Issues and problems with decomposition

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MH
Issues and problems with decomposition
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The ICC has emphasised the covid-19 pandemic as a symptom of “the terminal phase of capitalist decadence” so this may be a good opportunity to take a closer look at some issues and problems with the ICC’s position that capitalism entered into a phase of “decomposition” in 1989, with the aim of deepening our understanding of capitalism’s decay in this period. 

First, how do we explain the rise of China in the 1990s? At its 21st Congress the ICC recognised its difficulties in understanding this phenomenon. It now appears to have concluded that China’s growth is explained by the “unprecedented circumstances of the historical period of decomposition” (23rd Congress resolution on the international situation), although it has not yet published anything explaining how it has reached this conclusion.

This may appear to solve the problem of explaining China’s growth but it creates a new one for 'decomposition'; how are we to explain the fact that the terminal phase of decadence - “a phase where decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution” - has also seen some of the most spectacular growth in the history of capitalism? We clearly need a framework that is able to explain both phenomena.

The original Theses on Decomposition, which predated China’s rise, identify capitalism’s unique dynamism as a key factor in its decay, but do not explore the wider implications of this. 25 years later, in a section dealing with “difficulties in recognising the existence of decomposition”, an update to the ICC’s 22nd Congress concludes that decomposition is more attenuated in China and other Asian countries due to the fact that capitalism is the most dynamic mode of production in history; in other words, capitalism’s dynamism is an attenuating factor on decomposition. But you might as well say that capitalism itself is an attenuating factor on decomposition; it raises more questions than it answers.

It is capitalism’s dynamism - the extraordinary speed with which it transforms society and the accumulation of contradictions this produces – that accelerates the development of all its inherently destructive tendencies in its epoch of decay; it is capitalism’s dynamism that is therefore the starting point for understanding the decay of the superstructure of capitalist society in this period.

The way the ICC describes decomposition is that “capitalism is rotting on its feet” but a better image would be the slow-motion wreck of a high-speed train…

The ICC has admitted it was late in recognising the new opportunities for capitalist development opened up by the bankruptcy of the old autarchic model of the Stalinist countries and the collapse of the two-bloc system. Both these played a key role in facilitating China’s dramatic growth, which inevitably displays all the symptoms of decadent capitalism’s destructive tendencies: rural depopulation, overcrowding, appalling levels of pollution, sophisticated state surveillance, terror and repression, etc. It was also the collapse of the two-bloc system – fundamentally the result of the prolongation of capitalism’s historic crisis – that played a key role in the qualitative deepening and acceleration of the decay of the superstructure: “the dislocation of the social body, the rot of its political, economic, and ideological structures, etc.” (Theses).

Placing capitalism’s unique dynamism at the centre of our analysis makes it possible to explain both the rise of China and the qualitative deepening and acceleration of superstructural decay at all levels (‘decomposition’).

The ICC’s evidence that covid-19 is a manifestation of capitalist decomposition includes the concentration of millions of human beings in megalopolises and state repression in China- neither of which are symptoms of such decay - alongside others that certainly are; accelerated environmental degradation, increased lack of coordination of the policies of various countries, etc.

Of course China is not immune to the effects of superstructural decay, which is a global phenomenon. And there is a definite tendency for this decay itself to become a determinant on the economic base – something the ICT appears unwilling or unable to accept. But not everything in this period is a symptom of ‘decomposition’, and the difficulties of the ICC in integrating an analysis of capitalism’s capacity for growth into its understanding of decadence continues to weaken its analyses.

In another post I want to look at the ICC’s concept of a ‘social stalemate’ which underpins its position on decomposition.

d-man
Well, I don't know if the

Well, I don't know if the question of Chinese 'growth' or its capitalist development is really a problem for the general idea of decomposition (which generally can be upheld against the rose-tinted early 1990s liberal, and some leftist, propaganda/illusion about a new era of peace and prosperity). Just see the translated passage of a 1886 article by Kautsky (here) in order to realise that Marxists have been expecting China to become an industrial nation for over a century (and that once this happened, the capitalist system would have peaked), so if anything needs to be explained it is; what took China so long? Secondly, and as the ICC I think usually stresses, keep the perspective on the whole "world economy". China could be explained as the outcome of succesful free-market "globalisation", but, conversely, it is sometimes also depicted as a threat or hailed as a model for nationalist/protectionist development. If we try to look at the question just empricially, Western investment in China was not so significant as compared to regional sources (from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, etc;), and so the rise of China could not be realy ascribed even to a real international integration, but rather still is of a regional character. That would mean, despite all the noise about globalization in the 1990s, there is no world economy (comparable to the high point reached in 1914), but rather a competition between regional "blocs".

 

Link
An interesting quote from

An interesting quote from Kautsky, dman, which as you say leads to a good question - what took China so long to develop? I think MH points to this however in noting the failure of autarkic Stalinist policies. China was quite late in taking these up too so it makes sense to see such a restrictive approach to economic and social management as a barrrier to growth.   The thread on libcom that this started off is interesting to look at again too, you can clearly see the criticisms of the ICCs view of decadence being about its early views on decadence as lack of growth and development, market saturation and accumulation dependant on pre capitalist regions etc  rather than views held now.   We have moved on a bit now and decadence is a far more complex concept than first thought. 

I note that the 80s saw great changes with the end of the wave of working class struggle, the collapse of the USSR and with the start of a period of growth by capitalism.  I cant find the quote from the ICC about this growth period Im afraid but it does correspond to the ICT recognition that in this period between mid 80s and into 21st century, the Rate of Profit increased fairly significantly.  I remember KT jumped on me some time ago ove my suggestion that a feature of the collapse of the USSR was its lack of digital technology (the series on Chernobyl was a good example of this) but i do see this a a key feature of this period with the emergence of computerisation and digital communications when old manufacturing systems, office systems were written off and replaced by this new technologies and many new markets created for new products.  These developments in the means of production also enabled capitalism to restructure by further globalisation and i think that the growth of China has to be seen in that context rather than an 'attenuation of decomposition'.  

I dont quite understand your point dman about there being 'no global economy but competitive regional blocs'.  I would say the globalisation created that competition between regions.  Global firms dont manufacture all in one place nor do they manufacture everything everywhere (ie locally if you prefer). That is whats different about globalisation. It has led to a certain specialisation of products in the regions dependant on say workers skills, markets specialisations, resources and so forth. Part of this was the move of much of the old manufacturing industries towards the far east because of benefits of cheap labour, new markets and cheaper transport.

We can now see there is growth in decadence, even significant growth so i agree with MHs conclusion that 'the difficulties of the ICC in integrating an analysis of capitalism’s capacity for growth into its understanding of decadence continues to weaken its analyses'. The issues raised by MH relate in my interpretation to the problems of both understanding how capitalism has extended its life in the recent period with having to go to war yet containing the working class  and of incomplete break from the old luxemburgist straightjacket that there is no growth without pre capitalist markets'. 

d-man
Link wrote:

Link wrote:

I dont quite understand your point dman about there being 'no global economy but competitive regional blocs'.  I would say the globalisation created that competition between regions.  Global firms dont manufacture all in one place nor do they manufacture everything everywhere (ie locally if you prefer). That is whats different about globalisation. It has led to a certain specialisation of products in the regions dependant on say workers skills, markets specialisations, resources and so forth. Part of this was the move of much of the old manufacturing industries towards the far east because of benefits of cheap labour, new markets and cheaper transport.

The meaning or reality of 'globalisation' can be questioned, see eg this 1996 article Polemic: Behind the 'giobalisation' of the economy the capitalist crisis worsens:

Quote:
The present "globalised" world market is not a framework for progress and unification but of anarchy and disintegration. The tendency of decadent capitalism is towards the break-up of the world market, under the powerful centrifugal forces of the national economies structured by hypertrophied states which try to protect with all means (including military) the product of their exploitation of the workers against the assault of their competitors. While in the last (19th) century competition between nations contributed to the formation and unification of the world market, in the XXth century, the organised competition between each national state tends just to the opposite: to the disintegration and decomposition of the world market.

My point is to question the idea of a tendency of globalism (of which China would supposedly be a manifestation since the 1970s/80s). I don't think Western manufacturers shifted production/jobs to China or invested much in China. Again just empirically, as far as foreign investment in China is concerned, most of it came from regional neighbouring countries (often with Chinese populations), not from the West.

Alf
Growth in decay

There are a number of points in MH's post where we can agree about the reality of decomposition, but this paragraph seems to get to the heart of the disagreement: 

"The ICC’s evidence that covid-19 is a manifestation of capitalist decomposition includes the concentration of millions of human beings in megalopolises and state repression in China- neither of which are symptoms of such decay - alongside others that certainly are; accelerated environmental degradation, increased lack of coordination of the policies of various countries, etc".

I don't think you can separate the growth of megalopolises from "accelerated environmental degradation". It's precisely this growth, as part of the overall process of accumulation, that is accelerating the wholesale destruction of nature. It is thus indeed a sympton of decomposition, which is an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production  (and not only its superstructures). It is an expression of what Marx called "growth as decay" in a passage in the Grundrisse which we have quoted once or twice in the past, for example, in the chapter of the communism series published in IR 75: 

"Considered ideally, the dissolution of a given form of consciousness sufficed to kill a whole epoch. In reality, this barrier to consciousness corresponds to a definite degree of development of the forces of material production and hence of wealth. True, there was not only a development on the old basis, but also a development of this basis itself. The highest development of this basis itself (the flower into which it transforms itself; but it is always this basis, this plant as flower; hence wilting after the flowering and as a consequence of the flowering) is the point at which it is itself worked out, developed, into the form in which it is compatible with the highest development of the forces of production, hence also the richest development of individuals. As soon as this point is reached, the further development appears as decay, and the new development begins from a new basis" (p 541).

This view of decay, which is also the violent acceleration of contradictions, or MH's train rushing towards a crash, is made more concrete in the section on China in the resolution on the international situation from the 23rd ICC Congress: 

"11) The stages of China's rise are inseparable from the history of the imperialist blocs and their disappearance in 1989: the position of the communist left affirming the "impossibility of any emergence of new industrialised nations" in the period of decadence and the condemnation of states "which failed to succeed in their ‘industrial take-off’ before the First World War to stagnate in underdevelopment, or to preserve a chronic backwardness compared to the countries that hold the upper hand" was valid in the period from 1914 to 1989. It was the straitjacket of the organisation of the world into two opposing imperialist blocs (permanent between 1945 and 1989) in preparation for the world war that prevented any major disruption of the hierarchy between powers. China's rise began with American aid rewarding its imperialist shift to the United States in 1972. It continued decisively after the disappearance of the blocs in 1989. China appears to be the main beneficiary of ‘globalisation’ following its accession to the WTO in 2001when it became the world's workshop and the recipient of Western relocations and investments, finally becoming the world's second largest economic power. It took the unprecedented circumstances of the historical period of decomposition to allow China to rise, without which it would not have happened.

China's power bears all the stigma of terminal capitalism: it is based on the over-exploitation of the proletarian labour force, the unbridled development of the war economy through the national programme of “military-civil fusion” and is accompanied by the catastrophic destruction of the environment, while national cohesion is based on the police control of the masses subjected to the political education of the One Party and the fierce repression of the populations of Uighur Muslims and Tibet. In fact, China is only a giant metastasis of the generalised militaristic cancer of the entire capitalist system: its military production is developing at a frenetic pace, its defence budget has increased six-fold in 20 years and has been ranked second in the world since 2010".

jk1921
Again, the metaphor of

Again, the metaphor of "capitalism rotting on its feet" is a mistatement of the theory. Its not capitalism that is rotting in the sense of the economic relationship between capital and wage labour--the theory of decomposition is about "social decomposition," specifically of a form of bourgeois society. This is why it has been attacked as insufficiently materialist.

MH
a theory of everything?

jk1921 wrote:
Again, the metaphor of "capitalism rotting on its feet" is a mistatement of the theory. Its not capitalism that is rotting in the sense of the economic relationship between capital and wage labour--the theory of decomposition is about "social decomposition," specifically of a form of bourgeois society. This is why it has been attacked as insufficiently materialist.

JK, "capitalism rotting on its feet" is simply a quote from the ICC’s Theses but I think you’ve put your finger on an important point: is this a theory of “social decomposition” or a theory of all the phenomena of decadent capitalism since 1989?

I took decomposition to be essentially a theory of superstructural decay. This certainly seemed to be the starting point for the original Theses which referred to “The recent series of ‘natural' catastrophes and accidents, the increase in gangsterism, terrorism, drug-taking and drug­ smuggling are so many signs of the generalized gangrene that is eating away at the capitalist body politic all over the world.” (Intro, IR 57)

Alf now confirms that decomposition is not just about the superstructure – it’s also the “violent acceleration of contradictions”. So clearly I have been confused. For the ICC, it appears, essentially everything in this period is a symptom of ‘decomposition’.

The risk with this is surely that decomposition becomes a ‘theory of everything’ and loses its value as an analytical tool? Hence, China becomes an expression of “terminal capitalism”, covid-19 a symptom of “the terminal phase of capitalism”… 

Alf’s point about the connection between the growth of megalopolises and accelerated environmental degradation is a good one. But the ICC’s evidence for China being a product of decomposition also includes the existence of police control, a one party state, repression of ethnic minorities, the growth of military production and the increase of its defence budget; all classic symptoms of totalitarian state capitalism in decadence, so I think we have to say the case has yet to be proved and I look forward to reading the texts setting out the evidence for this position.

Marx’s poetic description of ‘development as decay’ is a description of the entire epoch of capitalist decadence, in which indeed we see the “violent acceleration of contradictions”. It supports our understanding of the phenomenon of growth in decadence. In fact you could argue it supports the suggestion that we don’t need a specific theory of all the phenomena of decadent capitalism since 1989, rather a precise analysis of the qualitative deepening and acceleration of decay?

KT
Precisely

The period of capitalism’s decline, its decadence, is the period of ‘wars and revolutions’. In fact, it’s mainly been wars, including two on a world scale.

Thus to understand specific phenomena in this general period (in this thread, the focus appears to be China), it makes a certain sense to situate the analysis in terms of imperialism and the war economy.

Despite the continuation of numerous, destructive local and regional conflicts over the past 50 years, the event which has reverberated most on world affairs has been the collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989, followed by the unravelling of the western bloc.

The collapse of the blocs, for the ICC, demonstrated and was a product of a new phase in the period of decadence, that of decomposition. The decadence of modes of production have their own histories, and capitalism is no different, although it certainly has its specificities into which we won’t here enter.

But what is the theory of decomposition if not an attempt to make more precise the analysis, the very thing that MH appears to desire? It’s not that decomposition accounts for every phenomenon of social life, but that all social existence can be examined through this analysis, to see what maybe pertinent, precise, germane to this specific period, and what may not be.

Regarding China, the ICC has sought to explain – and not just yesterday, in the Resolution under discussion, but for some period – its rise as primarily a product of decomposition, particularly on the military level.

“…While for decades the PRC had its troops massed at the Russian border, concentrated its forces for protecting its coast line and maintained readiness to wage war with Taiwan, in the early 1990s the PRC systematically started to adapt to the new world situation created by the collapse of the USSR.” (Special Issue International Review - Imperialism in the Far East, past and present: -Imperialism in Asia in the 21st century, November 2012).

If in response to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 China turned to the US for arms to fight its Stalinist foe (and to help set up the Afghan Mujahidin) it’s fundamentally the collapse of both blocs, the defining moment of decomposition, which has permitted China to escape the clutches of the former USSR and of America on the imperialist level, a situation which has provided the ‘Lebensraum’ for its subsequent economic and military development. It’s a very precise set of circumstances: it’s the unprecedented decomposition of the existing arrangements and groupings between bourgeois states that’s permitted China’s rise. That and an accumulation of unprecedented debt and deficit financing...

jk1921
There is much speculation

There is much speculation emerging about what the "new world order" will look like after Covid. Initially, it was thought that this could be the terminal crisis of US global hegemony, as China would be shown to have handled the situation much better. In more recent days, that talk has shifted. As firms, funds and governments embark on a "flight into cash," the US dollar soars and there is talk of China once again becomming an international pariah state as a result of its duplicity over Covid.

baboon
I don't think that

I don't think that decomposition is a "theory of everything" because everything within this period is not an expression of decomposition. What is does explain, and where its use as an "analytical tool" comes into play, is in its overall description of capitalism today as an expression of the accumulation of all the contradictions of capitalism which have been amassing for the last seven or eight decades (even longer). This analytical tool, this very useful analytical tool, has enabled the ICC to giver relatively clear analyses of, in no particular order:

- the development of terrorism;

- the relative loss of control by the bourgeoisie and its general political destabilisation but on the other-side of this, how it uses the effects of decomposition in its manoeuvres against the working class;

- the expression of social and populist movements;

- the ideological decomposition of the ruling class and its complete inability to offer any sort of perspective for the future - not even, however suicidal it might have been , the "coherence" of the capitalist solution of world war based on competing blocs;

- the tendencies of everyman for himself and the intensification of the imperialist free-for-all.

 

While decomposition is expressed in various superstructural elements over a very wide-scale its roots lie in the quantitative and then qualitative accumulation of all capitalism's contradictions which point to a final stage of capitalism's decay.

 

The overdevelopment of the state and the tendency of the absorption of society by the state, a tendecy throughout decadence which has never stopped developing, now goes to a new level with the decomposition of the system. The phenomenon of statification, a clear expression of decadence, takes on new intensified elements in all states with decomposition: the fortress state, surveillance, repression, militarism, imperialism. All these are elements of decadence but are now further twisted and exacerbated by the final phase of capitalism.

 

The CWO wrote an article on the Middle East recently that, amongst others, gave the impression that the events of 1989 did not happen and the world, and imperialism, was carrying on within the same old bloc structures and alliance disciplines of the Cold War that existed for around four decades. 1989 changed everything and there is still a great underestimation of the consequences of this and how it has fundamentally changed the whole world situation.

 

 

MH
Is China's growth a product of decomposition?

A ‘theory of everything’ of course would be quite a useful thing to have... What I was trying to get at is the apparent tendency of the ICC to see every symptom of decadent capitalism since 1989 as a manifestation of decomposition

I think its recent attempt to explain the growth of China in the terms of “the history of the imperialist blocs and their disappearance in 1989”, as described in the quote in Alf’s post above, is a case in point.

It seems the ICC has now concluded that the impossibility of the emergence of new industrialised nations in decadence was due to the straitjacket of the two rival imperialist blocs (23rd Congress) and that China’s rise was only made possible by the “unprecedented circumstances of the historical period of decomposition”. Hence, China is a product of “terminal capitalism”...

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the original reason given for the impossibility of new industrial powers in decadence was not the stranglehold of the two rival imperialist blocs but the saturation of extra-capitalist markets and other economic factors such as the cost of modern industrial production (IR 23).

This may have been mistaken and based on rigid and narrow interpretations of Luxemburgist theory but at least it was rooted in an economic analysis of decadence. If we want to deepen our understanding of the reasons for the dramatic growth of China and the East Asian countries surely we need to look deeper at the evolution of the capitalist crisis rather than focus on the “history of the imperialist blocs”?

As far as I am aware the ICC has not produced such an explanation, at least not one that reflects the position of the organisation. But we can at least sketch out some key milestones based on its own previous analyses.

These lead us to conclude that the key factor in explaining the growth of China and India was the deepening of the capitalist crisis at the end of the 1970s. It was this which forced the western economies to abandon Keynesian policies and mount a massive and frontal attack against the working class via neoliberal policies.

It was also this deepening crisis that forced India and China to abandon their respective attempts at autarchic development and  introduce reforms that opened them up to the world market, enabling them to benefit from the drive by western economies to lower production costs and restore profitability.

As a result between 1980 and 2005 China increased its GDP ten-fold - the most dramatic rise in the entire history of capitalism – while India’s increased four-fold.

In other words, it was a particular conjunction in the deepening of the international crisis of capitalism that led to the the spectacular economic growth of the East Asian economies.

(Interestingly the PCInt draws the same conclusion that China's economic growth was “the fruit of the particular conditions of crisis into which international capitalism is heading”.)

On the other hand, the rigidity of Stalinist state capitalism meant that a similar opening up could only occur after the further deepening of the capitalist crisis eventually led to its collapse along with the whole post-war two-bloc system.

China’s emergence as a major world power was obviously facilitated by this collapse but from this analysis it appears it was based primarily on its already existing economic strength and role within the world economy, along with its sheer size and strategic position.

I wish I could develop these points further, but I don’t have the RAM in my head (or the processing power…). What I’m trying to do here is sketch out what I believe is a Marxist framework for understanding the acceleration and qualitative deepening of capitalist decay in this period, based on the ICC's own previous analyses and identification of its own weaknesses, and suggesting that, on this basis, there appear to be some issues and problems with its its position on 'decomposition' which, it appears, is not sufficiently grounded in an analysis of the evolution of capital's economic crisis.  

 

d-man
It seems that you view the

It seems that you view the "opening up to the world market" (by the East Asian countries, China and India broadly throughout the 1970s-90s) to be a result of or response to the economic breakdown in the 1970(-80)s in the whole world, ie including, and in the first place, in themselves. And you view this "opening up" caused their growth rate to rise, apparently resolving the crisis, at least in that part of the world. If that's what got them out, does this not imply that the absence of it (ie of the strategy of opening-up) is also the explanation of all their previous woes and stagnation (prior to the 1970/80s)? (As for explanation of  crisis in the West by the 70s, you would not even be tempted to attribute it to the absence of foreign investment possibilities into China etc., since the West has not experienced a rise in growth rate, unlike China et al.)  So the lack of China's growth and "its" crisis until the 1970s would for you perhaps be explained by its own refusal to open up. But how did the strategy (of autarchy) come about initially (or do you think China et al. were always closed to foreign investment)? Was it not also a response, and to some extent a successful coping-management strategy (much like "Keynesianism" in the West) to a crisis, perhaps an even deeper crisis? Why did it (wheteher autarchy in China or Keynesianism in the Wesy) then manage to cope for a certain period, but eventually no longer? That is, why even go through the phase of autarchy when opening-up to the world market allegedly proved to be the successful key to unlock growth? Were the Chinese rulers just stupid before Deng?

 

 

baboon
There are some confusions

There are some confusions here and there in the ICC's "Thesis on Decomposition" (IR 62, autumn 1990) around the question of what capitalist decomposition is and at one point it explicitly suggests that it is the sum of parts, i.e., the collective expression of all the superstructural points that express decay. Bearing in mind that the combined effects of the expression of decomposition in the superstructures of capital become a weight in themselves, i.e., a further active factor in decay, this is not the main strength of the ICC's position and rather, in my opinion, represented the need to grapple with this question, one that it had raised early indications and elements of beforehand (1970's, early 80's) of a new and growing instability in capitalist society. The question was the need to come to terms with and fully analyse a further development in the decadence of capitalism, the latter phenomenon itself being not static, immutable and timeless. The key to understanding the ICC's position on decomposition lies, I think, in the following quote from the "Theses":
"To the extent that contradictions and expressions of decadent capitalism that mark its successive phases do not disappear with time, but continue and deepen, the phase of decomposition appears as the result of an accumulation of all the characteristics of a moribund system, completing the 75-year death agony (up to 1990, B) of a historically condemned mode of production. Concretely, not only do the imperialist nature of all states, the threat of world war, the absorption of civil society by the state Moloch, and the permanent crisis of the capitalist economy all continue during the phase of decomposition, they reach a synthesis and an ultimate conclusion within it. Decomposition is thus the result:
- of the duration (70 years, ie longer than the industrial revolution) of the decadence of a system one of whose major characteristics is the extraordinary speed with which it transforms society (10 years in the life of capitalism are the equivalent of 100 years of Asiatic despotism);
- and of the accumulation of contradictions which this decadence has unleashed."

By 1989, and there were several indications that the ICC had picked up on earlier, the accumulated weight or build-up of the contradictions of capitalism and of decadence had to have dramatic consequences because they were too much for the society of capitalist organisation to bear and constrain and thus one of these dramatic consequences was that a whole imperialist bloc collapsed into complete disorder and instability. There were suggestions within the ICC, correct suggestions up to a point, that these events in the East were a "harbinger" of what was going to happen in the west but it turned out they were not so much a harbinger as a coefficient. The western alliance, its bloc and international organisations were affected almost immediately by the unprecedented explosion of international relations. Blocs, alliances, protocols, agreements, everything was shattered; imperialist relations broken apart, the effects of which, among others, is tearing the Middle East apart today. Everything of any interest to marxists and revolutionaries changed: first when world war, a war that had been threatening, came off the agenda overnight in early November 1989, and then over a matter of months, to a new world situation that had enormous consequences for the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, not least for growing chaos and instability. In this sense, a very great sense, the 1980's did end up being the "years of truth" even if this particular "truth" wasn't quite how we envisioned the acceleration of the situation coming to a head.  It has certainly determined the events of the following decades and continues to do so. "Decomposition" is not a buzz-word but an analysis of the development of decadence into its final stage and of the necessity for revolution.

Once the bourgeoisie, after its great surprise, got its act together in the early 90's, the proletariat in the major capitals felt the brunt of its attack as it took full advantage of the disorientation and demobilisation of the working class. The bourgeoisie today talk openly about "the last ten years of austerity" but austerity, a welter of attacks on the class, begun just after 1989 continues up to today, thirty years later. The state was "rolled back", massive cuts hacked into the "social wage", tendencies to "outsourcing" and "globalisation"  increased as every aspect of proletarian living and working conditions came under attack and a demobilised working class, disorientated not least by the campaigns around the "collapse of communism" and the "new world order" from 1989, was unable to respond.

MH has rightly raised his concerns over the ICC's analysis of decomposition and, from the beginning has raised, in one context or another, the question of China. It's not entirely clear but the concerns seem to be around questions of China "bucking the trend" of capitalist decomposition. The timeline roughly puts China in the same stew of capitalist decomposition along with the general tendency of the new period for significant events and upheavals to break out, particularly related to the breakdown of imperialist blocs. But there's more and here a few brief thoughts on the history of China since the 1980's may be useful.

After a period of autarky down to the specifics of the development of capitalism in China, Deng Xiaoping introduced its opening up to the world economy with its "Open Door" policy of 1978. The fundamentals of this expansion were based upon China's ruthless approach to begging, borrowing, bribing and stealing technology, thus obviating the necessity for testing, expensive and drawn-out "trial and error" procedures; wholesale theft and the development of technology and procedures for the perpetration of wholesale theft were put in place by the People's Republic. Through its "backwardness" China went forward in leaps and bounds. Putting its growing advantages into effect, advantages that were related to the breakdown of the two bloc system which gave it an opening, it first of all it produced textiles, toys and volumes of tat much cheaper than any of its competitors (the cheap goods of the Chinese "battering-ram"). The Chinese state moved into heavy industry with a particularly ruthless approach to the exploitation of nature and of its vast natural resources. China's also became a world-beater in pollution, poisoning the land, through the rivers, with the Yangtze alone spewing thousands of cubic tonnes of heavily polluted water into the Pacific every second and all sorts of toxins released in volumes into the breathable air and upper atmosphere. Its exploitation of the newly-formed working class was equally ruthless and accompanied by a regime of spying and a repression which also developed in leaps and bounds along with its technological advances.

As one analyst said of China's "Open Door" policy, it was: "Import what the world knows and export what the world wants" - and the unprecedented amount of cheap goods from China keeping inflation down was very useful to the west. Capital sniffed a major return;  joint Chinese ventures with the west took off and increased and direct foreign investments into labour-intensive industries not only gave China a further advantage but also allowed western states to reduce further and dismantle their "unproductive" industries throwing millions of workers in the west into unemployment or into precarious working. The "rise" of China, that is the grotesque development of a particular form of state capitalism, is certainly a capitalist "growth" but there's nothing benign about it not least in directly contributing to attacks on the proletariat globally. And further attacks on the working class in China brought no protest from the west (except on behalf of a few famous individuals) which was obviously unconcerned about a working class that they were complicit in exploiting and repressing for their own ends.

In my opinion, the "rise" of China is fully implicated in the accumulation of the contradictions of decadent capitalism: decomposition in a word. I think that it would be useful if MH gives some clarification on what seems to be a position of China outside of a global phenomenon of decadence/decomposition. What does China represent if it represents something outside of capitalism's decay?

 

 

MH
A brief response

A brief response to the comments of d-man, KT and baboon.

To repeat, I am tentatively suggesting a framework for understanding both the rise of China and the East Asian countries and the collapse of the blocs based on the ICC’s own previous analyses and the balance sheet of its own strengths and weaknesses from its 21st Congress.

This framework focuses on the need to understand the evolution of capitalism’s historic crisis in the 1980s.

So it was a particular conjunction in the deepening of this crisis that led to the spectacular economic growth of the East Asian economies, by forcing India and China to abandon attempts at autarchic development and open up to the world market, thus enabling them to benefit from the drive of the western economies to lower production costs and restore profitability. As Baboon describes, the opening up of China dates from the “open door” policy of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, along with the creation of the special economic zones, and proceeded throughout the 1980s.

(Why did these countries pursue attempts at autarky in the first place? As a response to their relative economic weakness and the difficulties of new industrial powers emerging in capitalism’s epoch of decay, along with other historical factors beyond the scope of this discussion.)

And it was the further deepening of this crisis that eventually led to the collapse of Stalinist state capitalism, which had been unable to similarly open itself up, along with the whole post-war two-bloc system.

The implication of this framework is that we need to take the ICC’s latest position on the rise of China – that it was a product of the collapse of the rival imperialist blocs in 1989 – and turn it the right way up: the growth of China was the product of - was made possible by - a particular conjunction in the same deepening international crisis that eventually led to the collapse of the blocs.

If this is basically correct, it places the evolution of the capitalist crisis firmly back at the centre of our analysis and allows us to see that what the ICC terms ‘decomposition’ is fundamentally, as Baboon says, “the accumulation of the contradictions of decadent capitalism”, which results from the deepening of this crisis at the economic level. Or, as we tend to call it, “decadence”…

I still want to come back to the question of a ‘social stalemate’ because this is the other key element in the ICC's analysis of ‘decomposition’.

d-man
Reliance upon the "2-bloc

Reliance upon the "2-bloc rivalry" (here, its absence) as an explanation is not only invoked by the ICC in case of China's industrial growth though, as you seem to imply. Think eg of the case of South Korea's rise during the "2-bloc rivalry", which iirc is explained as due to the US geopolitical pursuit to weaken the Stalinist bloc. And what of the role of US support to West-Germany and Japan after WW2 in their growth? Can this be just explained as purely automatic economics of capitalism (eg destruction of their constant captial), or was there not rather a political strategy (also) involved?

 

Link
Following on from MH last

Following on from MH last contributions and from dman’s comments on China I thought maybe some statistics may be useful.  Ive worked out these percentage form stats all from ‘Our World in Data’ to get some comparability but I know like all stats need to be treated cautiously as indicators that don’t tell the full picture.

 

Clearly Chinese growth rates have been very large compared to the world as a whole although Singapore Taiwan, Malaysia and Sth Korea have all actually achieved greater growth in gdp per capita.  China is not an exception in that regard then although obviously it’s a much larger economy and much more significant.

 

Clearly identifying the particular circumstances that have enabled china to grow in recent decades is important.  Is this a stage of decadence however or a sign of

Decomposition.  I would not disagree that growth can mean decay, its applies to changes after WW1 and also to say the roman empire, british empire and now the USA they became too big to maintain themselves.  However does it apply now to a Decomposition Period since 1990?

 

The stats show that the world economy has been growing at a faster rate than the latter part of ascendancy of capital in the 19th Century.   Is world growth a sign of Decomposition as well as China’s.  It seems to me this harder to argue because China isn’t an exception it has just managed greater growth rates than average. 

 

 

World gdp                        % increase in period

 

1870-1913                        147

1913-1950                        97

1950-1970                        158

1970-2010                        282

 

World GDP per capital    % increase in period

 

1870-1913                        74

1913-1950                        38

1950-1970                        94

1970-2010                        84

 

China GDP per capital    % increase in period

 

1870-1913                        17

1913-1950                        -14

1950-1970                        98

1970-2010                        533

 

World Pop                    % increase in period

 

1870-1913                        27

1913-1950                        54

1950-1970                        43

1970-2010                        93

 

 

I am not suggesting that this growth can keep on increasing but that changes in the world since the end of the wave of struggles in 60s and 70s have enabled the B to grow its system significantly and have enabled it to put itself well on top in the balance of class forces., particularly from the 80s onwards.

 

Baboons point about the accumulation of contradictions is a good one and a good way to approach things  the further we get into decadence  with populist politics, complex imperialist war scenarios, debt, increased exploitation, ongoing economic crises and so forth.   It appears that these growth rates are insufficient for capital at this time (FROP).  But the accumulation of contradictions is not how decomposition is presented  and analysed generally.  Its more about the final period & social stalemate and the threat of barbarism.  I struggle with the extravagant terms that come out of the decomposition hypothesis such as putrefaction and death agony.  Capitalism recent growth is maybe insufficient to create a new ‘golden era’ but it appears to be holding back the possibilities of communism as well as the prospects of seeing society turn into putrefied goo.

 

As MH ends with, we need an analysis based on the evolution of capitalist crisis rather than schematic forecasts.

jk1921
MH wrote:

MH wrote:

 

jk1921 wrote:

Again, the metaphor of "capitalism rotting on its feet" is a mistatement of the theory. Its not capitalism that is rotting in the sense of the economic relationship between capital and wage labour--the theory of decomposition is about "social decomposition," specifically of a form of bourgeois society. This is why it has been attacked as insufficiently materialist.

JK, "capitalism rotting on its feet" is simply a quote from the ICC’s Theses but I think you’ve put your finger on an important point: is this a theory of “social decomposition” or a theory of all the phenomena of decadent capitalism since 1989?

I took decomposition to be essentially a theory of superstructural decay. This certainly seemed to be the starting point for the original Theses which referred to “The recent series of ‘natural' catastrophes and accidents, the increase in gangsterism, terrorism, drug-taking and drug­ smuggling are so many signs of the generalized gangrene that is eating away at the capitalist body politic all over the world.” (Intro, IR 57)

The problem with talking about the "decomposition of capitalism" is that it implies society is somehow becomming "less capitalist," that the fundamental social relationship between wage labour and capital is less and less the organizing principle of society. This would of course violate the very tendencies of capitalism Marx described in the Manifesto where he saw it as a constantly dynamic system that broke down "all Chinese walls." If one accepts that capitalism is decomposing, one then has to look for empirical signs of that in the actual global economy. Where can these be seen? In the rise of mass unemployment? The tendency for captialist development to kick proletarians out of the immediate reproduction process rather than bring them in? Certainly, that has been a feature of the historical period the ICC has called the epoch of decomposition in the older capitalist metropoles (the creation of vast rust belts where more and more of the Fordist proletariat has given up on work and accepted buyouts from the state through disability benefits, etc.), but so has the progresive incorporation of millions and millions of people into it in place like East Asia. Couldn't this be better understood as a function of the economic crisis--a flight into cheaper, more flexible labor through outsourcing, or in the case of mass immigration, insourcing of cheaper, more compliant and flexible labor? Marx saw the existence of a reserve army of the unemployed as a fundamental feature of captialism. What is different about today may be the globalization of that labour pool, but the feature does not seem to have fundamentally changed.

Are there other features of the economy today that suggest a move to something other than the exploitation of free labour by capital? The return of outright chattel slavery in some parts of the world? Perhaps, but slavery was a feature of early ascendant capitalism also. It wasn't officially abolished until the 1880s in Brazil. What of talk of guaranteed incomes, mortgage freezes, etc. in the wake of the Covid crisis? These seem like temporary state capitalist emergency measures to pause the law of value for now, but what if the crisis makes it such that these measures become more permanent? Wouldn't these be variations on some of the state capitalist measures adopted in the Eastern bloc previously? So, nothing new under the sun?

Its these difficulties in identifying how capitalism, as a social relationship, can decompose that makes it such that the theory of decomposition is probably best seen as a feature of superstructural decay of a particular form of bourgeois society, which is how I always understood it. Can other forms of captialist society also decompose? Certainly, Stalinism seems to have. But what of the Chinese model? What exactly is the Chinese model, first of all? Footage I am seeing of public space in Wuhan don't look much different than New York City.

Alf
question for link

Sorry to reel the discussion back a bit but I wanted to understand better what you are referring to in a previous post (13 April) when you wrote: "The thread on libcom that this started off is interesting to look at again too, you can clearly see the criticisms of the ICCs view of decadence being about its early views on decadence as lack of growth and development, market saturation and accumulation dependant on pre capitalist regions etc  rather than views held now.   We have moved on a bit now and decadence is a far more complex concept than first thought" 

Can you provide a link to the libcom thread? It might help me understand better your suggested contrast between the ICC's "early views on decadence" as opposed to its "views held now" 

Link
Alf

Alf

https://libcom.org/forums/theory/icc-position-decadence-bourgeoisie-deve...

Ive embarassed myself again becuase i cant find the link i got from one of dman's contributions but i think it is this one - https://libcom.org/forums/theory/icc-position-decadence-bourgeoisie-deve... which i just skimmed and saw where libcomers seem all over the place jumping on the concept of decadence cos of rejections of periods or decadence as instant crisis and decline.  However ive just noticed this is where Leo contributed too and alongside some good stuff he was suggesting that decline in quality of products (he mentioned cars and pharmaceuticals) in 80s was sign of decadence .  This isort of thing is what i think of as decadence theory that is a bit crude and that its more early ICC where the focus is too much on lack of markets and market saturation causing this that and the other.

Whereas nowadays there is recognition of growth periods in the 90s and into early 21st century and (i presume consequently) much less focus on market saturation and markets theory.

I know im being a bit sketchy in response here but do you think i am wrong in making such a distinction?

MH
jk1921 wrote: Its these

jk1921 wrote:
Its these difficulties in identifying how capitalism, as a social relationship, can decompose that makes it such that the theory of decomposition is probably best seen as a feature of superstructural decay of a particular form of bourgeois society, which is how I always understood it. Can other forms of captialist society also decompose? Certainly, Stalinism seems to have. But what of the Chinese model? What exactly is the Chinese model, first of all? Footage I am seeing of public space in Wuhan don't look much different than New York City.

Well I’m glad it wasn’t just me who saw decomposition as about superstructural decay! I think you’ve expressed this view before, that it is about a “form of capitalist society”, and I meant to respond. So are you saying that decomposition is a symptom of some sort of transition, from one form to another, like from post-war Keynesianism to neoliberalism/globalisation, for example? If that is the case it obviously poses the question, what is the new form that capitalism is moving towards?

MH
a 'social stalemate'?

Alf and Baboon have emphasised that decomposition is “an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production”, “an expression of the accumulation of all the contradictions of capitalism”.

But the ICC’s position that capitalism entered into a new phase of decadence in 1989 is also based on the existence of a ‘stalemate’ between the classes.

It explains this in the terms of its concept of the historic course, ie. that between 1914 and 1989 there were two mutually exclusive outcomes of capitalism’s historic crisis, world war or revolution, and that the failure of the two fundamental classes to provide a definitive response to this crisis led to a situation of ‘social stalemate’ that continues today.

But we can only understand the situation after 1989 by analysing the change in the balance of class forces in the 1980s.

To recap very briefly, while the post-’68 upsurge of struggles prevented the bourgeoisie from moving towards a third world war it was clearly not able to develop into a politically conscious anti-capitalist movement and the bourgeoisie was able to regain the initiative (Thatcherism in the UK is a good example). From the 1980s onwards we see the bourgeoisie launch a massive and frontal attack against the working class which was as much about reinforcing its class rule as lowering production costs and restoring profitability.

Further struggles in the 80s took place in the context of this counter-offensive which involved the restructuring of international capitalism and the breaking up of centres of working class militancy in the capitalist heartlands (again, Thatcherism and the UK miners’ strike is a good example).

The disintegration of the USSR from 1985 onwards effectively ended the dynamic towards a world war between the two blocs, signalled by Gorbachev’s 1985 decision to give up the arms race. The final collapse of Stalinism and its satellite bloc as a result of the deepening capitalist crisis completed the disorientation of the working class resulting in a deep reflux in the class struggle which continues today.

So while the bourgeoisie may have been prevented from providing its “definitive response” to the crisis it nevertheless succeeded in inflicting an important defeat on its class enemy and gained a new lease of life for its system through the wholesale restructuring of international capitalism.  

The ICC has since accepted its lateness in appreciating the significance of this restructuring and it impact on class militancy along with its difficulties in recognising the effect of the defeats in the 1980s (21st Congress).

I think there is probably a broader historical dimension to the concept of a ‘social stalemate’, which involves the questions posed by the direction of capitalist society and the potential consequences of its decay. But the first question is surely: if we can agree that this analysis of the changes in the balance of class forces in the 1980s is broadly correct, can we best describe the situation today as a ‘social stalemate’, ie. a ‘draw’, or does this risk underestimating the degree to which the bourgeoisie ‘won’?

baboon
Some of the critiques further

Some of the critiques further above seem to be against the idea of capitalist decadence.

A brief example of China, decomposition and growth:
Chinese imperialism didn't stop at the ravages of its own territories, lands and waters; it replicated them further afield, often in a much more ruthless fashion. Parts of Asia were bought up, commandeered with the bribed complicity of local or national officials or simply, as in Africa, with national, local politicians and warlords who brooked no response from affected populations and continued their destruction unabated as China plundered the world for raw materials.

Similar was true for South America where, in the USA's "back-yard" China's footprints became more open and challenging. Thus the Chinese state, along with the Triads, concluded a deal with the Knights Templar Mexican drug cartel for them to send as much iron ore from Mexico to China as they could manage. Chinese "officials" were already on the ground and the need for permits or any other sorts of consideration were not in the remit of the Knights Templar who power lays in terror and killings.

The deepwater ports of Mexico's Pacific Michoacan province controlled by the cartels allowed them to increase the exports of iron ore to China by four hundred per-cent. The Chinese state paid for the bulk of this through its banking system but the part of the arrangements made by the Triads with the cartels, in conjunction with the Chinese state, was payment to them in the form of bulk precursor chemicals for the production of methamphetamine; from the narco-economy to the "real economy" and back again.

The payments made by the Chinese for the iron ore, the buying and leasing of heavy equipment and hundreds of lorries for its extraction and transportation, the wages for the workers, the loading onto the vast hulls specially constructed in China, each one taking 70,000 tons of earth, the transportation to China, its unloading and refinement is, alone, a massive amount of economy activity that all finds its way into capitalism's growth figures.

Now, multiply this specific example of Chinese growth regarding Michoacan a thousand times at different levels and the result is enormous economic activity, enormous breath-taking growth. The out and out gangsterism and the absurdity of the devastation of another landscape and transporting millions of tons of earth from one side of the world to the other is not the point here for capitalism; growth is. But it's a cancerous growth; a growth of putrefaction.

 

MH
Really?

baboon wrote:

Some of the critiques further above seem to be against the idea of capitalist decadence.

Which ones?

baboon
Link's is ambiguous at least.

Link's is ambiguous at least.

zimmerwald1915
Mis-periodization

MH wrote:
But the first question is surely: if we can agree that this analysis of the changes in the balance of class forces in the 1980s is broadly correct, can we best describe the situation today as a ‘social stalemate’, ie. a ‘draw’, or does this risk underestimating the degree to which the bourgeoisie ‘won’?

To add to this, to what extent is the "social stalement" descriptor actually apt to the period of 1968-1980 itself, after the brief and fairly feeble working-class offensive that kicked off the period and before the massive bourgeois assault of the 1980s that saw the bourgeoisie achieve its aim of disarming and disintegrating the working class in the capitalist heartlands?
KT
Some observations as a further contribution

It’s the economy, stupid?

MH wrote: “…it places the evolution of the capitalist crisis firmly back at the centre of our analysis and allows us to see that what the ICC terms ‘decomposition’ is fundamentally, as Baboon says, “the accumulation of the contradictions of decadent capitalism”, which results from the deepening of this crisis at the economic level. Or, as we tend to call it, “decadence”… In a similar vein, Link wrote: “As MH ends with, we need an analysis based on the evolution of capitalist crisis rather than schematic forecasts.”

The ‘accumulation of contradictions of decadent capitalism’ isn’t ‘merely’ the result of some abstract economic crisis. It’s not the product of some diminishing quantity of extra-capitalist markets, or a particular ratio of department 1 to department 2, or of dead labour over living labour, or a certain organic composition of capital forcing a particular blockage in the accumulation of capital and a fall in the rate of profit.

Marx and Engels railed against the vulgar economists of their day who thought Marxism reduced everything to ‘economics’; who saw a mere one-way street between base and the superstructure. Marx did not talk of ‘the economy’ but of ‘political economy’ in recognition of the reality that we’re looking at – in order to change – a set of living, social relations between humans.

The entry of decadence was not marked by any specific economic crisis. The decadence of capitalism unfolded at a time when capitalist social relations governed a mere 25% (estimated) of the globe: plenty of room for growth and healthy profits. The decadence of capitalism was announced by a world war. The decadence of capitalism was called by Lenin ‘Imperialism – Highest stage of capitalism’. It was noted (by the ICC in continuity with the communist left) that the clash of imperialisms, decadence, was the result of a change: whereas economic conquest had previously paved the way for military conquest, the period of decadence saw the military, imperialism, as the precursor of economic domination. In general terms.

The decadence of capitalism, the triumph of imperialism, was and is not at root an ‘economic’ question. When we speak of ‘the crisis’, we must know of what crisis we speak. It is a social crisis. It is a crisis of relations of production which have become a fetter to capitalism itself and to the building of a new society. Decadence unfolded in the manner it did not under the impulsion of any economic determinism but, in the final analysis, because of the weakness of class consciousness and class organization within the world proletariat. World War One was a permitted by the enrollment of the working class behind bourgeois objectives and the defeat of its own project – the building of communism….

We have endured over 100 years of capitalist decadence which, as the 23rd Congress texts remind us, is different, more brutal, from those of previous class societies because there’s no rising mode of production to compensate for the decay of the existing state of affairs. 100 years of ‘accumulating contradictions’. Does not this quantity of time, this accumulation of the accumulations, transform into a certain quality? To my mind, the theses underpinning the theory of decomposition take into account such an evolution, describe the main driver of society in its present phase.

I was stimulated by Link’s post (#16) – until I reached the last paragraph. “As MH ends with, we need an analysis based on the evolution of capitalist crisis rather than schematic forecasts.”

After several seasons of unparalleled drought and flooding; with the ice caps melting, the ozone layer retreating, deserts encroaching, forests disappearing, the seas rising, shanty towns expanding, pollution shrouding the sphere; regional wars raging, vast swathes of displaced humanity desperately seeking sanctuary, a global pandemic shutting down much of world production and warnings of famine “on a biblical scale”, all amidst a marked retreat in proletarian resistance, we should choose our words carefully. Particularly when the vast majority of this trajectory (and more, though excluding the refugee question) was laid out in the ICC’s 1990 Theses on Decomposition. A “schematic forecast” the theory of decomposition was and is not. Neither was it ‘late’: well ahead of the curve, in fact. Remains so.

The present pandemic is certainly not a product of a crisis in the economy per se (even if its effect has been amplified by decades of austerity) but a product of it’s dynamism, its ‘success’. We appeared to be agreed on that. The cliff off which the world economy is about to fall wasn’t produced by an economic crisis as such but by a medical – ie social – one. The driver – in the absence of a proletarian response, and even after it - is decomposition, final phase of capitalism. The idea of capitalism as a glistening, high-speed train heading for a crash should be rejected: it’s the old theory of some ‘final’, epic economic crisis which we tended to surpass some time ago. A brutal halt in economic activity is already underway: we shouldn’t examine through economistic eyes.

I’ve more to say on the balance of class forces, the rise of China...

d-man
On stats, Link has cautioned

On stats, Link has cautioned taken them always as reliable indicators, but I'd stress that in particular on the very concept of GDP doubts are raised. IIRC that concept didn't even exist until the 1930s, so although perhaps it could be calculated for the past (19th century) retroactively by us now, surely the communists at the time who declared the decadence of capitalism around 1914 couldn't have done so on a (narrow) economic basis of (doubtful) GDP evolutions. Which raises the question, if we're going to use economic indicators neverthetless to conceptualise decadance, what are the indicators/metrics/standards? Mere physical production output? You can easily fall into the kind of upbeat story of Pinker about progress (I don't know if he also takes the example of China).

Link
 

 

 

Regarding KTs last contribution, I will firstly absolutely agree that Decadence is not an economic issue. MH and I have discussed this on the forum for some time.  No economic theories determines when the ascendant period is completed  ie neither that the FROP nor  Luxemburg’s theory that capital accumulation depends solely on the existence of pre-capitalist markets.  I do see decadence as the culmination of political/social developments mainly the completion of nation states and national economies in developed countries and the achievement of a world market dominated by capitalist relations.  Its not the achievement of an specific stage of economic crisis

 

I do hope Alf comes back with some comments on my suggestions about old and new ICC approaches to crisis as this point that KT is now making is what I would consider one of the new ICC approach. 

 

Regarding the remainder the contribution:

 

Where does the figure of only 25% of the globe being dominated by capitalism at the start of the 20th century.   Apart from Europe, N America, most of south America, most of Africa, Middle East Australia, China, Japan, most of Far East, most of Russia, I’m not sure where to look – Greenland, Antartica, Artic, and parts of Africa, Asia and S America but that doesn’t total 75% of the globe!!  See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_in_1907

 

Imperialism is not a military relationship.  It is primarily an economic relationship amongst competing capitalist states that leads to inevitably to wars of course.  It’s a product of monopoly capital and financial capital and of the completion of nation state and the states involvement in international affairs.  

 

Economic crises are not abstract.  What is in contradiction to the means of production are capitalist relations of production which are economic as well as social/political.  However I do agree that the interrelationship between economic and social/political crises is really important and not just one way. I think you misinterpret all that is being said if you read ‘capitalist crisis’ to mean ‘economic crisis’.

 

The current pandemic is clearly a health crisis that demonstrates the failure of capitalism.  It demonstrates the fragility of a money based system.    But is the world economy about to drop of a cliff?  Is that definite?  Its quite likely I don’t disagree - but is it the only possibility, I don’t think so.  There are I’m sure far more scientists working on this than on Ebola or SARS outbreaks so maybe a vaccine will be found more quickly than the 2 years being suggested.  Maybe also the collapse of the economy will trigger a new period of reconstruction once the virus is dealt with.  Maybe there will be a wave of class struggle against the consequences of the pandemic especially when it starts hitting migrant worker groups in poor countries.  We cant tell yet.

 

KT made the very good point in a previous contribution that saw the pandemic as a product of capitalist decadence ie a consequence of factors such as mega cities, large populations and widespread transport facilities.  I do think this is an excellent point to make which poses many further discussion points, but I cant see all this as being driven by this Period of Decomposition.  In fact newspaper articles this weekend are suggesting that the frequency of potential pandemics has increased since the 70s and often relate to animal treatment.   If nothing else, when we have a revolution, these factors enabling spread will still exist and they will have to be accommodated.

 

Lastly KT combines this fall of a cliff forecast with the notion that I have criticised repeatedly, that this is the FINAL crisis.  No hope therefore? No new phase, no revolution, no war?

MH
Reply to KT

KT’s post is a vigorous polemic against vulgar materialism and a warning against narrow economistic views of capitalism’s historic crisis. I’m sure such views have been expressed somewhere, just not anywhere here.

I began this thread by saying that there are some issues and problems with the ICC’s position on 'decomposition' which, it appears to me, is not sufficiently grounded in an analysis of the evolution of capital's economic crisis.

In response to baboon I also argued that what the ICC terms ‘decomposition’ is fundamentally the accumulation of the contradictions of decadent capitalism which results from the deepening of its crisis at the economic level.

From this KT appears to believe I am defending a vulgar economistic interpretation of capitalist decadence.

In my first post I set out a basic framework which sought to explain both the signs of capitalism’s apparently spectacular growth and the qualitative deepening and acceleration of its decay in this historic period. I referred to the accumulation of contradictions produced by capitalism’s dynamism, which accelerates the development of all its inherently destructive tendencies in its epoch of decay. I also referred to the fact that China’s dramatic growth inevitably displays all the symptoms of these destructive tendencies. 

I even referred to the fact that there is a definite tendency for superstructural decay to become a determinant on the economic base.

So I think KT is bending the stick a bit here (*), something I have sometimes been guilty of myself, but despite this I think his concern is helpful because, as I have argued from the start, if there are issues and problems with ‘decomposition’ they can only be clarified by deepening our understanding of decadence.

Capitalism, as KT insists, is above all a social relation between human beings, whose actions cannot be abstracted from an analysis of its economic crisis ... and it is governed by objective laws that are themselves historically specific forms taken by the class struggle and which have their own material reality.

KT is right to insist that decadence is above all a social crisis, whose onset was announced not by an economic crisis but the explosion of imperialist conflicts .. .and this crisis had its roots in the contradictions of the system at the level of its objective laws - fundamentally in the inherent limits of the wage labour relation and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall - which meant it eventually became a definitive fetter on the further development of the productive forces of humanity. 

Similarly, decadence unfolds through the conscious struggles of human beings and the increasingly violent accumulation of capitalism’s contradictions at all levels driven inexorably by its objective laws, leading to the prolongation of its death agony and the qualitative deepening of its decay at all levels.

Which hopefully brings us back to ‘decomposition’.

KT concludes that the covid-19 global pandemic “wasn’t produced by an economic crisis as such but by a … social one” - which I think we can happily agree on in the light of the above.

KT also argues the driver of this social crisis is “decomposition, final phase of capitalism”. This may be just shorthand, but to be clear: if 'decomposition' is, as Alf says, simply “an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production”, then surely the driver here is the accumulation of the contradictions of the decaying system - including its contradictions at the ‘economic’ level? 

Lastly, we can agree the ICC has been ahead of the curve in analysing the trajectory of capitalist society since the 1980s, despite its difficulties in explaining the appearance of dramatic growth in the 1990s. Indeed I think this, along with a clear recognition of the significance of the revival of workers’ struggles after May ’68, is one of its most enduring contributions to the Communist Left.

To repeat, again, what I'm pointing to here are some issues and problems with the way in which the ICC has developed its analysis of this trajectory, based on the ICC's own previous analyses and its own recognition of its own weaknesses. It may be helpful if KT and baboon tell us whether they basically agree with the ICC's balance sheet of its strengths and weaknesses at its 21st Congress (IR 156), and if they do, what they think the implications of this are for this debate?  

(*) KT: "The idea of capitalism as a glistening, high-speed train heading for a crash should be rejected: it’s the old theory of some ‘final’, epic economic crisis which we tended to surpass some time ago". Metaphors are clearly trickier than I thought but ... seriously?! 

Alf
decadence and productive forces

Just a short reply to Link for now. One of the starting points for this topic, as noted by MH in particular, is the critical balance sheet the ICC has been trying to draw about the last 40 or so years of its analyses. This project has not been abandoned. One of the criticisms we have made of our own analyses of the economic crisis is that we have sometimes been prey to the all-pervasive influence of vulgar materialism. KT's post is particularly eloquent as a reminder that the communist vanguard cannot drop its guard against this expression of the dominant ideology. However, I don't agree with Link that this means we can divide the ICC's analysis either of the crisis or of decadence into "old" ICC and "new" ICC, for the simple reason that the errors we have made can equally result from a forgetting or a superficial assimilation of fundamental acquisitions as from a failure to elaborate them in the light of new developments. The question of the development of the productive forces in the decadent epoch is a case in point. Our original pamphlet on decadence, written in the early 70s, has a chapter which clearly rejects the notion that decadence implies a complete halt in the development of the productive forces (https://en.internationalism.org/pamphlets/decadence/ch4); rather it means that the capitalist social relation becomes a growing fetter on the productive forces, which continue to grow, but in an increasingly distorted and destructive manner. The dependence of capitalism on military production is probably the most striking expression of this, as the pamphlet argues. This basic point does not alter with decomposition, even if the latter signifies a qualitative "advance" in the decay of the system. The dizzying growth rates reached by Chinese capitalism are - as a number of comrades seem to agree - a clear expression of growth as decay, as a kind of tumour, and do not at all contradict our conclusion that capitalism has reached the terminal stage of its decline.   

A final word about Rosa Luxemburg's analysis.  Link seems to imply that we have sidelined Luxemburg's thesis, or at least jettisoned its more "dogmatic" aspects. On the contrary, the self-critical discussions we have been having about crisis and decadence have led us towards a deeper understanding of Luxemburg's theory, not least a rejection of the idea that the extra-capitalist milieu was exhausted in 1914, which was not at all the thesis of The Accumulation of Capital. And as the recent contribution on the Silk Road also reminds us, capitalism's dynamic rapport with the extra-capitalist milieu is not only a question of markets, but also of the exploitation of new sources of labour power and natural resources, and their integration into the capitalist system (https://en.internationalism.org/content/16841/new-silk-road-chinas-challenge-existing-world-order). 

 

Link
Thanks Alf, ill read the

Thanks Alf, ill read the material on china

MH
debate so far...

For me the main clarification to come out of this discussion so far is that ‘decomposition’ is not just about superstructural decay: according to Alf it is “an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production (and not only its superstructures)” (#5).

I’m not sure what to make of this tbh. The ICC’s 1990 Theses definitely talk about a new phase where ‘decomposition’ becomes “a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution”, which seems to imply that not everything in this phase is decomposition. This is certainly what I have been arguing until recently.  

So has the ICC changed its position since then in the light of further developments or is this an area where there are ambiguities or different points of view?

In any case if decomposition is ‘simply’ an advanced phase of capitalist decadence, “an expression of the accumulation of all the contradictions of capitalism” (Baboon), it is even more important to integrate an analysis of the appearance of dynamic growth in this period into our framework for understanding it.

For Alf, China’s growth is an expression of what Marx called "growth as decay" (#5) and it is thus a symptom of decomposition.

For Baboon, China’s growth is proof that capitalism’s only motive is growth itself, but this is a “cancerous growth; a growth of putrefaction” (#22), and is thus proof of decomposition.

For KT, it is only possible to understand China’s growth in terms of imperialism and the war economy, which leads to the conclusion that the key factor is the collapse of the blocs. The rise of China is therefore “primarily a product of decomposition, particularly on the military level” (#8).

The basic problem with all of these arguments for me is that in themselves they are not sufficient to explain the appearance of dynamic growth in East Asia from the start of the 1980s:

  • As I have pointed out, Marx’s phrase “growth as decay” is a description of all development in the entire epoch of decadence.
  • Capitalism’s only motive is indeed its own self-expansion and the cancerous and putrefying quality of its growth has steadily metastasized throughout its decadent epoch.
  • Similarly, all growth in decadence is only understandable in terms of imperialism and the needs of the war economy.

Instead I have suggested we need a framework grounded in the evolution of capitalism’s historic crisis at the economic level and based on the ICC’s own previous analyses. So far no one has engaged with the specific points in this framework to explain to me how and why they are wrong (#11).

It is also worth noting that the latest ICC article on the New Silk Road clearly locates the reasons for China’s rise, not in the “unprecedented circumstances of the historical period of decomposition”, but in political and economic developments at the start of the 1980s, specifically:

  • the legalisation of forms of private property which enabled the introduction of a capitalist credit economy, and
  • the existence of vast pre-capitalist zones including not only hundreds of millions of peasants but also “soil, terrain, natural resources, raw materials, labour power, markets, and everything which can be used to generate credit”.

These same factors also explain why growth is now slowing down and the Chinese expansion is approaching its limits.

Whether or not we agree these are the key factors, this analysis only serves to underline the importance of a particular conjuncture in the capitalist crisis in the 1980s.

As Link points out (#3), this same period also sees a recovery and significant growth of profit rates corresponding to the massive attack on the working class in the capitalist heartlands and the resulting reflux in struggles. And it is the deepening of this same crisis which eventually precipitates the disintegration of the rigid Stalinist state capitalist regime and the collapse of the two-bloc system.

The qualitative deepening and acceleration of political instability, loss of social cohesion and superstructural decay at all levels from the mid-1980s onwards thus appears primarily as the consequence of the evolution of the capitalist crisis and more fundamentally of the prolongation of decadent capitalism for over 100 years. In other words, the collapse of the two-bloc system was not in itself the key factor, still less was it the main reason for the growth of the East Asian countries 1980 onwards.

d-man
MH wrote in reply to me

MH wrote in reply to me (comment #12):

Quote:
(Why did these countries pursue attempts at autarky in the first place? As a response to their relative economic weakness and the difficulties of new industrial powers emerging in capitalism’s epoch of decay, along with other historical factors beyond the scope of this discussion.)

My question was, as a response to their economic weakness in their emerging period, why didn't they immediately apply the strategy of growth that apparently proved succesful later? According to you, their autarchy model was the best available. That is, they were unable for some reason to apply the "open-market" policy in the emerging period from the start. It required an economic crisis (around 1970s) in order for them to make the switch. But they were already in crisis, or economic weakness, from the very beginning (eg why didn't India in 1947 already open foreign investment to boost growth?). Surely, if those countries' leaders had known about the policy change, that according to you is the reason for their present growth, they would have adopted it much sooner, even from the very beginning, instead of waiting for their autarchy policy to fall into crisis (and it never even got off the ground). So were they stupid?

MH
d-man wrote: Surely, if those

d-man wrote:
Surely, if those countries' leaders had known about the policy change, that according to you is the reason for their present growth, they would have adopted it much sooner, even from the very beginning, instead of waiting for their autarchy policy to fall into crisis (and it never even got off the ground). So were they stupid?

d-man your question seems to be premised on the assumption that it is basically a matter of a policy decision by a country’s leaders rather than the orientation of an entire national capital faced with circumstances not of its choosing, ie. the difficulties of new industrial powers emerging on the world market? In my posts I have also emphasised the particular conjuncture in the evolution of the capitalist crisis that enabled the East Asian countries to emerge onto the world market. I’m not very familiar with the post-WW2 history of East Asia but the ICC has published articles about the history of China including a special issue. In the USSR you could certainly argue the Stalinist bureaucracy was a particularly fossilised and myopic ruling faction and it acted in defence of its own narrow interests. The historically anomalous features of Stalinist state capitalism are described further in the New Silk Road article.

d-man
I understood you said that

I understood you said that there's a change of policy:

Quote:
... the deepening of the capitalist crisis at the end of the 1970s. It was this which forced the western economies to abandon Keynesian policies and mount a massive and frontal attack against the working class via neoliberal policies.

If you prefer to call 'policy by leaders' instead an 'orientation of a national economy', and 'choice' a 'forced change', fine by me. I'm further accepting your claims about economic weakness of emerging economies and a particular crisis in the 1970s, which are 2 episodes of difficulties. You have not explained why in one case they are 'forced' into autarchy, and in the other they are 'forced' into open market (Deng's reforms).

I don't ask why Western economies didn't do a "frontal attack" already in 1946, because the attack in 1970s didn't give them a significant growth rate boost, unlike the one you note in China after 1980s, so such a policy change would not matter, but in case of China it does apparently. The recent ICC article speaks of shortage of capital due to prohibition of private credit, and then Chinese decided to uplift the ban on private credit. Based on your argument, you'd thus be saying that back in 1949 (or whatever our starting date is) allowing private credit wasn't a possible option, for some reason. For you such an "orientation" only became possible/available due to the 1970s crisis. Or, on the other hand, if you admit that already from the beginning such a policy were possible, but darn it, there was no sufficient cause/motive (like the 1970s crisis) to implement it, then my point is: wasn't the whole economic weakness for emerging economies already sufficient cause/motive, as a crisis moment? Moreover, these are not 2 neutral policies/orientation; your whole stress is that evidently the second kind of orientaton was a brilliant success: and so, if it was available (check), and there was crisis situation (check), why not choose it from the beginning?

In reply to my question "were the leaders stupid" (in the early beginning in China), you appear to answer, yes they were; in the USSR they remained stupid for a longer time ("particularly fossilised and myopic ruling faction and it acted in defence of its own narrow interests."). The meaning of 'stupid" is that of holding back the growth rate of the whole country, when it was possible to boost the rate through a policy change. And this not for any particular reason at all, not even self-interest, as you imply, but due to pure stupidity. The ruling faction's interests are still served today, likely even better. And so you arrive at the conclusion that Mao was stupid, in order to come up with an explanation of China's later brilliant growth rate.