4 - The theory of decadence at the heart of historical materialism

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In the first article in this series, published in International Review n118, we saw how the theory of decadence is at the very heart of historical materialism, of Marx and Engels’ analysis of the evolution of modes of production. Equally, we find the same notion at the centre of the programmatic texts of the organisations of the working class. Furthermore, not resting at merely adopting this foundation-stone of marxism, some of these organisations have developed the analysis and/or its political implications. It’s from this dual point of view that we aim here to briefly review the main political expressions of the workers’ movement. In this first part we will begin with the movement in the days of Marx, the Second International, the marxist lefts which came out of it, and the Communist International at the time it was formed. In the second part, which will appear in a future issue, we will examine more closely the analytical framework for the political positions developed by the Third International and then by the left fractions which emerged from it as it began to degenerate, and from which we draw our political and organisational origins.

The workers’ movement at the time of Marx

Marx and Engels always clearly expressed the view that the perspective of the communist revolution depended on the material, historical, and global evolution of capitalism. The conception that a mode of production could not expire before the relations of production on which it was based had become a barrier to the development of the productive forces was the basis of the whole political activity of Marx and Engels and of the elaboration of any proletarian political programme. Although there were two moments when Marx and Engels thought that they had discerned the beginning of the decadence of capitalism,[1] they rapidly corrected these appreciations and recognised that capitalism was still a progressive system. Their view - already outlined in the Communist Manifesto and deepened by all their writings from this period - that if the proletariat came to power in this period its principal task would be to develop capitalism in the most progressive manner possible, and not simply to destroy it, was an expression of this analysis. This is why the practice of marxists in the First International was quite rightly based on the analysis that as long as capitalism had a progressive role to play, it was necessary for the workers’ movement to support bourgeois movements which were helping to prepare the historic ground for socialism. As the Manifesto put it:

We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.[…] The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement. In France, the Communists ally with the Social-Democrats against the conservative and radical bourgeoisie, reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position in regard to phrases and illusions traditionally handed down from the great Revolution. In Switzerland, they support the Radicals, without losing sight of the fact that this party consists of antagonistic elements, partly of Democratic Socialists, in the French sense, partly of radical bourgeois. In Poland, they support the party that insists on an agrarian revolution as the prime condition for national emancipation, that party which fomented the insurrection of Cracow in 1846. In Germany, they fight with the bourgeoisie whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty bourgeoisie… Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries”. [2]

In parallel with this, it was necessary for the workers to continue fighting for reforms as long as the development of capitalism made them possible, and in this struggle “the Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class”(Manifesto). These materialist positions were defended against the a-historical calls of the anarchists for the immediate abolition of capitalism, and their complete opposition to reforms.[3]

The Second International: heir to Marx and Engels

The Second International made this adaptation of the policy of the workers’ movement to the historical period even more explicit, by adopting a minimum programme of immediate reforms (recognition of the unions, diminution of the working day, etc) alongside a maximum programme, socialism, to be put into effect when the inevitable historical crisis of capitalism arrived. This appears very clearly in the Erfurt Programme which concretised the victory of marxism within social democracy: “So private property in the means of production has changed from what it originally was into its opposite, not only for the small producer, but for society as a whole. From a motive power of progress it has become a cause of social degradation and bankruptcy…Today there is no longer any question as to whether the system of private ownership in the means of production shall be maintained. Its downfall is certain. The only question to be answered is: Shall the system of private ownership in the means of production be allowed to pull society with itself down into the abyss; or shall society shake off that burden and then, free and strong, resume the path of progress which the evolutionary law prescribes to it? The productive forces that have been generated in capitalist society have become irreconcilable with the very system of property upon which it is built. The endeavour to uphold this system of property renders impossible all further social development, condemns society to stagnation and decay – a decay that is accompanied by the most painful convulsions…The capitalist social system has run its course; its dissolution is now only a question of time. Irresistible economic forces lead with the certainty of doom to the shipwreck of capitalist production. The substitution of a new social order for the existing one is no longer simply desirable, it has become inevitable...As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism…the history of mankind is determined, not by ideas, but by an economic development which progresses irresistibly, obedient to certain underlying laws and not to anyone’s wishes or whims”.[4]

But for the majority of the main official leaders of the Second International, the minimum programme would more and more become the only real programme of Social Democracy: “The final goal is nothing. The movement is everything”, as Bernstein put it. Socialism and the proletarian revolution were reduced to platitudes and sermons reserved for First of May parades, while the energy of the official movement was more and more focussed on obtaining for Social Democracy a place inside the capitalist system, at whatever cost. Inevitably, the opportunist wing of Social Democracy began to reject the very idea of the necessity for the destruction of capitalism and the social revolution, and to defend the idea of a slow, gradual transformation of capitalism into socialism.

The marxist left within the Second International

In response to the development of opportunism in the Second International, left fractions emerged in a number of countries. The latter would be the basis of the formation of the communist parties that would be born in the wake of the betrayal of proletarian internationalism by Social Democracy when the First World War broke out. These fractions were loud and clear in taking up the torch of marxism and the heritage of the Second International; at the same time they were obliged to develop this legacy faced with the new challenge posed by the opening of a new period of capitalism – the period of decadence.

These currents appeared at a moment when capitalism was going through the last phase of its ascent, when imperialist expansion made it possible to see the prospect of confrontation between the great powers on the world arena, and when the class struggle was more and more raising its head (the development of general political strikes and above all of the mass strike in several countries). Against the opportunism of Bernstein and Co., the left wing of Social Democracy – the Bolsheviks, the Dutch Tribunists, Rosa Luxemburg and other revolutionaries - would defend all the implications of the marxist analysis: understanding the dynamic of the end of the ascendant phase of capitalism and the inevitable bankruptcy of the system,[5] the reasons for the opportunist deviation[6] and the reaffirmation of the necessity for the violent and definitive destruction of capitalism.[7] Unfortunately, all this theoretical work by the left fractions was not carried out on an international scale; they worked in isolation and with different degrees of understanding of the formidable social convulsions of the first part of the 20th century, represented by the outbreak of the First World War and the development of insurrectionary movements on an international scale. We will not presume here either to present or analyse in detail all the contributions of the left fractions on these questions: we will limit ourselves to a few key position statements of the two organisations which would constitute the two vertebral columns of the new International – the Bolsheviks and the German Communist Party – through its two most eminent representatives: Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.

While Lenin didn’t use the terms “ascendance” and “decadence”, but expressions like “the epoch of progressive capitalism”. “once a factor of progress”, “the epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie” to characterise the ascendant period of capitalism, and “the epoch of the reactionary bourgeoisie” “capitalism has become reactionary”, “moribund capitalism”, “the epoch of a capitalism which has reached its maturity” to characterise the period of the decadence of capitalism, he nevertheless made full use of the concept and its essential implications, notably in his analysis of the nature of the First World War. Thus, against the social-traitors who, by making use of the analyses developed by Marx during the ascendant phase of capitalism, continued to call for support for certain bourgeois factions and their national liberation struggles, Lenin was able to see the First World War as the expression of a system that had exhausted its historical mission, posing the necessity to overcome it through a world wide revolution. Hence his characterisation of the imperialist war as being totally reactionary and the need to oppose it with proletarian internationalism and revolution: “From the liberator of nations that capitalism was in the struggle against feudalism, imperialist capitalism has become the greatest oppressor of nations. Formerly progressive, capitalism has become reactionary; it has developed the forces of production to such a degree that mankind is faced with the alternative of going over to Socialism or of suffering years and even decades of armed struggle between the great powers for the artificial preservation of capitalism by means of colonies, monopolies, privileges and national oppression of every kind” (Socialism and War, 2, “The principles of socialism and the war of 1914-15”).

The epoch of capitalist imperialism is one of ripe and rotten-ripe capitalism, which is about to collapse, and which is mature enough to make way for socialism. The period between 1789 and 1871 was one of progressive capitalism when the overthrow of feudalism and absolutism, and liberation from the foreign yoke were on history’s agenda” (“Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International”).

From all that has been said in this book on the economic essence of imperialism, it follows that we must define it as capitalism in transition, or, more precisely, as moribund capitalism…It is precisely the parasitism and decay of capitalism, characteristic of its highest historical stage of development, i.e., imperialism.

Imperialism is the eve of the social revolution of the proletariat. This has been confirmed since 1917 on a world-wide scale” (Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1920 introduction to French and German editions).

The positions taken up in the face of war and revolution have always been the clear line of demarcation within the workers’ movement. Lenin’s ability to discern the historical dynamic of capitalism, to recognise the end of the “epoch of progressive capitalism”, to see that “capitalism has become reactionary” not only enabled him to clearly characterise the First World War but also to grasp the nature and significance of the revolution in Russia. When the revolutionary situation was maturing in this country, the Bolshevik’s understanding of the tasks imposed by the new period allowed them to fight against the mechanistic and nationalist conceptions of the Mensheviks. When the latter tried to minimise the importance of the revolutionary wave under the pretext that Russia was far too underdeveloped for socialism, the Bolsheviks insisted that the world wide nature of the imperialist war revealed that world capitalism had arrived at the point of maturity where the socialist revolution had become a necessity. They thus fought for the seizure of power by the working class in Russia, which they saw as the prelude to the world proletarian revolution.

Among the first and clearest expressions of this defence of marxism was the pamphlet Social Reform or Revolution, written by Rosa Luxemburg in 1899. Here, while recognising that capitalism was still expanding through “brusque expansionist thrusts” (i.e. imperialism), Luxemburg insisted on the fact that capitalism was moving ineluctably towards its “crisis of senility”, which would necessitate the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat. Moreover, with a great deal of political perspicacity, Luxemburg was able to grasp the new demands posed by the change in historical period to the struggles and political positions of the proletariat, in particular as regards the union question, the parliamentary tactic, the national question and the new methods of struggle highlighted by the mass strike.[8]

On the trade unions: “Once industrial development has attained its highest possible point, and capitalism has entered its descending phase on the world market, the trade union struggle will become doubly difficult …Such is the general trend of things in our society. The counterpart of this tendency is the development of the political and social class struggle” (Social Reform or Revolution, 3, “The introduction of socialism through social reforms”)

On parliamentarism: “National assembly or all power to the workers and soldiers’ councils; abandoning socialism or the most resolute class struggle of the armed proletariat against the bourgeoisie – that is the dilemma. Realising socialism through the parliamentary road, through a simple majority decision now appears as an idyllic project…Parliamentarism, it is true, was an arena of the class struggle of the proletariat during the tranquil phase of the life of bourgeois society. It was then a high tribune from which we could rally the masses around the flag of socialism and educate them for the struggle. But today we are at the very heart of the proletarian revolution and it’s a question of chopping down the very tree of capitalist exploitation. Bourgeois parliamentarism, like the class domination which was its basic reason for existence, has lost its legitimacy. Today when the class struggle has openly erupted, Capital and Labour no longer have anything to say to each other. It’s a matter of hand to hand combat and settling this life and death struggle once and for all” (Luxemburg, “National Assembly or Government of Councils”, 17 December 1918)

On the national question: “The world war serves neither the national defence nor the economic or political interests of the masses of the people whatever they may be. It is but a product of the imperialist rivalries between the capitalist classes of the different countries for world hegemony and for the monopoly in the exploitation and oppression of areas still not under the heel of capital. In the era of the unleashing of this imperialism, national wars are no longer possible. National interests serve only as the pretext for putting the labouring masses of the people under the domination of their mortal enemy, imperialism” (“Theses on the tasks of international social democracy”, appendix to The Crisis of Social Democracy).

The decadence of capitalism at the centre of the Communist International’s analysis

Brought into being by the revolutionary movements which put an end to the First World War, the Communist International was founded on the basis of recognising that the bourgeoisie had completed its progressive role, as the left wing of the Second International had predicted. The CI, and the groups which composed it, confronted with the task of understanding the turning point marked by the outbreak of the world war and of insurrectionary movements on an international scale, would - to a greater or lesser degree – see decadence as key to their understanding of the new period. Thus in the platform of the new International it says “A new epoch is born. The epoch of the disintegration of capitalism, of its inner collapse. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat”, and this framework of analysis would be found to a greater or lesser extent in all the CI’s position statements,[9] as in the “Theses on Parliamentarism” adopted at its Second Congress: “Theoretically clear communism, on the other hand, will correctly estimate the character of the present epoch: highest stage of capitalism; imperialist self-negation and self-destruction”.

This analytical framework would appear with even greater clarity in the “Report on the International Situation” written by Trotsky and adopted the Third Congress: “Cyclical oscillations, we said in refutation in our report and resolution at the Third World Congress, accompany capitalist society in its youth, in its maturity and its decay, just as the beatings of a heart accompany a man even on his deathbed” Trotsky, “Flood-tide”, 1921) It was also attested by the discussions around this report: “We saw yesterday in detail how comrade Trotsky – and all those who are here, I think, agree with him – shows on the one hand the relationship between short crises and short periods of momentary cyclical rises, and,on the other hand, the problem of the rise and decline of capitalism seen on the scale of great historical periods. We are all agreed that the grand rising curve will now irresistibly go in the opposite direction, and that within this grand curve there will be further oscillations up and down” (Authier D, Dauve G, Ni parlement ni syndicats..les conseils ouviers! Edition ‘Les nuits rouges, 2003 [10]). Finally, even more explicitly, this framework would be reaffirmed by the “Resolution on the Tactics of the CI” at its 4th Congress:

II. The period of the decline of capitalism. On the basis of its assessment of the world economic situation the Third Congress was able to declare with complete certainty that capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution. Obsolete capitalism has reached the stage where the destruction that results from its unbridled power is crippling and ruining the economic achievements that have been built up by the proletariat, despite the fetters of capitalist slavery…What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes”.

The analysis of the political significance of the First World War

The explosion of the imperialist war in 1914 marked a decisive turning point in the history both of capitalism and of the workers’ movement. The problem of the system’s “crisis of senility” was no longer a theoretical debate between different fractions of the workers’ movement. The understanding that the war had opened up a new period for capitalism as a historic system demanded a change in political practice which became a class frontier: on the one hand the opportunists who had clearly showed themselves to be agents of capitalism by “adjourning” the revolution in favour of national defence in an imperialist war; and, on the other hand, the revolutionary left, the Bolsheviks around Lenin, the Internationale group, the Bremen left radicals, the Dutch Tribunists etc who gathered at Zimmerwald and Kienthal and affirmed that the war marked the opening of the era of “wars and revolutions”, and that the only alterative to capitalist barbarism was the revolutionary uprising of the proletariat against the imperialist war. Of all the revolutionaries who took part in these conferences, the clearest on the question of the war were the Bolsheviks, and this clarity derived directly from the conception that capitalism had entered its phase of decadence since the “epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie” had given way to “the epoch of the reactionary bourgeoisie” as affirmed without ambiguity in the following passage from Lenin: “The Russian social-chauvinists (headed by Plekhanov), refer to Marx’s tactics in the war of 1870; the German (of the type of Lensch, David and Co.) to Engels’ statement in 1891 that in the event of war against Russia and France together, it would be the duty of the German Socialists to defend their fatherland…All these references are outrageous distortions of the views of Marx and Engels in the interest of the bourgeoisie and the opportunists…Whoever refers today to Marx’s attitude towards the wars of the epoch of the progressive bourgeoisie and forgets Marx’s statement that ‘the workers have no fatherland’, a statement that applies precisely to the epoch of the reactionary, obsolete bourgeoisie, to the epoch of the socialist revolution shamelessly distorts Marx and substitutes the bourgeois for the socialist point of view”.

This political analysis of the historic significance of the outbreak of the First World War determined the positions taken up by the whole revolutionary movement, from the marxist fractions inside the Second International[11] to the groups of the communist left via the Communist International. This is also what Engels had predicted at the end of the 19th century. "Friedrich Engels once said: ‘Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism’. What does ‘regression into barbarism’ mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization. At first, this happens sporadically for the duration of a modern war, but then when the period of unlimited wars begins it progresses toward its inevitable consequences. Today, we face the choice exactly as Friedrich Engels foresaw it a generation ago: either the triumph of imperialism and the collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration - a great cemetery. Or the victory of socialism, that means the conscious active struggle of the international proletariat against imperialism and its method of war. This is a dilemma of world history, an either/or; the scales are wavering before the decision of the class-conscious proletariat. The future of civilization and humanity depends on whether or not the proletariat resolves manfully to throw its revolutionary broadsword into the scales". (Luxemburg, The Crisis of Social Democracy, 1915).

It was also this understanding that had animated the revolutionary forces that took part in the foundation of the Communist International. Thus, in its statutes, it is very clearly stated that “The Third (Communist) International was formed at a moment when the imperialist slaughter of 1914-1918, in which the imperialist bourgeoisie of the various countries sacrificed twenty million men, had come to an end. Remember the imperialist war! This is the first appeal of the Communist International to every toiler wherever he may live and whatever language he may speak. Remember that owing to the existence of the capitalist system a small group of imperialists had the opportunity during four long years of compelling the workers of various countries to cut each other’s throats. Remember that this imperialist war had reduced Europe and the whole world to a state of extreme destitution and starvation. Remember that unless the capitalist system is overthrown a repetition of this criminal war is not only possible but is inevitable…. The Communist International considers the dictatorship of the proletariat an essential means for the liberation of humanity from the horrors of capitalism”.

Yes, more than ever, we must “remember” the analyses drawn up by our illustrious predecessors and we must reaffirm this all the more forcefully when parasitic grouplets try to dismiss it as “bourgeois moralism and humanism” by turning imperialist war and genocides into banalities. Under the pretext of a critique of the theory of decadence, such groups are actually attacking the most fundamental acquisitions of the workers’ movement: “For example, to demonstrate that the capitalist mode of production is in decadence, Sander affirms that its characteristic is genocide and that more than three quarters of deaths through war in the last 500 years have happened in the 20th century. This type of argument is also present in millenarian thinking. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the First World War was a turning point in history because of its grandeur and intensity. To follow them, the number of deaths during the First World War was ‘seven times greater than all the 901 preceding wars in the 2,400 years before 1914’. According to the polemicist Ruth Leger Sivard, in a work published in 1996, the century left around 110 million deaths in 250 wars. If we extrapolate this result to complete the century we will obtain around 120 million deaths, six times more than the 19th century. If we adjust the figure to take account of population increase, the relative number falls to 2 times…Even then, the effects of wars remains inferior to those of fleas and mosquitoes…It’s not by rallying to concepts that belong to modern bourgeois law (such as genocide), fashioned by democratic ideology and the rights of man in the aftermath of the Second World War that we will take materialism forward; still less will we increase our understanding of the history of the capitalist mode of production” (Robin Goodfellow, “Comrade, one more effort to no longer be revolutionary”).

Comparing the ravages of the imperialist war to something that is “inferior to the effects of fleas and mosquitoes” is a way of spitting on the millions of proletarians who were massacred on the battlefields and on the thousands of revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives to stay the murderous arm of the bourgeoisie and hasten the outbreak of revolutionary movements. It is a scandalous insult to the generations of communists who fought with all their might to denounce imperialist wars. Comparing the analyses bequeathed by Marx, Engels and all our predecessors of the Communist International and the communist left to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and to bourgeois moralism really is insane. In the face of such slander we fully concur with Rosa Luxemburg who argued that the indignation of the proletariat is a revolutionary force!

For these parasitic elements, the whole Third International, the Lenins, Trotskys, Bordigas, fell into a lamentable misunderstanding and stupidly mixed up the First World War, which the CI platform called “the greatest of all crimes” with something whose effects were “inferior to those of fleas and mosquitoes”. All the revolutionaries who thought that the imperialist war was the most gigantic catastrophe for the proletariat - “The catastrophe of the imperialist war has swept away all the conquests of the trade union and parliamentary battles” (Manifesto of the CI) - had committed the greatest of blunders: they had theorised the First World War as having opened up the period of the decline of capitalism. They had foolishly thought that “capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution” (“Theses on the Tactics of the Comintern”, op cit).

The haughty disdain of these parasites for the acquisitions of the workers’ movement, which have been inscribed in letters of blood by our class brothers, is only equalled by the disdain which the bourgeoisie shows towards the misery of the workers and the disembodied cynicism that this class displays when it uses its brutal statistics to show the merits of capitalism. To paraphrase the famous phrase which Marx used about Proudhon: “these parasites see in statistics only statistics and not their revolutionary social and political significance”.[12] All the revolutionaries of that period had grasped the qualitative difference, the whole social and political significance of this “mass slaughter of the elite of the international proletariat”..…

None the less, the imperialist bestiality raging in Europe's fields has one effect about which the ‘civilized world’ (and today’s parasites) is not horrified and for which it has no breaking heart: that is the mass destruction of the European proletariat. Never before on this scale has a war exterminated whole strata of the population… The best, most intelligent, most educated forces of international socialism, the bearers of the holiest traditions and the boldest heroes of the modern workers' movement, the vanguard of the entire world proletariat, the workers of England, France, Belgium, Germany, Russia - these are the ones now being hamstrung and led to the slaughter Here capitalism lays bare its death's head; here it betrays the fact that its historical rationale is used up; its continued domination is no longer reconcilable to the progress of humanity” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of Social Democracy).[13]

C Mcl

1 For more details, see the first article in this series, in International Review n°118.

2 Unfortunately, what Marx expressed very correctly in this epoch has often been used as a reactionary confusion in the period of decadence by those who point to the measures advocated in the Communist Manifesto as though they were still suitable for the present period

3 These apparently ultra-revolutionary positions were in fact the expression of a petty bourgeois desire to “abolish” capitalism and wage labour not by moving towards their historical supersession, but by regressing to a world of small independent producers.

4 The first article of this series has already clearly shown, with the aid of a number of quotes drawn from the whole of their work, that the concept of decadence as well as the term itself have their origin in the writings of Marx and Engels and constitute the heart of historical materialism in its understanding of the succession of modes of production. This completely refutes the crazy assertion made by the academicist journal Aufheben that “the theory of capitalist decline appeared for the first time in the Second International (in the series “On decadence: theory of decline or decline of theory”, in n 2,3 and 4 of Aufheben). However, the recognition that the theory of decadence was indeed at the core of the marxist programme of the Second International also gives the lie to the no less absurd assertions that the chorus of parasitic groups come up with. Thus for the IFICC (Bulletin no. 24, April 2004), the theory first appeared at the end of the 19th century “We have shown the origin of the notion of decadence in the debates around imperialism and the historic alternative between war and revolution which took place at the end of the 19th century faced with the deep transformations capitalism was going through”. For the RIMC (Revue Internationale du Mouvement Communiste), “The dialectic of the productive forces and the relations of production in communist theory”, it was born after the First World War: “The aim of this work is to make a global and definitive critique of the concept of ‘decadence’, which has poisoned communist theory, being one of the major deviations born out of the first post-war period, and one which gets in the way of any scientific work of restoring communist theory, owing to its entirely ideological nature”. Finally, for Internationalist Perspective (“Towards a new theory of the decadence of capitalism”), it was Trotsky who invented the concept: “The concept of the decadence of capitalism arose in the Third International and was developed in particular by Trotsky”. The only thing all these groups have in common is the criticism of our organisation, and in particular of our theory of decadence; but in reality none of them really know what they are talking about.

5 Which was done, for example, by Lenin in Imperialism, Highest Stage of Capitalism or Luxemburg in The Accumulation of Capital

6 Which was done again by Luxemburg in Social Reform or Revolution and later by Lenin in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky.

7 Once again, Lenin and Luxemburg did this in The State and Revolution and What Does Spartacus Want?

8 Read her book The Mass Strike, the Party and the Trade Unions

9 We will give a simpler illustration of this idea in the second part of this article.

10 This passage is an extract from the intervention by Alexander Schwab, a KAPD delegate at the 3rd Congress of the CI, in the discussion around Trotsky’s report on the world economic situation, “Theses on the world situation and the tasks of the Communist International”. It gives a clear insight into the tenor, the direction, and above all the conceptual framework of this report and the discussion in the CI around the notion of the rise and decline of capitalism on the level of “great historic periods”.

11One thing is certain. It is a foolish delusion to believe that we need only live through the war, as a rabbit hides under the bush to await the end of a thunderstorm, to trot merrily off in his old accustomed gait when it is all over. The world war has changed the condition of our struggle, and has changed us most of all” (Luxemburg, The Crisis of Social Democracy)

12 Even at the level of figures, our censors are still obliged to recognise, after their sage calculations, that the “relative relationship” between the numbers killed in decadence and the numbers killed in ascendance is double…

13 If we give space to answering such insults, it’s not only to stigmatise them and defend the theoretical acquisitions of entire generations of proletarians and revolutionaries, but also to firmly denounce the little milieu of parasites which cultivates and disseminates this kind of prose. We have here one of many examples of its totally parasitic nature: its role is to destroy the acquisitions of the communist left, to feed off the proletarian political milieu and to hurl discredit on the ICC in particular.


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