decadence is characterised by the impossibility of any new industrialised nations emerging. The countries which didn’t make up for lost time before World War I were subsequently doomed to stagnate in a state of total underdevelopment, or to remain chronically backward in relation to the countries at the top of the sandcastle. This has been the case with big nations like India or China, whose ‘national independence’ or even their so-called ‘revolution’ (read the setting up of a draconian form of state capitalism) didn’t allow them to break out of underdevelopment or destitution....”

Continuing by (correctly and presciently) arguing that even Russia, with slave labour and free factories from its WW2 conquests had failed to keep up with the development of its imperialist rivals in the west, this otherwise admirable article goes on:

“The impossibility of any new big capitalist units arising in this period is also expressed by the fact that the six biggest industrial powers today (USA, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Britain) were already at the top of the tree (even though in a different order) on the eve of the first world war.”

So before we continue with our loyal declarations that ‘decadence can explain all this’ (which it can), we have to acknowledge where certain applications of the theory have been contradicted by reality. Certainly India and China remain marked by ‘underdevelopment and a relative destitution’. However, the world of 2013 is not the same as that of 1947 or 1980 and it’s necessary to acknowledge and explain that – using the concept of decadence. – and admitting where, how and why we incorrectly employed the concept in the past.

I wish I could be as strident with my positive contributions as with any critique. However, as Mhou says, the ICC debates on the dynamics of the post-(2nd world) war reconstruction contained many riches which can aid us. And many articles since then have relativised and put into context the ‘growth’ of China, India, etc. Nonetheless, as Ernie says, if the ICC and other defenders of decadence are to gain a wider hearing today, we have to further explain this growth in the context of decadence (Incidentally Ernie, your statement that there has been an absolute increase in the number of productive proletarians in the past period needs to be expanded: an increase in relation to what? General world population, for example?)

So, some points:

a)      Why has it taken 100 years for a populous country like China to make a positive contribution (in purely quantitative terms) to world production? Surely this very delay is due to and proof of a violent blockage in the forces of production – a blockage attributable to the social relations of production? And this tardy, deformed ‘growth’ has been bought at the price of imperialist war, invasion, famine and mass internal conflict claiming millions upon millions of lives in India and China alone over the past 100 years...

b)      Just as the post-war reconstruction (1946-1967) was, in the final analysis, due to the heightened, ‘scientific’ exploitation of the proletariat coupled with an unprecedented explosion of debt,(a period which saw the US transform itself from the world’s richest country into the world’s most indebted) so the ability of global capital subsequently to ‘grow’ its appendages in India, China and elsewhere was due to a redoubled attack on the living conditions workers of the hitherto industrialised west and yet another qualitative and quantitative increase in global debt which, again as Ernie says, has up until 2007 been used to purchase the products of cheap labour emanating from countries like India and China. The consequences of this policy are still confounding the bourgeoisie today.

c)       We should highlight the catastrophic falls in the rate of growth of Brazil, India (where also inflation is a major problem) and China since 2007: the stimulus of the debt drug from 1990-2002 has worn off and the ensuing ‘Quantitative Easing’ of 2008 to the present can’t reverse this fall in growth.

mhou
Can the post-colonial

Quote:
Subsequent reality appears to contradict this statement. To be sure, it was written on the eve of the 2nd imperialist world war whose massive destruction in one sense verifies the claim. But it was nonetheless necessary for Bilan’s successors to explain why, how and under what precise circumstances (the weight of the dominant imperialism, the US, dismantling the previous empires of France, the Netherlands, the UK and others under the guise of ‘national independence’), countries like India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, etc, did indeed achieve a ‘national independence’ and a degree of development of the productive forces.

Can the post-colonial regimes, whether they became satellites of one imperialist bloc or the other, or joined the Non-Aligned movement, be said to be examples of 'national independence' equal to that achieved by the US, Canada and Austrailia? Development after 1968 in the periphery seems pretty intertwined with the phenomenon of the SEZ- 'invented' in China in the late '70s and spread to most nations of the post-colonial world. Rather than some kind of expropriation of foreign capital followed by substantial development of the national capital, the development exemplified by the SEZ merely creates more favorable conditions for foreign capital to be invested with fees and taxes paid to the state regime. Can factories, means of production, owned by European, Japanese and American capital but located in China, India, etc. be considered 'development of Chinese/Indian/Brazilian/etc. capital'? It seems more like the highly concentrated areas of French and British capital developed in Tsarist Russia at the turn of the century than the path of 'national independence' and national development like Canada, US, etc. The difference seems important to further clarifying why surface 'national independence' or industrialization in decadence differs from that of the bourgeois revolutions in the 19th century.

jk1921
I think, for me, decadence

I think, for me, decadence theory boils down to saying that no more "qualitative social development" can take place under captialist relations. In other words, if capitalism is in decadence, there should be no more formation of viable national capitals and no more qualitative development of the proletariat. Marx was pretty clear about this last point. This is in large part captialism's historical mission--to develop the working class. In this sense, decadence is not reducible to economic crisis theory, even if it is a large part of it. Decadence has to be understood in a more historical sense, as the objective inability of the capitalist system to act as a progressive force that is still capable of developing humanity's material and production forces in a qualitative, rather than a merely quantitative, way.

That said, the empirical issues raised by mhou are open to debate. What do they mean? Is the development of China, etc. "qualitative" or is is an example of "excess" quantitative development that actually expresses decadence?

 

jk1921
Crisis

LBird wrote:

Furthermore, I'm not convinced that capitalism has even yet exhausted all of its development potential, no matter its concommitant destructive potential.

While the proletariat displays no (or very little indeed) inherent capacity to develop Communist ideas as a prelude to struggle, I think that capitalism will continue on its paradoxical path of creation/destruction.

So what drives the proletariat to develop Communist ideas if it is not an economic crisis? Are you arguing that Communist ideas cause the economic crisis?

LBird
Surely consciousness is the most important 'productive force'?

Alf wrote:
The development of the British economy was filthy and polluting in the extreme, but it did not pose a threat to the entire planetary environment. 

The productive forces required for communism on a world scale already existed in 1917. if the revolution had been successful at that time, it would not have faced the huge difficulties at the ecological level which will be posed to a future revolution. 'Growth' since that period is symbolised, among other things,  by the vast megacities spreading like cancer across the planet, and which will make the abolition of the separation between town and country a much grater task in the future than it would have been at that time. 

But this scenario seems to point to the continued strength and power of capitalism, rather than its decadence. That is, capitalism is more destructive now than it was in the early 20th century. Not what I'd identify as 'decadence'.

Alf wrote:
The productive forces required for communism on a world scale already existed in 1917.

As I've said to you before, Alf, I regard 'class consciousness' as an objective requirement for communism, so I disagree with the notion that the 'productive forces already existed'.

Human consciousness of the necessity for communism didn't exist in 1914, and it won't in 2014, either. In that sense, the 'productive forces' are not yet ready.

LBird
Crisis, consciousness and necessity

jk1921 wrote:
LBird wrote:
Furthermore, I'm not convinced that capitalism has even yet exhausted all of its development potential, no matter its concommitant destructive potential.

While the proletariat displays no (or very little indeed) inherent capacity to develop Communist ideas as a prelude to struggle, I think that capitalism will continue on its paradoxical path of creation/destruction.

So what drives the proletariat to develop Communist ideas if it is not an economic crisis? Are you arguing that Communist ideas cause the economic crisis?

You're assuming that 'crisis' and 'consciousness' are positively linked, in some way, jk. That is, that either one leads to the other.

I think that it's just as justified to posit that 'crisis' leads to a destruction of 'consciousness', or that 'consciousness' is a product of human organisation and education during periods of 'growth'.

My position is that the proletariat has to develop itself, in all circumstances, good or bad. This 'development' must be a conscious act by the proletariat.

Demogorgon
The Communist International

The Communist International described their contemporary circumstances as the period of capitalism's internal breakdown. As other comrades have shown, decadence is not reducible to crisis theory. Of course, crisis theory is somewhat of a misnomer as crisis and accumulation are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.

Although the environment (and this can also include resource depletion) is an important aspect in determining the long-term viability of the capitalist system, this doesn't necessarily constitute an internal problem. That internal limit is surely constituted by the accumulation process and its social consequences.

These limits don't preclude (as Lenin pointed out) considerable growth in the "era of decay". The point is the character and consequences of this growth. Imperialism is one major consequence. During the Cold War, the ICC more-or-less held two positions on the "third world":

  • Firstly, that it was more or less impossible for any country to achieve "independence" from the bloc system and its major players. This was proven wrong to some extent by the rise of Iran, which we later acknowledged and attributed to the growing pressure of decomposition. The development of decomposition is, in fact, characterised primarily by the collapse of the bloc system, after all!
  • Secondly, that these newly constituted nation-states were, themselves, also imperialist. I see no evidence to falsify this and plenty of evidence to support it. China's growing global ambition is a case in point.

So half of our theory still stands on this point.

The second characteristic of growth since the beginning of the 20th Century has been the role of the state. At no point has it been possible for the state to step back from the industrial cycle. Indeed, nearly all modern politics revolves around the idea that the state can somehow solve economic crises - in the words of Clinton, it's the economy, stupid.

To be sure, state intervention has mutated remarkably since it first became conscious and systematically geared to combatting crisis (the panic of 1907 and the subsequent formation of the Fed is probably a useful watershed). We've had the strengthening of central banks and their incorporation into the state; Keynesian measures to manage demand; nationalisation and privatisation; monetarism (controlling inflation through the money supply); and the omnipresent use of taxation and subsidy to exert a level of central control over economic development (including wage levels). No doubt many more examples could be given.

The fact that growth still continues in itself should not be a surprise (although I think some economic frameworks are better able to explain it than others). The real question is how this growth is achieved and managed.

As for the necessity of crisis for the formation of communist consciousnes, I give you Marx: "Given this general prosperity, wherein the productive forces of bourgeois society arc developing as luxuriantly as it is possible for them to do within bourgeois relationships, a real revolution is out of the question. Such a revolution is possible only in periods when both of these factors — the modern forces of production and the bourgeois forms of production — come into opposition with each other. The various bickerings in which representatives of the individual factions of the continental party of Order presently engage and compromise each other, far from providing an occasion for revolution, are, on the contrary, possible only because the bases of relationships are momentarily so secure and — what the reactionaries do not know — so bourgeois. On this all the reactionary attempts to hold back bourgeois development will rebound just as much as will all the ethical indignation and all the enraptured proclamations of the democrats. A new revolution is only a consequence of a new crisis. The one, however, is as sure to come as the other." (all emphases in the original).

However, I think is something of a separate subject and should be discussed on its own thread.

 

 

LBird
Definition wanting of 'forces'?

Demogorgon wrote:
That internal limit is surely constituted by the accumulation process and its social consequences.
[my bold]

Surely 'social consequences' include 'class consciousness' of the proletariat? That is, we'll know when capitalism is reaching its 'limit' when communist consciousness starts to gain purchase within the working class.

Marx (from Demogorgons quote) wrote:
Such a revolution is possible only in periods when both of these factors — the modern forces of production and the bourgeois forms of production — come into opposition with each other.

Again, surely Marx is including here, within the 'forces of production', the competing forms of consciousness, proletarian and bourgeois? Or, we could say, support for 'communism' versus support for 'the market'.

I'm of the opinion that the vast majority of proletarians are still tied to the 'bourgeois forms of production'. That is, they want 'the market' to work for them as an individual, so that they can consume their 'justified' amount (and by that, I mean 'live properly', not 'shop-till-you-drop').

I agree with the ICC, as communists, that this will never 'work' for more than a minority, but I think pointing this out is an active educational task for communists, that 'consciousness' must be built by workers who become communists, rather than expecting either 'crisis' or 'decadence' to 'cause' consciousness.

But how? That's probably where we disagree most. I don't agree that 'struggle' in itself will lead to a communist consciousness. Mere 'struggle against' bosses can be hijacked by, for example, nationalism or Stalinism, into a 'struggle for' something that none of us would recognise as communism.

Demogorgon
LBird, I'm sorry, but I'm not

LBird, I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to get into this old debate with you again, still less on this thread. Start a new one if you wish to discuss it.

LBird
Can't 'decadence' withstand critical questioning?

Demogorgon wrote:
LBird, I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to get into this old debate with you again, still less on this thread. Start a new one if you wish to discuss it.

What 'old debate'?

I'm trying to understand the ICC's theory of 'decadence'.

If you are unable to give a clear account of the central premises of the theory, why be surprised when others try to explore what some of its underlying assumptions might be?

To get it back on track, why not just give a short list of the core ideas of 'decadence'? So far, the discussion has meandered between various accounts, which are not very clear at all.

But if you are still 'not willing', that's OK by me. Leave it to someone who is 'willing' to explain, because I'm keen to get to the heart of the theory.

But if you assume that 'consciousness' has no part to play in a discussion about 'decadence', you have to explain why this is so, rather than just ignore genuine questions.

If the ICC theory of 'decadence' does not refer in any way to issues of 'consciousness', just put that at the top of the list that I've asked for.

Demogorgon
Having spent a great deal of

Having spent a great deal of time attempting to answer your "genuine questions" in the past, I'm not willing to do so at present. This is because any effort to discuss any question with you ends up being about consciousness and organisation and then inevitably descends into you accusing us of being "Leninist" and then running off.

Other comrades are, of course, free to discuss with you but until I see signs of a genuine change of behaviour  on your part (which your last post does not provide) I have no wish to resume my supporting role in the LBird show.

In the meantime, if you're so keen to get to the heart of the theory of decadence, there are reams of material you can read. I suggest you start here: https://en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/decadence

Lots of supplementary material can be found on the Theory tab at the top of the page.

LBird
Religious tokenism?

KT wrote:
These discussions, their conclusions, and the active defence and deepening of them are, IMHO, of the utmost importance because, I would argue, the entire current communist project stands or falls on the notion of decadence. Without decadence theory, why not support the Labour Party? Why not seek out the most progressive factions of the bourgeoisie?
[my bold]

Perhaps this notion of the central importance of 'decadence' theory to the 'entire communist project' is why there has been some reluctance to address my critical questions.

Well, I disagree with KT, here. The reason we shouldn't 'support the Labour Party' or 'seek the progressive bourgeoisie' is simply that neither of these want to see a communist society. That is unrelated to issues of 'decadent' capitalism. Even if the theory is rejected, it doesn't lead to reformism.

Perhaps the 'theory of decadence' is merely providing an excuse for the failure of the proletariat to develop communist ideas. That is,  the theory implies, these ideas will inevitably come, even if we can't see any sign of them yet, because 'decadence' will drive the proletariat in that direction, eventually (and, it is also implied, soon).

I know Demogorgon (and perhaps others) don't like the direction that I'm trying to take this discussion, and that's fair enough an opinion, but I am trying to make a genuine critique of the the theory, rather than just 'dismissing' it out of hand.

I suppose I'm accusing the theory of being like a set of rosary beads, something to cling to in times of worry and distress.

LBird
Attack the questioner, rather than address the questions

Demogorgon wrote:
In the meantime, if you're so keen to get to the heart of the theory of decadence, there are reams of material you can read.

Why can't you summarise? Or just ignore me and my 'annoying' questions?

As to 'the LBird show', that says more about how you see your 'starring role' being undermined, than it does about my genuine, but critical, questioning of the theory of decadence.

LBird
Points for discussion

Perhaps these points might provide a basis for further discussion.

ICC wrote:

The manifestations of decadence

All these manifestations can be observed in the state of generalised crisis affecting the whole structure of social life.

1) At the economic level: (the infrastructure of a society).

Production increasingly comes into conflict with constraints which are none other than the social relations of production themselves. The rhythm of the development of the productive forces slows down, sometimes even stops altogether. Society undergoes economic crises the gravity and extent of which grow larger each time.

2) At the level of the superstructure:

Since in all societies, including the present one, material subsistence is the foremost social question, in the last instance it is always the relations of production which have determined the form and content of different social structures. When these relations are undermined, they must progressively involve in their downfall the whole edifice which is based upon them. When such a state of crisis develops at the economic level, all other areas of social life are necessarily affected.

It is here that we must look for the real roots of the famous 'crisis of civilisation'. The idealist vision of history loses itself in studies of 'the decline of moral standards', of the destructive or beneficial influence of this or that philosophy or religion; in short, it seeks in the domain of ideas, of contemporary modes of thought, the reasons for these crises. Without denying the important influence of ideas in the course of events, it is, nevertheless, certain that, as Marx said:

One does not judge an individual by the idea he has of himself. One does not judge an epoch of revolution according to the consciousness which it had of itself. This consciousness is explained rather by the contradictions of material life, by the conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production". (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy).

3) In the domain of ideology

The preservation of the system becomes a painful absurdity and gives less and less rationality to the ideology which justifies it. Ideology decomposes, the old moral values run down, artistic creativity stagnates or functions in opposition to the status quo, there is a development of obscurantism and philosophical pessimism.

4) In the domain of social relations

Decadence is manifested by:

a - The development of conflicts between the different factions of the ruling class. The conditions for extracting profit; and even its quantity, become more and more difficult to maintain; those property owners who want to assure their subsistence must do so at the expense of other members or fractions of their class, thereby abandoning all possibility of co-operation.

b - The development of struggles between antagonistic classes: the struggles of the exploited class which undergoes more and more misery because exploitation is pushed to the extreme by the exploiting class; the struggle of the class which is the bearer of the new society, (in past societies, this class has always been distinct from the exploited class), and which comes up against the forces of the old order.

5) In the political domain

Faced with this state of crisis, in which the ruling class is unable to ensure its political power in the same way as before, the apparatus of order, the State, the ultimate crystallisation of the interests of the old society, tends to become strengthened and to extend its jurisdiction to all areas of social life.

https://en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/decadence/ch2

jk1921
Decadence and Consciousness

LBird wrote:

You're assuming that 'crisis' and 'consciousness' are positively linked, in some way, jk. That is, that either one leads to the other.

Isn't that what Marx thought? Even if not in a purely mechanical way, the only way to develop a materialist theory of communist revolutionary consciousness is to link it to the objective economic crisis of capitalism?

LBird wrote:

I think that it's just as justified to posit that 'crisis' leads to a destruction of 'consciousness', or that 'consciousness' is a product of human organisation and education during periods of 'growth'.

This is true. An economic crisis (or some other objective crisis) does not constitute "sufficient" grounds for the development of communist consciousness in the proletariat, but it seems like it is necessary, otherwise you have no way to account for the development of communist ideas other than through some educative process. But this then leaves you with the burden of explaining why this process doesn't take place during "equilibrium" periods and why bourgeois ideas always prevail outside of moments of open struggle.

LBird wrote:

My position is that the proletariat has to develop itself, in all circumstances, good or bad. This 'development' must be a conscious act by the proletariat.

But you leave yourself no way to link this development to material circumstances. Its always taking place or it must always take place regardless of what captialist society is doing. If that is the case, what do we need Marxism for? And this brings us back to decadence. The growth of communist ideas within the proletariat is linked to the objective economic crisis of capitalism which attacks its living and working conditions moving it towards taking up the communist perspective. This was even true during the period of ascendance Paris Commune), but it is decadence which gives communist ideas a material reality as an expression of necessity for the continuation of human civilization.

LBird
Imperative or educational?

jk1921 wrote:
This is true. An economic crisis (or some other objective crisis) does not constitute "sufficient" grounds for the development of communist consciousness in the proletariat, but it seems like it is necessary, otherwise you have no way to account for the development of communist ideas other than through some educative process.

Yeah, I do think 'some educative process' is required, both outside of and during crises. I think, given a certain existing level of communist consciousness, that a following crisis can accelerate the widening of that consciousness, but I don't see it as 'objectively determined'. Without some existing consciousness, built up by 'educative processes' outside of crises, then a crisis will merely lead to destruction (civil war, famine, more ecological disasters,etc.). Crisis alone won't produce consciousness.

jk1921 wrote:
Its always taking place or it must always take place regardless of what captialist society is doing. If that is the case, what do we need Marxism for?

Yeah, I do think that 'it must always be taking place regardless', for at least a minority of workers, ie. communists. As to 'Marxism', I see his work as a critical body of thought, with a heuristic method, rather than a body of 'truths' which must be embraced to prove one's 'Marxist' credentials. I regard myself as a Marxist, in these terms, but I think many would beg to differ! I think Marx was wrong in many respects, as just reading his work at different points proves, because it is contradictory. This is to be expected from any body of work stretching over 40 years, and doesn't lessen his usefulness, in my opinion. But he is fallible.

jk1921 wrote:
And this brings us back to decadence.

Yeah, but just what is 'decadence'? I need to reread my posting above of the ICC's article, and formulate it into some 'bullet points', and ask some further questions.

One overarching point, though: does refusal to accept the theory of decadence entail a need to resign from the ICC? By that, I mean, is it a central 'dogma' of the organisation, which must be embraced for membership? Or are there members who are critical of it?

LBird
My opinion regarding decadence

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 ‘class conscious struggle’ has almost gone away. The state has indeed strengthened, but I 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.

Demogorgon
"In my opinion, the period

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

So the first fifty years of the 20th century, characterised by a sequence of the most brutal wars and economic crises humanity has ever known don't count as a "generalised crisis"?! Millions of human beings bombed and slaughtered and reduced to absolute penury ... I wonder what you think a generalised crisis does look like.

As for optimism, I don't know how old you are but I can remember growing up in the 80s worrying at the age of 10 that my family would be obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, then whether I'd ever have a job, etc.

As for more "unity in the world ruling class", perhaps you mean the bloc system which dominated the world for half a century, killed more people than the barbarous period before it, and threatened to reduce us all to radioactive cinders? Or the period since which has been characterised by a growing dislocation of international relations and the disintegration of entire nation states?

And let's not forget the endless parade of economic crises that have wracked the globe since the 70s.

The class struggle has not ceased at all. In fact, it's been stepped up ... the bourgeoisie has waged a ceaseless class war against the proletariat. The working class responded firstly with massive struggles but was not able to break the grip of the unions and the left. Proletarian resistance has weakened due to the long war of attrition which has ground it down, profound economic and social disolocation, the consecutive hammer blows it received during the 80s, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, and the general pervasive sense of despair that has grown up as society has begun to fall apart. But the bourgeoisie has used the opportunity to step up its attacks.

The development of the state has been in response to this never-ending parade of disasters, the express need to centralise control at all levels of society in order to prevent it falling into total ruin. State capitalism is not a choice for the bourgeoisie - it is an absolute necessity. But it also creates profound contradictions which the bourgeoisie is continually trying to escape. Hence the portions of the bourgeoisie (usually its right-wing) who are instinctively hostile to the state, even though they are as thoroughly addicted to it as the rest of the ruling class.

We only have to consider what would happen if the state attempted a genuine return to laissez-faire (i.e. an implosion of the economic edifice) to see how pervasive the need for the state is. Russia's "shock therapy", although far from a true example of laissez-faire, is rather instructive in that regard.

"I think Marx was wrong in many respects, as just reading his work at different points proves, because it is contradictory. This is to be expected from any body of work stretching over 40 years, and doesn't lessen his usefulness, in my opinion. But he is fallible."

Except the conception of decadence is absolutely core to Marx's entire conception of history. Without it, it's difficult to see what's left. So if he's wrong on this, he's more or less wrong about everything.

"One overarching point, though: does refusal to accept the theory of decadence entail a need to resign from the ICC? By that, I mean, is it a central 'dogma' of the organisation, which must be embraced for membership? Or are there members who are critical of it?"

Membership of the ICC is conditional on agreement with the platform and our statutes. The platform has the concept of decadence enshrined with it, so membership would be conditional on accepting it. That's not to say we all necessarily have exactly the same interpretation of decadence - there are certainly differences around the economic character of it, on which I happen to have a minority position. However, there is at least one member I know of it who, for a while, rejected the concept altogether and we didn't boot him out but discussed it with him - he's still in the organisation today and I believe he now agrees with decadence once again, although he has minority positions on other aspects of our politics.

LBird
Too lively a corpse for decay?

Demogorgon wrote:
So the first fifty years of the 20th century, characterised by a sequence of the most brutal wars and economic crises humanity has ever known don't count as a "generalised crisis"?! Millions of human beings bombed and slaughtered and reduced to absolute penury ... I wonder what you think a generalised crisis does look like.

Yes, even you state 'fifty years', but this period of 'decadence' is said to extend from 1914 until now. Unfortunately, periods of 'brutal wars', 'crises', 'slaughter' and 'penury' can be found with depressing regularity throughout history. And the first half of the twentieth century was not any 'special case' being worthy of a 'special theory'. You're expressing a valid opinion, which I disagree with, rather than proving the theory.

I'd say that a 'generalised crisis' of the type required by the theory of decadence would be unmistakable, even according to the ICC's points that I posted. Most people would be aware of it, but at present, not even most proletarians would recognise that we're in a 'generalised crisis'. And that's because, we're not.

I won't cover your other points in detail, not because they are not valid opinions (they are), but that I would answer them in a similar way to how I've answered your first point. That is, they are true as far as they go, but that you underplay opposing factors which counter them, and so the examples you give don't add up to a demonstration of the theory of decadence, in my opinion.

Demogorgon wrote:
Except the conception of decadence is absolutely core to Marx's entire conception of history. Without it, it's difficult to see what's left. So if he's wrong on this, he's more or less wrong about everything.

Even if this is true about the centrality of 'Marx's Decadence Theory' (and I don't agree, once more), it doesn't follow that we've been in this period since 1914. As to Marx's work, I wouldn't base its 'correctness' on any one theory. He's useful as a promoter of critical thought, who lived a long time ago and hasn't experienced many things we have, rather than a guru who can't be gainsaid.

Demogorgon wrote:
Membership of the ICC is conditional on agreement with the platform and our statutes. The platform has the concept of decadence enshrined with it, so membership would be conditional on accepting it.

Thanks for explaining this; I wasn't aware of it.

Now I understand a bit more the determination here to defend the theory.

However, I personally still think that its application to the whole period since 1914 is incorrect. It reminds me of Trotskyist theories about what would happen after WW2 and the nature of the Soviet Union, which were hung onto even when 'reality' obviously contradicted the 'theory'.

There wasn't a post-war economic collapse, the SU wasn't a "workers' state" of any sort, and the theory of decadence is inapplicable to a period of the tremendous expansion of capitalism. This is true in economic, political, ideological and cultural terms, right across the world.

Demogorgon
"Yes, even you state 'fifty

"Yes, even you state 'fifty years', but this period of 'decadence' is said to extend from 1914 until now. Unfortunately, periods of 'brutal wars', 'crises', 'slaughter' and 'penury' can be found with depressing regularity throughout history. And the first half of the twentieth century was not any 'special case' being worthy of a 'special theory'. You're expressing a valid opinion, which I disagree with, rather than proving the theory."

If you read my whole post, you'll see I talked about the period after the fifty years too. There are clearly phases within decadence itself, the result of the bourgeoisie adapting to new conditions and the progress of the historic crisis itself. Personally, I can see several distinct phases:

  • The "War of the World" (as Niall Ferguson put it) covering the period from early 20th up to the end of WW2, characterised by open crisis, revolutions and world wars.
  • The post-war reconstruction, characterised by economic boom in a few countries, massive state intervention, huge arms spending, and imperialist confrontations in the Far East
  • The new wave of crises that began in the 70s, accompanied by huge class struggles that rocked the weaker states. A counter-offensive in the 80s began to dampen these struggles and were accompanied by a renewal of military tensions
  • Decomposition: the collapse of the eastern bloc and subsequent disintegration of established military alliances around the globe. States fragment into successively smaller units, terrorist groups mushroom around nationalist and religious fanaticism, with many regions collapsing into open civil war. The world economy is wracked by a series of progressively more destabilising financial crises. The collapse of the USSR and weakening of the US allows the rise of China and the like, providing a new "multipolar" aspect to imperialist tensions.

Your response is, effectively, "that  there have always been wars". Next it'll be the "poor will always be with you". It's ahistorical nonsense and I find it incredible that a "Marxist" would make this argument. The question is why are there wars at certain historical points and why do certain modes of production produce certain types of wars.

As for the period of world wars, it's widely regarded even by bourgeois historians that WW1 was a watershed. It was a profound moment in world history! More importantly, the explosion of war had profound impact on our forebears in the 2nd International. It shattered Social Democracy and pushed it into the arms of the bourgeoisie!

"I'd say that a 'generalised crisis' of the type required by the theory of decadence would be unmistakable, even according to the ICC's points that I posted. Most people would be aware of it, but at present, not even most proletarians would recognise that we're in a 'generalised crisis'. And that's because, we're not."

Because you're misinterpreting what the theory predicts. You're looking for a one-shot apocalypse, similar to Pannekoek's rejection of the theory of the collapse of capitalism. What decadence describes is a series of catastrophes that rocks the basis of the social order and opens up two possibilities: the overthrow of that social order; or its decline into barbarism (and ultimate self-destruction). It doesn't preclude an occasional renaissance even if such periods have a markedly different character to those preceeding it (such as the post-war boom).

"Even if this is true about the centrality of 'Marx's Decadence Theory' (and I don't agree, once more), it doesn't follow that we've been in this period since 1914. As to Marx's work, I wouldn't base its 'correctness' on any one theory. He's useful as a promoter of critical thought, who lived a long time ago and hasn't experienced many things we have, rather than a guru who can't be gainsaid."

That was Marx's own opinion about his work, as discussed in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx is not a guru - in fact, the Communist Manifesto (which also describes the basic conception of the rise and fall of class society) gets it completely wrong when he basically says capitalism is already ripe for revolution. The point is not whether Marx offers us a complete theory (he doesn't) or whether he's right on every single point (he's not), but whether he offers us a method for understanding society.

"Now I understand a bit more the determination here to defend the theory."

Haha! Only a moment ago you were criticising me for not wanting to defend it! But, yes, it is only natural that a group or individual would want to defend their ideas.

"However, I personally still think that its application to the whole period since 1914 is incorrect. It reminds me of Trotskyist theories about what would happen after WW2 and the nature of the Soviet Union, which were hung onto even when 'reality' obviously contradicted the 'theory'."

Except that you haven't demonstrated that it's incorrect and have made no effort whatsoever to refute my characterisation of the period, still less to attack the actual theoretical development in our written materials. You just state you don't agree and that's it.

As for your implication that we're dogmatic, that's easily refuted by the fact that earlier I gave a key example of one our predictions that turned out to be wrong, i.e. the bloc system. In fact, our entire theory of decomposition is predicated on the acknowledgement that our previous analysis had been wrong or shortsighted in several regards. No doubt there will be aspects of that which will turn out to be wrong also or that need a more nuanced understanding but that's part of what we do.

"There wasn't a post-war economic collapse, the SU wasn't a "workers' state" of any sort, and the theory of decadence is inapplicable to a period of the tremendous expansion of capitalism. This is true in economic, political, ideological and cultural terms, right across the world."

What's this got to do with us? I really wish you'd stop projecting your previous experience with Trotskyists onto us and actually attack our positions. Our official theory (there is actually a debate about this in the organanisation which would take far too long to explain here) is one of a cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis. The post-war boom was part of the reconstruction phase following WW2. So decadence doesn't preclude the idea of growth at all, either for us or for the other Marxists who have employed the concept. Lenin, for example, talked about capitalism's period of decay also including powerful expansion in certain areas.

(Note: I do happen to think that there are problems in explaining that growth for Luxemburgist economics. I am in a minority in the ICC on this question. I have discussed this in detail on other threads and do not propose to discuss again here.)

In other words, we're back to the point I raised in my first post: the nature of growth in the decadent period and how it differs to the growth of previous periods. State capitalism as a universal tendency, imperialism and their joint impact on the accumulation cycle is the key point here. Capitalism can grow (and quite significantly) but the crisis tendency is now magnified and is expressed not just economically but also through war. Where war is not possible, it can mediate the crisis tendency with various economic mechanisms (via the state) but the functioning of these is increasingly aberrant as the current state of the world economy shows.

The fundamental question here is whether capitalism is still revolutionary. Are we still in the phase where, in Marx's words, "the bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part"? Or are we now at the point where "for many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule".

jk1921
I have to agree with Demo,

I have to agree with Demo, the issue is not whether decadence precludes "growth" in purely economic terms. It clearly doesn't. Its a question of the nature of the growth. Is it serving the development of human capacity and independence vis a vis nature or has it become a fetter to this goal? While Demo is right that decadence has traditionally been understood as a matter of capitalism's internal contradictions; the developing ecological crisis (what some have called capitalism's "second contradiction") seems to stand as pretty clear evidence that capitalism is now even in conflict with the continued existence of the bio-sphere itself. What is the bourgeoisie's solution to this problem? More and more it just sticks its head in the sand. If it were to admit that the continued growth of its system is running up against the limits of the capacity of the planet, it would effectively  put itself out of business.

On other levels we can see how capitalism, despite the fact that it continues to "grow" in some ways, has run up against the limits of its systemic internal logic. Some claim we are now living through something like another industrial revolution, the so-called "information revolution" based on the internet, digital technologies, etc. But what has this gotten us under captialism? More and more the technologies that are produced run up against the problem of valorization. The internet allows the distribution of knowledge in ways that were simply impossible before; yet the culture of the internet creates an increasing expectation that it all be available for free. Young people simply won't pay for music anymore, because they can get it outside of commodity relations on the internet (even if they still have to pay for internet access and their smartphones). There is a developing crisis of valorization afoot today that directly runs counter to the capitalist profit motive.

The point I am making here is that decadence is not just about crisis theory. Even when it has "grown" over the last century; this doesn't change the fact that it is still decadent from a qualitative point of view concerning the relationship between man and nature. Of course, neither does this mean that captialism escapes crises in decadence. On the contrary, there is a tendency for each new crises to progressively call the very foundations of the system itself into question. The growth in productive capacity directly and immediately tends to point beyond the law of value, even if it is still for the moment constrained by capitalist relations.

On Pannekoek and crisis theory: Although it is true that he rejected the idea of some kind of catastrophic collapse of capitalism as a one off event; he didn't reject economic crisis theory. In fact, he defended a rather Luxemburgian position on this in Workers' Councils. Moreover, he firmly accepted the Marxist premise that class consciousness flows from an attack on the proletariat's working and living conditions, not the other way around.

mhou
jk-Quote:I think, for me,

jk-

Quote:
I think, for me, decadence theory boils down to saying that no more "qualitative social development" can take place under captialist relations. In other words, if capitalism is in decadence, there should be no more formation of viable national capitals and no more qualitative development of the proletariat. Marx was pretty clear about this last point. This is in large part captialism's historical mission--to develop the working class. In this sense, decadence is not reducible to economic crisis theory, even if it is a large part of it.

How do we quantify the composition of the proletariat; 1968 vs 2013- can we trust data gathered and published by business groups and/or the state (without overrelying on them to produce analysis- or what Kolarov called "the fascization of facts" in the Stalinist party) to compare the 'size'/density/composition of the proletariat over time?

Quote:
"Decadence and open crises in capitalism in the twentieth century are phenomena which are linked together but distinct; not identical but interdependent."
- ICC, Crisis and Decadence

This statement from the ICC's decadence pamphlet makes a lot more sense after reading many of the responses here- particularly that growth is not an abstract aspect of capitalism but is as historically determined as other phenomenon (crisis, war).

Demogorgon
I think JK's point about

I think JK's point about music and the internet is a classic example of the contradiction between the social relations (expressed in the legal framework of copyright) and the development of the productive forces. I actually started a text on this a couple of years ago but never got anywhere with it.

I think I mention this in almost thread on the topic, but there is also the core question of the growth of fixed capital in the productive process and this relates to JK's point about the general crisis of valorisation.

Totally agree that decadence is not just about crisis theory. This is why I dislike the tendency we (the ICC anyway) have of talking about permanent crisis. It is true in some respects, but it also implies a permanent depression / recession and I think this is not only incorrect but also gives rise to misunderstandings. Anyway, that's something we can pursue later perhaps.

On the ecological crisis, I'm in two minds. It's certainly extremely significant in that it poses the question of the future of the planet. But I'm not sure it can rightly be regarded as a factor in capitalism's decadence per se, although that decadence clearly makes it more difficult if not impossible to overcome it. But that's a rather pedantic point when you can see the demolition of civilisation by climate change worryingly close on the horizon ...

Demogorgon
Oops, forgot Pannekoek! I was

Oops, forgot Pannekoek! I was thinking more about what he said in "The Theory of the Collapse of Capitalism", where he dismisses both Luxemburg and Grossman (and pretty much makes a hatchet job of the latter, in my opinion). Although in his closing comments he more or less concedes the point about a series of catastrophes leading to revolution.

d-man
labour party

There are also reformists who say that capitalism is in decadence. Perhaps they are inconsistent, but it does show that decadence theory (or rhetoric) in itself is not a guarantee of a revolutionary course. Take the 1931 manifesto of the Labour party:

"The Capitalist system has broken down even in those countries where its authority was thought to be most secure.

Its fails to give employment to many millions of willing workers.

Its accumulates vast stocks of commodities which it is unable to distribute.

To re-establish its position, it now demands from the unemployed and the wage-earner the surrender of their hard-won standard of life; and it seeks to force the Government of this country to restrict or abandon those social services which the Labour Party believes to be an essential condition of a democratic society."

"The Labour Party recognises that the present situation calls for bold and rapid actions. The decay of capitalist civilisation brooks no delay. Measures of Socialist reconstruction must be vigorously pressed forward. That is the task to which Labour will lay its hand."

 

"The Labour Party has no confidence in any attempt to bolster up a bankrupt Capitalism by a system of tariffs. Tariffs would artifically increase the cost of living. They would enrich private interests at the expense of the Nation."

baboon
Enviromental disaster

On the question of whether or not the unfolding ecological disaster is a factor in capitalism's decadence, then I would say that it was. But ecological destruction is by no means confined to capitalism - though, apart from a large asteroid - this system in its decay, has the means to finish humanity off completely; but ecological disaster has been a feature of civilisation throughout. If I can suggest this article I was commissared to write by the ICC a few years ago: "Understanding capitalisms' drive to destroy the environment. Review of 'A New Green History of the World' by Clive Ponting".

jk1921
A couple of points: 1.) I

A couple of points:

1.) I agree with Demo about the issue of "permanent crisis." I was going to bring this up, but he beat me to it. Is this one of the points, as KT aluded to above, where the ICC's historical take on decadence needs to be looked at again? There is some controversy on this point in Marxist academic economics. David McNally stands out as arguing that the growth of the bubble years cannot be written off as "fictional," even if it was based on debt or whatever. Many others see this period as an aberation from a general and permanent crisis of stagnation. Typically, during this period (from the end of the first Bush recession in 1992 to the collapse of the U.S. housing market in 2007), the ICC tended to claim that this "growth" was purely fictional, that the statistics were illusional, that crisis and austerity were around the corner, etc. Of course, eventually it was, but was this a bit like a broken clock being right twice a day or was the analysis fundamentally sound?

2.) I agree with Baboon on the link between the ecological crisis and decadence. I wonder if Demo's reticence to see it this way comes from a tendency to still see decadence as a predominantly economic phenomenon? Is there also a link between his criticisms of Luxemburg's economics (which many see as positing a crisis outside the accumulation process itself) and the hesistation to see ecological problems as part of decadence? Just a question.

3.) On mhou's question about how to operationalize "qualitative development" of the proletariat. That's a good question. I don't have a great anwer at the moment. Part of it is that I personally don't think I have a great handle on what's happening in China and elsewhere. My inclination is to say that whatever proletarian development is happening in China et. al. is cancelled out by the recomposition, decomposition, austerity against, or what have you of the proletariat in the old core countries, but obviously this is an oversimplification.

jk1921
Decadence and Politics

d-man wrote:

There are also reformists who say that capitalism is in decadence.

There are also plenty of right-wing romantics, fascists, neo-Nietscheans, etc. who think capitalism is "decadent." But they clearly do not understand it in the same way Marxists do. But, d-man is right, subscribing to a decadence theory is no guarantee of the right politics. Reformists might criticize captialism as decadent but they are really only posing one form of capitalism against another. Right?

jk1921
Commissared?

baboon wrote:

. If I can suggest this article I was commissared to write by the ICC a few years ago: "Understanding capitalisms' drive to destroy the environment. Review of 'A New Green History of the World' by Clive Ponting".

Were you "commissared" by the Paris Centre?

Seriously, I'll check out the article.

Demogorgon
"I agree with Baboon on the

"I agree with Baboon on the link between the ecological crisis and decadence. I wonder if Demo's reticence to see it this way comes from a tendency to still see decadence as a predominantly economic phenomenon? Is there also a link between his criticisms of Luxemburg's economics (which many see as positing a crisis outside the accumulation process itself) and the hesistation to see ecological problems as part of decadence? Just a question."

My point is that there's nothing particularly capitalist per se about environmental destruction and overuse and exhaustion of resources. These things constitute material limits that face all societies in one way or another. It's even conceivable that a communist society suffers from them at some point in the future. There's only a finite amount of rare earth metals for example, on which most of modern technology depends. Unless new resources can be found (off-planet, a modern alchemy, or similar) eventually they will run out.

If the revolution had been won in the 1920s, we still would have faced many of the current problems of today, simply because no-one really fully understood the implications of the dirty technology of the time. Of course, that recognition and an actual will to do something about it would have happened far more quickly and (perhaps) we wouldn't be facing the staggering crisis we have today ... but I think we would be  naive to imagine there wouldn't be a problem at all (not that anyone has actually said this so far, I should add).

Nonetheless, there is a particularly capitalist tonality to the crisis that we're facing today, in that the system holds back potential solutions to some of the problems facing it. As an example, breeder reactor technology was shelved in the 70s simply because it was more profitable to mine uranium. The technology will only become viable when uranium resources are depleted. No doubt many more examples can be given. This restriction on the development of the productive forces is a core component of decadence.

On the other hand, there may be genuine limits to technical possibilities. What if, for example, fusion power is simply not possible? Without it, or something similar, it is difficult to imagine a truly global information age.

This is one of the reasons that the environmental crisis generates largely inter-classist responses. It poses the question not just about this particular civilisation but any civilisation situated on an industrial or post-industrial basis. Conversely, even if you take the environmental crisis away capitalism will still be doomed.

LBird
A 'growing' decadence, perhaps?

Demogorgon wrote:
So decadence doesn't preclude the idea of growth at all...

ICC wrote:
1) At the economic level: (the infrastructure of a society).

Production increasingly comes into conflict with constraints which are none other than the social relations of production themselves. The rhythm of the development of the productive forces slows down, sometimes even stops altogether. Society undergoes economic crises the gravity and extent of which grow larger each time.

Well, the ICC theory of decadence mentions 'constraints', 'slows down', 'stops altogether' and 'larger crises', but no mention of 'growth'.

It's not surprising that other communists have a difficult time making sense of what the 'theory' actually is.

I suspect that the reason for the omission of 'growth' in official statements, is if you mention 'growth/crisis', it would seem very much like 'boom/bust'. That is, the normal operation of capitalism, rather than a special phase termed 'decadence'.

I think that the roots of the 'theory' are elsewhere, as I pointed out earlier, and have more to do with 'organisational dynamics', rather than 'analysis of capitalism'.

jk1921
Boom and Bust

LBird wrote:

I think that the roots of the 'theory' are elsewhere, as I pointed out earlier, and have more to do with 'organisational dynamics', rather than 'analysis of capitalism'.

So for you decadence theory is more evidence of the organizational bankruptcy of the ICC? Is that some kind of group pscyhoanalysis you are practising there?

I think its pretty clear that decadence theory is much more than "boom and bust;" it' already been spelled out here in multiple posts that it is not the same as economic crisis theory--its about an historic change in the qualitative nature of captialist accumulation. Has the ICC tended to exagerrate certain economic features of decadence, such as the idea of a "permanent crisis"? Well, we can always discuss that specific aspect of it.

jk1921
Civilizational Crisis?

Demogorgon wrote:

On the other hand, there may be genuine limits to technical possibilities. What if, for example, fusion power is simply not possible? Without it, or something similar, it is difficult to imagine a truly global information age.

Can you explain that part a little bit more?

Demogorgon wrote:

This is one of the reasons that the environmental crisis generates largely inter-classist responses. It poses the question not just about this particular civilisation but any civilisation situated on an industrial or post-industrial basis. Conversely, even if you take the environmental crisis away capitalism will still be doomed.

Its pretty clear that struggling to protect the envrionment leads nowhere except back into the capitalist state, but this is true of any "partial struggle", right? Are you saying there is a crisis of industrial/post-industrial civilization itself that is different than the crisis of capitalism? Doesn't the idea that there would have been a "communist ecological crisis," presuppose certain things about communist society that might be contentious, like growth, accumulation, etc. Does this all raise the spectre of Malthus? What does Baboon think?

 

baboon
I think that

I think that despite L. Bird's assertion that the ICC's position on decadence is one of no growth, that this is contradicted by many positions./articles of the group: "Decadence: A total halt to the productive forces?" and "The turning point  of the 1914 war" are two such examples on this website.

I think that environmental devastation is not limited to capitalism, that protesting against such devastation can take place in a reformist/capitalist framework but that environmental disaster can't be "taken away" from capitalism and that this unfolding disaster can only be an aspect of decadent capitalism.

Demogorgon
"Well, the ICC theory of

"Well, the ICC theory of decadence mentions 'constraints', 'slows down', 'stops altogether' and 'larger crises', but no mention of 'growth'."

Baboon has already pointed out the chapter, but I'll quote directly: "From 1953 to 1969 the gross national product of the United States (calculated by volume and per inhabitant) multiplied by 1.4. Similarly the GNP in Italy and Germany multiplied by 2.1; the French GNP doubled, and the Japanese multiplied by 3.8. Where then is the 'decadence' of capitalism?"

We quite clearly mention growth. Indeed, we dedicate a whole chapter of our pamphlet to the issue.

"It's not surprising that other communists have a difficult time making sense of what the 'theory' actually is."

Especially when these communists don't bother to read what they're attacking.

"I suspect that the reason for the omission of 'growth' in official statements, is if you mention 'growth/crisis', it would seem very much like 'boom/bust'. That is, the normal operation of capitalism, rather than a special phase termed 'decadence'."

Given that the premise on which this statement is based has been shown to be false, your suspicions are unfounded. Moreover, you fail to engage even remotely with the discussion that has taken place about the mutation of the accumulation cycle in decadence.

"I think that the roots of the 'theory' are elsewhere, as I pointed out earlier, and have more to do with 'organisational dynamics', rather than 'analysis of capitalism'."

Well, decadence theory may have been demolished by this devastating critique, but I think my prediction about your conduct in debate is well on its way to being validated: "This is because any effort to discuss any question with you ends up being about consciousness and organisation and then inevitably descends into you accusing us of being "Leninist" and then running off."

I really with I'd stuck with my earlier resolution not to bother discussing with you, as it seems to have been an utter waste of my time - again.

jk1921
Function of Decadence Theory

LBird seems to suggest that decadence theory provides some sort of "organizational function" and is not a representation of empirical reality. What he fails to acknowledge is that some idea of decadence has been a fundamental part of Marxism since its inception. Its function is not to hold some group of revolutionaries together (A pretty amateur attempt at group psychology, which is really just another way of calling the organization a cult); its the key mechanism that distinguishes materialist Marxism from all other ethical, moralist versions of socialism. Its sets up the communist revolution as "Not just a nice idea, but a material necessity." Without the understanding that capitalism poses not the development of the productive forces, but the ultimate destruction of human civilization, there is no material reason to prefer revolution to reform. Communism no longer has the force of material necessity adn we are right back in the realm of neo-Kantian ethics.

Moreover, this is where decadence theory links up with consciousness and crisis theory. Without the notion that some kind of crisis pushes the working class to realize that it must as a matter of necessity  overthrow capitalism, there is no good reason to criticize it when it  (as someone above alluded to) votes Labour or Democrat. There is also no good explanation for where consciousness comes from. If there is no material force pushing the working class towards taking up the communist perspective; it can only come from a party of enlightened scientists (something LBird hates) or from some broad counter-hegemonic cultural and intellectual campaign within bourgeois society, something that is frankly impossible--whether it is LBird's "educative process" or some kind of Situationist inspired "cultural jamming" campaign. These kind of ideas ignore the tremendus power of bourgeois ideology during times of "equilibrium" or they are simply movements within the structures of the state itself.

KT
More 'decadent' thoughts promoted by the discussion

To the comrades who are in accord, to a greater or lesser degree, with the concept and reality of decadence:

I agree with Mhou, in response to my earlier post, that nation states developing under the tutelage of imperialist blocs hardly constitute vibrant new national units states a la Canada or Australia of the 19th century (even if the latter were the creation of colonialism – a slightly different beast) and thus Bilan’s observations (see the OP) and those in the 1980 ICC text I quoted earlier still retain a certain validity.

I don’t think the same applies to the more recent development of China, however. In this regard, I note Demogorgon’s valid point that this is, after all, the epoch of decomposition, the dissolution of blocs, so what else would we expect in an epoch of ‘every man for himself’ other than ... a certain development of nation states fighting for a place on the world market?

This doesn’t, to my mind, contradict the notion of decadence – it is the reality of decadence in our epoch! China illustrates this rather well (or odiously): the product of US and western political will and subsequent capital investment (it was, after all, the Nixon/Kissinger axis that handed the flailing, ailing Mao and ‘his’ starving, millions a ‘lifeline’ in the 1970s,) for 30 years China (and others) provided the outlet for the over-production of capital (hence the western investment Mhou talks about), cheap labour and return on profits while the west’s ever-deepening debt on a national and individual level provided the backbone of the “market” for China’s products.

And how has China ‘repaid’ world capitalism for this service?

a)      By becoming a fulcrum of internal instability, threatening global supply lines and “spooking the market” (along, in the last year, with the US’s repeated attempts to scale back ‘Quantitative Easing’ – ie: the printing of money, that Ponzi scheme of world trade). According to the historian Antony Beevor, (1) it’s: ‘the accelerating economic crisis in China which has terrifying possibilities for the leadership which is already on guard against the “tens of thousands” of “rural revolts”’.

b)      For Beevor (though not necessarily for us) it’s this threat of internal disintegration which is fuelling China’s push towards the South China Seas, the imperialist thrust which Beevor claims “fills the US Chief of Staff (Col) Martin Dempsey’s head when he wakes each morning.” Whatever this historian’s analysis, we all know that China’s thrust for global influence and raw materials has set it on a course of military expansion far beyond the South China Seas and has obliged is ‘benefactor’, America, to re-prioritize its main theatre of warfare to deal with this new ‘Oriental’ threat.

In short, in order to reproduce, capital has promoted a source of cheap production (China, though it’s not the only example) which has in turn been obliged to challenge the existing capitalist order by means of imperialist expansion: war! This is decadence: this is 1914, 100 years on! There’s nothing positive here for the development of the productive forces or the proletariat. On the contrary....

A response to LBird may follow.

(1)     Sandwiched in between some crap about UK age limits for the judiciary, and opinions about the latest boy band, BBC news radio flagship ‘Today’ on 21 August debated UK Foreign Secretary William Hague’s assertion that the crisis in Egypt was the most important factor so far of the 21st century, “surpassing that of the economic crisis.” One contributor agreed: amassing a frightening scenario. The other, Beevor, felt that the implosion/explosion of China was by far the greatest challenge to humanity in the coming years. You may be able to download this 5 minute segment right at the end of this link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b038hf8h/Today_21_08_2013/

Demogorgon
I'm working on a reply with

I'm working on a reply with regard to the emerging debate on the environment. However, I suggest we start a new thread for that which I will do if I manage to produce something coherent.

I think it would be good if we try and get back to the original point of the thread, which KT's post does an excellent job of reminding us of.

d-man
women and money

Was the increased female participation in the labour force already mentioned? In France eg the active population increased during 1968 to 2005 from 21.8 million to 27.6 million, women rising from 7.8 to 12.8 million (overwhelmingly accounting for the increase, male participation rose only from 13.9 to 14.8). 

Another significant phenomenon after 1968 is the end of the dollar convertibility into gold (this caused even a great deal of marxists to panickingly revise Marx, eg see Caffentzis).

jk1921
China and Decadence

KT wrote:

This doesn’t, to my mind, contradict the notion of decadence – it is the reality of decadence in our epoch! China illustrates this rather well (or odiously): the product of US and western political will and subsequent capital investment (it was, after all, the Nixon/Kissinger axis that handed the flailing, ailing Mao and ‘his’ starving, millions a ‘lifeline’ in the 1970s,) for 30 years China (and others) provided the outlet for the over-production of capital (hence the western investment Mhou talks about), cheap labour and return on profits while the west’s ever-deepening debt on a national and individual level provided the backbone of the “market” for China’s products.

OK, but why did US capital feel it was an acceptable risk to invest in China and not say sub-Saharan Africa? Or to put it another way, why did investment in China lead to the production of a new imperialist rival (so much to the point where it is now folk wisdom that China will overtake the U.S. as the global hegemon in the next quarter century), while most of Africa remains mired in "underdevelopment"? What was special about China? Was it simply a function of the US imperialist goal to create a bulwark against the USSR? Stll, if it is true that something like self-sustaining growth took off in China, doesn't this call into question the idea of "no new viable states" under decadence? Recall that China emerged from the period of ascendence as an emprire in decay, governed by competing warloads and victim of generalized imperialist domination. On the other hand, Germany has gone threw a period of state formation and capital development in the late nineteenth century under Prussian hegemony and as such was aready a viable national capital at the close of ascendance.

jk1921
Permanent Crisis

Demogorgon wrote:

I think it would be good if we try and get back to the original point of the thread, which KT's post does an excellent job of reminding us of.

 

How dare you attempt to get us to actually focus! What greater evidece of the cognitive dicatorship of the party could there be? 

I think it would be interesting to hear more about the issue of "permanent crisis" as an expression of decadence (or at least since the end of the post-war boom). Demo and I have some issues with this. What do others think?

A.Simpleton
It would seem

That even Bourgeois Political Economists profoundly agree with this systemic state of crisis reaching the 'point of shit hitting the fan' of 'general breakdown crisis of the entire planetary system' as La Rouche - citing Luxemburg's Accumulation Analyses - unequivocally states in these videos:

Part1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFLbgSdpFe8

Part2) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzwbF8q6O94

Part3) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOWPS1vSJzk 

They have no solution - or have yet to 'contrive' the appearance of one: but core analysis of the endemic permanent crisis and the apparent contradiction of 'growth and collapse' is - to me - virtually indistinguishable from the ICC's core analysis.

AS

A.Simpleton
NB. Bear in mind

That his vacuous Nationalistic patriotic scapegoating, which is preached in part 3 obviously has no place whatever here

For Internationalists and Marxists it is laughable.

The point of my post was simply to offer some history and definition which even Political Economy of the Bourgeoisie re-examines in its desperation to find somewhere to run.

Red Rosa and the communist revolutionary implications quickly - of course -disappear like smoke through a keyhole.

AS

baboon
agree and disagree

I agree with Demo about the importance of KT's post for this discussion and the need to follow this up. But this doesn't (ie, the discussion on decadence) preclude the question of the environment, particularly when a position is put forward that says that this latter is integral to the decadence of capitalism.

However I'm not averse to a separate thread on this specific issue in relation to decadence. My position is in the article that I referred to above and I know from reading these boards that there are other comrades in the ICC who defend a position that the environmental disaster of capitalism is essential to its decadence. Hopefully they will join the discussion.

KT
Interesting points from JK1921

Sorry this is rather rushed and ill-thought out – in any case I don’t have many/any answers to all the questions. In fact I’ve only got more questions, but....

JK1921 wrote: "OK, but why did US capital feel it was an acceptable risk to invest in China and not say sub-Saharan Africa?"

The short answer is: US capital invested in both. I could provide details but feel that this might derail things at this point.

JK wrote: "Why did investment in China lead to the production of a new imperialist rival?"

I don’t have a direct answer, but we know that US investment in Japan and Europe (after WW2) led to the re-emergence of direct economic rivals (the origins of the renewed crisis in the late 60s/early 70s) and a potential military rival in Germany. Perhaps both aspects (China today, Europe/Japan yesterday) illustrate that in decadence any attempt at accumulation eventually runs up against the fetters of antiquated social relations producing consequences the very opposite of those intended. (Or, to put the same thing in other terms: an accumulation of contradictions at a higher level).

JK wrote: “What was special about China? Was it simply a function of the US imperialist goal to create a bulwark against the USSR?”

Yes, IMO: I think it was primarily and initially a function of US imperialism – another example of how, in decadence, the military precedes the economic, as opposed to the situation in ascendance.

JK wrote: “Still, if it is true that something like self-sustaining growth took off in China, doesn't this call into question the idea of "no new viable states" under decadence?”

Well yes, I rather think it does (and tried to suggest as much above). However, I’m not sure “self-sustaining” growth was what we’ve seen in China: it was, as we’ve agreed above, the product of inter-imperialist antagonisms and, I would argue, funded by a qualitative leap in global debt. The ‘new proletarians’ created in the process have largely been allotted temporary, unsustainable posts in production while previous agricultural arrangements in the countryside have been shattered. So this (temporarily?) viable state born in decadence has undoubtedly grown and become an imperialist force in its own right (albeit one poorly armed in terms of weaponry and strategic influence in relation to the US). But it has done so not “in spite of” decadence but absolutely moulded by it and an active factor in the current and future destabilisation of capital’s political/military economy.

Rather like the USSR 1927-1989? Didn’t the capitalist world’s second most important military power and bloc leader fully emerge in decadence?

More ramblings to come... however re the 'ecological' question and decadence: I just can't see how the leakage of 300 tons of "highly radio-active water" from the stricken Fukishima plant in Japan this week is not a specific and illustrative product of capitalism's decay.

 

Demogorgon
I've started a new thread on

I've started a new thread on the environment with a response to JK. It's here.

Alf
China

Agree in particular with KT's post - China's growth should be compared. in historical and moral terms, to the glorious achievements of the USSR in the 1930s. 

There's no doubt that we vastly underestimated the capacity of Chinese capital to generate a whole new outbreak of industrialisation and to accede to a new rung on the imperialist ladder. Although during the Cold War period we did once or twice point out that China, because of its vast size and potential resources, might prove to be an exception to the rule that no new imperialist power could hope to take a place on the world arena without subordinating itself to an established power bloc. But at a more general level, we are guilty - though we have honourable precedents - of again failing to fully appreciate capital's capacity to survive even as its decay deepens.  

We are certainly faced with a challenging theoretical debate in seeking to explain the 'economics' of this phenomenon. 

But I don't think this will alter the judgement that China's growth is a catastrophe for humanity, to a degree that is not cancelled out by the creation of a huge new industrial proletariat

mhou
China: Luxemburg described

China: Luxemburg described quite well the processes of turning economically underdeveloped/'backward'/etc. regions of the Earth into suitable outlets for capitalist production: by establishing infrastructure and modernizing portions of such regions (19th century Chinese cities and ports) and thus laying the groundwork for capital development (and thus 'exhausting' pre-capitalist markets). Has 'industrialization' necessarily meant 'creating a viable capitalist power'? Many satellite states of the USSR in Eastern Europe were 'backward' and underdeveloped in a manner not unlike China- and like China, they initially attempted the Stalinist methods of accelerated industrial development (to varying degrees of success; like China). But the emergence of China as a power seems to take place 25 years after the entire country was taken over by the Stalinists, years after various 5 Year Plans, collectivizations, etc. were attempted: is it a matter of natural resources that separates what happened to China from Yugoslavia, or is it something else?

Crisanto
Timely and very important thread

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of WW 1.
A comprehensive review of the Decadence Theory is very much necessary.
Is the Theory correct? Is the reality confirmed the Theory?
Or the Theory is just a product of the idealism of the ICC?

Alf
China and Luxemburg

Mhou has posed a good question there - to what extent does China's development contain elements of Luxemburg's model of absorbing extra-capitalist markets and labour power, alongside the methods more typically associated with growth in decadence, such as debt and fictitious capital?

mikail firtinaci
2 Brief points about China

I just discovered this interesting debate. The same questions are puzzling me also. How to explain Chinese growth when the world is this deep in capitalist decadance? Two points I can add:

1- Chinese industrialization in general seems to have a peculiar characther. It does not seem to be expressing any advancement tech investment in relation to labor. Chinese industry seems to be using old, worn out technologies that are parasitically consuming the nature and labor reserve of the country without reproducing them. Examples might be found from both infra-structural and other investments. For instance building of huge dams, simply destroying cities and pushing the populations into cities w/o any prospectys. Or, recently even the Chinese state itself had to close down around 20.000 factories for the ecological damage they had done, and since they waste energy sources since they are too backward. So in a strange way, Chinese industry seems to be extracting suprlus value through over-exploitation of workers' time and conditions which resemble more to formal domination rather than the real domination. This looks like a regression itself.

2- In ascendance the capitalist development have severely undermined and destroyed the reproductive capacities of social relations it came in touch with: in Africa for instance, slavery abolished the African society -the dominant classes became in some cases slave traders undermining the social reproductive capacity of their society. Or in South America, the Spanish/Portugese expansion not only destroyed some very huge societies but also destroyed whole ecosystems (in Cuba for instance sugar plantations had destroyed the whole Cuban forests). However, today in comparison to the ascendance, the "capitalist development" in countries like China is destroying the social reproductive capacities in the central countries. So increase in employement and proletarianization in China means, unemployement in Europe/US, more temporary jobs, insecurity or almost permanent exclusion of some portion of population from the wage work - hence a massive lumpenization of the working class.

So I think generally speaking, capital is unable to develop the full capacity of technological advances in the field of production - unlike ascendance - simply because these require very minimal labor, a global planning and management of available resources and perhaps little or no return in profit especially in the immediate and middle term.

jk1921
Mikhail paints a very grim

Mikhail paints a very grim picture of Chinese "growth." From his description, it appears almost as if it puts proletarinization itself into question. China's growth is actually destroying the proletariat by lumpenizing it and combining the exploitation of wage labor with other forms of labor exploitation more common of pre-captialist periods.

Many scholars like to compare China to Russia in the 1920s and argue that the Chinese CP finally figured out, afte years of failed hardcore Stalinist policies, that something like Bukharin's vision of the NEP would be necessary in order to bring about self-sustaining economic take-off--state control of the "commanding heights," but the proliferation of small enterprises in the hopes of stimulating an internal market. I don't know how accurate a picture this is of the Chinese strategy.

A.Simpleton
An Article

I have reproduced the article (2012)  from the link below for ease of access, refutability etc.

Mikail writes :

' So in a strange way, Chinese industry seems to be extracting suprlus value through over-exploitation of workers' time and conditions which resemble more to formal domination rather than the real domination. This looks like a regression itself.'

It does indeed and is a 'peculiar characteristic'. But in response to Alf's reformulation of mhou 

'to what extent does China's development contain elements of Luxemburg's model of absorbing extra-capitalist markets and labour power, alongside the methods more typically associated with growth in decadence, such as debt and fictitious capital?

I would argue that it contains both elements and that the latter innately fetters the former - (perhaps sooner rather than later), because of KT's key point IMO :

 ,...'The ‘new proletarians’ created in the process have largely been allotted temporary, unsustainable posts in production while previous agricultural arrangements in the countryside have been shattered.

So this (temporarily?) viable state born in decadence has undoubtedly grown and become an imperialist force in its own right (albeit one poorly armed in terms of weaponry and strategic ​influence in relation to the US). But it has done so not “in spite of” decadence but absolutely moulded by it and an active factor in the current and future destabilisation of capital’s political/military economy.'

I would possibly take that 'temporarily' out of brackets. Does 'Chinese Capital' - if one can divorce such a thing from its Global conspirators - not have quantities of rotting speculative derivatives/futures similar to those that the 'in denial' Western States had looming in 2004/5/6/?

Internal infrastructure investment is a strategy for some on-going re-productive capacity jk: good posts: reflection required.

A huge new 'motor force' with no petrol to run on?

 

Social unrest in the economic powerhouse of Guangdong

Migrant workers in China have long been unhappy with their pay, inhumane treatment in factories and lack of equal education opportunities for their children. They are increasingly launching factory strikes and taking to the streets to protest.

Or clashing with locals as a group of migrant workers did on Tuesday in the town of Shaxi in the Guangdong province, which is known as the "world's factory floor."

Migration from the countryside has provided the cheap labor that has fueled China's economic boom. Today, more than half of the 14 million residents in Guangzhou are now migrants. And their numbers are swelling in other cities, too.

World's largest voluntary migration

The voluntary migration of workers in China - said to be the largest in human history - has not only created huge housing, healthcare and education obstacles for the big cities that have attracted them; it has also helped raise the expectations of those workers and their children who come from towns and villages where options are few.

Shanghai's migrant population, for instance, has soared from 9 million in 2000 to 23 million people in 2010. Migrants now account for nearly 60 percent of the city's 7.5 million young people between the ages of 20 to 35. And they want to live more comfortable and less monotonous lives than their parents - going shopping and to concerts rather than just digging the fields.

According to a survey of young textile workers in five Chinese provinces conducted by the Centre for Child-Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility, nearly half admitted their despair over the monotony of their work and career prospects, with few opportunities to learn new skills in their often repetitively physical jobs.

But young Chinese migrants share a problem with their rurally registered parents: the hukou, a household registration system designed to manage population movements.

For most migrant workers who come from rural areas, that's a huge problem; they must pay more for these services than locals but are prohibited from changing their rural hukou to an urban one

Also factories that are meant to help workers without local hukou registration often fail to purchase proper employee insurance - to keep their operating costs down.

The hukou system shows no signs of disappearing. That, together with rising living costs, tough working conditions, relatively low pay and general social discrimination, is a recipe for social conflict, admits Manyan Ng, a director with the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR).

Greater unrest

"Migrant worker unrest is a huge issue that could lead to greater unrest across all of China," Ng told DW. "The leadership of China is sitting on a volcano."

Ng argues that one of the reasons why the issue has yet to engulf China is that the various migrant worker demonstrations and clashes with the locals remain isolated and are "not connected." If the various movements should link, he said, they could become a powerful force.

Although Ng doubts the possibility of that happening easily under current Chinese leadership and its heavy "police-state hand," he points to a widening cleft between hard-liners and soft-liners in Beijing that could bring change down the road.

"The hard-liners will remain tough on the migrant issue but the soft-liners are very different," he said. "They're more pragmatic and appear more willing to reach out to the poorer rural regions by investing in infrastructure there.

http://www.dw.de/unhappy-migrant-workers-in-china-are-a-growing-problem/a-16053409

AS

Demogorgon
Very briefly: 1) It is

Very briefly:

1) It is certainly true that China began with a very primitive industrial base and its success was built on "superexploitation". However, that is changing. China is no longer just producing cheap plastic toys and clothes but high-end, high tech goods. It is one the largest markets and producers of telecommunications and PC technology. Massive science parks have been built with more on the way. This is not to say that the industrial base is not still marked by primitivism; or that the country is yet spending as much on innovation as the US or Japan but one should note that China is one of only three countries in human history that has sent human beings into space. It is quite clearly moving up the "value chain".

There are, undoubtedly, many crises waiting for the Chinese economy - it will be interesting to see, for example, if it gets caught up in the potential currency crises facing India, Brazil and other "emerging markets" - but it is not true to say that the growth in China is wholly fictional or just based on cheap labour.

2) On the question of proletarianisation, we too often compare conditions in the 3rd world to the post-war dispensation of stable, secure jobs that West began to enjoy in the post-war boom. Given that this dispensation has long been under attack it is probably more correct to see this type of employment as an aberration that capitalism cannot sustain, rather than the return to brutal, 19th century conditions. This is a global phenomenon and a confirmation that permanent reform is impossible in capitalist decadence (e.g. the western system of state + occupational pensions, which barely saw one complete cycle before the bourgeoisie realised they can't afford it and was limited in scope in any case).

3) On the question of capitalist development and extra-capitalist markets I think it is highly questionable that the Chinese peasantry proper provide any market of significant size, let alone one that would support Luxemburg's model. They do, however, provide a ready source of cheap and expendable labour which is very helpful to capital.

jk1921
Value Added

Demogorgon wrote:

Very briefly:

1) It is certainly true that China began with a very primitive industrial base and its success was built on "superexploitation". However, that is changing. China is no longer just producing cheap plastic toys and clothes but high-end, high tech goods. It is one the largest markets and producers of telecommunications and PC technology. Massive science parks have been built with more on the way. This is not to say that the industrial base is not still marked by primitivism; or that the country is yet spending as much on innovation as the US or Japan but one should note that China is one of only three countries in human history that has sent human beings into space. It is quite clearly moving up the "value chain".

There are, undoubtedly, many crises waiting for the Chinese economy - it will be interesting to see, for example, if it gets caught up in the potential currency crises facing India, Brazil and other "emerging markets" - but it is not true to say that the growth in China is wholly fictional or just based on cheap labour.

If you are right, It seems a real challenge not to see this as an issue for decadence theory. This of course leaves the question of how moving up the "value added ladder" was accomplished in China. What about the Bukharin model?

Demogorgon wrote:

2) On the question of proletarianisation, we too often compare conditions in the 3rd world to the post-war dispensation of stable, secure jobs that West began to enjoy in the post-war boom. Given that this dispensation has long been under attack it is probably more correct to see this type of employment as an aberration that capitalism cannot sustain, rather than the return to brutal, 19th century conditions. This is a global phenomenon and a confirmation that permanent reform is impossible in capitalist decadence (e.g. the western system of state + occupational pensions, which barely saw one complete cycle before the bourgeoisie realised they can't afford it and was limited in scope in any case).

It is interesting to note that the entire phenomenon of Fordism (or Keynsiano-Fordism) took place during the period we call decadence. It is is true that there is still a profound nostalgia for this period as some kind of "golden era" for the working class; but what you say about it lasting barely a generation is also very important.

Demogorgon wrote:

3) On the question of capitalist development and extra-capitalist markets I think it is highly questionable that the Chinese peasantry proper provide any market of significant size, let alone one that would support Luxemburg's model. They do, however, provide a ready source of cheap and expendable labour which is very helpful to capital.

I agree with you on this. If there were sufficient extra-captialist markets in China to support its emergence, then we are once again need to ask serious questions about decadence. Some migth argue that the U.S.'s rise to hegemony took place totally within the confines of decadence. This would be true. However, the difference with China is that the U.S. was already a major industrial power at the opening of decadence whereas China was a decaying backward empire.

baboon
hi-tech China

Jk's point about the economic and military growth of the US throughout decadence is an interesting one.

For some time now, decades, China has had nuclear weapons and the rocketry to deliver them across the world. I see its economic rise as a bubble, a very large and sophisticated bubble, but, like India, Brazil, etc., a bubble nevertheless. It is perfectly integrated into imperialism which is a major factor of decadence and to pursue its interests it will have to carve out and maintain areas of interest around and beyond its shores and borders. This is why the US has "pivoted" towards Asia and why we see the relatively stable imperialist blocs of China, Pakistan, North Korea (all nuclear-armed) on one side, and the US, the Australian countries, and Japan on the other.

 

Demogorgon
"If you are right, It seems a

"If you are right, It seems a real challenge not to see this as an issue for decadence theory. This of course leaves the question of how moving up the "value added ladder" was accomplished in China. What about the Bukharin model?"

I suppose it depends what you mean by an "issue". Unless we characterise decadence as "no growth" I don't really see it as any more of a challenge to the concept than the post-war boom was. Baboon has already characterised China's growth as a "bubble". I wouldn't use that term myself as I think "bubbles" are a quite specific phase of the accumulation cycle.

Nonetheless, technicalities aside, he's right to say Chinese growth is not a straightforward "win" for the system. Consider the imbalances that build up in the normal operation of the accumulation cycle, the overaccumulation of capital. Consider then the fact that, for all the ferocity of the crisis since 2008, there is still a massive overaccumulation of both real and fictitious capital in the world economy. Now consider that investment in China is still running at 49% of GDP! Ask yourself what sort of crisis would be needed to "heal" imbalances of that scale? What would be the social, economic and imperialist implications of such a crisis?

So we're kinda back to what I was saying to LBird. It's the nature of the accumulation cycle and the threat it poses to the system that's a key question here.

I'm not sure what you mean by the Bukharis model. I'm doing a little reading around the specifics of China's development but I'm nowhere near able to present anything coherent yet.

"It is interesting to note that the entire phenomenon of Fordism (or Keynsiano-Fordism) took place during the period we call decadence. It is is true that there is still a profound nostalgia for this period as some kind of "golden era" for the working class; but what you say about it lasting barely a generation is also very important."

Perhaps, but I think aspects of it (like the rise in wages for some workers) were simply part of the normal accumulation cycle. Marx pointed out that wages rose during powerful expansions. But, again, as with crisis, there is probably a quantity-quality issue to consider here.

"I agree with you on this."

Woohoo! It's so rare I hear those words from anyone these days!

"If there were sufficient extra-captialist markets in China to support its emergence, then we are once again need to ask serious questions about decadence."

Well, you know my objections to the Luxemburgists but to be fair to them, there are different schools of thought on this, at least in the ICC. Some think that ECMs have been exhausted and appeal to credit - as you know, I think this framework is fundamentally flawed. But others do argue that ECMs still exist; for them, decadence is the increasing contradictions brought about as capitalism approaches its absolute limits.

Of course, I don't agree with this perspective as I think it fails on both empirical (where are these markets, it sure as hell isn't the peasants who are in utter penury!) and theoretical grounds (i.e. Luxemburgs mistaken analysis of accumulation). But it doesn't necessarily make it impossible for a Luxemburgist to pose such an argument.

jk1921
A couple of points: China

A couple of points: China moving up the value added ladder would be an issue for decadence theory, simply because, as it has been construed in the ICC at least, such things are not supposed to happen. There should not be the emergence of any new powers capable of competing with the big boys on the economic or imperialist terrain. This then would require us to qualify China's development (notice the use of "development" rather than "growth") as in some way exceptional, i.e. the result of a debt fueled bubble, the consequence of austerity and recomposition in the core, etc. (Chomsky's famous remark when asked where was the American working class--"It's in China"). Still, even with these qualifiers it is still hard to account for real, tangible, development within the confines of decadence theory.  Statistical growth or one established major power overtaking another is one thing, the emergence of a completely new major power exhibiting the signs of self-sustaining economic take off is quite another. This, of course, assumes this is what is actually happening in China, which is an empirical issue.

Alf remarked above that the ICC has, on more than one occasion, been too quick to see the end as nigh for capitalism. What was it George W. said? "Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, can't get fooled again"? But perhaps it is simply the case that Pannekoek was right; there is no final collapse of captialism on the horizon. Even in decadence the system will keep chugging along, even as it experiences more profound crises. The real limits of this system will be reached when it runs up against either 1.) the barrier of all out war (the so-called uranium barrier) or 2.) the limits of the natural envrionment.

I can't help but wondering if all the concern shown by revolutioanries for finding the "internal" limits of captialism were not in some ways misplaced. As Demo has already remarked--nobody at the turn of the century appreciated the limits of the envrionement in the ecological sense and Luxemburg was almost alone in arguing that the system had geographic limits. I understand that there was a polemical need to establish that captialism was inherently limited by its internal logic faced with social democratic revisionism, but this doesn't make it accurate. Who would have thought in 1918 that less than one hundred years later capital would be running up against the limits of the biosphere? This must have seemed like an eternity at the time; a period in which the actually existing social movements seemed to mark some kind of internal limit to the system. Perhaps it is the case that captialism is prone to crises or as Robert Brenner calls it "turbulence," but that without some kind of external push, it will keep on keeping on?

Of course, this raises the issue of just what is an "internal" and what is an "external" barrier. If the US bourgeoisie stupidly refused to raise the debt ceiling and plunged the global economy into the abyss would this be an "internal" or an "external" event? Moreover, comrades seem to be makign a big issue about the potential for social unrest in China, something which--strictly speaking--can't be seen as internal to the accumulation process itself. Or can it?

 

Demogorgon
"There should not be the

"There should not be the emergence of any new powers capable of competing with the big boys on the economic or imperialist terrain."

I don't see why not. If this really is a problem it poses the question of the rise of the USSR.

The rise of China, as already discussed has not resulted in the amelioration of any of the key characteristics of decadence: imperialism; the growth of the state; the growth of a massive strata of unproductive rentiers within the ruling class; the massive push to the export of capital from the central countries; the increasing severity of the crisis tendency.

On the contrary - it is both utterly dependent on all these things and pushes them to even greater extremes.

"But perhaps it is simply the case that Pannekoek was right; there is no final collapse of captialism on the horizon. Even in decadence the system will keep chugging along, even as it experiences more profound crises."

But this misses the point about the nature of those crises, in particular, the growing tendency they have towards imperialist war and social implosion. For the moment, the threat of war has been held off by the working class and, more recently, by the difficulties in decomposition. But the tendency to social disintegration has been seen graphically in the Middle East, Central Africa, the Balkans, Russia, etc. In addition, the crises experienced in Russia, Argentina, in the late 90s & 00s, not to mention the more recent ones in Greece, Spain, etc. all rocked the state to their core. We saw even in the US in 2007/8 a real fear that the financial apparatus would simply fall apart with incalculable consequences as we've discussed before.

Even a whisper that the Fed may pull back some of the special measures has come close to triggering a new currency crisis throughout the BRICs. And the giant overaccumulation of capital as embodied in state debt hasn't even begun to be unwound! It is already clear that the development of capitalism (which cannot avoid ever growing crises) is profoundly unprogressive in any human terms - and these crises also seriously pose the breakdown of the system itself. In the end, all that a breakdown is, is a crisis where counter-tendencies finally become exhausted. The increasing toxicity of the crisis cycle surely poses that possibility.

"I can't help but wondering if all the concern shown by revolutioanries for finding the "internal" limits of captialism were not in some ways misplaced."

And yet how else can all these characteristics of decadence be explained? As Grossman remarked: "Under capitalism the entire mechanism of the productive process is ruled by the law of value, and just as its dynamic and tendencies are only comprehensible in terms of this law its final end, the breakdown, is likewise only explicable in terms of it."

Now, it may be that capitalism obliterates itself through war or through destabilising the biosphere. But the question that the mutated cockroaches that survive the holocaust will ask in a million years is why did the system have such a self-destructive impulse. Was it because those primates were just stupid (my cat would probably agree)? Are all societies condemned to a Malthusian doom? The answer lies exactly where Marx said it did ... in capitalism's internal mechanisms.

jk1921
I am still not convinced that

I am still not convinced that we can reconclie qualitiative, social, historical, development with decadence, particularly not in the world's most populous nation. If this is what happended in the USSR, then it would seem we have two problems not just one. This would seem to imply that captialism still has a progressive force about it, capable of still molding the world in its image. This would seem to violate Marx's much-cited dictum that no mode of production expires until all of the room for the development of the productive forces has been exhausted. Yes, it may be true that crises are getting worse, more destructive, etc. But captialism has always experienced these kinds of crises as a condition of its development--so-called "creative destruction." What's different now? Are we really living through the decomposition of the entire system or is it merely the end of U.S. hegemony? What level of analysis do we need to understand this?

I am not sure anymore if we have an emprical or a theoretical problem here, but there are very clear differences among the various posters above. For example, Baboon seems to suggest that Chinese growth is fictious, a kind of bubble that has no real depth to it; Mikhail poses the possibility that what is happening in China might not be entirtely captialist at all (If I understood it correctly), while Demo suggests that there is real social development taking place in China, but this isn't really a problem for decadence theory. There is still a lot to be worked out here it seems.

Fred
jk wrote: The real limits of

jk wrote:
 The real limits of this system will be reached when it runs up against either 1.) the barrier of all out war (the so-called uranium barrier) or 2.) the limits of the natural envrionment.

Or  3.) the revolutionary proletariat. 

Demogorgon
JK, I think you're falling

JK, I think you're falling into the same error as LBird. Decadence is fundamentally a conflict between the development of the productive forces and relations of production. This doesn't mean the productive forces stop developing (although it does mean this development faces barriers, some examples have already been given). It means that such development results in increased economic and social conflicts and convulsions that threaten to undermine the system. You yourself gave the example of the internet earlier. Clearly the existence of capitalism didn't stop the appearance of the internet but certain aspects of its potential (the global distribution of information, music, culture, etc.) are held back by bourgeois property relations. The development of the potential of the internet is expressed in "piracy", even to the point where political parties have been formed around the issue.

I'm not for a moment suggesting such parties, or internet piracy activists are radical in the sense that we understand the word, but if you read their manifestos they clearly show the problematic of trying to square the circle between bourgeois respectability and destroying the profit basis of the creative industries.

All the other phenomena I've outlined more-or-less express a similar problematic. The state, for example, tries to resolve the conflict between the need for economic planning with the anarchis results of the commodity form; capitalism's drive to globalise while simultaneously engendering the formation of rival nation states; and so on.

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