Ascendance/Decadence Periodisation and Colonialism

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Zanthorus
Ascendance/Decadence Periodisation and Colonialism
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In the 'respect for the youth' thread Alf asked me whether I thought capitalism was progressive or not. I gave a highly confused answer (In one breath I said I didn't know and then said it obviously wasn't) but brought up a point I had been mulling over which I thought was important - if we view capitalism prior to 1914 as a 'progressive' stage in human history, then what do we think of British colonialism and foreign policy in places like India and China? After all, the horrors of British imperialism brought these kind of 'backward' countries with pre-capitalist social relations kicking and screaming into modern 'civilisation'. I brought up the opposition to Colonial policy put forward by people like Kautsky (And I would also mention, not insignificantly I think, Marx and Engels after the mid-1850's).

Alf replies:

Alf wrote:
I agree with your point about Kautsky - it was a point of principle for revolutionaries to oppose the apologies for the 'civilising mission' of capital towards the colonies, because that would have made it impossible for them to preserve a revolutionary position for the future.

I think this is reading back your own theory of decadence onto Kautsky. In reality, Kautsky thought that capitalism had entered it's phase of decline with the rise of the new Imperialism in the 1880's. Thinking it over, this might weaken my case slightly. However in his book on Socialim and Colonial policy, if I recall correctly, Kautsky accepts that it is feasible to suggest that European colonialism would develop the productive forces of 'backward' nations (This could perhaps indicate that for Kautsky the decline of capitalism did not entail an inability for the productive forces to continue developing). Regardless, nowhere does Kautsky say anything about 'preserv[ing] a revolutionary position for the future'. I think his position is unambiguously that the proletarian revolution in his own time would fail if the workers movement did not take up an position of intransigent hostility to European colonialism:

Kautsky, Socialism and Colonial Policy wrote:
Thus the proletariat has its own ethic, which is necessary to it. Does the idea of the right of the higher culture to exert control and tutelage over the lower have a place in this ethic?

Not at all. On the contrary, this idea is a necessary component of the ethic of capitalism. Capitalism is a relationship of exploitation, and thus is also a relationship of control and tutelage...
 

be exploited, this ethic proclaims itself as nothing else than the right of capitalist nations to dominion over the whole of mankind.

The proletariat could not make this ethic its own without sanctioning its own exploitation and disavowing its own fight for emancipation... A class exerting tutelage, or ruling class, has never yet raised its subjects to greater maturity and independence of its own accord. This rise has always occurred against and not through the upper classes.

If the ethic of capitalism says that at is in the interests of culture and society for lower classes and nations to be ruled, the ethic of the proletariat says that precisely in the interest of culture and society the oppressed and those under tutelage must throw off all dominion.


 

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Equally, recognising that capital could still play a progressive role did not mean, for Marx, arguing that workers should give up their defensive struggles.

I don't think Marx saw Western European capitalism as having a progressive role in his own time. I also think in his later writings on British colonialism and the Russian and Indian village communes he came to the position that capitalism was not an inevitable progressive stage that everywhere would inevitably pass through on the way to socialism.

Gene D wrote:
Many aspects of the ascendant period of capitalism should offend our humanity, but they were still, objectively, progressive in terms of developing the society's productive capacity. Colonialism, institutionalized child labor and hazardous working conditions facilitated capitalism's conquest of the world.

This to me sounds like the words of a 19th century liberal apologist, not a Marxist. I think it is ridiculous to suggest that colonialism and institutionalised child labour were at all necessary for the 'development of the productive forces'.

jk1921
Its an old

Its an old anarcho-primitivist line to condemn Marxism for being in cohoots with liberal capitalism, because according to it the communist revolution requires there to be a highly developed capitalism first. Thus, everything leading up to that is in some way "necessary" and hence "justified." Castoriadis makes the same case in his later writings.

Zanthorous, are you sure Marx's writings on the obschicna means he thought capitalism wasn't in some historic sense "progressive?" Or did he allow for the possibility that the Russian peasant commune could form the basis for a social transformation of agricultural production there in the context of a global situation that had already in large measure become capitalist?

 

Zanthorus
Unilinearism/Multilinearism and Capitalism's Progressive Functio

Gene D wrote:
I should have included the word "uninhibited" when referencing the development of the productive forces under the conditions of ascendant capitalism.

I don't think adding the word 'uninhibited' changes much. I think it is absurd to suggest that child labour was at all necessary for the 'development of the productive forces'.

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The tactics of capital's representatives in the 19th century accelerated the movement toward the historic confrontation between capitalism and labor that ultimately destroys the former.

Except here we are living a hundred years later and capitalism's tentacles envelop the entire planet.

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But he certainly saw it as progressive in the sense that it was moving society toward its next incarnation.

I don't necessarily with this interpretation, I think he saw it as progressive because it transformed the labour process into a necessarily collective process and socialised the productive forces, which removed the basis for the previous isolated forms of social life and laid the basis for a communist society based on 'world-historic' productive intercourse. In this sense I agree that capitalism was 'progressive'. But it's 'progressive' historical function was fulfilled almost the instant that it came into being. Further, that capitalism was 'progressive' in the moral sense implies that capitalist development was historically inevitable. Hardwired into human biology perhaps? Seriously though, I don't necessarily see this as the case. It's remote perhaps, but I don't see why the productive forces could not have been socialised without capitalist development.

 

jk1921 wrote:
Its an old anarcho-primitivist line...   Castoriadis makes the same case in his later writings.
 

I had wondered how long it would take for someone to accuse me of being in league with the primitivists/modernists. Needless to say I reject both primitivism and Castoriadis, so this comparison is baseless. Perhaps though you think Kautsky was a primitivist/modernist?

 

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Zanthorous, are you sure Marx's writings on the obschicna means he thought capitalism wasn't in some historic sense "progressive?"

Well they certainly suggest that history does not move in a single line, but rather there are multiple pathways and that capitalist development is not 'inevitable'.

Alf
 Zanthorus: it's true that

 Zanthorus: it's true that Kautsky and even Engels thought that the decline might have already begun in the 1880s - Engels certainly identified some of the warning signs, especially at the level of the economic crisis (see https://en.internationalism.org/ir/141/capitalist-decline-revisionism). Luxemburg actually saw 1905 as the expression of a 'transitional' phase between two great epochs; but it wasn't until the cataclysmic events of 1914 that the majority of revolutionary marxists came to the definite conclusion that the system was now globally in decline. I think we can see this a a real development of consciousness in tune with changing objective conditions - it's not just 'reading back'

The difficulties facing revolutionaries at the time can be shown precisely by Marx's efforts to grapple with the Russian question, which we have looked at here:  https://en.internationalism.org/ir/081_commy_11.html.

Marx explicitly defined the problem as there being a capitalism that was fast approaching decline in the west but still growing in the peripheries. He hoped that revolution in the advanced countries would enable countries like Russia to forego the horrors of a capitalist stage, which was a reasonable hypothesis at the time, so you are quite right to say that he was against the idea of capitalism having to go through this stage in every single country (an idea that was to become the hallmark of Menshevism).

jk1921
Progress

Zanthorus wrote:

Gene D wrote:
I should have included the word "uninhibited" when referencing the development of the productive forces under the conditions of ascendant capitalism.

I don't think adding the word 'uninhibited' changes much. I think it is absurd to suggest that child labour was at all necessary for the 'development of the productive forces'.

Quote:
The tactics of capital's representatives in the 19th century accelerated the movement toward the historic confrontation between capitalism and labor that ultimately destroys the former.

Except here we are living a hundred years later and capitalism's tentacles envelop the entire planet.

Quote:
But he certainly saw it as progressive in the sense that it was moving society toward its next incarnation.

I don't necessarily with this interpretation, I think he saw it as progressive because it transformed the labour process into a necessarily collective process and socialised the productive forces, which removed the basis for the previous isolated forms of social life and laid the basis for a communist society based on 'world-historic' productive intercourse. In this sense I agree that capitalism was 'progressive'. But it's 'progressive' historical function was fulfilled almost the instant that it came into being. Further, that capitalism was 'progressive' in the moral sense implies that capitalist development was historically inevitable. Hardwired into human biology perhaps? Seriously though, I don't necessarily see this as the case. It's remote perhaps, but I don't see why the productive forces could not have been socialised without capitalist development.

 

jk1921 wrote:
Its an old anarcho-primitivist line...   Castoriadis makes the same case in his later writings.
 

I had wondered how long it would take for someone to accuse me of being in league with the primitivists/modernists. Needless to say I reject both primitivism and Castoriadis, so this comparison is baseless. Perhaps though you think Kautsky was a primitivist/modernist?

 

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Zanthorous, are you sure Marx's writings on the obschicna means he thought capitalism wasn't in some historic sense "progressive?"

Well they certainly suggest that history does not move in a single line, but rather there are multiple pathways and that capitalist development is not 'inevitable'.

 

Nobody accused you personally of anything. It was you who suggested that GeneD's viewpoint was that of a "liberal apologist." It is an old anarcho-primitivist line--echoed by Castoriadis--that Marxism never really escaped the viewpoint of the liberal bourgeoisie because of its emphasis on inevitable progress. Do Kautsky's ideas rebut this thesis or are they evidence of it?

I think Marx's point on the Obschina was that captialist development elswhere in the world system, i.e. Western Europe, engendered the possibility of a different trajectory in Russia.

baboon
I think that Engels and his

I think that Engels and his work, The Condition of the Working Class.., amonst others, shows the presence of hell on earth in the ascendent period of capitalism. The struggle against child labour was also part of the collectivisation and combination of the constituted proletariat from its position under capitalism and this struggle could be undertaken within the parameters of the state using the trade unions, parliament, legal reforms, etc. as part of the strengthening of the proletariat. This was a constant battleground along with similar elements relating to Health and Safety, the Factory Acts, etc. I think that colonialisation posed more problems for the working class in the capitalist metropoles but the creation of the working class in the colonised countries was a positive element. Capitalist development, ascendency, is not morally progressive or based, but the struggle against its expressions by a unifying working class was and is. And the question of child labour (as well as imperialism's child soldiers) is still a question for the proletariat of the heartlands underwritten by the decay and decomposition of the system.

Zanthorus
Sorry for Late Reply

Sorry for my lateness in replying to the replies to my last post, I sort of got off track doing other things. Alf, thankyou for the links. It has been a long while since I read the ICC's texts on decadence (Well, probably only a few months actually but for someone as young as me that is probably quite a lot longer than it would seem to you), perhaps it would be sensible for me to go through these carefully again. I agree with what your piece on decadence in the Second International says about anti-Engelsism, however I am suspicious of what both you and Aufheben seem to be assuming, namely that there was one unified 'theory of decline' within 'Second International Marxism' that directly links to the 'theory of decadence' as promoted by the ICC.

Will try and reply to the rest tomorrow.

d-man
unified theory

Quote:
the 'theory of decadence' as promoted by the ICC.

The majority abide by the Luxemburg version, but am I wrong to think that the ICC respects the 'falling rate of profit' as a valid alternative (and there's an actual minority who hold this position)?

 

Alf
 Yes you are right

 Yes you are right on both counts. There are comrades who hold both basic positions, and others who have various 'nuances' which don't exactly coincide with either view. We have always said that within a basic marxist framework this is an open question and it will remain so. 

Android
Post-War Boom Debate

Alf wrote:
Yes you are right on both counts. There are comrades who hold both basic positions, and others who have various 'nuances' which don't exactly coincide with either view. We have always said that within a basic marxist framework this is an open question and it will remain so.

Alf: just to say I think it is positive that the ICC has published the debate on the post-war boom. Even if I do think debates / discussions should be published almostly live in the sense that I think a group's internal discussions should be in their press so as to allow those outside the group to contribute and be a factor in such discussions.  Which I think can have a positive affect in ensuring groups do not become inward and insular, but are in in fact part of a communist movement just like those outside its ranks.    

I am just printing off the different contributions now to read, finally getting round to it, meant to read them ages ago!