Decadence

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Zanthorus
Decadence
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Today I met and talked with two comrades from World Revolution. Meeting and discussing with militants of the Communist Left was a new experience for me, and I think the discussion was overwhelmingly positive.

While we were discussing, I was asked what I thought of the ICC, and if I had any particular criticisms. At the time I mentioned that some of the language and concepts the ICC uses in it's texts were not particularly helpful in terms of getting the message across.

After thinking it over, I think my main issue with the ICC is the concept of decadence.

To begin with, I'm not sure to what degree I would even say that capitalism is 'decadent', it is certainly a destructive social system, but it's always been that way. To me, the specific way in which the ICC uses this concept seems weak, and a hangover from the early days of the Communist International. But I'm still not familiar enough on the detail to make any definitive criticism.

The biggest issue is that the ICC uses this as a justification for all of it's theoretical positions, which I think is unnecessary. I think our positions can be explained better with reference to things like the continual failure of national liberation movements, the obvious empirical trend towards union integration into the state and such without using this concept.

Another point is that the Trotskyists also except that World War One saw the innauguration of the 'epoch of Imperialist decay', yet for them this doesn't lead to the positions of the Communist Left, but to their 'transitional programme' approach, where the struggle for various reformist demands is supposed to evolve into the struggle for political power. The ICC claims that the concept of decadence is essential to defending the positions it regards as class positions, but the Trotskyist groups obviously contradict this at some level.

I don't think this criticism is original, I saw the user 'maldoror' on Revleft bringing up the same point. But I think it is an important one.

 

devoration1
Interesting question. My take

Interesting question. My take would be to under-emphasize the similarity between the two concepts.

Whats called 'Decadence Theory' or 'The Theory Of Capitalist Decadence' etc is more than that. It isn't about just capitalism specifically, but all class based societies and specific modes of production. Following primitive communism, class societies were born, along with the next mode of production- the 'Asiatic' mode of production (village despotism), followed by slavery, feudalism then capitalism. Each of these modes of production experienced an ascendant (growing, expanding, progressive) period, then when the production relations became a fetter or 'block' on further growth, expansion, further social and economic 'progress', that mode of production then became decadent (in decline, inflaming social and economic problems, growing social and economic 'restlessness', etc)- then at some point during decadence, the next class and mode of production revolutionized the means of production and the cycle starts anew again.

This article discusses the historical materialist concept of historical class society and ascendant/decadent social and production relations further:

Decadence Of Capitalism (III: Ascent And Decline In Previous Modes Of Production):

https://en.internationalism.org/book/export/html/2622

The Trotskyist model does not have a coherent foundation analagous to the above with which to base their theory on. To them capitalism is not 'decadent', it is merely 'decaying' (such views skewed Trotsky and his followers ability to recognize shifts in the bourgeoisie and capitalisms ability to meet the new objective conditions of its existence through things like the tendency toward state capitalism for example, a tendency completely unnoticed by most Trots and generally regarded as 'real existing socialism'/'workers states'- and also led Trotsky to believe that the labor militarization in WWII would lead to another revolutionary wave following the end of the war that would annihilate capitalism).

To believe capitalism is 'decaying' is to believe it is 'on its last leg', that it will fall apart at any moment. Decadence recognizes that the inner contradictions of capitalism and the completion of its productive task (the completion of the world market and the creation of the possibilities for material abundance) have lead it to become 'senile' rather than 'decayed'- 'in the way' of future productive and social progress, poised to start breaking down in different ways, poised to lead to increased imperialist tension and ecologic destruction, etc.

Based on all of this, I don't think it's fair to compare the Trotskyist view of the capitalist epoch of decay with decadence theory. They are miles apart.

Sheldon
I think devoration1 hits all

I think devoration1 hits all the fundamental points of decadence and certainly summarizes my own understanding of it!  A special note on this point, however:

Op wrote:
I'm not sure to what degree I would even say that capitalism is 'decadent', it is certainly a destructive social system, but it's always been that way

I think a key part to understanding and distinguishing capitalist ascendance from capitalist decadence is not to fall into moral categories.  Just because a productive system is "ascending" does not mean that it is ethical or even a "good" system; simply that it can reproduce itself and resolve crises through its own mechanisms.  With the onset of decadence, capital could not longer resolve its crises through expansion--it had to turn in on itself and this was WWI.  The cycle of destruction, reconstruction, has not stopped since.

devoration1
Quote: I think a key part to

Quote:

I think a key part to understanding and distinguishing capitalist ascendance from capitalist decadence is not to fall into moral categories.  Just because a productive system is "ascending" does not mean that it is ethical or even a "good" system; simply that it can reproduce itself and resolve crises through its own mechanisms.  With the onset of decadence, capital could not longer resolve its crises through expansion--it had to turn in on itself and this was WWI.  The cycle of destruction, reconstruction, has not stopped since.

Definitely. I think everyone would say that even in their ascendant periods, Asiatic village despotism, slavery and feudalism were never 'moral' or 'ethical' modes of production. Aside from primitive communism and what will be socialism, every mode of production has been overwhelmingly barbaric, inhumane, violent, etc.

Alf
decay and decadence

This article also develops the point made by Devoration and Sheldon, ie that the 'theory of capitalist decadence' is no more than the application of Marx's historical method as outlined in the famous Preface to the Critique of Political Economy.  https://en.internationalism.org/ir/134/what-method-to-understand-decadence.

I think in effect that Lenin was heading in the same direction with the term 'decay' when he wrote about the question during the first world war. The latest article in the series (out in French but not English yet) will take up this point. Decay for Lenin didn't imply that capitalism was completely stagnant - he makes this point explicitly in Imperialism, the Highest Stage.... 

So I would tend to argue that 'decadence' and 'decay' mean the same thing. But perhaps there is something I haven't understood in what is being argued here. 

Demogorgon
Another point is what

Another point is what implications does the rejection of decadence have for how we interpret the history of the workers' movement. Let's consider the following facts:

 - Marx supported unions but today Left Communists reject them;

 - Marx supported certain national wars but today Left Communists reject all national wars.

Does this mean:

a) Marx was wrong on both these questions?

b) That something in the situation has changed and, if so, what?

It is possible, of course, that Marx could have been wrong. We do not consider him a prophet, so he is not beyond criticism. On the other hand, these (especially the question of war) are crucial questions that Left Communists today regard as class lines. They are precisely what separate us from the Trotskyists. Put simply, if Marx was defending those positions today we would regard him as a counter-revolutionary!

However, for the ICC we believe that Marx was broadly right to defend such positions in his time (without necessarily agreeing with every single statement he ever made, of course!). We think that there have been fundamental changes in capitalism that have made these previously valid tactics not only outmoded but also dangerous for the working class.

Zanthorus is, of course, quite right to say that you don't need a theoretical conception of decadence to work out that these political positions at an empirical level. The problem is that without  the theoretical framework of decadence, it is impossible to avoid falling into dogmatism. Without decadence, we are forced to conclude that either:

- Marx was wrong and therefore counter-revolutionary (and by extension this includes the 1st, 2nd, 3rd International). Essentially, this means discarding the entire workers' movement up to the appearance of the Lefts in the 20s.

- Marx was right and these tactics are fully applicable today, which is largely the position of the Trotskyists.

The Trotskyists use the authority of Lenin and Trotsky et al to back up their positions, but the simple fact is that the 3rd International, although it recognised decadence, was unable to fully draw its implications. What began as an understandable failure was quickly transformed into dogma as the fires of the revolution died.

Both positions are essentially the mirror image of the other. This is no accident, as both are the product of abandoning the historical materialism of Marx and its dynamic vision of society and replacing it with a static vision of "eternally valid" positions. (Of course, as pointed out in the OP, some Trotskyists talk about the "epoch of decay" but given that it seems to have no actual programmatic consequences for them it simply ends up becoming a strange artefact of theory left to be discussed by academics.)

The various Lefts, on the other hand, tried to maintain the marxist method.But it's important to remember - as we discussed on Saturday - that not even the Lefts were completely clear on everything. It took a long and painful process before they were able to fully abandon the outmoded conceptions of Social Democracy.

Zanthorus
Historical materialism

Alf wrote:
This article also develops the point made by Devoration and Sheldon, ie that the 'theory of capitalist decadence' is no more than the application of Marx's historical method as outlined in the famous Preface to the Critique of Political Economy.
 

I have read the ICC's articles on how the theory of decadence is supposedly at the heart of historical materialism, but I don't buy it. Marx lambasted political economists like Adam Smith for trying to take immanent tendencies and laws of one social system and applying them to another. His 'historical method' outlined in the critique of political economy refers to the "material conditions of life" which are summed up by Hegel in the term "civil society". But for Hegel "civil society" only refers to the modern capitalist market economy, Hegel's breakthrough in contrast to previous theorists of "civil society" wast to see it as an essentially modern institution, based on the thoroughly modern concept of subjective freedom. Marx himself affirms in The German Ideology that "Civil society as such only develops with the bourgeoisie", and indeed most of the material in the book prior to that point is tracing the development of the market economy out of the feudal system of production. The article you quote refers to general theories of history, the lack of which supposedly shows the bourgeoisie's lack of anything to offer, but Marx himself inveighed against "the universal passport of a general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical." (Letter from Marx to Editor of the Otecestvenniye Zapisky)

If we wish to justify a theory of decadence, I think it should be based on thorough analysis of capitalism's immanent laws and tendencies. Here I don't really have much to contribute. I did have something of a conviction that Luxemburg's theory of crisis was out of tune which Marx's reproduction diagrams showing the possibility of production for the sake of production. Recently I came across an article by Ricardo Bellofiore arguing on the basis of Luxemburg's What is Economics? that Luxemburg's theory of crisis is not unerconsumptionist... so I reserve judgement for now.

Demogorgon asks how we can support Left-Communist politics without the theory of decadence and without declaring Marx to be 'counter-revolutionary'. Apparently he thinks that the only possible change that could have occured with global capitalism's conditions of reproduction within the last century is the transition from 'ascendent' to 'decadent'...

Demogorgon
Quote:His 'historical method'

Quote:
His 'historical method' outlined in the critique of political economy refers to the "material conditions of life" which are summed up by Hegel in the term "civil society". But for Hegel "civil society" only refers to the modern capitalist market economy, Hegel's breakthrough in contrast to previous theorists of "civil society" wast to see it as an essentially modern institution, based on the thoroughly modern concept of subjective freedom.

In the text Alf mentions, Marx is quite clearly not simply talking about capitalist society. In summing up his method, he says: "Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society".

When he says that the transformation of society is the result of "the material productive forces of society [coming] into conflict with the existing relations of production ... with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.Then begins an era of social revolution" it seems clear he is making a general point about the rise and fall of different social forms, not something simply limited to capitalism.

The point of this text is surely not that Marx only saw such a theory of historical development as being valid for capitalism alone, but rather that - in order to properly understand capitalism - he was compelled to examine the rise and fall of previous class societies.

In the letter you quote, I can't find any evidence that he repudiated those basic ideas that he outlined in the Preface. Essentially, what he is arguing against is a mechanical vision of history, the idea that the rise and fall of class societies somehow follows a predetermined path. He lambasts the attempt of a critic "to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the marche generale [general path] imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself".

He gives the example of the transformations undergone by Ancient Rome and concludes "thus events strikingly analogous but taking place in different historic surroundings led to totally different results". Instead, he urges us to "[study] each of these forms of evolution separately and then comparing them one can easily find the clue to this phenomenon".

This doesn't mean that the transitions in Russia, Rome or any other example you may name aren't the product of "the material productive forces of society [coming] into conflict with the existing relations of production" but rather that the final result of this process is not determined in advance.

Quote:
Demogorgon asks how we can support Left-Communist politics without the theory of decadence and without declaring Marx to be 'counter-revolutionary'. Apparently he thinks that the only possible change that could have occured with global capitalism's conditions of reproduction within the last century is the transition from 'ascendent' to 'decadent'...

I was referring to the kind of change that forced the working class to abandon forms of political and economic struggle that generations of workers had fought and died for, namely Social Democracy and Unionism. For us, the end of these reformist struggles is the natural result of situation where capitalist relations are now a fetter on the development of society.

Naturally, this doesn't preclude other changes happening within capitalism that, while important, are lesse significant than the transition from ascendence to decadence. In fact, we point out in the Theses on Decomposition: "In fact, just as capitalism itself traverses different historic periods - birth, ascendancy, decadence - so each of these periods itself consists of several distinct phases. For example, capitalism’s ascendant period can be divided into the successive phases of the free market, shareholding, monopoly, financial capital, colonial conquest, and the establishment of the world market. In the same way, the decadent period also has its history: imperialism, world wars, state capitalism, permanent crisis, and today, decomposition. These are different and successive aspects of the life of capitalism, each one characteristic of a specific phase, although they may have pre-dated it, and/or continued to exist after it".

Hawkeye
Old Story

I came across a tatty old copy of a book published in 1936 and quote therefrom briefly now, then follow that with recent comments on the on-going capitalist war against society, wondering whether these comparisons reflect any significant change in the decadence of capitalism.

'The financial situation was then, according even to the declaration of our opponents, desperately serious.  I knew what a difficult inheritance I had received.  It had come down to me as a legacy from the errors and weaknesses of those who had preceded me.  ... There were many demands due and waiting; the necessity of turning the printing-presses to the production of new paper money ...   I had to give a smashing blow to the useless expenditures ...  I had to establish severest economy in every branch of State administration.  I had to put a brake on the endless increase of employees.  Furthermore, the obligation of settling our debts with  Foreign Powers was staring me in the face.'. (End of quote). - This was from the 'My Autobiography'  by Benito Mussolini  !!!

Now, from Summer 2010, 'Workers Hammer' wrote :  'As capitalist Europe has been buffeted by the financial crisis, bourgeois governments have raced to appease the markets, announcing massive budget cuts, job losses and tax rises.  In Italy, despite the Berlusconi government's announcement in April that the country would avoid budget cuts, a savage programme of E26 billion of cuts over two years has subsequently been scheduled.'

'International Viewpoint' of Nov 2010, in 'Capital's War on the People', writes:

'The claim of the champions of austerity policies that cuts in social spending would necessarily lead to lower deficits has also been disproved by the experience of recent decades. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, social spending has been systematically cut while, at the same time, debt and deficits have been rising - except, of course, for the second half of the 1990s, when deficits shrank, not due to cuts in social spending but because of economic expansion in that period.'

The RCPBML website has a recent article 'Stop This Attack on Society! Fight for the Alternative!' which criticises the gross irresponsibility of this capitalist government by the rich, which neglects the needs of this 'dysfunctional' society. 

 

 

Zanthorus
RE: Marx's method

Demogorgon wrote:
In the text Alf mentions, Marx is quite clearly not simply talking about capitalist society. In summing up his method, he says: "Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society".

 

On the other hand, earlier in the text he says that what dispelled the doubts assailing him was his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, on the basis of which he came to the conclusion that political forms and legal relations have to be understood as being rooted in "the material conditions of life", which is equivalent to what Hegel refers to as Civil Society. Given that the theory of the state propounded in the Hegel critique is a theory specifically of the modern state, given that both Hegel and Marx say that civil society as such only appears with the onset of capitalist society, and given the fact that this is all contained in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, which is supposed to hammer out a theory of modern capitalist society, I'd say Marx makes it relatively clear that the Preface is only supposed to be talking about capitalism. Otherwise why would he offer it as the preface to a book on political economy? Why would he say in that same preface that what was given was a sketch of his studies of political economy, which he hoped would convince people of his credentials in that area? Just before the passage about the conflict between forces and relations of production he says that what follows is the result of the studies into political economy which he began in Paris. Unless you're willing to put your lot in with Adam Smith and David Ricardo and argue that political economy tells us something about feudal or triabl societies?

As for the specific passage you quote, it seems to me that here he is either indicating that the germ of capitalism can be found in previous social formations, or that the history of capitalism is part of a much broader history of class societies. But either way it doesn't imply that the sketch of social transformation applies to these forms of society.

Quote:
When he says that the transformation of society is the result of "the material productive forces of society [coming] into conflict with the existing relations of production ... with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.Then begins an era of social revolution" it seems clear he is making a general point about the rise and fall of different social forms, not something simply limited to capitalism.

I'd say that there he's quite clearly talking about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, which is Marx's concrete analysis of how productive forces and social relations clash within capitalist relations of production. On the other hand, no such analysis exists in Marx for how feudal relations of production come into conflict with the productive forces, as far as I'm aware.

Quote:
The point of this text is surely not that Marx only saw such a theory of historical development as being valid for capitalism alone, but rather that - in order to properly understand capitalism - he was compelled to examine the rise and fall of previous class societies.

The point of the text, which he states very clearly in the text itself, is to show the extent of his studies into political economy, to show that he has real credentials in the field. In the text he also says that he came to the conclusion that what was needed to understand capitalism, to understand the 'anatomy' of civil society, was political economy. Nowhere does he say anything to the effect that capitalism can only be understood by examining the rise and fall of previous class societies.

Quote:
I was referring to the kind of change that forced the working class to abandon forms of political and economic struggle that generations of workers had fought and died for, namely Social Democracy and Unionism. For us, the end of these reformist struggles is the natural result of situation where capitalist relations are now a fetter on the development of society.

 

I think it's the result of something which capitalists naturally attempt to do: appropriate forms of working-class struggle into acceptable channels. Take the attempts to organise labour after the 1848 French Revolution, to create a bourgeois republic with social institutions, for example. These forms of struggle, the Social-Democratic parties and the trade unions, have been incorporated into the capitalist state after the specific phase of struggle in which they were active ended.  

Demogorgon
Well, I think your

Well, I think your interpretation ends up creating a number of problems which I'll try to illustrate below. Having said that, I'm not entirely sure I've quite understood what you're getting at, so feel free to correct me if I misinterpret what you're saying.

 You seem to be saying that when Marx talks about social relations turning into fetters, he's talking about something specific to capitalism rather than something in common with previous modes of production. Even if this is so - and I don't believe it is - it doesn't follow that it is inappropriate to talk about the "decadence of capitalism" as he is clearly describing a period when the productive forces are "fettered" which - at root - is all that decadence means. On a slightly less important note, although I don't think Marx is talk specifically about the tendency of the rate of profit to fall in this text, there are theories of decadence based directly on the problem of the rate-of-profit - one variant is defended by the International Communist Tendency, the other principal Left Communist organisation in the world today.

The next problem is that if you think that Marx's reappraisal of Hegel's theory of the state is valid for only capitalism then we are left with the question of what he thought about previous societies. Marx's primary critique of Hegel is that "that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term 'civil society'". Leaving aside the question of whether Hegel (or his predescessors) intended the term "civil society" to relate solely to the capitalism of their day, it seems Marx is making a more general point.

After all, are we really saying that Marx thought that the "legal relations and political forms" of previous modes of production did not "originate in the material conditions of life"? And yet this, it seems to me, is the logical conclusion of your argument.

Back to the text itself, Marx introduces the three principal paragraphs where he discusses the process of social transformation in the following manner: "the general [emphasis mine] conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows". He is obviously trying to make a more wide-ranging point here than simply talking about capitalism. This becomes even more apparent as nowhere in those three paragraphs does he mention capitalism or civil society or bourgeois society until he says "In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals' social conditions of existence – but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation."

The "bourgeois mode of production" is thus not being examined in isolation but as one of several "epochs marking progress in the economic development of society".

So when you say "it seems to me that here he is either indicating that the germ of capitalism can be found in previous social formations, or that the history of capitalism is part of a much broader history of class societies", you are obviously correct. But this can only be a valid observation if you accept that the sketch of social transformation does apply to these forms of society, because Marx identifies them precisely as various stages in a general historical process.

Marx repeats these points at greater length in the Communist Manifesto and the German Ideology. In the Manifesto, he describes the genesis of capitalism thus: 

"We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.

Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class."

If you think the "fetters" that Marx is describing in the Preface relate to the rate-of-profit, here we have no such ambiguities. He quite clearly describes feudal relations of production as being transformed into fetters. He goes on to say: "A similar movement is going on before our own eyes ...The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property". It is obvious, then, that Marx saw this process of the fettering of the productive forces at the very minimum to be applicable to both capitalism and feudalism.

It is obviously true that the problem of the rate-of-profit has become a fetter on the productive forces, but this is a fetter specific to capitalism. This doesn't allow us to conclude that because feudalism didn't have the problem of the rate-of-profit that it suffered no process of fettering. It simply means that the form of this fettering was different.

This post is already far too long, so I'll spare us all an exegesis on the German Ideology, apart from pointing out that he makes the same points in far more detail. He sums this up by saysing "thus all collisions in history have their origin, according to our view, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the form of intercourse". Not collisions specific to capitalism, or any other particular mode of production, but all collisions in history!

Quote:
Unless you're willing to put your lot in with Adam Smith and David Ricardo and argue that political economy tells us something about feudal or triabl societies?

There are, of course, all sorts of peculiarities that apply to capitalism and not to previous societies and, as you rightly say Marx critcises the classical economists for universalising the laws of capitalism. But Marx is not simply creating a new political economy, his aim is to critique political economy as a whole by pointing out that the very economic categories they employed were themselves bound up with commodity fetishism. The "law of value" which far from being an invention of Marx is rather his characterisation of the basic principles identified by Smith, et al is only applicable to a society based on commodity exchange. Value is, in fact, a reified form of the real class relations that underlie such a society.

To conclude, I think your interpetation of Marx's views on this question are based on a serious misreading of his texts and fail to grasp the truly radical content of his historical method. Far from being a "hangover" from the Third International, the concept of decadence is at the core of Marx's conception of history and the ComIntern were in continuity with Marx when they described the new conditions of the time as the period of capitalism's internal breakdown.

Nonetheless, this general defence of the conception of decadence doesn't necessarily prove that the ICC's particular theory of decadence is correct. But it's pointless discussing that aspect until the more general point is dealt with. 

Demogorgon
A voice has whispered in my

A voice has whispered in my ear, reminding me of this quote from the Grundrisse:

"Bourgeois society is the most developed and the most complex historic organization of production. The categories which express its relations, the comprehension of its structure, thereby also allows insights into the structure and the relations of production of all the vanished social formations out of whose ruins and elements it built itself up, whose partly still unconquered remnants are carried along within it, whose mere nuances have developed explicit significance within it, etc. Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape. The intimations of higher development among the subordinate animal species, however, can be understood only after the higher development is already known. The bourgeois economy thus supplies the key to the ancient, etc. But not at all in the manner of those economists who smudge over all historical differences and see bourgeois relations in all forms of society. One can understand tribute, tithe, etc., if one is acquainted with ground rent. But one must not identify them. Further, since bourgeois society is itself only a contradictory form of development, relations derived from earlier forms will often be found within it only in an entirely stunted form, or even travestied. For example, communal property. Although it is true, therefore, that the categories of bourgeois economics possess a truth for all other forms of society, this is to be taken only with a grain of salt. They can contain them in a developed, or stunted, or caricatured form etc., but always with an essential difference."

Marx obviously felt that analyses of different modes of production were not totally divorced from each other, but could inform our understanding as long as care is taken not to identify them (which is his main critique of bourgeois political economy).

baboon
I think that the analyses of

I think that the analyses of the decadence of capitalism is an essential one in order to explain the nature of the unions, national liberation and the possibility and necessity of revolution.

As far as a I understand Hegel, his analysis of the development of the state as the epitomy of the idea applied to all the states of the pre-industrial civilised world; Asiatic, Slave or Feudal. This would of course find its further refinement in capitalism.

The phase of primitive communism is no exception to the decadence of particular phases in the development of mankind and Marx called its fetters the "comfortable chains" that had to be broken. Similarly, in "The History of the Family...", Engels talks, as Marx does elsewhere, of the democratic and egalitarian forms of the (universal) Barbarian gentes being something of a fetter and having to give way to the "advance" of civilisation and the development of private property.

jk1921
How do we respond to the

How do we respond to the economic historians who now argue that countries like India, China and Brazil have achieved economic "take-off" or self-sustaining economic growth, an idea previously thought to have been limited to Europe and North America in the early modern era? If capitalism is decadent, can some nation's still experience this type of "take-off"? If so, how do we reconcile this with the argument that captialist social relations are no longer historically progressive?

Demogorgon
Very briefly, the precise

Very briefly, the precise nature of the growth in China, etc. is still a matter of debate within the ICC. However, it's important to recognise that this is not a new question. Communists have already been confronted with the significant growth achieved in the Soviet Union in the 30s (albeit exaggerated) and the general upswing achieved by the 1st and 2nd world during the post-war boom.

I'm not sure decadence necessarily means it's absolutely impossible for nations to achieve significant growth, more that the contradictions in the system make this more and more difficult. With this is mind, we can't ignore the essential role that state capitalism has played (especially in China) in managing this growth or the fact that it appears to coincide with growing stagnation in the old heartlands of capitalism. China's growing role in world affairs and India's continued rivalry with Pakistan demonstrates also that imperialism (a key component in our conception of decadence) is inevitably intertwined with any significant development for modern capitalism.

may
India, China etc growth

This article - https://en.internationalism.org/ci/2008/indian-boom - gives a perspective on the growth in India, seen as part of the developments in capitalism today, so that it doesn't escape from the debt, rising unemployment or imperialist connections. Also much based on outsourcing of jobs from capitalist heartlands. It argues that this growth will not provide any way out for capitalism any more than the Asian tigers that were credited with this until that bubble burst. But this post in no way does justice to the article.

devoration1
I kind of like how L.Goldner

I kind of like how L.Goldner put it in this 1976 article:

Quote:
In 1913, Rosa Luxemburg and her followers analyzed the 1907-1913 world economic stagnation as the signal that the capitalist system had reached the limits of its ãpeacefulä expansion, and that further development of capitalist production could occur only at the expense of one or more of the existing capitalist powers. This analysis was confirmed one year later with the beginning of the First World War, a war fought precisely for the redivision of the areas conquered by the imperialist powers in the 1870-1914 colonial expansion. The capitalist system, as a global system, had entered the ãinfernal cycleä of depression-war-reconstruction through which it has passed twice and which it is today entering for the third time. The system had become decadent: incapable of further development of the global productive forces.

http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/bretton.html

Capitalism is always 'growing'- accumulation is an absolute necessity for capitalism to function day to day. Recognizing that the expansion of the global production capacity had reached its limit in the early 20th century (and thus became a decadent mode of production due to the completion of the world market) is far different, completely different, from saying capitalism is now unable to 'grow' or continue accumulation (the latter being, I think, a part of the Trotskyist 'epoch of decay' theory around the Great Depression- where it was believed capitalism would simply break down and die).

jk1921
"Growth" is one thing.

"Growth" is one thing. "Economic take-off"--in other words--qualitative social change of an historical nature is another thing. It could imply that captialism is still able to progressively develop social relations somewhere in the world--in the case of China, India and Brazil--three of the largest countries with populations larger than the old European/North American core. If these countries have been able to achieve self-sustaining economic development, is this a problem for the idea that no new viable nations can emerge in decadence and thus the idea that captialism is now decadent?

KT
Some points for JK1921

JK1921: Who says these countries have been able to "achieve self-sustaining"  economic development? What does -self-sustaining' mean in the context of the world market and over what period of time is this to be measured?

Not so many months ago, Ireland was supposed to be the new economic 'tiger' - look at it now! In the 1990s it was the 'Asian tigers' - Korea, Vietnam, etc. Before them, in the 1980s, it was supposed to be the Latin American countries. All these 'spectacular growth areas' fizzled and spluttered.

The relative growth of India & China has to be measured against the decay, deindustrialisation and loss of jobs in the US and Europe. Capital has always chased around the globe in search of cheap labour to lower the cost of production.

The problem for capital today remains what to do with all the glut of commodities produced cheaply by China, etc: the question of solvent demand. The whole system of production has been kept alive only by the accumulation of more and more debts, to the point where - as we saw two years ago and as is still the problem today - this debt threatens the continuation of production!

Another way to look at it: if capital could expand the productive forces freely, as it did in the 18th & 19th centuries, the real question should not be to marvel at the limited and distorted development taking place today in China and elsewhere, but to ask: why has it taken so bloody long? The important development in India - the laying of railroads, communications and the establishment of a well-functioning state apparatus - took place under British rule over 150 years ago!

As a child in Europe the 1950s, I was told to eat my food with gratitude because "two-thirds of the world is hungry." 50 years on, two thirds of the world is still hungry!! "A decade after world leaders pledged at the World Food Summit to halve the number of chronically undernourished by 2015, the number has actually increased". (UN report to the  61st session of the General Assembly, 2006).  

Devoration1: The problem with the idea of the "infernal cycle" of crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis" (which I first came across in the ICC's Decadence pamphlet a couple of decades before Loren Goldner) is that a: it implies that war can solve capital's problems of accumulation (which is different from saying accumulation drives capitalism to war)  and b: that there will always and automatically be reconstruction after a war.   

 

jk1921
How do we refute?

[quote=KT]

JK1921: Who says these countries have been able to "achieve self-sustaining"  economic development? What does -self-sustaining' mean in the context of the world market and over what period of time is this to be measured? [quote=KT]

Many economic historians say this: Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arigghi to name two. You could of course denounce them as bourgeois ideologues, and maybe that is true, but anyone who wants to argue that captialism is deacadent has to confront their ideas. Do we deny them empirically? i.e. self-sustaining growth isn't really taking place, it's illusory or do we say that this growth is conditioned on other things in the global system, i.e. development of these countries is predicated on de-development in the core; therefore we can't compare what is happening in China, India, Brazil. etc. to what happened in 18th Century Manchester and Glasgow or 19th century North America?

Self-sustainingg economic growth means that there is an historical transformation of society taking place over the course of decades or centuries, not just a rise in growth statistics. In other words, a modern proletariat is finally coming into existence, where before there was only a peasantry or some other type of bonded labor. If the historic mission of capitlaism is to create the proletariat, then does the fact that a proletariat is still being created in some parts of the world a problem for the idea that capitalism is decadent? Once again how do we respond to this? Empirically? i.e. there really isn't a modern proletariat being created in these countries, more like a "pobretariat" or some other kind of bonded labor (China)? Or do we argue that this development has a different meaning today?

About the development in the these countries being predicated on de-development in the core: Its true that outsourcing is having a dramatic negative effect on the living and working conditions of the working class in the core; in particular in the United States. However, they remain for the most part working class (of course more and more are being lumpenized). Its not like the core is going back in time as a result of what is happening elsewhere, even if it is changing: it remains the core. Some people have predicted that Great Britain will become a peripheral country in the next fifty years. Is that so? In what way? What does it mean?

Does it really matter if what is happening in these countries is only being accomplished by economic dirty tricks and debt? Its being accomplished nonetheless.

I am not saying I believe any of this stuff, but these are the kinds of arguments that are thrown at people who defend the idea of decadence by people who know economic history, with whom we may not be used to debating. How do we respond?

KT
Some thoughts on Decadence for Zanthorus

Zanthorus: In the spirit of fraternal debate, and also asking for tolerance if I've repeated things others have said or written, or if I've misinterpreted you or not paid enough attention to what you've argued. However...

As part of your resistance to the theorey of the ascendance and decadance of different modes of production you say the following:

"... Marx lambasted political economists like Adam Smith for trying to take immanent tendencies and laws of one social system and applying them to another" .... And later....   "Marx himself inveighed against 'the universal passport of a general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical.' (Letter from Marx to Editor of the Otecestvenniye Zapisky)"

For you then, all (or perhaps just some?) of the quotes from Marx used by the ICC to argue for the theorey of ascendance/decadence are a repetition of these self-same 'super-historical' errors criticised by Marx himself. I disagree.

Let's look, for example, at the very first line (after the Preamble) of the Communist Manifesto:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."  Wow! That could be interpreted as a pretty sweeping  "universal passport" - a statement applicable not merely to the capitalist mode of production but to all previous class societies. But 'worse' follows in the second line: 

"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."

For Marx then, some elements, certain tendencies, apply not just to capitalist society but to all class societies, to all previous modes of production.

This is particularly evident when Marx and Engels, in the Manifesto, deal with the question of 'fetters' on feudal society: "At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder. " 

The Manifesto goes on to argue that capitalism will run up against the same 'fetters': from being a form of social organisation that permitted the generation of 'undreamed of' productivity (albeit one born covered in muck and blood) to one which will pose the question: revolution, a change in the organisation of the way society produces, or the ruin of the contending classes (in fact, the Manifesto often suggests that we'd already reached that point in 1848 - somewhat premature, methinks, and something corrected to a significant degree in the introduction to subsequent editions).

The point is this:the 'marxist method', historical materialism, from the general to the concrete, from the concrete to the general, is not just a critique of capitalist society, even if, quite correctly, Marx expended much energy on the specifics of capitalism. Of course he did: it was, and remains, the task of the hour. But that does not mean that it escapes all dynamics that Marx discerned in previous class societies.

This in no way 'proves' that capitalist social relations today (or in 1914, or whenever) have become a fetter on the productive forces they themselves have called into being (although this is what I believe). But I do believe it shows that you cannot dismiss the theory of the dynamics of different class societies as 'supra-historical'.

KT
Response to JK1921 - How do we refute?

JK1921, I think your concerns are totally valid. I wish I had all the answers! Just a few elements though.

First to say that, IMO, there are two interlinked but separate discussions going on here: one is about the actual concept of decadence, and whether or not it is intrinsic to marxism (the discussion initiated by Zanthorus). The other, raised by you, asking how communists answer the claim that developments in countries like China and India seem not only refute the notion of decadence but show capitalism's ability to massively develop the productive forces. This perhaps deserves its own thread.

Second: I'm afraid I'm not aware of the work or arguments forwarded by the two economic historians you mention. If they indeed see in China a shinning example of capitalism's healthy growth, one could equally point to other (bourgeois) economists who insist on the fragility, unsustainability and very low starting point from which such admitedly spectacular growth took off. See, eg, Will Hutton's book The Writing on the Wall: China & the West in the 21st Century, published in 2007. Hutton gave a very downbeat assessment of the 'Chinese miracle' in an article published in The Observer, 26 October, 2008 entitled 'Don't Expect China to Get the West out of this Mess' (see link below).

www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/26/china-global-economy

From a communist perspective, the articles on East Asia in the International Review 133 (in addition to the one on India mentioned by another poster above) provide useful material and analyses, although for me, they downplay the question of market saturation.

Finally - and I'm well aware that I haven't even scratched the surface of your questions - I think it's necessary to remember that a significant and combative working class already existed in China early in the 20th century: one which launched insurrectionary strikes, produced a Communist Party of 60,000 members, and participated fully in the revolutionary wave of 1917-1927 - albeit at the end of this world movement: See IR 81, 2nd quarter 1995 on this site. The Chinese proletariat wasn't born yesterday! 

Zanthorus
Apologies

I apologise for not replying to Demogorgon (And now KT's posts), I was just beggining the work of extricating Marx's theory of history to understand it clear in my head when I came across this thread. I will return to this subject when I'm finished. 

KT
No apologies necessary

On reviewing my response to you, I can see it was but a pale echo of what Demogorgon and others had already written. Also, this debate on Decadence has been raging at breakneck speed for, ooh, 100 years or so. I'd bet the ICC (I'm a sympathiser) would far prefer you to clarify your ideas, in your own time, than play on-line pinball. I'm not saying it's unimportant, or that the proletariat's minorities have all the time in the world but ... no apologies necessary as far as I'm concerned. 

Demogorgon
Quote:If these countries have

Quote:
If these countries have been able to achieve self-sustaining economic development, is this a problem for the idea that no new viable nations can emerge in decadence and thus the idea that captialism is now decadent?

I'm not sure what you mean by "self-sustaining" and how this differs from other types of development. Incidentally, I'm not sure I would describe a situation where China had to shut down its factories in Beijing for months so the air was breathable for the Olympics as "progressive".

Demogorgon
Quote:I apologise for not

Quote:
I apologise for not replying to Demogorgon (And now KT's posts), I was just beggining the work of extricating Marx's theory of history to understand it clear in my head when I came across this thread. I will return to this subject when I'm finished.

No problem. You might want also to refer to the point Luxemburg made against the revisionists in Reform or Revolution: "According to scientific socialism, the historic necessity of the socialist revolution manifests itself above all in the growing anarchy of capitalism, which drives the system into an impasse. But if one admits with Bernstein that capitalist development does not move in the direction of its own ruin, then socialism ceases to be objectively necessary."

KT
To JK1921 re China

I posted some elements of a response to your question: (paraphrase) 'how do we answer those people who say the massive growth of the Chinese (and other) economies shows the health of capitalism?' a reality which also appears to call in to question the theory of decadence. It got lost in the machine (maybe 'cos I included a link and it was judged as spam!). I think it's a perfectly valid and important question although slightly at a tangent to the main issue on this thread which is more about whether the theory of decadence springs 'naturally' from the works of Marx. Anyway, I'll try and reconstitute it over the next couple of days. Meanwhile, the article in International Review 133 on the East Asian economies (on this site) is worth a look.  

jk1921
I suppose self-sustaining

I suppose self-sustaining growth refers to the qualitative transformation of a national economy from predominatly agricultural/peasant to wage laor/capital, in other words the emergence of a nation into modernity. For much of the twentieth century, economic historians considerded this an historical one-off occurring only in Europe, North America, Japan and Oceania while the rest of the world was locked in some kind of structural dependence on this core unable to achieve the conditions for "economic take-off". This paradigm is said to be in crisis today as China, India and Brazil appear to be breaking the cycle of dependence, developing an internal market, forming a modern working class and bourgeois civil society (China is an exception here as the state keeps a firm grip on civil society, prefering to limit society to the development of a sphere of consumption). In many ways, this is the old cold-war theory of modernization, except that, according to this narrative, these 3 giants appear to be experiencing some kind of qualitiative historical development that will re-orient the entire world system in a way that the "Asian tigers," etc, could never achieve. Its not the growth rates that are a concern for the theory of decadence, it is the idea that some kind of qualitative, social change is taking place in these countries resembling what Marx described as the mission of captialism in the Manifesto. These countries account for a giant share of the world's population. If a proletariat is being formed there today (regardless of the economic dirty tricks taking place on the global level) how can captialism be decadent?

Consequently, massive pollution of the scale you describe in China is nothing that didn't happen in Manchester, Glasgow, Pittsburgh or Detroit in centuries past. Was this "progressive" then?

Demogorgon
Quote:Consequently, massive

Quote:
Consequently, massive pollution of the scale you describe in China is nothing that didn't happen in Manchester, Glasgow, Pittsburgh or Detroit in centuries past. Was this "progressive" then?

Once again, you can't look at these issues from a static, abstract view. The "progressive" nature of this or that phenomenon depends greatly on the general social and historical context.

The technology and understanding didn't exist in a manner that could create a factory system without those things in the early days of industrial capitalism. But, the establishment of the factory system created the future potential for all these issues to be overcome. Today, on the other hand, we do have the ability to manage an industrial society that's broadly in balance with nature (or at least make a start at it). It has become both a historical possibility and necessity for the continuation of human society, just as communism itself.

When Germany began to industrialise in the 19th century, it used the latest techniques and it was this that allowed it to develop quickly into a very competitive rival to Britain by the beginning of the 20th. China, on the other hand, built its boom on massive reservoirs of cheap labour and obsolete technologies. That's not to say that things aren't changing now - there's been a massive effort to shift over to higher technologies.

Quote:
I suppose self-sustaining growth refers to the qualitative transformation of a national economy from predominatly agricultural/peasant to wage laor/capital, in other words the emergence of a nation into modernity.

Again, I don't think this in itself is a major problem for decadence theory unless you consider it means a complete halt to the development of the productive forces. Certainly, the ICC has never thought this (although I think upon occasions we've pushed the argument too far in this direction, but that's my very personal view).

With regard to new viable nations, this is a slightly different question to the above. China is not a "new" nation, any more than India is. Both had long histories and established national identities long before the Europeans arrived. Contrast this with the majority of the countries established in the Middle East and Africa and you have a slightly different picture.

Quote:
Its not the growth rates that are a concern for the theory of decadence, it is the idea that some kind of qualitative, social change is taking place in these countries resembling what Marx described as the mission of captialism in the Manifesto. These countries account for a giant share of the world's population.

Actually, I think the growth rates are of interest, but let's leave that aside for the moment. You are, of course, correct that new proletarian strata are being formed in China. But the real question is how does this relate to the whole world population which is growing much faster than any integration into capitalist production. Unless there's real evidence that the overall weight of the working class in the world as a whole is changing, I'm not entirely sure this means exactly what you think it means. Another point to consider, is that capitalism always has to generate a surplus population to meet its accumulation needs  - as accumulation advances, this population must grow ever larger. And yet there are finite limits to the planet's ability support endless population growth.

Finally, I mentioned in the previous post that the growth of the emerging economies had its counterpoint in the increased fragility in the West. I think this is related to the question of the rate-of-profit - it's becoming harder and harder to profitably employ Western workers at a profitable rate and this is why we've such a shift to outlying areas. But development in China has bought about rising wages, to the point where many low-skill industries are now moving to even poorer places such as Bangladesh, etc.

None of this, of course, disputes the fact that the growth in these areas isn't very interesting and you're completely right to raise it. On the other hand, I'm not quite convinced by the idea that something fundamentally new is happening in China, et al. and it's certainly not clear cut.

As I mentioned above, the question of China is still being debated in the ICC and the views I've expressed here are personal ones rather than any statement of the organisation.

I also think interested people should look at one of the other contributions to the debate mentioned by KT above. You can find it at: https://en.internationalism.org/ir/133/china

 

KT
Some more thoughts on 'China & Decadence

Like Demogorgon, I’m still very unsure about what is meant by ‘self-sustaining growth’ in regard to India and China, etc. I’ll return to this later. Also, I’m afraid I don’t know the works or arguments of Frank or Arigghi whom you mentioned earlier.

However, if these gents are indeed marveling at the growth rates of China, and using these as evidence of capitalism’s basic health, we could point out that there also exist ‘economic historians’ (of the bourgeoisie) who argue in the opposite direction ie Will Hutton, UK writer and economist who’s currently conducting an industrial review for the UK government. His 2007 book The Writing on the Wall: China & The West in the 21st Century asserts that headline growth rates for China are misleading, are largely driven by western capital, and are unsustainable. I’ll be quoting from him, and also a 2008 article he wrote in the English Sunday newspaper, The Observer.

However, for communists, the concern is to understand on a global level how the evolution of capitalist society affects the working class: is it strengthening it politically and numerically, laying even further foundations for a potential move to a classless, non-exploitative society, or is it tending to undermine such foundations which had, in outline, already been laid by capital around the start of the 20th century, 100 years ago?

I think this approach answers your question: “Does it really matter if what is happening in these countries is only being accomplished by economic dirty tricks and debt? It’s being accomplished nonetheless.”

And what exactly is being accomplished in these countries, in China? You write:

“It’s not the growth rates that are a concern for the theory of decadence, it is the idea that some kind of qualitative, social change is taking place in these countries resembling what Marx described as the mission of captialism in the Manifesto. These countries account for a giant share of the world's population. If a proletariat is being formed there today (regardless of the economic dirty tricks taking place on the global level) how can captialism be decadent?”

Marx saw the formation of capitalist nation states as (for a period) progressive because these, by spreading their relations of production across, the planet (including the formation of a global proletariat) were creating the basis for communism. But this work had largely been accomplished by the turn of the 20th century. That’s why so many communists saw the First World War as a watershed, proof that the further creation and expansion of nation states could only take place through violent redistributions of an already-created world market, and at the expense of the working class.

More precisely, your statement above appears to imply that the proletariat of China was born yesterday. This ignores history. Although numerically small in relation to the rest of the population (something which didn’t prevent the Russian proletariat from taking power, albeit briefly, in 1917) workers in China from the early 1920s launched a series of mass, radical struggles that were an integral part of the world revolutionary wave of 1917-27, culminating in successful insurrections in cities like Shanghai. They created a Communist Party 60,000 strong (though we won’t go into the weaknesses of this organisation here). It was precisely the defeat (in awful slaughter) of these movements in ’27 that is generally reckoned (with hindsight) to mark the end of the proletariat’s first global attempt to overthrow capitalism.  (1)

Let’s be clear: a modern proletariat has existed in China for over 90 years. In the intervening period, global capital has been unable to integrate the majority of the world population into productive labour (the proletariat is still a minority of the world’s population). Any numerical growth in China itself in the past three decades (without even taking into account job losses elsewhere), has to be measured against the slaughter it endured in the late 20s; the massive carnage suffered during and prior to the 2nd imperialist World War (including the Japanese invasion and the infamous ‘Rape of Nanking’); the militarization and famines which claimed the lives of millions in the lates 40s and into the 50s (including the canon-fodder sent by China to the Korean War and the Chinese Civil War itself between 1945-49); the enforced mass mobilizations and “resettlements” of the 60s ‘Cultural Revolution’, and so on.

For me (2), the balance sheet so far hardly denies the decadence of capitalism: it illustrates it perfectly.

And what of today, of the more recent period? The unprecedented destruction (of capital, of productive forces, of 60 million humans) that was WW2 wasn’t enough to kick-start world production in the mid-late 40s. The US – the only major power to escape domestic destruction during the war - was obliged to turn itself from a major creditor into a debtor (by the mid-70s) with gigantic loans (ie debts - the Marshall Plan) to kick-start the world economy. This was framed within the context of imperialism - the need to build-up ‘defeated’ nations (Germany & Japan) to combat the new military rival, the USSR. Growth, after the war, was built on loans (debt); organised by the state,driven by imperialist tensions and 'financed' by the increased productivity and exploitation of the world proletariat.

It still is today.   

But once Germany and Japan (and others) had resumed full production in the mid-late 60s, global capitalism again felt the immediate constraints of the world market – (the abandonment of the gold standard was part of these convulsions).

Within the context of fighting against a rival imperialism, with a long-term eye to develop future cheap productive capacity, the US gave up Vietnam and claimed a bigger prize: the origins of today’s developments lie in Nixon’s 1972 visit to Peking, and the three years of ‘diplomacy’ which preceded it.

Today:  “Some 400 of the Fortune 500 in the United States and a comparable number of European and Japanese producers have invested in China. In other words, most of those who could move production to China have done so already. Growth projections that extrapolate current trends have to suppose that over the next 15 years Western multinationals in China are going to be able to continue increasing Chinese production and exports at six or seven times the rate of growth of their domestic markets. This is both a mathematical and an economic impossibility" (Hutton: The Writing on the Wall, ob sit)

In short, it’s world capital, particularly US, European and Japanese capital, which has both funded and physically uprooted to produce the ‘Chinese miracle’, at the expense both of the proletariat in China, and in the rest of the industrial heartlands where exploitation, rates of productivity and unemployment has soared.

There’s more ‘relativisation’: “China is saturated with ports, highways, steel mills, cement and petrochemical plants that operate at a fraction of capacity. As the realisation has grown that capacity has run far ahead of now falling demand, China's bubble economy has burst rather like our own. Its stock market has crashed and property prices are collapsing. The manufacturing heart in the Pearl River area near Hong Kong is being destroyed. Half the 2,200 factories in the shoe industry have shut, as have a third of the 3,600 toy factories” (Will Hutton, The Observer, 26 October 2008 – ‘Don’t Expect China to Get the West Out of this Mess’.

From the same article: “The bulk of the adult population still farms tiny plots of hopelessly unproductive land in grinding poverty. All it takes is a tiny fraction of its workers moving from doing nothing in the countryside to doing something in the towns deploying modern technology to produce growth. In these conditions, only 5 per cent growth is a crisis.

“If 7 to 8 per cent growth is better, it will still not stave off a sharp increase in unemployment. Already there is an explosion of what the Chinese call 'incidents' - social unrest. As the Ministry of Labour has warned, China needs to create jobs with sky-high growth rates if it is to retain social stability...”

So much for ‘self-sustaining growth’!  In the ‘debt crisis’ of 2007-2009, Chinese production fell, just like the rest of the world. It pumped money into its system, (‘quantitative easing’) just like the rest of the economies.

Unlike the period Marx was describing in the Manifesto, China today is both a product of and a major factor in world instability – at the social, industrial and military level (I haven’t even touched on China’s imperialist reach into Africa and elsewhere).

The world order is indeed changing: some are falling, others are rising. For the proletariat, its conditions of life, its prospects for overturning this decaying society, China, India, do not represent some hope. On the contrary.

Modern productive techniques – at the service of capital, of profit, not for human need – continue to be developed and refined. This in no way denies decadence, which ‘merely’ points out how much greater humanity could benefit from such ‘discoveries’ if they were not the tortuous product of the war economy, and if they weren’t used to promote the war of each country against the other.

Yet, returning to Marx and the Manifesto, returning to a real revolution in productive capacity as represented by the bourgeois mode of production in comparison to those it succeeded, I’m struck by the following:

In India, a local hand-spinner took 50,000 man hours to process 100 pounds of cotton; in 1780 a Crompton Mule did the same job in 2,000 hours; a hundred-spindle mule, in 1790, took 1,000 hours, and a power assisted mule, in 1795, 300 hours. By 1825, the Roberts automatic mule processed the cotton in a mere 135 man hours,” (The Tribes of Britain, David Miles, published by Phoenix, footnote, page 365).

Then, such developments created the capitalist world market. Today, in my opinion, the capitalist market is actually a barrier to this kind of leap forward, despite all the technological advances.

Notes:

(1)   See IR: 81, 2nd quarter, 1995 for more on the Chinese Revolution (and forgive the repeated paragraphs) (2) I'm an ICC sympathiser. The ICC is not responsible for my misue of their analyses or material.

 

jk1921
Please be clear. I am not

Please be clear. I am not making any of these arguments, I am looking for ways to understand and respond to them. The theory of decadence is the lynchpin of left communist positions, so we have to take challenges to it seriously and respond to them in a sustained manner. I think the biggest challenge is the idea that some type of qualitaitve social development is taking place in these countries, in which a huge swathe of the global population is finally being proletarianized. Its still not clear to me how to understand and respond to this argument.

KT
I unreservedly apologise if

I unreservedly apologise if my somewhat polemical ‘style’ – or rather lack of it – causes concern or, more importantly, gets in the way of a real discussion of the issues.

I accept fully that you are attempting to deal with arguments that you yourself do not defend, yet which appear powerful, persuasive and which correspond, at first sight, to reality.

And even if you – or anyone else – did defend such arguments? Well that’s still no reason not to reply in calm, measured tones, to avoid sarcasm, hectoring, lecturing, personalisation and the rest. Against all such practices (which I’ve certainly encountered on other forums) the ICC insists that this Forum, these strands – this web space – should be a place where debate aims to clarify areas of agreement, disagreement, to explore ideas without fear of being slapped down. Not out of politeness, but because it’s the best way to contribute to the process whereby our class becomes conscious of itself.

  So if I personally fall far below such standards, please don’t blame the ICC, or let it become a barrier to further discussion. Rest assured, for my part, that I’m seeking to understand, learn from and yes, also to counter the arguments, the ideas, not you as an individual. Hopefully others will present their case with greater clarity. Having said all that... I’m going to post again shortly similar arguments in a slightly re-hashed form to see if they make any more sense, if they answer any better the questions that are being posed.

KT
On Second thoughts..

..I'll shut up and let someone else develop the discussion

ernie
Dont' shut up.

 KT please do not shut up. We can all make mistakes. May be address the question from the angle that JK1921 approached it. We do have to reply to these questions and this is not easy, above all because the Marxist theory of decadence is not accepted by many who are looking for a revolutionary alternative.

The point you made about the global historical view is central. The growth of China, and other countries is something real, but we need to go beyond that and look below the surface. Thus, central to China's growth, unlike that of many countries in ascendancy, has been the fact that the state has been central to engineering this growth, along with the need for the major capitalist countries to seek profitable investment and the import of cheap commodities. 

We should also keep in mind that despite the spectacular growth of China this has not pulled the world economy out of the spiral of deepening economic over the past 40 years, despite the 'opening up' of this enormous market. Nor has the growth in Brazil etc. 

As was seen at the recent G20 the very growth of China is generating massive international tensions within the world economy. It has now reached the absurd level where the rest of the world is calling on China to do what they did in the last 20 years have a massive consumer credit bubble. This appears to forget that the Chinese state has already been pouring billions of $ into stimulations packages.

Sorry about not being able to give figures etc but it is necessary to try and get over the overall historical framework as well as getting into the details. Figures in themselves can be used for all sorts of purposes, the point is to be able to place them in a framework.

The point about this discussion is that we need to be able to work together to work to develop and deepen the Marxist theory of Decadence in order to take into account these recent developments, which as JK1921 rightly says can appear to undermine this theory.

 

hmmm
Tendency towards state capitalism

This is more of a question than a contribution of mine to this discussion. How does one accomodate the drive towards privatisation of the formerly state capitalist regimes with the thesis of the tendency towards state capitalism in decadence theory? Is not the rush towards privatisation contradictory to state capitalism, though both are capitalist?

devoration1
State capitalism encompasses

State capitalism encompasses greater state influence in the economy. All nation states are state-capitalist; just to varying degrees of statification- from the Keynesian welfare states to the 100% statified Stalinist regime in the DPRK. History has shown that the completely statified regimes are ill equipped to handle political opposition, inflation, etc. A 'happy medium' of statification has worked 'the best' for bourgeois states over the last near-century.

 

Demogorgon
Privatisation and State Capitalism

A few additional comments, to complement Devoration's important points.

Privatisation does not really mean the retreat of the state, which maintains its control through regulation, planning control, etc. All the major utilities in Britain, for example, are plugged into the state by the regulator. One example would be the bodies established by the Water Industry Act 1991. In many respects, the privatisations allowed the state to fuse with private capital even more powerfully, drawing the latter more firmly under its control.

As far as I can see, the other main reasons for the privatisations were:

 - Reducing the fiscal burden on states, pushing the infrastructure costs into the private sector and using the windfall to pay off state debt;

 - Providing an area of investment for a glut of capital which was finding increasing difficulties in locating profitable opportunities

 - Breaking up large concentrations of workers, by fragmenting the industries. Giving people different bosses creates another barrier to spreading the struggle.

 - Provided an excuse to carry out significant attacks on wages and working conditions, while simultaneously removing the state from direct confrontation with the working class. When the state is boss, its exploitative role is far more exposed. The privatisations also enabled big campaigns about "fat cats" etc. and a false struggle around choosing your own boss, private or "public" while perpetuating the myth that state control is somehow "progressive".

 

baboon
Agree with Demo above about

Agree with Demo above about the example of water privatisation particularly. This in fact strengthened the role of the state in this industry dividing up the workers in regional set ups and faciltating wage reductions and "flexibility" right down to the minutest details. The ultimate boss of the water industry, as I discovered from working in it, was the Ministry of Defence.