For the proletarian revolution to go beyond being a mere hope or historical potentiality or perspective and become a concrete possibility, it had to become an objective necessity for the development of humanity. This has in fact been the historic situation since the First World War: this war marked the end of the ascendant phase of the capitalist mode of production, a phase which began in the sixteenth century and which reached its zenith at the end of the nineteenth century. The new phase which followed was that of the decadence of capitalism.
As in all previous societies, the first phase of capitalism expressed the historically necessary character of its productive relations, that is to say their indispensable role in the expansion of society’s productive forces. The second phase, on the other hand, expressed the increasing transformation of these relations into a fetter on the development of the productive forces.
The decadence of capitalism is the product of the development of the internal contradictions inherent in the relations of capitalist production which can be summarised in the following way. Although commodities have existed in nearly all societies, the capitalist economy is the first to be fundamentally based on the production of commodities. Thus the existence of an ever-increasing market is one of the essential conditions for the development of capitalism. In particular, the realisation of the surplus value which comes from the exploitation of the working class is indispensable for the accumulation of capital which is the essential motor-force of the system. Contrary to what the idolaters of capital claim, capitalist production does not create automatically and at will the markets necessary for its growth. Capitalism developed in a non-capitalist world, and it was in this world that it found the outlets for its development. But by generalising its relations of production across the whole planet and by unifying the world market, capitalism reached a point where the outlets which allowed it to grow so powerfully in the nineteenth century became saturated. Moreover, the growing difficulty encountered by capital in finding a market for the realisation of surplus value accentuates the fall in the rate of profit, which results from the constant widening of the ratio between the value of the means of production and the value of the labour power which sets them in motion. From being a mere tendency, the fall in the rate of profit has become more and more concrete; this has become an added fetter on the process of capitalist accumulation and thus on the operation of the entire system.
Having unified and universalised commodity exchange, and in so doing made it possible for humanity to make an immense leap forward, capitalism has thus put on the agenda the disappearance of relations of production based on exchange. But as long as the proletariat has not undertaken the task of making them disappear, these relations of production maintain their existence and entangle humanity in a more and more monstrous series of contradictions.
The crisis of over-production, a characteristic expression of the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production but one which in the past, when the system was still healthy, constituted an essential spur for the expansion of the market, has today become a permanent crisis. The under-utilisation of capital’s productive apparatus has become permanent and capital has become incapable of extending its social domination, if only to keep pace with population growth. The only thing that capitalism can extend across the world today is absolute human misery which already is the lot of many backward countries.
In these conditions, competition between capitalist nations has become more and more implacable. Since 1914 imperialism, which has become the means of survival for every nation no matter how large or small, has plunged humanity into a hellish cycle of crisis - war - reconstruction - new crisis…, a cycle characterised by immense armaments production which has increasingly become the only sphere where capitalism applies scientific methods and a full utilisation of the productive forces. In the period of capitalist decadence, humanity is condemned to live through a permanent round of self-mutilation and destruction.
The physical poverty which grinds down the underdeveloped countries is echoed in the more advanced countries by an unprecedented dehumanisation of social relationships which is the result of the fact that capitalism is absolutely incapable of offering any future to humanity, other than one made up of more and more murderous wars and a more and more systematic, rational and scientific exploitation. As in all other decadent societies this has led to a growing decomposition of social institutions, of the dominant ideology, of moral values, of art forms and all the other cultural manifestations of capitalism. The development of ideologies like fascism and Stalinism express the triumph of barbarism in the absence of a revolutionary alternative.