Decadence theory and historical materialism

The theory of decadence at the heart of historical materialism, part v

In the first article in this series, published in International Review n°118, we showed how the theory of decadence is at the very heart of historical materialism in Marx’ and Engels’ analysis of the evolution of modes of production. It is central to the programmatic texts of the organisations of the workers’ movement. In the second article, which appeared in International Review n121, we saw how the organisations of the workers’ movement from the time of Marx, through the Second International and its marxist left to the Communist International, made this analysis the foundation of their understanding of the evolution of capitalism in order to be able to determine the priorities for the period. In fact, Marx and Engels always stated very clearly that the perspective of the communist revolution depended on the objective, historical and global evolution of capitalism. The Third International, in particular, made this analysis the general framework for its understanding of the new period that opened with the outbreak of World War I. All of the political currents that formed the International, recognised that the first global war marked the beginning of capitalism’s decadent phase. We continue here our historical survey of the main expressions of the workers’ movement by examining more closely the particular political positions of the Communist International on the national, parliamentary and union questions, for which the system’s entry into its phase of decline had important implications.

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

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.

3 - The theory of decadence at the heart of historical materialism, part iii

The decadence of capitalism is not the eternal repetition of its contradictions on a growing scale, but poses the question of its survival as a mode of production, according to the terms used by Marx and Engels. By rejecting the concept of decadence as defined by the founders of marxism and subsequently taken up by the organisations of the workers’ movement, some of whom deepened it further, Battaglia Comunista is turning its back on a historical materialist understanding.

2 - The theory of decadence at the heart of historical materialism, part ii

In the previous issue of the International Review (n°118), we recalled at length, and with the support of passages from their major writings, how Marx and Engels defined the notions of the ascendance and decadence of a mode of production. We saw that the notion of decadence lies at the very heart of historical materialism in the analysis of the succession of different modes of production. In a forthcoming article, we will also demonstrate that this concept was central to the political programmes of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals, and of the marxist left that emerged from them, in which the groups of the Communist Left today have their origins.

1 - The theory of decadence lies at the heart of historical materialism, part i

We are beginning a new series devoted to the theory of decadence. For some time now, various criticisms of this concept have been piling up. To a large extent they have been the work of academic or parasitic grouplets. Others, however, express real incomprehension inside the revolutionary milieu, or come from searching elements who are posing genuine questions about the evolution of capitalism on a historic scale. We have already replied to the bulk of these criticisms. Today, however, we are seeing a change in their nature. They are no longer questions, misunderstandings or doubts; they no longer simply put certain aspects into question. Rather, we are seeing a total rejection, a type of criticism which amounts to an excommunication from marxism.

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