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).
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:
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.
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.
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'.