Notes on Decadence theory

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Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 20:17

I'm scan reading this now, immediately noticeable is that although you invoke both Marx and Engels, nearly everything is from Engels in the 1880s.

Here's the actual Marx quotes:

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“Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”

This seems more to do with the uniqueness of the proletarian relation (as opposed to the serf or slave relation), and the possibility of communism, not to do with decadence.

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“Once this point has been reached, capital, ie wage labour, enters into the same relation to the development of social wealth and the productive forces as the guild system, serfdom and slavery did, and is, as a fetter, necessarily cast off”. Marx defines the characteristics of this very precisely “The growing discordance between the productive development of society and the relations of production hitherto characteristic of it, is expressed in acute contradictions, crises, convulsions”.

Again - contradictions, crises, convulsions - it's quite possible to accept their occurence (and even inherence within the capitalist mode of production) without believing it's decadent. Also, whenever he talks about capitalism being near it's end - as close to decadence as you'll find, he means that revolution is imminent - this is a feature of many, many 19th century revolutionaries, the idea that the revolution was just around the corner, but it was shown to be false, unfortunately. I don't think this can be extrapolated to "revolution is always just around the corner" - which is what a permanent decadence would amount to if you're basing it on those letters and occasional predictions.

Again:

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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 have 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 tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of 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. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production — antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonisms, but of one arising form the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of society to a close” (our emphasis).

All this means is that communism is born in the belly of capitalism. I don't think anyone would disagree with that, or that many communistic features (examples that are trotted out over and over again are file sharing, open-source - which begin to approximate a "each according to need" for those with access to computers and internet) are present if only as potentialities within capitalist society. Again, that doesn't point to Decadence though.

However with the Engels quotes we have rubbish like this:

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“But Fourier is at his greatest in his conception of the history of society (...) Fourier, as we see, uses the dialectic method in the same masterly way as his contemporary, Hegel. Using these same dialectics, he argues against the talk about illimitable human perfectibility, that every historical phase has its period of ascent and also its period of descent, and he applies this observation to the future of the whole human race” (Anti-Dühring, 1877, Socialism I, Collected Works Vol.25, p.248, our emphasis).

And I think that's where this crap comes from, your article (although I've not finished it yet), does nothing to dispel that. All it does is show Marx making a few predictions of immanent revolution that turned out to be wrong, identifying capitalism as a unique stage of economic progress (and the elements which distringuished it from previous ones), and Engels turning these discoveries (and mistakes) into a fixed objectivist theory of history, especially when Marx was dead and unable to set him straight.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 20:22
ernie wrote:
but at the same time to write off Engels and the Second International?

Because everything I ever read by Engels puts me off.

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Surely before you condemn a whole period of the development of the workers' movement you should study their work and activity.

So sould I spend lots of time examining the development of the British Labour Party as well?

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If you have not studied the works of Luxemburg

Well I've read some Luxemburg, some of it's very good.

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Engels

and some Engels, but it put me off reading much more.

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Lenin

ditto, although I read it when I need to refute Leninists, not for pleasure though.

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Pannekeok

Read odd bits, but not the main "Workers Councils" yet, it's on my list though.

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Gorter, Labriola (whose Essays ion the materialistic conception of history, are a masterful contribution to marxism), Dietzgen (whose work had a p
owerful impact on the Communist Left especially the Dutch)

Not these so much, Gorter is interesting, Labriola and Dietzgen I don't know.

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Kautsky

errgh. I've read some but it was complete shite.

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how can you say they have contributed nothing to the working class?

Some have, some haven't, in most cases their legacy speaks for itself though.

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Lazy Riser
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Apr 30 2007 20:35
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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?

Even worse, they are part of the apparatus of capitalism itself. Like buying car insurance, but with more ritual gatherings of various kinds.

ernie
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Apr 30 2007 21:46

Mic, I think you may have read the post wrong, the reference is to a whole series of articles we did seeking to respond to your discussion on the question of decadence -a discussion we have reported in your press and produced texts on-.In no way was it meant to imply you do not deal with this question.
As members of two left Communist organisations we should defend this central concept of marxism and seek to try and convince those who do not agree with it of its importance.
As for the "strange beasts" why bring these in, when we have discussed these a bit also, rather than seeking to jointly defend a central pillar of marxism?

mic
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Apr 30 2007 22:30

Ernie, no problem then, it was just the way you put it in your post, or the way I read it... Fact is, I'm saying that I also acknowledge the importance of decadence.

But I would make it clear that there's a difference between decadence and crisis. Otherwise decadence itself would be in contrast with reality. Capitalism had crisis in the ascending period, and developments during decadence. Some of Demogorgon's posts seem to imply this. I'm not saying this "against" decadence, but to precise its meaning.

The beasts... probably it was just my hope that was speaking. But I think it's evident that discussions on these boards develop more openly and positively since you locked the "decomposition and chaos" beasts somewhere smile

Finally, don't think I wouldn't like to intervene more often. But English is not my mother tongue, and I write very slowly. Let me say I really appreciate you effort to defend Left Communist positions here. I will try to put a different voice from that side in, also.

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Alf
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Apr 30 2007 23:30

Catch, I really, really don't see how you can read Marx's Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, especially this bit, which you don't quote...

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

...and not conclude that Marx, no less than Engels, saw that each hitherto existing society had entered an epoch in which its social relations were transformed from forms of development to fetters on further development - an epoch of social revolution. I hastily add that that does not imply that revolution is possible at any moment in such an epoch. That would be to leave out the subjective element completely.

No doubt Marx and Engels had disagreements. Also no doubt Engels did suffer from some of the growing weight of reformism and other bourgeois ideologies in the last deacdes of the 19th century. But as Ernie said, this attempt to make a fundamental split between them is to turn the past workers' movement into a bunch of individuals, an approach which completely obscures the movement's profound tendencies towards organisation and centralisation. Marx and Engels were part of a group, a fraction, a tendency.

Mike Harman
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Apr 30 2007 23:49

Alf, I don't see how you can conclude from that that Marx would agree with your conception of Decadence.

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At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

A couple of obvious examples would be patents and copyright - some might argue these were necessary to protect the advances made by inventors and artists in order that they could get rewarded for their work, and it not just get taken by others and used without their say so - this leading to technical advances (I wouldn't though particularly, I think they've always been shit). I think an extreme example of this attitude would be Freddie Keppard playing the trumpet with a handkerchief over his fingers so others wouldn't steal his licks, and turning down the first opportunity for a jazz musician to record for the same reason. Now it's extremely clear that patents and copyright work against creativity and are used to stifle innovation, and Keppard lost out to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and copyright prevents even the big capitalist companies from taking full advantage of new technologies - look at Microsoft fucking up their own HD video playback for DRM or the failure to capitalise on p2p technology.

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Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

Well I think most on here would agree that between 1917 and 1937 (more or less) was an era of social revolution, albeit one whose potential wasn't taken full advantage of, but capital stabilised again after that, either crushing or recuperating. More time has passed since then than between Marx's preface and 1917, suggesting capital has been taking quite a different trajectory than he anticipated - considering the revolution was just around the corner at least once or twice during his lifetime 120+ years ago.

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I hastily add that that does not imply that revolution is possible at any moment in such an epoch. That would be to leave out the subjective element completely.

But we had say 18 years of revolution (you'd probably put it at less given your attitude to Spain), then just rumblings in the '40s, '50s and onwards. East Berlin, Hungary '56 etc. were all important but not on the same scale as Russia and Spain despite calling an entirely new era of capitalist production into question.

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Alf
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May 1 2007 06:24

Catch wrote: "A couple of obvious examples (of forms of development turning into fetters -Alf) would be patents and copyright - some might argue these were necessary to protect the advances made by inventors and artists in order that they could get rewarded for their work, and it not just get taken by others and used without their say so - this leading to technical advances".

Catch, if I had any hair, I'd tear it out. Marx is not talking about something that changes from one minute to the next inside a particular mode of production. He's talking about the succession of modes of production, entire historical epochs.

And you are confusing a revolutionary period - a period when revolution is both objectively and subjectively possible in the short(ish) term, like in 1917 to whenever - with the more general concept of an epoch of social revolution, of a growing conflict between the relations of production and the forces of production, Luxemburg's "epoch of catastrophe", which - as Marx also explains on the first page of the Communist Manifesto - could equally well end up in the "mutual ruin of the contending classes", i.e. barbarism. The opening up of such an epoch puts the revolution on the agenda, as we saw with remarkable rapidity in 1917-whenever, but it can equally include a period of profound defeat such as we saw from the 30s to the 60s.

Mike Harman
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May 1 2007 07:41
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At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto.

Sorry, you don't think intellectual property was very, very important during the first couple of hundred years of capitalism, and has been made virtually irrelevant and unenforceable now? And I don't see that as a one minute to the next thing either. There aren't paradigm shifts between modes of production, I'm sure you'd agree that things tend to be very uneven and protracted.

To be honest I just wanted to get Freddie Keppard in though.

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Demogorgon303
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May 1 2007 09:10

catch

I don't have time to respond in any depth to much of this, but I think you're missing the fundamentals of what Marx is saying. I would say that the whole intellectual property issue is an expression of the contradictions Marx points out. But it's not the most important one, by any means. A short list off the top of my head:

- the internationalisation of the economy confronts the capitalist framework of nation states;
- the socialisation of labour confronts the private property-based elements of capital and the market;
- the requirement of capitalism to find markets confronts its own tendency to pauperise its largest (in population terms) group of consumers

From the 20th Century onwards, capital has deliberately and consciously tried to confront and overcome these contradictions, without calling into question the basic framework. For example, we have seen:

- the use of "globalisation", free-trade areas, economic blocs, international finance organs (e.g. World Bank), to try and internationalise the economy in a specifically capitalist form;
- the use of state capitalism, attempts at economic planning, etc. to overcome the more destructive "random" tendencies of the market;
- the use of vast credit instruments to raise the consumption of the working class without actually raising wages

Behind all these techniques lies the desperate attempt of a historically bankrupt ruling class to prolong its own sell-by date, confronting an underlying economic and social reality that quite literally rebels against it more and more. Each of the contradictions and mechanisms prefigures in some way the characteristics of communism:

- a fully international, unified, global economic system which reorientates the whole of production for the benefit of the whole of humanity;
- the organisation and centralisation of production and the end of the chaos of capitalist production;
- the transformation of the working masses from exploited underconsumers to more and more increasing their consumption

When examined in this way, it's plain to see the forces of production are straining against the seams of the capitalist framework - the old society is pregnant with the new and ready to give birth, but the bourgeois can't and won't uncross its legs! The ever-growing strain of containing the forces of production within an obsolete framework is what leads to all the fantastic convulsions we have witnessed in history since the beginning of the 20th century.

The bourgeoisie struggles to adapt itself and its economy but ultimately is doomed to failure. It is the ever growing collision between these two tendencies that constitutes the decadence of capitalism.

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Tojiah
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May 1 2007 14:17
Alf wrote:
But as Ernie said, this attempt to make a fundamental split between them is to turn the past workers' movement into a bunch of individuals, an approach which completely obscures the movement's profound tendencies towards organisation and centralisation. Marx and Engels were part of a group, a fraction, a tendency.

Actually, I think that wasting post after post trying to attribute an idea that you find important to an individual (Marx), spending dozens of posts defending the revolutionary credibility of an individual (Trotsky), and, in general, the tendency of using the names of individuals to describe theoretical tendencies (Like Marx -> Marxism, Lenin -> Leninism, Stalin -> Stalinism, Trotsky -> Trotskyism, Mao -> Maoism, etc.) contributes a lot more to turning the worker's movement into a bunch of individuals.

As a counter-example, while I ultimately think that Trotsky himself was always shite, Trotskyism had its heyday, especially during WWII, and I could definitely respect many people who were Trotskyists. But the fact that the guy's name appears three times in the past sentence, even though I'm only referring to his own actions once, is telling.

Catch isn't the one introducing individualism into the mix.

ernie
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May 3 2007 21:51

Catch, those that you say you have found interesting: gorter etc did not pop out of thin air ready made militants, but were part of the long and hard fight carried out within the 2nd International against the increasing reformism, the growing weight of the right wing and the insidious spread of an accommodation with capitalism. They did not see themselves as individual militants with their own positions or clarity, but as part of the marxist left of the 2nd International which was had to wage a desperate struggle to defend its proletarian nature.
Catch, Kautsky was certainly the main spokesmen of the Centre, i.e., those between the Right and the Left in the International and certainly help to speed the degeneration of the international. However, some of his theoretical/historical work is well worth the reading, such as; Thomas Moore and his Utopia, Communism in Central Europe in the time of the reformation, the Foundations of Christianity. These were not academic books but serious contributions to the proletariat's thirst to understand history.
It is not a question of having to have read everything, but to appear to sweep the whole of the Second International aside and not to make a critique of it, as alf and I have point out, does leave one unable to explain the origins of the Communist Left. However, if you do not think it was proletarian in the first place then yes one would to tempt not to bother too much with investigating it.
Within the way that you approach the question of Engels and the international is the idea that somehow proletarian organisations can exist in some pure and pristine form within capitalism without having to wage a constant battle against the pervasive weight of bourgeois society and its ideology, and its insidious permanent effort to penetrate proletarian organisations. Every proletarian organisation has had to wage such a struggle, and has understood that it has to. From the Chartists on, the Leftwing of the workers' movement has always warned about the danger of compromising with Capitalism etc. Catch, this may be twisting the stick a bit, but what do you think?

Mike Harman
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May 3 2007 22:46

I think you're purposefully ignoring ToJ's post.

ernie
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May 4 2007 08:45

Catch I was not ignoring ToJ's post, but was trying to answer your argument -I wanted to give more thought to what he was saying-.
To answer ToJ's point, which I think alf has done already in an earlier post, we defend Marx, Trotsky etc because we see them as part of the history of the development of the proletariat's struggle to free itself.
This relates very much to what I said in my reply to you, because unless you see Engels and the 2nd international as part of the proletariat movement you end up turning the development of the workers' movement into a question of 'purity" rather than one of a constant struggle to against the permanent weight of bourgeois society.
That clarified what is your response to the questions posed in my post?

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May 4 2007 09:14

Tree wrote:

"Actually, I think that wasting post after post trying to attribute an idea that you find important to an individual (Marx), spending dozens of posts defending the revolutionary credibility of an individual (Trotsky), and, in general, the tendency of using the names of individuals to describe theoretical tendencies (Like Marx -> Marxism, Lenin -> Leninism, Stalin -> Stalinism, Trotsky -> Trotskyism, Mao -> Maoism, etc.) contributes a lot more to turning the worker's movement into a bunch of individuals[".

We're against individualism, but neither do we agree with the Bordigist idea that individual nuances and contributions all disappear in the anonymity of the party. 'Marxism' for us is a method which was defended by a definite and collective tendency in the workers' movement, but there's no question that Marx played a key - though not unique - role in developing this method. In the end however, the name is a secondary question.

"As a counter-example, while I ultimately think that Trotsky himself was always shite, Trotskyism had its heyday, especially during WWII, and I could definitely respect many people who were Trotskyists"

Trotsky always shite? When he stood for soviets in 1905 and was the first -even before Luxemburg - to understand their importance? When he was part of the internationalist response to World War 1? Contrast this with what you call Trotskyism's "heyday" in World War II: the majority of the movement capitulated to democratic ideology and participated in the imperialist war. That wasn't Trotskyism's heyday, it was its funeral.

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May 4 2007 12:59

I don't think acknowledging the role of individuals is the same as individualism. The latter is the glorification of the bourgeoisie's conception of the "self-made-man", the primacy of the individual ego exerted in a society where there is still a contradiction between the needs of the individual and society.

In any case, individuals who play great roles at key moments in history do so because the wider historical circumstances push them in that direction. Marx, for example, was a very brilliant individual and without his contribution the workers' movement would have suffered a decisive retardation. But he was only able to achieve what he did precisely because his encounters with working class inspired him to throw his lot in with the revolution.

Individuals exist in a context. Marx, Trotsky, and others were the best expressions of particular tendencies with definite characteristic. Marx didn't invent "Marxism", Engels had already begun to outline many of its key elements before Marx even became a communist. Similarly, Dietzgen developed a similar method entirely independently of both of them. This method appeared on the stage of history because the objective conditions demanded it. Newton didn't invent physics but his contribution advanced it immeasurably. In a similar way, we can say it was Marx who made the most decisive contribution of his era to "historical materialism in its elaboration and development.

Mike Harman
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May 4 2007 16:12

So would you agree that attributing much of the bastardisation of Marx's work to Engels, Kautsky and the Second International isn't individualism then? Or is it only not individualism when you distinguish between the ideas of individuals (or between certain individuals and wider groups) when ICC members and sympathisers do it?

Quote:
But as Ernie said, this attempt to make a fundamental split between them is to turn the past workers' movement into a bunch of individuals, an approach which completely obscures the movement's profound tendencies towards organisation and centralisation. Marx and Engels were part of a group, a fraction, a tendency.
Demo wrote:
I don't think acknowledging the role of individuals is the same as individualism. The latter is the glorification of the bourgeoisie's conception of the "self-made-man", the primacy of the individual ego exerted in a society where there is still a contradiction between the needs of the individual and society.

In any case, individuals who play great roles at key moments in history do so because the wider historical circumstances push them in that direction.

Alf wrote:
'Marxism' for us is a method which was defended by a definite and collective tendency in the workers' movement, but there's no question that Marx played a key - though not unique - role in developing this method.

But you see the Engelsian/Second International determinism as a fundamental part of that method, I, and lots of other people see it as a departure, or at a minimum selective quoting and major over-emphasis.

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May 4 2007 18:10
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the "self-made-man", the primacy of the individual ego exerted in a society where there is still a contradiction between the needs of the individual and society.

But how can it be wrong when it feels so good?

Quote:
But you see the Engelsian/Second International determinism as a fundamental part of that method, I, and lots of other people see it as a departure, or at a minimum selective quoting and major over-emphasis

About 1 in every 9000 I think. A fair proportion by our usual standards.

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May 4 2007 18:36
Alf wrote:

"As a counter-example, while I ultimately think that Trotsky himself was always shite, Trotskyism had its heyday, especially during WWII, and I could definitely respect many people who were Trotskyists"

Trotsky always shite? When he stood for soviets in 1905 and was the first -even before Luxemburg - to understand their importance?

You neglect to mention how he rewrote the history of the St. Petersburg soviet to magnify his own significance. I doubt he'd have much room in his theory for the soviets otherwise, as he later proved with Lenin.

Alf wrote:
When he was part of the internationalist response to World War 1? Contrast this with what you call Trotskyism's "heyday" in World War II: the majority of the movement capitulated to democratic ideology and participated in the imperialist war. That wasn't Trotskyism's heyday, it was its funeral.

Most internationalist militants on the ground in Europe were Trotskyists. I suppose not much was left of them, though, for obvious reasons, leaving the pro-imperialist Trots to take the mantle, which, I suppose, was Trotskyism's funeral. They went out with a bang, though.

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May 4 2007 19:33

To be honest Catch, I really don't understand what you're saying here about individualism. The "individualism" charge (which I didn't make incidentally), springs I think from the idea because Marx and Engels weren't absolutely identical that they therefore had a different method.The point is that while they weren't some Borg-type collective, Marx and Engels were in agreement about the basic method of historical materialism.

The most detailed work on the subject, The German Ideology, was a joint work after all. It deals with the basic premise that at root, economic contradictions are the driving force behind revolutionary transitions between one mode of production and the next. For example:

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Thus all collisions in history have their origin, according to our view, in the contradiction between the productive forces and the form of intercourse. Incidentally, to lead to collisions in a country, this contradiction need not necessarily have reached its extreme limit in this particular country. The competition with industrially more advanced countries, brought about by the expansion of international intercourse, is sufficient to produce a similar contradiction in countries with a backward industry (e.g. the latent proletariat in Germany brought into view by view by the competition of English industry).

This quotation sums up much what the ICC's conception of decadence is normally criticised for on these boards. First, it states quite clearly that revolutionary collisions have their origin in a conflict between the development of the productive forces and relation of the production (forms of intercourse here). Secondly, it demonstrates the global nature of this conflict - the fact that this condition has arisen in the advanced countries produces a similar condition in the backward.

As far as determinism is concerned, Engels actually had to point out to some over-enthusiastic Marxists to be careful about taking this out of context in his famous letter to Bloch in 1880:

Engels wrote:
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree...Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-á-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction ...

It's quite clear from this that Engels is no more mechanical than Marx. In fact, he points out that their early texts laid perhaps too much emphasis on this (albeit for good reason at the time!).

This probably doesn't really answer your points, to be honest I'm really not quite sure what you're getting at.

ernie
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May 7 2007 12:09

Tree could you clarify what you mean by

Quote:
Most internationalist militants on the ground in Europe were Trotskyists. I suppose not much was left of them, though, for obvious reasons, leaving the pro-imperialist Trots to take the mantle, which, I suppose, was Trotskyism's funeral. They went out with a bang, though

There were certainly Trotskyists such as the Forest/Johnson tendency (in the USA), the group of German Trotskyists in France who worked with the French Communist left and others who opposed the war. But this meant breaking with Trotskyism which in its majority had become pro-imperialists as you say. The most spectacular example of this process was that of the transformation of the Workers' Socialist Revolutionary Party -a party on the rightwing of Trotskyism in the 1930-, which over the course of the war broke with trotskyism. It was transformed into the Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg Front at the beginning of the war and in 1942 became the Communistenbind. It regrouped several hundred militants. It was able to make this transformation because it took up the positions of the Communist Left, above all its intransigent internationalism.. This is a very brief outline of the history of this transformation, for a more detailed analysis of this see our book The Dutch and German Communist Left.

ernie
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May 7 2007 12:14

Catch, it would help this discussion if you could at least say whether you think the following is a valid question or not:

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Within the way that you approach the question of Engels and the international is the idea that somehow proletarian organisations can exist in some pure and pristine form within capitalism without having to wage a constant battle against the pervasive weight of bourgeois society and its ideology, and its insidious permanent effort to penetrate proletarian organisations. Every proletarian organisation has had to wage such a struggle, and has understood that it has to. From the Chartists on, the Leftwing of the workers' movement has always warned about the danger of compromising with Capitalism etc. Catch, this may be twisting the stick a bit, but what do you think?
ernie
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May 7 2007 12:32

Catch in response to your question

So would you agree that attributing much of the bastardisation of Marx's work to Engels, Kautsky and the Second International isn't individualism then?

The work of these individuals and the 2nd International was not the work of individualism but of the whole of the working class seeking to clarify its understanding of the enormous questions it was faced with. This process of clarification cannot be some pure and pristine springing of revolutionary consciousness into the heads of those who some how remain completely isolated from the influence of trying to exist as a proletarian organisation in a alien and hostile capitalist society, but from the permanent struggle by organisations and the militants within them to try and take forwards the revolutionary praxis. One can save oneself the trouble of such a processes by simply dismissing it out of hand and saying that the trade unions, socialist parties, the use of parliament etc were always reactionary, as you do. But then catch how do you explain Marx's -who you appear to see as some form of demi-god free from all taint - intransigent defence of the need for the proletariat to build unions to defend themselves, to organise itself as a political party and to use the parliamentary system. Marx's and Engels certainly made very important critiques of the tendency of the emerging German Party's tendency to opportunism, but then this work was continued by the Marxist Left within the 2nd International. The struggle of the Marxist Left within the 2nd International made fundamental contributions to the development of Marxism: the relationship between reform and revolution, the role of the mass strike, the role of the Soviets, the defence of the idea of the historically limited nature of capitalism, the analysis of the development of imperialism and state capitalism, the question of internationalism. Many of these questions were not even posed to Marx.
Catch it would be very useful if you could deal with the question of the role of the Marxist Left and make a rather more substantive critique than simply saying the 2nd International bastardized Marx.

Mike Harman
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May 7 2007 12:42
ernie wrote:
Catch, it would help this discussion if you could at least say whether you think the following is a valid question or not:
Quote:
Within the way that you approach the question of Engels and the international is the idea that somehow proletarian organisations can exist in some pure and pristine form within capitalism without having to wage a constant battle against the pervasive weight of bourgeois society and its ideology, and its insidious permanent effort to penetrate proletarian organisations. Every proletarian organisation has had to wage such a struggle, and has understood that it has to. From the Chartists on, the Leftwing of the workers' movement has always warned about the danger of compromising with Capitalism etc. Catch, this may be twisting the stick a bit, but what do you think?

I think the way you try to define proletarian organisations is flawed in itself, and I think it's tied in to why you have so much trouble dealing with Kronstadt etc. and place so much emphasis on the Italian left and other Left Communist groups whilst only acknowledging the usually far more ready response of anarchists and others for particular audiences such as this.

Do I think all kinds of ('leftist', 'communist', 'anarchist' - just to be clear I think this applies to different degrees across the board) groups and individuals have shitty ideas? Yes of course.
Do I think it's important to argue against them? Yes of course.
Do I think that people in organisations I might otherwise agree with should be spared that kind of criticism? No of course not. Your concept of the proletarian camp etc. leads to these kinds of double standards.

Mike Harman
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May 7 2007 13:05
ernie wrote:
The work of these individuals and the 2nd International was not the work of individualism but of the whole of the working class seeking to clarify its understanding of the enormous questions it was faced with.

So Marx, Engels and the 2nd international represent the brain of the whole of the working class now? Do you think the ICC, or the proletarian camp, does this?

Quote:
But then catch how do you explain Marx's -who you appear to see as some form of demi-god free from all taint

Of course, because me saying I thought Marx made all kinds of errors and hence don't describe myself as a Marxist, earlier in this thread, and on many others, didn't happen.

Quote:
- intransigent defence of the need for the proletariat to build unions to defend themselves, to organise itself as a political party and to use the parliamentary system.

I think he was shown to be wrong, and that he admitted some of his errors during his lifetime (his reappraisal of the dictatorship of the proletariat after the Commune for one). The same as he was shown to be wrong about the 'most advanced capitalist countries" being the birth place of the international revolution within a few years of when he wrote stuff like that. That doesn't mean I don't think there's a lot to be gained from his work though. However, I think determinism which is the subject of this thread - something which has been the main strawman pulled out by bourgeios thinkers against the entirety of Marx's work for the past 150 years - although it can be found here and there, wasn't central to it, but was made so by Engels, Kautsky etc. Even if you were able to 100% prove that Marx was a shocking determinist, doesn't mean I'd suddenly agree with that determinism though, because as I've made it clear I only take from his ideas to the extent that I feel them to be useful, not because "it's Marx'. That doesn't mean that his ideas don't sometimes need defending from the misperceptions of both capitalists and "Marxists" though.

Quote:
Marx's and Engels certainly made very important critiques of the tendency of the emerging German Party's tendency to opportunism, but then this work was continued by the Marxist Left within the 2nd International. The struggle of the Marxist Left within the 2nd International made fundamental contributions to the development of Marxism: the relationship between reform and revolution, the role of the mass strike, the role of the Soviets, the defence of the idea of the historically limited nature of capitalism, the analysis of the development of imperialism and state capitalism, the question of internationalism. Many of these questions were not even posed to Marx.
Catch it would be very useful if you could deal with the question of the role of the Marxist Left and make a rather more substantive critique than simply saying the 2nd International bastardized Marx.

Another pointed out how much depth their was to Trotsky's support for the soviets (i.e. very little), and you've not answered that. Perhaps if you'd like to clarify (perhaps again), who you think the Marxist Left was - I'd imagine it would include elements I've some sympathy for and none, and hence wouldn't be useful to treat as an homogenous mass.

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Tojiah
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May 7 2007 14:32
ernie wrote:
Tree could you clarify what you mean by
Quote:
Most internationalist militants on the ground in Europe were Trotskyists. I suppose not much was left of them, though, for obvious reasons, leaving the pro-imperialist Trots to take the mantle, which, I suppose, was Trotskyism's funeral. They went out with a bang, though

There were certainly Trotskyists such as the Forest/Johnson tendency (in the USA), the group of German Trotskyists in France who worked with the French Communist left and others who opposed the war. But this meant breaking with Trotskyism which in its majority had become pro-imperialists as you say.

Okay, now I'm confused. Didn't you defend Trotsky for representing internationalism in the face of imperialism at the time of WWII, which is why he was assassinated?

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Alf
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May 7 2007 18:41

What we said was that Trotsky was killed above all for what he represented - the ideal of international revolution, opposition to imperialist war. In practise, through the 30s Trotsky himself had been sliding more and more into opportunism and other currents defended internationalism far more consistently. But we don't think he had finally thrown in his lot with the bourgeoisie, he had not betrayed definitively. Had he survived, he would have been put to this final test, and there are indications in both directions - on the one hand, for example, his difficulty breaking with the notion that the USSR was still a workers' state; on the other hand, some of his last writings which seem prepared to question the whole framework; also the fact that Natalia did make the break with the USSR and rejected participation in the war. This was a course taken by a minority within the Trotskyist movement, but the majority chose the other path. And in answer to a question posed on another thread, it was that fatal development which enables us to see that Trotskyism as a political tendency is capitalist today

Beltov
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May 8 2007 00:37

Just briefly on this question of the role of the individual. This is from the article Against the concept of the 'Brilliant Leader' which is a criticism of the views of the Bordigists on this question...

Quote:
Never was a thinker less of a ‘man alone in his Study’ than Marx. Less than anyone is it possible to separate Marx the thinker from Marx the man of action, the militant of the movement. Marx’s thought developed not in direct correspondence with the action of others, but with his own action and that of others in the general move­ment. Not one idea in his work wasn’t drawn from confrontation with other ideas in the course of his activity. This is why his work always retained such freshness and vitality. All his work, even Capital, was an incessant controversy, where the most arduous and abstract theoretical researchers were tightly bound up with discussion and direct polemic. It’s a strange way of seeing Marx’s work, describing it as the product of the miraculous biological composition of his brain!

In general, the role of the genius in human history is over. What did the genius repre­sent in the past? Simply the fact that the extremely low level of knowledge of the average man meant that there was an immense gap between this level and the knowledge held by a few elite elements. At the lower stage in the development of human knowledge, a very relative degree of knowledge could be an individual acquisition, just as the means of production could have an individual character. What distinguishes the machine as a tool is that it changes the character of what was formerly the rudimentary product of private labour, turning it into the complicated product of collective social labour. It’s the same with knowledge in general. As long as it remained on an element­ary level an isolated individual could embrace it in its totality. But with the development of society and of science, the sum of knowledge could no longer be held by an individual: only humanity as a whole could do so. The gap between the genius and the average man diminishes in proportion to the growth in the sum of human knowledge. Science, like economic production, tends to be socialised. From the genius humanity has gone to the isolated scholar, and from the isolated scholar to the team of scholars. The division of labour tends to increase. To produce anything today it is necessary to rely on the co-operation of large numbers of workers. This tendency towards further division exists at the level of ‘spiritual’ production as well, and it’s precisely through this that it advances.

The scholar’s study gives way to the laboratory where teams of scholars co-operate in their researches, just as the artisan’ workshop gives way to the big factories.

The role of the individual tends to diminish in human society - not as a feeling, aware individual but as an individual emerging out of a confused mass, riding above the chaos of humanity. Man as individual gives way to social man. The opposition between the individual and society will be resolved by the synthesis of a society in which all individuals will find their true personality. The myth of the genius isn’t the future of humanity. It will join the myth of the hero and the demi-­god in the museum of prehistory.
http://en.internationalism.org/ir/033/concept-of-brilliant-leader

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Lazy Riser
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May 8 2007 10:41
Quote:
The opposition between the individual and society will be resolved by the synthesis of a society in which all individuals will find their true personality.

The myth of the "true personality" is as arcane as the myth of the hero. Capitalism’s decadence, in so far as it can be said to exist at all, carries communism’s decadence by proxy. It’s a joint crisis, but whereas bourgeois economics can ostensibly cope with the logic of collective action as it pertains to public goods and the theory of groups, “communist” economics cannot.

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Joseph Kay
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May 8 2007 16:58
Catch wrote:
Yet again, when challenged, you water your positions down to make them seem more reasonable.

on that note, i've just noticed Alf's wheeled out the hard determinist version of decadence here:

Alf wrote:
What doesn’t work is capitalism, which has long outlived itself and is dragging humanity into a nightmare of economic collapse

i thought decadence didn't mean economic collapse, in fact could mean continued growth, only fettered relative to communism ...