Notes on Decadence theory

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Demogorgon303
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May 8 2007 19:54
JosephK wrote:
i thought decadence didn't mean economic collapse, in fact could mean continued growth, only fettered relative to communism ...

This is not some contradiction between "hard" or "soft" versions of decadence, but a difference of emphasis concerning exactly what component of the whole is being examined. Capitalism must have periods of accumulation or it ceases to exist and the only way this can happen is if all the economic actors that compose it cease to function economically. This is obviously not the case.

The fetters that encompass growth don't appear in a static sense. Firstly, the fetter of the restricted markets relative to the ever-growing productive capacity of capitalism expresses itself in the form of capital being shifted away from accumulation into forms of credit designed to raise consumption (e.g. state debt, consumer debt, etc.). This results in periods of economic expansion, but the expansion is fettered precisely not all capital can be used for accumulation.

When the logic of capitalism re-asserts itself (i.e. the debts are called in), the fetter of the market exerts itself in the form of an open crisis, such as the 30s Depression or the increasingly violent recessions that have wracked the world economy since the end of the 70s. In decadence capitalism can only pull itself out of the crisis by shifting yet more capital away from production into consumption - this is expressed empirically by the transformation of industrial capital into finance capital.

There are thus clear tendencies to economic collapse in decadence, in that it exists as a permanent threat if the contradictions of the economic system were allowed free-reign. But even an outright economic collapse shouldn't be seen as some final crisis which sees the final end of the capitalist system. Production would almost certainly restart simply because of the imperative need for humans to produce or die. It would take several such collapses before capitalism finally dissolved itself into a more primitive mode of production.

This will simply not happen because the active factors of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The former takes action to prevent the crisis at two levels: state management of the economic crisis (as detailed briefly above) and the drive towards war. War is the logical outcome of crisis in decadent capitalism and it is that (and other) "superstructural" factor(s) that pose a more direct threat to human civilisation than a "pure" economic dissolution. Against this threat stands the class struggle of the proletariat, which can hold back world war and pose its own solution to the crisis: world revolution.

ernie
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May 8 2007 23:30

Catch: you are still not answering a the main question: can revolutionary organisations some how maintain some form of purity whilst being faced with the constant pressure of bourgeois society? You say that the 2nd international was determinist, which would be an expression of the penetration of bourgeois ideology, and yes there was a weight of determinism but this was fought by the Marxist left. Was Luxemburg a determinist? If so please give some proof. Was mehring a determinist? Dietzgen? Labriola? Gorter? Pannekoek? If you are going to condemn militants of the class you at least need to prove your point

ernie
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May 8 2007 23:31

Catch: you are still not answering a the main question: can revolutionary organisations some how maintain some form of purity whilst being faced with the constant pressure of bourgeois society? You say that the 2nd international was determinist, which would be an expression of the penetration of bourgeois ideology, and yes there was a weight of determinism but this was fought by the Marxist left. Was Luxemburg a determinist? If so please give some proof. Was mehring a determinist? Dietzgen? Labriola? Gorter? Pannekoek? If you are going to condemn militants of the class you at least need to prove your point

ernie
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May 8 2007 23:43

Catch, did Marx and the 2nd international represent the brain of the working class: no/ They expressed the highest manifestations of class consciousness. As Demo pointed out, the individual contribution of Marx to the development of the workers' movement cannot be underestimated, but he was able to make this contribution because he was able to make a dialectical critque of previous socialist and bourgeoisie, and human thought and to draw out the revolutionary potential of the proletariat. The 2nd International was the highest expression of the proletariat's efforts to liberate itself at the time and this is why the most class consciouss workers joined its parties in their thousands, it also served to strengthen the proletariat's confidence in its own abilities to organise itself. It also enabled a truely international discussion to take place between organisations and individual militants. To see this and the real depth of believe in Socialism one only needs to read The International Socialist Review from the 1900's, this had in-depth theoretical articles, coverage of the international development of the socialist movement, polemics, the congress of the International and the main parties were covered -reading these magazines is an inspiring experience because it enables one to feel the beating pulse of the movement free from the terrible distortion of the very ideal of communism and communist militancy by stalinism and leftism. No bourgeois organisation could produce such literature and passion for the future

ernie
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May 8 2007 23:58

Catrch, as for the depth of his defence of the Soviet's his willingness to put his neck on the line through being on the Front-line showed the depth of his commitment to the revolution. Yes as the revolution became more isolated and the terrible contradictions of the Bolsheviks identifying themselves with the state became more powerful his defence of the soviets certainly weakened in the immediate circumstances of Russia but his defence of the need for the world revolution -based on the soviets- did not. And in the end he suffered the consequence of his defence of the need for the world revolution. he also lost most of his family due to his refusal to stop defending the need for the world revolution, You will not agree but simply to dismiss trotsky's contribution to the revolution is an easy way to avoid having to deal with the difficulties of making the revolution.
As for Kronstadt, we have already discussed this, but it will do no harm to go over our position again [http://en.internationalism.org/ir/104_kronstadt.html; the ICC see's the suppression of Kronstadt as a very serious mistake and an important step in the degeneration of the revolution. The central lesson of this tragic event, beyond the terrible consequence of identifying the the proletariat with the state, is that violence has not place in the internal relations of the proletariat. Again we will not agree, but we are happy to defend our position on Kronstadt as often as you want.
Catch what is your position on the use of violence in the class?

Mike Harman
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May 15 2007 23:08
ernie wrote:
Catch: you are still not answering a the main question: can revolutionary organisations some how maintain some form of purity whilst being faced with the constant pressure of bourgeois society?

Do I think there's some kind of pure revolutionary essence that's distinct from capitalist society? No I don't, revolutionary theory is obviously a product of class society and it'll take a revolution for us to shake off bourgeios ideology in its entirety. I think the ICC's characterisation of this process as organisations continually having to defend themselves, almost physically, against bourgeios ideology is ridiculous though.

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You say that the 2nd international was determinist, which would be an expression of the penetration of bourgeois ideology, and yes there was a weight of determinism but this was fought by the Marxist left.

You know when people say "Second International Determinism" they generally mean Kautsky, who made a complete mess of Marx (and other stuff), and touted it succesfully to a lot of people, including Lenin.
Having said that:

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Was Luxemburg a determinist?

The Luxemburg I've read was a while ago, but I think there's an element of determinism in 'crisis theory'. I've not got through much of [urlhttp://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1913/accumulation-capital/index.htm]this[/url] though, but it doesn't look like all that great a contribution compared to some of her other stuff, would want to read it in more depth though since even if Rosa was wrong about some stuff, I think she was committed.

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Was mehring a determinist? Dietzgen? Labriola?

In the few days since I stated I'd not read those, I've miraculously not managed to catch with them, funny that.

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Gorter?

No. Not unless there's some I'm unaware of. Gorter's analysis of the Russian Revolution is considerably different to yours though.

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Pannekoek?

No I don't think so either. Certainly during many epochs, there's been an optimism (i.e. the revolution is inevitable and must be just around the corner) which can be reinterpreted as determinism later on - it can't be just around the corner for ever though.

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Devrim
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May 15 2007 23:16

EKS paper on decadence:
http://libcom.org/forums/enternasyonalist-kom-nist-sol/theses-decadence-and-decomposition
Personally, I am not happy with point six.
Devrim

Mike Harman
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May 15 2007 23:20
ernie wrote:
Catrch, as for the depth of his defence of the Soviet's his willingness to put his neck on the line through being on the Front-line showed the depth of his commitment to the revolution. Yes as the revolution became more isolated and the terrible contradictions of the Bolsheviks identifying themselves with the state became more powerful his defence of the soviets certainly weakened in the immediate circumstances of Russia but his defence of the need for the world revolution -based on the soviets- did not.

"defence of the soviets certainly weakened" != "sent the Red Army in to crush the Kronstadt soviet like partridges". Or does -based on the soviets- mean -with boot rested upon them-.

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And in the end he suffered the consequence of his defence of the need for the world revolution. he also lost most of his family due to his refusal to stop defending the need for the world revolution,

Without meaning to sound flippant, many prominent members/leaders of political factions lose their families due to opposing factions, this in no way makes them automatically right about anything at all.

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is that violence has not place in the internal relations of the proletariat.

So I guess those people who's doors got knocked down by the ICC in the early '80s were not only not in the proletarian camp, but simply weren't members of the proletariat at all then? Trotsky's position at the time was that these were Kulaks, recently conscripted peasants, and White guards, not proletarians, and that the revolution must be defended from them. That has been shown, by Gaetzler and others before, to be a complete fabrication.

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Catch what is your position on the use of violence in the class?

Do you mean violence as a method of settling disputes? (like ownership of typewriters by left communists?). Or do you mean violent episodes such as riots and failed insurrections? Certainly I think that any revolution will involve considerable violence on both sides, and I'm not a pacifist in any sense. Gratuitous violence, especially in its current form of a 'ruck with the cops' at spectacular demonstrations, I think is a waste of energy though. Plus I'm shit at fighting sad

Spikymike
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May 19 2007 14:21

Don't know how I missed this link from the other thread since it deals much better with the basic points I was raising there. Its been very interesting and I have appreciated some of the subtleties if left communist decadence theories as a result.

Still, in general I have to agree with Catch on most points.

Certainly there was a 'determinism' and an 'ideological' bent to Second International 'marxism' which can be traced to Engels more than Marx himself but was developed most by Kautsky and maintained by other theorists including Lenin. It was countered by some from the left of the same movement particularly Pannekoek.

Of course its not about blaming individual theorists precisely because in many respects such a determinist approach 'fitted the bill' in terms of the needs of the time. But it is important to recognise that weakness in the movement and its deep influence, even on those, such as the bolsheviks, who sought to break from that tradition.

I suggested before that Marx's analysis of the historic transformation from the formal to the real subsumption of labour and from a capitalism based primarily on the absolute exploitation to the relative exploitation of labour was a more useful starting point for understanding the change in the role of the Unions, political parties etc.

But this process is much more drawn out - spanning a whole era pre and post 1914 and continuing today in various parts of the world. Whilst it can certainly be claimed that post the second world war at the laterst, that world capitalism has made that transformation , even now the process continues and in the absense of a major revolutionary wave will tend to see an extended life for otherwise outdated social democratic and more particularly Union based movements in some parts of the world.

Internationalist-Perspectives develop these ideas better than I can, though they seem keen still to tag their views with the tile of 'Decadence theory' . Still maybe that would get it more consideration from some on these threads?

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mikail firtinaci
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May 19 2007 19:47

I have a question in my mind which I could not resolve satisfactorily yet. If as the icc says there is a tendency towards state capitalism in decanadant phase - which I generally agree- then how can we explain the recent developments like privatisations etc.

I mean can we say that these are merely "attacks" against working class or the expressions of the deepening of the capitalist crisis? If the first one is correct than the ezplanation seems to be remaining only on the level the changing world conjuncture -dissolution of the enemy number one ussr-. If the second one is correct then it comes to say that it is both an attack on working class living conditions and also capital's forcing of working class to more devalorisation and more poverty because of its inability to maintain the social aspect of state capitalism..

As you see I am a bit confused about this issue. The main question for me is whether if there is still a tendency towards state capitalism or even that is getting dissolved?

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Alf
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May 21 2007 11:10

I think it's important to recall that state capitalism can take many forms. In the weakest or most crisis-ridden economies, or during an all-out imperialist war, it tends to take on its most 'extreme' forms, such as Stalinism and to some extent fascism. But Stalinism is not only an expression of weakness - it has many disadvantages from the bourgeois standpoint which further accentuate this weakness. On the economic level, the absence or reduction of a 'profit motive' for individual enterprises does not make for efficiency and the huge weight of a military/bureaucratic apparatus puts enormous strains on an already sluggish economy. At the same time, when Stalinist type regimes institute attacks on the working class (such as centrally planned price rises) the highly centralised nature of this attack tends to provoke a generalised response from the working class. And as the events in Poland 1980 shows, the overt integration of the trade unions into the Stalinist state obliges workers to develop their own forms of organisation in the struggle.
This is where privaisation has so many advantages as a policy of the capitalist state, which can remain in overall control but (a) introduce an 'enterprise culture' into every level of the economic and state apparatus and (b) direct attacks on living standards through a myriad of 'private' corporations, a strategy which tends to disperse in advance any threat of a generalised class response. But it remains a form of state capitalism.

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Demogorgon303
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May 21 2007 12:11

Privatisation is always accompanied by setting up state-controlled regulators which limit what these companies can do. For example, in Britain, they're about to force the water companies to take on responsibility for maintaining hundreds of private sewers. They also institute price controls, enforce competition, etc. These don't stop the economic attacks (price increases and layoffs) but they prevent the companies from doing anything too outrageous. The price increases (that a state-owned company couldn't bring in because it instantly politicised the question) have thus been phased in over the years, with the regulator playing the role of "protecting" the consumer against the worst ravages of the greedy privatised company. (These companies also maintain union structures where the union plays a similar role to the regulator, but for the workers. It doesn't stop continual waves of layoffs and attacks on working conditions.)

On another note, privatisation also temporarily enabled the state to do a few other things. It enabled the state to lighten its enormous deficits. It also found a home for an enormous mass of surplus capital which was used to purchase these concerns from the state. And the attacks on consumers and workers have made it possible for all these areas to improve their profitability (although in fact, the most profitable areas were sold first).