The Decadence of Capitalism - Introduction

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In order to know whether the communist revolution is necessary and possible today, we have to pose the question of the deca­dence of capitalism, to define the historic basis of the pro­gramme and strategy of the proletariat in the present epoch.

Questions such as the content of socialism, the nature of the unions, the politics of ‘frontism’, the nature of national libera­tion movements, are intimately linked to an analysis of the decadence of capitalism.

Decadence theory in the history of the workers’ movement

It is not because the immense majority of men are exploited and thus alienated that socialism is a historic necessity today. Exploitation and alienation already existed under slavery, feu­dalism, and nineteenth century capitalism, but socialism could not possibly have been realised in any of those epochs.

For socialism to become a reality not only must the means for its instigation (the working class and the means of production) be sufficiently developed, but also the system which it is to supersede - capitalism - must have ceased to be a system indis­pensable to the development of the productive forces, must have become a growing fetter on the productive forces, that is to say, that it must have entered its period of decline or deca­dence.

The socialists of the early nineteenth century regarded social­ism as an ideal to be attained, and its realisation was to result from the sheer good will of men - in the case of the ‘utopian’ socialists, from the good will of the ruling class itself. The endur­ing contribution of Marx and Engels was their understanding and scientific elaboration of the material necessity for the dis­appearance of capitalism and the realisation of communism. It is no accident that when Marx attempted to encapsulate the essence of his work in a single passage, he concentrated on the mechanisms of the historic growth and decay of the various modes of production through which humanity has developed:

“In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic struc­ture of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or - what is but a legal expression of the same thing - with the property relations with­in which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of devel­opment of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense super­structure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic condi­tions of production, which can be determined with the preci­sion of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aes­thetic or philosophic - in short ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of him­self, so we cannot judge such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence hove matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself only arises when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bour­geois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society.” (Marx, Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)

The methodological approach adopted in this passage remains indispensable for understanding how different soci­eties arise and decline. The appreciation that a mode of pro­duction cannot expire until the relations of production upon which that social system is based have become fetters on the further development of the productive forces is the basis for the definition of the proletariat’s political programme. Marx and Engels were quite clear that the perspective for the communist revolution was bound up with the global and historic evolution of capitalism itself.

What was less clear for Marx, especially in his earlier writ­ings, was the actual delineation of the “epoch of social revolu­tion” in capitalism’s development; and this lack of clarity was itself an objective product of the fact that the methodology of historical materialism emerged long before that epoch had dawned: Marx issued his first clarion calls to the proletarian revolution not in the period of capitalism’s decline, but of its most spectacular ascent. The imminent proletarian revolution proclaimed in the Communist Manifesto was thrust aside by the continued growth and expansion of capitalist social relations across the whole planet. Marx was definitely wrong to assert at that time that capitalist social relations had entered into a final conflict with the productive forces; although the collision between the two was always a feature of capitalism, the conflict was never irrevocable in the nineteenth century because capi­tal still had vast areas of the globe available for its continued enlarged reproduction, for offsetting the fundamental contra­dictions which Marx had identified in its process of accumula­tion: the tendency towards generalised overproduction and the saturation of the market, and the tendency for the rate of profit to decline.

Despite these errors, however, Marx and Engels were still able to base their programme on the recognition that capital­ism had yet to exhaust its progressive mission. This recognition was expressed for example in those passages in the Manifesto which talk about the tasks of the proletariat if it were to come to power at that time: the measures advocated are aimed at developing capitalism in the most progressive possible man­ner, rather than at destroying it root and branch (and thus what was a good example of Marx’s insight has unfortunately been turned into a reactionary state capitalist programme by those who advocate the same measures in the present epoch). More important, the practice of the marxists in the First International was correctly based on the understanding that since capitalism still had a progressive role to play, it was necessary for the working class to support those bourgeois movements which were helping to lay the historic groundwork for socialism (for example the struggles for national unification in Italy, Ger­many and the USA); similarly, that it was necessary for the workers to continue to fight for reforms since the growth of cap­italism made reforms possible, and since the struggle for reforms enabled the workers to constitute themselves into a cohesive and social and political force. These materialist posi­tions were defended against the anarchists’ a-historical demands for the immediate abolition of capitalism and their complete opposition to the struggle for reforms (these positions, though apparently ultra-revolutionary, actually concealed a petty bourgeois desire to ‘abolish’ capitalism and wage labour not by advancing towards their historical supercession but by regressing to the world of the independent small producer).

The Second International made the strategic adaptation to the epoch even more explicitly by elaborating a ‘minimum pro­gramme’ of immediately obtainable reforms (trade union recognition, shortening of the working day, etc) alongside a ‘maximum programme’ of socialism to be put into practice when the inevitable historic crisis of capitalism came about.

But for the majority of the chief tacticians and official leaders of the Second International the minimum programme was to become more and more the only real programme of the social democratic parties. Socialism, proletarian revolution, became mere sermonising platitudes to be trotted out on May Day parades, while the energy of the official movement was more and more focussed upon winning a place for social democracy within the capitalist system. Inevitably the ‘revisionist’ wing of the International (Bernstein etc) began to reject the very idea of the necessity for the collapse of capitalism and thus for a revo­lutionary transition to socialism, and to argue for the possibility of a gradual and peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism.

These ideologies were nurtured by the extraordinary devel­opment of the world capitalist economy in the last part of the 19th century, but this was already the last stage in the ascen­dant march of the capitalist system: imperialist expansion was beginning to show itself as the precursor to a new and cata­strophic phase in the life of bourgeois society, and class antag­onisms were becoming increasingly sharp and widespread (mass strikes in America, Germany, and above all Russia). Against the opportunist theorising of Bernstein and co, and the temporising of the social democratic ‘centre’ (Kautsky etc), the left wing within the International - Luxemburg, the Bolsheviks, the Dutch Tribune group etc - defended the fundamental marx­ist dictum of the necessity for the eventual violent overthrow of capitalism. The clearest statement of this defence was Luxem­burg’s Social Reform or Revolution (1898) which, while recognising that capitalism was still ascending by means of “brusque expansionist thrusts” (i.e. imperialism), insisted that the system would inevitably undergo a saturation of the world market, impelling its “crisis of senility” and producing an immediate need for the revolutionary conquest of power by the proletari­at. In 1913 Luxemburg published her great theoretical work The Accumulation of Capital, which attempted to analyse the real economic roots of this historic crisis, whose actual arrival was shortly to be announced to humanity in the form of the first imperialist world war.

Basing herself on Marx’s own insistence that the very nature of the wage labour relationship made it impossible for capital­ism to realise all the surplus value it extracted within its own social boundaries, Luxemburg concluded that capitalism’s his­toric decline must commence at the point where there is an exhaustion of the extra-capitalist markets in relation to the amount of surplus value generated by global capitalist produc­tion; for Luxemburg, capitalism was “...the first mode of econo­my which is unable to exist by itself, which needs other eco­nomic systems as a medium and a soil. Although it strives to become universal, and indeed on account of this tendency, it must break down – because it is immanently incapable of becoming a universal form of production.” (Accumulation of Capital). In sum, at the point which it dominated the globe, capitalism plunged into a permanent crisis of overproduction.

This conclusion remains to this day the clearest statement about the fundamental origins of the decadence of capitalism, subject of course to the various theoretical elaborations which the experience of another eighty years of decadence has enabled the revolutionary movement to put forward.

The outbreak of imperialist war in 1914 marked a historic turning point both in the history of capitalism and in the work­ers’ movement. No longer was the problem of the “crisis of senility” a theoretical debate between different wings of the workers’ movement. The understanding that the war marked a new period for capitalism as an historical system required and enabled the genuine marxist currents to draw a class frontier between themselves and those who, in one way or another, became apologists for the imperialist war. It was no accident that the frontier was essentially drown up between the old opportunist wing of social democracy - now openly acting as recruiting sergeants of the bourgeoisie - and the left fractions who had previously held on to the ground principles of the marxist theory of crisis. Luxemburg’s Internationale group, Lenin’s Bolshevik fraction, the left radicals of Bremen - these and others were the ones who held aloft the principles of prole­tarian internationalism, affirming that the war demonstrated the opening up of that period of “wars and revolutions” pre­dicted by Marx, and calling for the proletariat to oppose the imperialist war with its own revolutionary combat.

Of the revolutionaries who gathered together at the confer­ences of the internationalist opposition at Zimmerwald and Kienthal, the clearest on the question of the war itself were the Bolsheviks, who together with the German radicals insisted on the slogan “turn the imperialist war into a civil war”, sharply delineating the revolutionary position on the war from that of various centrist and semi-pacifist currents. And as the revolu­tionary situation in Russia matured, the Bolsheviks’ (and above all Lenin’s) understanding of the tasks of the new period enabled them to attack the mechanistic and nationalistic sophistries of the Mensheviks; while the latter attempted to hold back the tide of revolution by arguing that Russia was ‘too backward’ for socialism, the Bolsheviks pointed out that the world-imperialist nature of the war indicated the ripeness of the world capitalist system for socialist revolution. They thus boldly argued for the seizure of power by the Russian working class as a prelude to the world proletarian revolution.

It was to further the interests of the world revolution that the Bolsheviks were instrumental in the foundation of the Commu­nist International in 1919. The revolutionary parties which ral­lied round the banner of the Third International were fully aware of the crucial importance of defining the historic period for the elaboration of the communist programme:

“Aims and Tactics

1. The present epoch is the epoch of the disintegration and collapse of the entire capitalist wodd system, which will drag the whole of European civilisation down with it if capitalism with its insoluble contradictions is not destroyed.

2. The task of the proletariat is now to seize the State power immediately. The seizure of State power means the destruction of the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie and the organisation of a new proletarian apparatus of power.”

(From the ‘Invitation to the First Congress of the Communist International’, January 24, 1919)

The proclamations of the First Congress of the CI show a resounding clarity and confidence about the revolutionary tasks of the working class. Their whole emphasis was on the necessity for the immediate conquest of power by the workers, based on the dictatorship of the workers’ councils. There is con­sequently a clear understanding about the necessity for a break with the old aims and organisations of the pre-war work­ers’ movement: the social democratic parties which had sup­ported the war effort and then done all they could to crush the post-war revolutionary movements were roundly denounced as agents of capitalism, and cooperation with these organs was rejected; parliamentarism was to a great extent seen as being incapable of serving the interests of the working class; the problem of colonial oppression could, it was stated, only be solved in the context of a world socialist society. These and oth­er positions reflected the ascendant tide of revolution which was then sweeping through the whole world.

But the following congresses of the International, and espe­cially the Third, in 1921, showed a marked deterioration in coherence and revolutionary principles, and this is turn reflect­ed the reflux of the world revolution and the advancing degen­eration of the Bolshevik party in the context of the isolation of the Russian Soviet State. As the latter more and more took on the task of managing Russian national capital, and as the Bol­shevik party became more and more inextricably fused with the state, the International itself began to function more as an instrument of Russian foreign policy than as the world party of the revolution. The desperate attempts of the Bolsheviks to sal­vage something from this counter-revolutionary momentum led them to abandon the sharp revolutionary positions of the First Congress and to drift back towards the obsolete tactics of the previous period: parliamentarism, trade unionism, united fronts with the social democratic parties, support for the nation­al liberation struggle in the colonies, and so on. That all these tactics were justified by a revolutionary verbiage could not alter the fact that the change in the historic period could only render such tactics directly counter-revolutionary, no matter what were the intentions of those who resorted to them.

Those who today act within the working class as the extreme left wing of capitalism - Stalinists, Trotskyists, etc - are indeed the true inheritors of these counter-revolutionary policies; what were once the mistakes of the workers’ movement have become the raison d’etre of these bourgeois gangs. Of course Stalinist and Trotskyists may pay lip service to various concepts of capitalist decadence, but this is robbed of any material basis as soon as one considers that throughout their history these cur­rents have considered a large part of the world to be ‘socialist’ or at least ‘non-capitalist’, and therefore historically ascendant and deserving the support of ‘revolutionaries’; even those left­ists who consider the Stalinist regimes to be state capitalist have never hesitated to support either them or various third world countries in the innumerable inter-imperialist wars that have ravaged the planet since World War Two. In any case the application of the theory of capitalist decay to the countries these leftists do consider to be capitalist is entirely subordinated to their immediate pragmatic needs as apologists for capital: no amount of talk about state capitalism by the British Socialist Workers Party, for example, has ever prevented it from seeing something progressive in nationalisation and something work­ing class in the Labour or Communist Parties.

At the time of the first great revolutionary wave, the real con­sequences of a materialist analysis of the new epoch were defined essentially by the left communists who fought against the degeneration of the CI, in particular the German KAPD (Communist Workers Party). The interventions of the KAPC) at the Third Congress of the CI were all concerned with the tasks imposed on revolutionaries by the new period, and almost symbolically represent the fundamental split which was taking place in the workers’ movement of that time.

On the interpretation of the world economic crisis, the KAPD militant, Schwab, insisted on the fundamental difference between the period of capitalism’s ascendancy and its period of decline, and there was already an understanding that this historic decline did not signify a complete stagnation of the productive forces but a continuation of capitalism on a more and more destructive basis. “Capital rebuilds, preserves its profits, but at the expense of its productivity. Capital restores its power by destroying the economy”. Here already there are insights into the waste production, underutilisation of capital, and above all the cycle of crisis, war and reconstruction which are essential features of the decadent phase of capitalist soci­ety.

Of course, the left communists’ understanding of the histori­cal moment in which they found themselves was necessarily limited by the fact that they had not long emerged from the old period; and it was further limited by the rapid onset of the counter-revolution which took a heavy toll of their organisa­tions. In this sense, more lasting than the economic analysis put forward by the left communists of the early twenties was their intransigent insistence that the proletariat had to make a com­plete break with the habits of the old period - in effect, the habits of reformism - and adapt itself to the tasks imposed by the advent of the epoch of social revolution. It was on this mate­rialist basis, and not because of their inherently ‘anarchist’ or ‘infantile’ nature, that the left communists rejected the oppor­tunist tactics taken up by the International. Thus, at the Third Congress of the CI, while recognising that in the ascendant epoch it had indeed been necessary for the working class to organise parliamentary fractions, the KAPD now insisted that “to urge the proletariat to take part in elections in the period of capitalist decadence amounts to nourishing in it the illusion that the crisis can be overcome by parliamentary means.

The same held true for the question of the unions: the KAPD pointed out that organisations which had been built to defend the working class in an epoch when genuine reforms were still possible were now not only unsuitable as instruments for mak­ing the revolution, but had actually become pillars of capitalist order which had to be smashed by the revolutionary working class. This was equally the case for the social democratic par­ties. The left communists therefore refused to engage in united fronts with what had become part of the state apparatus of the class enemy.

These analyses were not fully formed, of course, and still con­tained many inconsistencies - for example the KAPD’s illusion that you could replace trade unions with permanent ‘factory organisations’ of a revolutionary character, a position that expressed the influence of anarcho-syndicalism and thus of a form of trade unionism. Other weaknesses were also to play an important role - in particular the disastrous turn towards the theory that the October revolution had been a ‘dual’ or even a purely bourgeois revolution, a theory that completely negated the notion of the global decadence of capitalism. Ironically, but perhaps inevitably, a deeper understanding of the decadence of capitalism only emerged through the horrible experience of the counter-revolution, which reduced the authentic revolution­ary currents to a few small groups trying to draw up the lessons of the defeat and to chart the main characteristics of the new period.

In the 1930s, which saw the definitive triumph of the counter­revolution and the emergence of the purest expressions of cap­italist decay (Nazism, Stalinism, the war economy, etc), the fraction which developed the most coherent analysis of the epoch was the Italian left in exile around the review Bilan (i.e. ‘balance sheet’ - the balance sheet of the lessons of the revolu­tionary wave and of its defeat). Bilan’s application of the theo­ry of decadence was central to the clarifications they made regarding many aspects of the communist programme, in par­ticular their complete rejection of national movements any­where in the world, since in the new period the bourgeoisie could only a reactionary role, both in the colonies and the metropoles.

The clarity attained by the Italian left can be measured by cit­ing an article which appeared in 1934 (‘Crises and Cycles in the Economy of Capitalism in Agony’, Bilan 11, September 1934). The writer, Mitchell, traces many of the deepest trends of capital in its decadent epoch. Developing his argument on the basis of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of capitalist collapse, Mitchell defined the decay of the capitalist mode of production as having commenced in 1912-14 and as a process in which “capitalist society, because of the acute nature of the contradic­tions inherent in its mode of production, can no longer fulfil its historic mission: to develop in a continuous and progressive manner the productive forces and the productivity of human labour. The revolt of the productive forces against their private appropriation, once sporadic, has become permanent. Capi­talism has entered into its general crisis of decomposition”.

Mitchell points out the essential difference between the cycli­cal crises of ascendant capitalism and the periods of boom and slump in decadence. Whereas, in the former period, crises were necessary moments in the continued expansion of the world capitalist market, the saturation of the market which brought in the new era means that henceforward the crises of capitalism can only be ‘resolved’ through imperialist wars:

“In its decadent phase, capitalism can only guide the contradictions of its system in one direction: war. Humanity can only escape such an outcome through the proletarian revolution”.

With almost prophetic accuracy, the author goes on to dis­cuss the probable developments of the period ahead:

“Whichever way it turns, whatever means it tries to use to get over the crisis, capitalism is pushed irresistible towards its des­tiny of war. Where and how it will arise it is impossible to say today. What is important to know and to affirm is that it will explode with a view towards the carving up of Asia and that it will be worldwide”.

Mitchell concludes with a warning against the capitalist alternative of ‘fascism versus democracy’, which was no more than a means to divert the proletariat from its class struggle and mobilise it for capitalist war. But the working class at that time had suffered too many defeats to heed the warnings of the communist fractions, and the fractions themselves had no illu­sions about the enormity of the defeat the class had been through.

Alongside the Italian left, the council communists (the rem­nants of the KAPD, the Dutch left and others) stood alone in their defence of internationalist principles in face of the imperi­alist butchery in Spain and World War Two. But while the council communists were the first to recognise that the ‘workers state’ in the USSR was in fact a form of state capitalism, they were theoretically hamstrung by their increasingly rigid adher­ence to the notion that October 1917 had been a bourgeois revolution; this prevented them from making the crucial reali­sation that state capitalism was a universal tendency of deca­dent capitalism. In America, Paul Mattick did begin to elabo­rate a theory of permanent crisis based on Grossman’s emphasis of the falling rate of profit as the basic determinant of the cri­sis, but his methodology led him into a number of aberrations, such as seeing state capitalism as a new mode of production with no imperialist dynamic, and thus, in a sense, progressive. Hence Mattick’s ambivalence on the nature of China, the war in Vietnam, etc.

The elaboration of communist theory after World War Two consequently found its best expression in those who attempted a synthesis of the contribution both of the Italian left and the German and Dutch lefts. The Gauche Communiste de France, with its publication Internationalisme, which split from those elements of the Italian left who were voluntaristically seeking to form a party in a period of reaction, was able to assimilate many of the German left’s insights about the relationship between the party and the workers’ councils, something Bilan had been less clear about. More important still, it formulated a profound analysis of the tendency of decadent capitalism towards statification, and was thus able to grasp the capitalist nature of Russia and its satellites without falling into the error or calling October 1917 a bourgeois revolution.

The GCF disappeared in 1 952 under the tremendous pres­sure of the counter-revolution that had only been reinforced by the second world war and the victory of ‘democracy’ over fas­cism. The group had not seen with sufficient clarity that the war had provided world capital with a temporary breathing space:

the enormous ‘boom’ of the 50s and 60s was based on the reconstruction of the war-shattered economies of Europe and Japan and a new global economic arrangement characterised by the overwhelming superiority of US imperialism. The star­tling growth-figures of this period led many sociologists, and even elements in the revolutionary movement, to theorise about a new ‘crisis-free’ capitalism and the ‘embourgeoisiement’ of the working class.

But in Venezuela in the mid-60s a small group was formed around one of the leading elements of the old GCF. This new group, Internacialismo, took the work of the latter a step further by describing the whole cycle of capitalism’s decadence: crisis, war, reconstruction, new crisis ... and, on the basis of this understanding, was able to predict the end of the boom, the opening of a new phase of open crisis, and an international resurgence of struggles by a generation of workers no longer paralysed by the terror and delusion of the counter-revolution.

This perspective was amply confirmed by the massive strug­gles of May-June 68 in France and the subsequent internation­al wave of class movements, and by the visible deepening of the world economic crisis in the early 70s, which also brought about a sharpening of tensions between the US and Russian imperialist blocs: in sum, humanity was once again confronted with the historic dilemma between world war - which now meant the very destruction of the human race - and world revo­lution, the creation of a communist society.

The Internacialismo group was instrumental in the formation of Revolution Internationale in France, in the immediate after­math of the May68 events. The main body of this pamphlet is a series of articles published in the early issues of Revolution Internationale (no.5, old series, and nos. 2, 4 and 5 new series), and itself constitutes a lasting contribution to the theory of decadence. But RI also played a key role in the formation of similar groups in other countries, and which came together in 1975 to found the International Communist Current.

Through the 70s and 80s, the ICC systematically charted the course of the crisis, uncovering the factors that have made it the longest, deepest crisis in capitalisms’ history, a true expression of the death agony of this system. It followed the development of imperialist antagonisms, in particular the offensive of the US bloc after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the growing encirclement of the USSR which had the ultimate aim of strip­ping the latter of its status as a world power. At the same time, the ICC described the uneven but real development of class consciousness through this period, in two further international waves of class struggle(1978-80, 1983-89).

By the end of the 80s, decadent capitalism had reached an important watershed. The continuation of the workers’ struggle was blocking the path to world war, but the proletariat was not yet mature enough to raise the question of revolution; as a result, the exacerbation of the economic crisis was opening up a general process of social decomposition: capitalist society was rotting on its feet, falling apart at the seams. This process produced, and was considerably accelerated by, the sudden collapse of the Russian bloc and the consequent dislocation of its western rival, historical events that definitively opened up the final phase of capitalist decay, the phase of generalised decomposition. In the absence of imperialist blocs, world war has been taken off any foreseeable agenda - but this has in no way mitigated decadent capitalisms’ penchant for militarism and imperialism. On the contrary. As the huge slaughter in the Gulf at the beginning of 1991 showed quite clearly, the very process of decomposition itself, with its train of local and regional conflicts, ‘police actions’ by the great powers, of famines and ecological catastrophes, constitutes no less a threat to the survival of humanity.

The ICC is not the only organisation in the proletarian move­ment today which holds to the theory of decadence. But it is the only one that has been able to identify and analyse this final

phase. The text ‘Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism’ was first published in our International Review 62 in the summer of 1990. (See Appendix 2)

As can be seen from this brief historical sketch, the theory of decadence is not an invention of the ICC, but an authentic inheritance from the entire marxist tradition, and it is the indis­pensable basis to any consistent revolutionary activity. Without an appreciation of the epoch in which it is operating, the pro­gramme of a proletarian political organisation can have no material foundation, no orientation for its analyses or its inter­vention within the class. Without a grasp of the decadence of capitalism, there can be no firm defence of the class frontiers which separate the proletarian from the bourgeois camp. This was demonstrated very painfully by the collapse of the ‘Bor­digist’ International Communist Party (Communist Programme) in the early 80s. Although this current claims to be the genuine heir of the Italian left tradition, it rejected the notion of deca­dence which had been so crucial to the work of the Italian Frac­tion in the 30s. In particular, it rejected the idea that since the decadence of capitalism was a global phenomenon, there could no longer be any progressive role for ‘national libera­tion’ movements in the underdeveloped regions. Reiterating Bordiga’s sterile theory about the ‘invariance’ of marxism since 1848, the ICP saw a revolutionary significance in all kinds of national liberation wars - all of which were in fact proxy wars between the two imperialist blocs or between other local and regional imperialist sharks. By the beginning of the 80s the ICP’s support for Palestinian nationalism led a faction within if to pass over into the camp of leftism pure and simple, and this in turn resulted in the implosion of the whole international organisation.

On the other hand, groups which have attempted to defend class positions on such issues as the national or trade union questions while repudiating the notion of decadence have fared little better. The case of the Groupe Communiste Interna­tionaliste is instructive here: having started life with the claim of being ultra-orthodox marxists, this group has, through its fer­vent rejection of nearly all the theoretical pillars of left commu­nist politics for the last fifty years, drifted more and more into modernism and anarchism. A similar fate has befallen certain councilist groups who have been equally hostile to the notion of decadence. This should be a timely warning for all those who follow the recent fashion of denigrating the theory of deca­dence and of looking for alternative explanations and periodi­sations - for example those who misapply the concept of the ‘formal and real domination of capital’, developed by Marx to describe certain important changes that were already well underway within the ascendant period. The ICC has respond­ed to this ‘fashion’ with a series of articles in its International Review this series represents, in fact, a further development of the theory of decadence [1].

The work of understanding the decadence of capitalism con­tinues. But the theory is above all a guide to action, to the inter­vention of revolutionaries in a historical situation where the very survival of humanity is at stake. This pamphlet begins with a long historical investigation of the decadence of previous class societies (a chapter which has never been published in full in English before),and it enters into number of complex theo­retical issues about the characteristics of the capitalist economy in this epoch. But this work has no academic pretensions what­ever; its only aim in investigating the reality of present day cap­italism is to arm the militant struggle against it.

[A brief not on the Footnotes]

The statistical references contained in the main body of this pamphlet were compiled in the 1970s and are now obviously 'out of date', but only in the sense that the continuing decay of this society has confirmed the tendencies that they illustrate. The ICC's International Review has published regular updates on the 'progress' of the capitalist crisis, and we recommend the reader to refer to these articles.

[1] See issues 48, 49, 50, 54, 55, 56, 58, 60.