Notes on Decadence theory

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 27 2007 09:46
Mike Harman wrote:
Alongside that industrial desertification there's still capital accumulation. It's just that so much of it is in marketing, software, services etc. etc. - whether those are actually productive and create real exchange value is a different question though.

I'm not saying accumulation stops. As has been pointed out on many threads a capitalism that doesn't accumulate is not capitalism at all. Your point about "real exchange value" hits the nub of the question. I'd probably phrase this more in terms of productive vs. unproductive labour but the problem is the same. The growth of generally unproductive expenditure (especially weapons, finance, advertising, etc.) is a big burden on capitalism as a whole.

Mike Harman wrote:
Again, I think you're looking at this only from the point of view of capital. Workers in some sectors India are already starting to push up wages, this may well happen in China as well given the number and scale of strikes and protests there. Capital will always push relative and absolute exploitation to the maximum amount it can get away with. It's workers who ultimately determine what that point is, not an objective historical arc.

But again you're ignoring what I said earlier: that decadence pushes forward the struggles of the exploited class. The development of the workers struggle is precisely the driver for much of the characteristics of decadence: the development of the totalitarian state, the integration of the unions and the leftists into the bourgeoisie's political aparatus, etc. All these things were done explicitly to strengthen control over the working class in response to the latter's struggle or threat of struggle. It was the class struggle that ended WW1. It was the defeat of the working class that lead to WW2. It was the resurgence of the working class that prevented a new world war in the 80s.

So no-one's saying saying the working class isn't an active factor in the unfolding of history! And, of course, the same can be said about the bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, both these classes are subject to the fundamental "law" of historical materialism: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." (Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon). And because humanity has not yet learned to control its economy in a fully conscious manner, it confronts us in a reified form. The economic circumstances of decadence thus escape the control of both the working class and the bourgeoisie. The consciousness and activity of both classes are thus conditioned by these "circumstances existing already".

At a concrete level, dealing with your point "capital will always push relative and absolute exploitation to the maximum amount it can get away with" this means the two classes are pushed in continual collision. More and more, capital is compelled to push exploitation to the limit regardless of whether it "can get away with it". In the peripheries, wages are now being pushed below even the point of reproduction, while in the West capitalism is being forced to attack living conditions at every level in spite of their awareness that this is pushing the class into revolt. The class struggle of the proletariat delays this process, but it can't stop it and the perspective in this new phase of crisis approaching is for even more savage attacks.

Mike Harman
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Apr 27 2007 10:25
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In the peripheries, wages are now being pushed below even the point of reproduction

But how is this different? Just about every symptom you describe of Decadence has been a feature of capital since it's inception.

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Apr 27 2007 11:29
Mike Harman wrote:
But how is this different? Just about every symptom you describe of Decadence has been a feature of capital since it's inception.

It's a permanent tendency, as Marx points out in Capital. He, and other Marxists, also pointed out how the more lucid sectors of the bourgeoisie realised that the proletariat was being destroyed by rapacious exploitation. I have recall vague recollections of a quote in Vol 1, from a bourgeois horrified by the damage being done to the "country's natural resource of labour". These progressive capitalists - for their own benefit undoubtedly - were able to make common cause with the proletariat's demands for betterment. This lead to real improvements for the working class and it expanded capitalism by allowing more sophisticated and productive labour. The increases in productivity, cheapening of the costs of reproduction, etc. all lead to both an increase in relative exploitation but also an increase in living standards.

Today, for the vast majority of the world proletariat, the opposite is the case. The only genenation that had an existence that wasn't dominated by economic crisis or world war in the 20th Century was the "baby boomer". This generation did see rises in their living standards especially during the 60s. But only in the West - the term "third world" came into existence in this period, describing precisely all those countries that were left behind by this limited development.

Since the 70s, these gains have been slowly but surely eroded. It's a commonplace that real wages have fallen, hours have steadily increased, etc. This is an incredibly serious change in capitalism. For example, in the US in every decade from 1830 to 1970 inclusive, real wages rose - even during the 30s which saw the Great Depression. But since the mid-70s, this trend has been reversed and combined with the growth of permanent mass unemployment.

Doesn't this reversal constitute the latest expression for a series of profound difficulties that capitalism has faced since the beginning of the 20th Century? No-one's denying that capitalism has found ways to ofset these difficulties - the war economy, especially in the 30s and 60s, went a long way to overcoming the crisis of 29 and post-war. The use of finance capitalism and credit has prevented a re-emergence of a 30s style Depression since the 60s but hasn't managed to prevent a slow but sure decline, punctuated by increasingly severe recessions and weaker recoveries. World economic growth has also declined in every decade since the 60s, another indicator of the dominant trend towards stagnation. And yet, even the most cursory glances at the tremendous pressures building up in the world economy seems to suggest that the worst is yet to come ...

ernie
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Apr 27 2007 11:31

Catch, the point about decadence is that it is not a question of capitalism no longer being able to accumulate-as Demo said this is an erroneous idea -but that with the formation of the world market at the beginning of the 20th century capitalism had carried out its historical role: the development of the conditions for Communism. Since the formation of the world market the only way that the imperialist powers could redivide up the world market was through war. This militarisation of society is one of the most striking aspects of the decadence of capitalism. As another poster said decadence has seen the state engulf the whole of society because this is the only way that capitalism has of trying to keep society from tearing itself apart and also for organising the war economy. The 20th century was the bloodiest century in history and the 21st is carrying this on.

The point you make about China and India is made by many, how can you talk about decadence when you have the spectacular growth of China etc? On the surface this appears to be a powerful argument, but when one looks below the surface it is a very different story. In the 19th Century the growth of the major capitalist economies lead to a growth in the capitalist system as it spread across the globe. Whereas the growth of China over the past 15 years or more has taken place during a period of deepening crisis and as accelerated this. Along with the growth of parts of the Chinese economy, we have seen the growing de-industrialisation of other parts of the world, as jobs have gone to China etc. All this growth is also dependent upon the massive growth in corporate and domestic credit in the US, UK etc, along with declines in the levels of savings in the main capitalist countries. It is also necessary to see that the growth in China is not some free market paradise -a return to the 19th century-, but is part of economic plan developed by Chinese state capitalism -the Chinese state seeks to control as much of the economic development as possible and also plays a huge role in the building boom, urban developments etc. Also at the same time as the growth in the export areas whole areas of China have been de-industrialised. China is a Frankenstein's monster cobbled together from the entrails of a world economy racked by 30 years of crisis.

This does not mean that one should write of China, it is clearly a growing imperialist power, and there is economic development, but this has to be seen in the wider context of the deepening military barbarity engulfing the world, along with the terrible decay of living and working conditions throughout the planet. In China this worsening of conditions can be seen in the huge levels of unemployment, the levels of exploitation -1.000.000 chinese workers die each year from overwork-, etc. The emergence of this massive export sector also has implications for the development of the proletariat in China and internationally.

Catch you make the point that such levels of exploitation were seen in England during primitive accumulation, that is true but this period led on to the flourishing of capitalism in the 19th century when workers conditions did improve; reduction in the working day, banning of child labour, limitations on female labour, the factory acts, generalised sanitation -the introduction of such systems increased life expectancy by many years. None of this is happening or will happen in China because its economic power is based on its ability to savagely exploit the class and its growth is based not on the development of the wider world economy but its undermining.

The central point about decadence is that it is not some form of vulgar materialist explanation based on the idea of no more growth, but on the understanding that capitalist society is no longer progressive in its development of human society, but instead survives only through wars, starvation, destruction of the world economy that it developed. For the ICC decaying capitalism is destroying society and its continued existence is potential undermining the very conditions for communism through its economic destruction and also the wider decay of every aspect of society. Catch, in what you say there is the idea that somehow we are not faced with such a perspective, would that be a correct summary.

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Apr 27 2007 14:09

I'm just going to be lazy and ask without reading over everything on this thread, because I'm just so lazy: why does decadence matter, when it cannot explain the kinds of struggles workers find themselves in now? We have lived through decadence during both the rise and the fall of the welfare state, for example; certainly the potential for revolution is different now, when social democracy is collapsing, than it was when it was rising, or during its lifetime.

Could it be that social democracy, rather than communism, was, in fact, the epoch that naturally succeeded capitalism? That we are now living through a stage of decadence of a different form of work relations? That a whole epoch of the material evolution of humanity has been missed by Marxist analysis? Maybe we've hit a loop between social democracy and Marx's conception of capitalism? I must say that Marx seems a lot more relevant to the here and now than was the fact from the end of the 19th century until a decade or two ago, and that, on the other hand, Bernstein and Lenin seem to be a lot more relevant for that epoch than for this one or the one Marx lived in.

In summa, is discussing the decadence of capitalism any more relevant today than discussing the decadence of feudalism?

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Apr 27 2007 14:48
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why does decadence matter

It's required for communism to hold water theoretically. For a tiny minority of compassion junkies and fairness fetishists, who are morally into communism, the ideology itself is enough. For the rest of us, only the inevitable descent of capitalism into barbarism provides any incentive for us to adopt all this quasi-religious “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” claptrap.

Also, decadence provides a reason to engage in political activity without having to answer the question of why the working class tolerate the prevailing order.

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Apr 27 2007 15:04
Lazy Riser wrote:
Also, decadence provides a reason to engage in political activity without having to answer the question of why the working class tolerate the prevailing order.

What reason does it provide? And why does the working class tolerate the prevailing order?

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Apr 27 2007 15:19
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What reason does it provide?

Like I say, it doesn't need to. With decadence communism becomes simply necessary rather than merely "nice".

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And why does the working class tolerate the prevailing order?

The mass psychology of bourgeois society. Authoritarian conditioning and sexual repression, which, incidentally, even “libertarian communism” perpetuates. It’s astonishing how many communists still advocate some form of special regulation in the sexual sphere.

ernie
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Apr 27 2007 16:27

treeofjudas, in answer to your question

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n summa, is discussing the decadence of capitalism any more relevant today than discussing the decadence of feudalism?

The obvious answer is that we are living through the decadence of capitalism and not feudalism. More importantly the decadence of capitalism holds out the prospect of the destruction of humanity, whilst the decadence of feudalism didn't.
The points you make about social democracy i.e., the period after the war with the development of the welfare state are interesting. It is true that in this period the perspective of the revolution was not on the agenda, but this was not solely due to the rise of the welfare state, rather it had deeper historical roots in the defeat of the revolutionary wave. It was the crushing of the proletariat that meant the revolution was not possible during this period. As for a marxist critique of the period of social democracy/welfare state, this has been carried out by the Communist Left.
The period of the welfare state, was also the period of endless warfare in the peripheries of capitalism: Korea, Vietnman, Africa etc. The welfare state was also restricted to the heartlands of capitalism and not capitalism generally.
The welfare state was also an essential part of the strengthening of state capitalism's ability to struggle against the working class, which is something you point out. It ability to hold out to the proletariat of the heartlands some form of security from the cradle to the grave was an important ideological weapon, but one that you rightly say is lossing it power, which is a very important, even fundamental development in recent years.
all of these points and many more show why it is important to discuss the decadence of capitalism.

Mike Harman
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Apr 27 2007 16:46
ernie wrote:
Catch, the point about decadence is that it is not a question of capitalism no longer being able to accumulate-as Demo said this is an erroneous idea -but that with the formation of the world market at the beginning of the 20th century capitalism had carried out its historical role: the development of the conditions for Communism.

Again, I think this is used by the ICC to offer support for capitalism and social democracy when it was "progressive" - it developed the productive forces only at massive cost (coal usage during that period being a massive factor in global warming).

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It is also necessary to see that the growth in China is not some free market paradise -a return to the 19th century-, but is part of economic plan developed by Chinese state capitalism -the Chinese state seeks to control as much of the economic development as possible and also plays a huge role in the building boom, urban developments etc.

So the 19th century was "some free market paradise" now? I know that's paraphrasing but that's essentially what you said. There was massive state involvement in the development of capitalism - look at the enclosures, the factory acts (which forced an increase in relative exploitation on capitalists against their own wishes - since they were quite happy with less-efficient absolute exploitation) etc. etc. etc. Again, the arguments you put forward aren't convincing.

Quote:
Catch you make the point that such levels of exploitation were seen in England during primitive accumulation, that is true but this period led on to the flourishing of capitalism in the 19th century when workers conditions did improve; reduction in the working day, banning of child labour, limitations on female labour, the factory acts, generalised sanitation -the introduction of such systems increased life expectancy by many years. None of this is happening or will happen in China because its economic power is based on its ability to savagely exploit the class and its growth is based not on the development of the wider world economy but its undermining.

Again. Workers dying in the 19th century due to overwork and exhaustion - fine because it led to improvements for the wider working class later. Workers dying in the mid-late 20th and early 21st century not fine, because no improvements for the wider working class later. I think none of these conditions are fine, no buts. I do however think the struggles of Chinese workers could eventually lead to a revolution internationally, if they develop and extend across boundaries, bringing massive improvements for workers.

Quote:
The central point about decadence is that it is not some form of vulgar materialist explanation based on the idea of no more growth, but on the understanding that capitalist society is no longer progressive in its development of human society, but instead survives only through wars, starvation, destruction of the world economy that it developed.

But as I said, capitalism always relied on wars, starvation, and the (future) destruction of the world economy in it's massive reliance and wastage of fossil fuels.

Quote:
For the ICC decaying capitalism is destroying society and its continued existence is potential undermining the very conditions for communism through its economic destruction and also the wider decay of every aspect of society. Catch, in what you say there is the idea that somehow we are not faced with such a perspective, would that be a correct summary.

I think there's the potential for ecological collapse, the loss of large land masses through flooding, potentially another international depression if there's a property + currency crash, and other nasty stuff as well. I think this has been inherent in capitalism since it's inception though - crises etc. have always been there, and I don't think it's a special period (of decadence) apart from the fact that things don't go backwards and every period is new in some way.

I think however that Decadence is not an adequate theory to explain this, that it's not useful as a concept, and that it doesn't give us a praxis to work from to deal with these issues, certainly not as the ICC put it. Like I've kind of allured to, I'm starting to think that it might actually be more to do with an analysis of early capitalism and attitude to the bourgeios revolutions than it is something which really affects how capitalism is viewed today. I think there were progressive elements within what were called bourgeios revolutions - but these were proto-communist or proto-anarchist groups like the Levellers, Diggers and enragés - I think the fact they attempted to push a working class (or rural worker/peasant) line against both the monarchy and the bourgeiosie is the important thing, but the ICC seem to suggest to suggest that workers should have (or were right to) support the new bourgeios in an alliance against the monarchy and landowners - because they shared an interest in the development of capitalism. I don't think this is a good line to take.

Simply because I don't accept decadence doesn't mean I don't think capitalism is incredibly destructive, that's a false dichotomy.

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Apr 27 2007 16:54
ernie wrote:
treeofjudas, in answer to your question
Quote:
n summa, is discussing the decadence of capitalism any more relevant today than discussing the decadence of feudalism?

The obvious answer is that we are living through the decadence of capitalism and not feudalism. More importantly the decadence of capitalism holds out the prospect of the destruction of humanity, whilst the decadence of feudalism didn't.
The points you make about social democracy i.e., the period after the war with the development of the welfare state are interesting. It is true that in this period the perspective of the revolution was not on the agenda, but this was not solely due to the rise of the welfare state, rather it had deeper historical roots in the defeat of the revolutionary wave. It was the crushing of the proletariat that meant the revolution was not possible during this period. As for a marxist critique of the period of social democracy/welfare state, this has been carried out by the Communist Left.
The period of the welfare state, was also the period of endless warfare in the peripheries of capitalism: Korea, Vietnman, Africa etc. The welfare state was also restricted to the heartlands of capitalism and not capitalism generally.
The welfare state was also an essential part of the strengthening of state capitalism's ability to struggle against the working class, which is something you point out. It ability to hold out to the proletariat of the heartlands some form of security from the cradle to the grave was an important ideological weapon, but one that you rightly say is lossing it power, which is a very important, even fundamental development in recent years.
all of these points and many more show why it is important to discuss the decadence of capitalism.

No, they do not. The only place in your post where decadence played any part is in the preamble, where you made two assertions: that we are living through the decadence of capitalism and not of feudalism, and that the decadence of capitalism holds a potential for destroying humanity while the decadence of feudalism did not. The first assertion requires further elaboration, which is absent, while the second requires that we accept that the whole of the twentieth century was a single period of decadence, and in effect, is based on your first assertion.

The rest of your comment deals with the rise and fall of the welfare state in the heartlands of capitalism, and the necessary link that had with interminable war at its outskirts. What does this have to do with decadence? On the contrary, it seems that heartland capitalism was doing very well at that time, having firmly crushed the revolutionary wave of the early 20th century, and easily manipulating all 3rd-world revolutionary waves into creating carbon copies of its extreme left and right models, Leninism and Fascism, respectively.

But if the revolutionary waves of the early 20th century were completely crushed, why did capitalism feel the need to provide a welfare state in the heartlands? It's obvious to me that this is a result of capitalism having a very precarious hold in its heartlands, and having to use costly privileges in order to maintain it, which, in turn, means that there was a revolutionary potential all along.

I think class analysis can reclaim "privilege" from the New Left, by the way. Instead of it being an accusation and a source of guilt for middle-class activists, it can be shown as the tool used by social democracy, or the welfare state, or post-capitalism, if you will, to keep various stratas of the working class at odds. Bear with me, because this idea had just occured to me while writing the previous paragraph, but perhaps privilege has replaced nation as the leading false consciousness promulgated by post-capitalism, as opposed to the earlier, more egalitarian ideas of nationalism which were rampant throughout capitalism? While capitalism seperated the working class vertically, across national lines, post-capitalism seperates them vertically, across any lines it can possibly draw up, providing lasting privilege to those on one side while barring those on the other from receiving the same? Perhaps this is the reason why the more egalitarian, direct inter-imperialist conflicts of the early to middle 20th century were replaced by the occupational and proxy-state battles of the latter part of it? Perhaps, just as capitalism started decaying before feudalism could be ultimately dissolved, this new state of affairs started decaying before the new state of affairs could be resolved? Maybe this latter epoch has to do with the coordinating class? Maybe this all has to do with how the Earth is limited, so post-capitalism managed to come to life and die in an historical heartbeat, before we have managed to catch our breath from the rise and ongoing fall of capitalism?

Sorry if the last paragraph made no sense, I was thinking it up as I went along.

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Apr 27 2007 19:06
Mike Harman wrote:
I think there were progressive elements within what were called bourgeios revolutions - but these were proto-communist or proto-anarchist groups like the Levellers, Diggers and enragés - I think the fact they attempted to push a working class (or rural worker/peasant) line against both the monarchy and the bourgeiosie is the important thing, but the ICC seem to suggest to suggest that workers should have (or were right to) support the new bourgeios in an alliance against the monarchy and landowners - because they shared an interest in the development of capitalism. I don't think this is a good line to take.

That’s the spirit. There’s something puzzling about this approach though. Assuming you still want communism (as the abolition of commodity, money, exchange etc), you’re suggesting it can be developed despite there being no inevitable capitalist collapse. And yet, the specific ideological totems of communism (self organising, moneyless society) are dependent on the working class experiencing decadent society’s near collapse into barbarism. If they’re not going to suffer adequately, why would they give up their shiny commodities?

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Apr 28 2007 23:54

Catch wrote:

"I think there were progressive elements within what were called bourgeios revolutions - but these were proto-communist or proto-anarchist groups like the Levellers, Diggers and enragés - I think the fact they attempted to push a working class (or rural worker/peasant) line against both the monarchy and the bourgeiosie is the important thing, but the ICC seem to suggest to suggest that workers should have (or were right to) support the new bourgeios in an alliance against the monarchy and landowners - because they shared an interest in the development of capitalism. I don't think this is a good line to take".

One of the recurring arguments of the 'anti-decadentists' is that they continually present "decadence" as a theory invented by a whole gaggle of groups or individuals, all of whom share the characteristic of not being Marx.

Aufheben, correct me if I'm wrong, attribute it to the Second International - perhaps also implicating Engels. The more common view on these boards is that it's something made up by the ICC, or the left communists.

Perhaps this is our fault for appearing to present it as "decadence theory", when what we are trying to say is that it is the materialist theory of history. Perhaps it would be clearer if we had presented it more squarely as a theory of ascent as well as of decline. Certainly its opponents tend to reject both in equal measure: on the one hand the notion of progress (and very often not just the notion of capitalist progress, but of historical progress in general); and, on the other hand, the notion of capitalist decline (because it is a bit harder to deny, for example, that slave society and feudalism went into decline and demise).

Catch: we have just published our book drawn from the 'Communism' series in the International Review; this is the first volume of the series, focusing on the notion of communism in the proletarian movement prior to the 20th century.The first chapter looks at some of the earliest communist movements, the first of which certainly predate the proletariat. We try to assess their contributions as well as their limitatons. We also look at the position of the Communist League, and thus of Marx as well as Engels, with regard to the bourgeois revolution, which for them was still a present reality, not merely an item of retrospective interest. The Communist Manifesto certainly puts forward the "not good line" that you criticise, so the discussion should be about the League, its platform, the Communist Manifesto, and its position of critical support for what it saw as the progressive wing of the bourgeoisie. The book has chapters on both the Manifesto and the lessons the League drew from the 1848 revolutions.

Unfortunately we are a bit behind in putting the whole of the book online, but well-designed hard copies are a lot better for reading, I think. We are having a public forum on 12 May in London (Conway Hall) to announce the publication of the book. Why don't you come and discuss with us, and at the same time buy a copy? It's only £7.50.

Then there's Lazy's response to Catch:

"That’s the spirit. There’s something puzzling about this approach though. Assuming you still want communism (as the abolition of commodity, money, exchange etc), you’re suggesting it can be developed despite there being no inevitable capitalist collapse. And yet, the specific ideological totems of communism (self organising, moneyless society) are dependent on the working class experiencing decadent society’s near collapse into barbarism. If they’re not going to suffer adequately, why would they give up their shiny commodities?"

Perhaps we'll come back to the question of totemism later, it's rather a long discussion. Assuming that Lazy's not just taking the piss, he's perfectly correct to argue that commodity production cannot be overthrown until it is reaching the point of breaking down completely and plunging society into barbarism. So far this is the ABC of Marx, the materialist theory of history, as regards the objective side which so many anarchists and 'autonomists' find so ...objectionable. However, Lazy opens himself up to the charge of vulgar materialism because he seems to see the revolution as an act devoid of any real consciousness. It's just the revenge of disappointed commodity worshippers. This fits in with his vision of communism as a dreary, samey barracks (the so-called 'crude communism' which Marx criticsed in the 1844 Manuscripts). Or am I presuming too much on what Lazy thinks?

Mike Harman
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Apr 29 2007 09:30

Alf, just quickly.

Marx was right about a lot of things, a "position of critical support for what it saw as the progressive wing of the bourgeoisie." wasn't one of them. I don't consider myself a Marxist despite taking a lot from him, so trying to invoke him when he was on dodgy territory won't work. However, Marx writing when capital was still fairly young, we can understand him making some mistakes or predictions that turned out to be false, and take that into account, 150 years later you don't have the same excuse. I think Engels, the Second International and Historical Materialism - which I don't see as exactly the same as Decadence, but certainly related, were equally erroneous, and also "not Marx".

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Apr 29 2007 10:06

Hi Catch

I don't think the ICC or communist left are saying, for example, don't support unions because capitalism is decadent. Regardless of whether you accept decadence or not, the unions in this epoch are reactionary, a point on which we're agreed. Decadence enables us to see why this is but the position actually comes from concrete experience: the world wars, solidarity in poland, NUM in the Miners Strike, etc. In every major struggle they concretely stand in the way of the struggle. By demonstrating the underlying mechanisms that produce this condition, the theory of decadence (which has been integral to historical materialism from Marx through today), allows us to see that these aren't simply "coincidences" but a generalised condition.

You've stated that you think Marx was wrong to support reformist struggles, unionism and progressive bourgeois revolutions but you haven't said why exactly. How should the working class have organised itself in the 19th century? In what way did these "not good lines" stand in the way of that process? I think the communist left position gives answers to these questions, but I don't know what your position is. It might also be helpful if you take up the question of the struggle for education which I refered to earlier.

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Apr 29 2007 11:22

I echo Demo's questions. What should have been the position of revolutionaries in that period? As it happens, the Communist League did make a number of serious errors during the 1848 revolution in Germany, precisely in the direction of giving too much uncritical support to the radical bourgeoisie. In subsequent reflections (especially in the March 1850 circular of the League's central committee), the lesson was drawn that even in the bourgeois revolution the working class had to defend its own independent interests and organisations. So there was certainly a debate about what these tactics entailed. But the revolutionaries were trying to elaborate them in a period when the conditions for a worldwide proletarian revolution had not yet been created, and the clearest of them understood this. It's that objective reality which defined the problem. But perhaps you don't accept that this was the case. If so, perhaps you should say what you think the objective requirements for a communist revolution are.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 10:35
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Hi Catch

I don't think the ICC or communist left are saying, for example, don't support unions because capitalism is decadent. Regardless of whether you accept decadence or not, the unions in this epoch are reactionary, a point on which we're agreed. Decadence enables us to see why this is but the position actually comes from concrete experience: the world wars, solidarity in poland, NUM in the Miners Strike, etc.

Now I might agree that the unions are reactionary (although I think, especially outside the oldest capitalist countries, a lot of workers struggles are couched in union terms even if the forms of organisation don't really resemble what we have now), however 1. I think pointing to Decadence as irrefutable proof of this tends to undermine the argument rather than strengthen it 2. the ICC and sympathisers, all to often, try to paint the unions as a consious weapon of the bourgeiosie - again this slides dangerously close to conspiracy theory (or right into it in the case of some of baboon's more florid posts). You might put this down to language, but then you'd need to very carefully examine the language you're using.

Quote:
. By demonstrating the underlying mechanisms that produce this condition, the theory of decadence (which has been integral to historical materialism from Marx through today), allows us to see that these aren't simply "coincidences" but a generalised condition.

Could one of you please point me to the places where Marx uses the term "historical materialism" please? As far as I'm concerned, that's all Engels, and all wrong. I got taught the "stages" stuff in school ffs and thought it was pretty stupid then.

Quote:
You've stated that you think Marx was wrong to support reformist struggles, unionism and progressive bourgeois revolutions but you haven't said why exactly. How should the working class have organised itself in the 19th century?

I think they should've organised themselves in their own interest independently of factions of the ruling class. Same as now. Obviously we have the benefit of hindsight, and they didn't, but that doesn't mean coming up with a grand narrative insisting that Marx (or all 19th century reformists) was "right at the time", I think it's important to accept where people went wrong in order not to devalue when they were right.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 11:11
Alf wrote:
I echo Demo's questions. What should have been the position of revolutionaries in that period? As it happens, the Communist League did make a number of serious errors during the 1848 revolution in Germany, precisely in the direction of giving too much uncritical support to the radical bourgeoisie.

Well, as with "critical support" for national liberation movements, I don't see a difference in any real sense.

Quote:
So there was certainly a debate about what these tactics entailed. But the revolutionaries were trying to elaborate them in a period when the conditions for a worldwide proletarian revolution had not yet been created, and the clearest of them understood this. It's that objective reality which defined the problem. But perhaps you don't accept that this was the case. If so, perhaps you should say what you think the objective requirements for a communist revolution are.

There not having been one yet, I don't think it's an easy thing to pin down. I've got some time for Bookchin's ideas about scarcity and post-scarcity - he puts it pretty much at when the emphasis went from creating new technologies to the ways they could be fit together (writing in the '60s he was talking about micro-chips etc.). I don't think he thought that revolution was impossible beforehand, but that all previous revolutionary ideologies had to be reevaluated in light of that - second international Marxism as much as syndicalism and others.

I don't think you would necessarily have had a communism of abundance, had say the Paris Commune mushroomed into an international revolution, but I don't think it's impossible that a very different society might have emerged, and the productive forces continued to develop without capitalism per se. Depends how much you're into determinism post facto (if it hasn't happened, it's always been impossible etc.).

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 30 2007 11:12

Hi Catch

Some quick responses:

Mike Harman wrote:
I think pointing to Decadence as irrefutable proof of this tends to undermine the argument rather than strengthen it

But you don't say how. How can explaining why the union's role has changed undermine the assertion that it has?

Mike Harman wrote:
the ICC and sympathisers, all to often, try to paint the unions as a consious weapon of the bourgeiosie - again this slides dangerously close to conspiracy theory (or right into it in the case of some of baboon's more florid posts). You might put this down to language, but then you'd need to very carefully examine the language you're using.

The bourgeoisie most certainly does use the unions in a conscious manner. The top levels of the unions - certainly in the Western countries - are fully integrated into the bourgeoisie's political apparatus. This or that shop steward obviously aren't privy to those schemes any more than junior reporters at the Times are fully paid-up members of MI5 - but they are both fully inculcated into an ideological framework that causes them to act against the working class or engage in self-censorship when it comes to reporting certain items. But the presence, or not, of conspiracism is not entirely the issue here, so I'm not sure why you brought it up.

Catch wrote:
Could one of you please point me to the places where Marx uses the term "historical materialism" please? As far as I'm concerned, that's all Engels, and all wrong. I got taught the "stages" stuff in school ffs and thought it was pretty stupid then.

This is like asking if Newton ever uses the term "physics"? The fact that later writers have adopted a term to describe a general method doesn't mean the method doesn't exist. Marx firmly lays out the basic framework for what became known as "historical materialism" in both the Communist Manifesto and the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. As for "stages", not quite sure what you're talking about here. Do you mean stages as in Ancient, Feudal and Capitalist; or stages as in rise and fall of particular societies?

Mike Harman wrote:
I think they should've organised themselves to defend and improve their conditions, independently of factions of the ruling class. Same as now. Obviously we have the benefit of hindsight, and they didn't, but that doesn't mean coming up with a grand narrative insisting that Marx was "right at the time", I think it's important to accept where people went wrong in order not to devalue when they were right.

That's what the unions were for and what they did in this period. Yet you reject this form of organisation without offering an alternative. I think you're looking at the question very abstractly and ahistorically. Of course we now see that the union form is inferior to, for example, the soviet form. But there had been no soviets in the 19th century. Similarly, Marxism represented a clear advance on the utopian socialists and Blanquists, etc. Such ideas today would be a reactionary step backwards but for the workers movement at the time, Owen and Saint-Simon, etc. were important step forwards in the working class understanding what it was and what it was fighting for.

Marx made errors and the communist left has no hesitation in pointing them out, any more than we do with Lenin, etc. The problem is that, for me at least, you haven't actually demonstrated why supporting progressive bourgeois fractions in that epoch was an error, given the immaturity of both capital and the proletariat. Now, clearly there are matters of degree and Alf already pointed out the self-criticism of the movement after 1848 where the Communist League now argued that the working class had to maintain its class independence even when supporting essentially bourgeois revolutions.

To go back to the original question on this thread, how do you respond to the arguments and counter-arguments concerning the American Civil War? And, I ask again, what do you think about the struggle for education?

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Alf
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Apr 30 2007 11:37

Completely agree with that.

On "historical materialism", I think Marx talks about the "materialist theory of history" but I would have to check. But it's the same animal. There was no split between Marx and Engels on the method used to analyse historical development.

Catch: you didn't respond to the invitation to the meeting.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 13:36
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Hi Catch
Some quick responses:
Mike Harman wrote:
I think pointing to Decadence as irrefutable proof of this tends to undermine the argument rather than strengthen it

But you don't say how. How can explaining why the union's role has changed undermine the assertion that it has?

Because as you well know, most people (on here, let alone anywhere else) don't agree with Decadence as an explanation of why. Trade unionism always had the limitations of trade and craft during any period, plenty of people were able to see the limitations of syndicalism in the first quarter of the twentieth century, let alone after. They were only partial methods, that have been shown not to be effective in the light of experience, I think the reason why the unions can take such an anti-working class social role now is precisely because it's the continuation of a methodology that already failed before while times moved on past it. Times can move on, material circumstances can change, without having to hold onto the idea that capital is in terminal decline and has been for 90 years.

Quote:
The bourgeoisie most certainly does use the unions in a conscious manner. The top levels of the unions - certainly in the Western countries - are fully integrated into the bourgeoisie's political apparatus.

So the "top level", "certainly in the western countries" - I don't think anyone, not even a lot of Trotskyists, would disagree with that. Yet again, when challenged, you water your positions down to make them seem more reasonable.

Quote:
This or that shop steward obviously aren't privy to those schemes any more than junior reporters at the Times are fully paid-up members of MI5 - but they are both fully inculcated into an ideological framework that causes them to act against the working class or engage in self-censorship when it comes to reporting certain items

You don't think the vast majority of people hold non-revolutionary ideological frameworks? Do yout think a mass change of consciousness is what's holding everyone back?

Quote:
.But the presence, or not, of conspiracism is not entirely the issue here, so I'm not sure why you brought it up.

I think it's very much the issue - the idea that organisations have gone over wholesale to the side of the ruling class is very much about conspiracism, whatever justifications are subsequently used.

Quote:
This is like asking if Newton ever uses the term "physics"? The fact that later writers have adopted a term to describe a general method doesn't mean the method doesn't exist. Marx firmly lays out the basic framework for what became known as "historical materialism" in both the Communist Manifesto and the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

Well I'm not the best read scholar of Marx, and especially not of Engels and the Second International, but that particular claim is very, very contentious.

Quote:
As for "stages", not quite sure what you're talking about here. Do you mean stages as in Ancient, Feudal and Capitalist; or stages as in rise and fall of particular societies?

I was taught "Ancient", "Feudal", "Capitalist" in school, I think historical materialism essentially boils down to this as expressed by Engels and those who followed along those lines. I don't think that gross oversimplification is there in Marx (maybe in one or two speeches but not his main body of work).

Quote:
That's what the unions were for and what they did in this period. Yet you reject this form of organisation without offering an alternative. I think you're looking at the question very abstractly and ahistorically. Of course we now see that the union form is inferior to, for example, the soviet form. But there had been no soviets in the 19th century.

I think the sections (especially the two-three most militant ones), the commune etc. etc. were precursors to the councils and soviets, and hey weren't unions.

Quote:
Similarly, Marxism represented a clear advance on the utopian socialists and Blanquists, etc. Such ideas today would be a reactionary step backwards but for the workers movement at the time, Owen and Saint-Simon, etc. were important step forwards in the working class understanding what it was and what it was fighting for.

Then why not make the same break with historical materialism?

Quote:
The problem is that, for me at least, you haven't actually demonstrated why supporting progressive bourgeois fractions in that epoch was an error

You don't think Bakunin calling for a Slav rebellion was an error? Or Marx and Engels wishing for Prussian victory because they felt it was the most advanced country in capitalist development? The onus is on you to say how it wasn't, given you're supposedly the clearest on why it's an error now.

Quote:
To go back to the original question on this thread, how do you respond to the arguments and counter-arguments concerning the American Civil War? And, I ask again, what do you think about the struggle for education?

I'm trying to keep up with everything, but this is suposed to be about decadence, not an examination of the civil war, and sending me off on assignments doesn't get you off the hook. I'll look back over the thread though and see about coming back on them.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 13:40
Alf wrote:
On "historical materialism", I think Marx talks about the "materialist theory of history" but I would have to check. But it's the same animal. There was no split between Marx and Engels on the method used to analyse historical development.

I think you must've missed some of the arguments around this over the past 40 years or so, I can't remember of Reading Capital Politically covers this in particular, but certainly it opens up a split between Marx and the Engels/post-Engels lot on a lot of questions.

Quote:
Catch: you didn't respond to the invitation to the meeting.

Like I said to Demo, I'm not exactly flush for time at the moment, so haven't managed to come back on everything I want to. For that same reason I won't be going to any meetings any time soon, yours or anyone elses.

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Tojiah
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Apr 30 2007 13:50
Demogorgon303 wrote:
The bourgeoisie most certainly does use the unions in a conscious manner. The top levels of the unions - certainly in the Western countries - are fully integrated into the bourgeoisie's political apparatus. This or that shop steward obviously aren't privy to those schemes... but they are... fully inculcated into an ideological framework that causes them to act against the working class.

Why stop at the shop steward, though? Couldn't you say that about the lowest tier of the union as well, i.e., the individual worker?

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 13:59
Quote:
Why stop at the shop steward, though? Couldn't you say that about the lowest tier of the union as well, i.e., the individual worker?

Thanks I was trying to make that point, but you said it a lot clearer (and shorter).

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Tojiah
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Apr 30 2007 14:03
Mike Harman wrote:
Quote:
Why stop at the shop steward, though? Couldn't you say that about the lowest tier of the union as well, i.e., the individual worker?

Thanks I was trying to make that point, but you said it a lot clearer (and shorter).

You're welcome. I have my ups and downs, of course. The last message I had on this thread was certainly longer and more obscure than most posts.. Guess that's why nobody bothered to respond to it.

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Demogorgon303
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Apr 30 2007 14:36
tojiah wrote:
Why stop at the shop steward, though? Couldn't you say that about the lowest tier of the union as well, i.e., the individual worker?

Most workers don't belong to the unions and those that do don't tend to take an active role in them. In that respect, workers are "part of the union" in the same sense that they are "British" or "French" citizens. Obviously, in order to assert themselves as a class they need to break with unionism as they must with nationalism, but their integration into both is at a purely passive level.

Shop stewards on the other hand play a specific role in the union apparatus (whether they are aware of it or not). They are the ideological screws in the union jail and usually the first line of defence against any effort to break outside the union. It's precisely the fact they're not aware of this role that allows them to perform it, because their success is predicated largely on their sincerity.

ernie
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Apr 30 2007 19:04

Catfch, you say

Quote:
I was taught "Ancient", "Feudal", "Capitalist" in school, I think historical materialism essentially boils down to this as expressed by Engels and those who followed along those lines. I don't think that gross oversimplification is there in Marx (maybe in one or two speeches but not his main body of work).

Marx deals with the idea of the development of different societies throughout his work. The idea that capitalism is a historical system arising out of previous systems and laying the ground for the future advance of humanity is at the very heart of his whole method. Rather than produce quotes here from ALL of his major works showing this I refer you to our article: The theory of decadence lies at the heart of historical materialism [http://en.internationalism.org/ir/118_decadence_i.html]
which contains a more detailed defence and quotes to show this.

This article will be of interest to you because it deals with the IBRP's calling into question of decadence.

ernie
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Apr 30 2007 19:25

Catch, alf and demo have dealt with this question before, but do you not think it is a bit contradictory to say

Quote:
Well I'm not the best read scholar of Marx, and especially not of Engels and the Second International, but that particular claim is very, very contentious.

but at the same time to write off Engels and the Second International? Surely before you condemn a whole period of the development of the workers' movement you should study their work and activity. This method, ends up treating marx as some form of isolated individual and sees no development of the workers' movement after Marx. It certainly leaves one unable to explain the emergence of the Communist International, and Left Communism. If you have not studied the works of Luxemburg, Engels, Lenin, Pannekeok, Gorter, Labriola (whose Essays ion the materialistic conception of history, are a masterful contribution to marxism), Dietzgen (whose work had a powerful impact on the Communist Left especially the Dutch) Kautsky, Mehring how can you say they have contributed nothing to the working class?

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Tojiah
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Apr 30 2007 20:13
Demogorgon303 wrote:
tojiah wrote:
Why stop at the shop steward, though? Couldn't you say that about the lowest tier of the union as well, i.e., the individual worker?

Most workers don't belong to the unions and those that do don't tend to take an active role in them. In that respect, workers are "part of the union" in the same sense that they are "British" or "French" citizens. Obviously, in order to assert themselves as a class they need to break with unionism as they must with nationalism, but their integration into both is at a purely passive level.

Have you ever been to an anti-war rally? The people on the street take their integration into their nationality very seriously.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
Shop stewards on the other hand play a specific role in the union apparatus (whether they are aware of it or not). They are the ideological screws in the union jail and usually the first line of defence against any effort to break outside the union. It's precisely the fact they're not aware of this role that allows them to perform it, because their success is predicated largely on their sincerity.

Why isn't the fact that workers themselves do not break outside of the union an indication of the fact that they are part of the union apparatus?

mic
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Apr 30 2007 20:15

Hi Ernie, you know we've a different interpretation of decadence, but you seem to imply (wrongly) that we don't deal with the concept altogether. We already discussed a bit about this topic.

Our main problem with ICC, lastly, is "decomposition and chaos", more than decadence. But I see you're not referring to these "strange beasts" since quite a long time. It's very likely I've simply missed some messages on these boards... but I would value very positively the fact you're reconsidering them, at least to some extent. I'm an optimist, you see smile

Mayday greetings!