a bit about Luxemburg

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Mar 11 2010 23:45
a bit about Luxemburg

I don't know how to order this, I'll start somewhere.

So I was reading a little bit of the 2 big threads on decadence theory and the Continuing Relevance of Rosa Luxemburg, which were very long and interesting, but I found the outcome was unsatisfying.

Riccardo Bellofiore's [url=] LIKE A CANDLE BURNING AT BOTH ENDS:[url=http://books.google.com/books?id=zaZLVEl2mmcC&pg=PA279&dq=“LIKE+A+CANDLE+BURNING+AT+BOTH+ENDS”:+ROSA+LUXEMBURG+AND+THE+CRITIQUE+OF+POLITICAL+ECONOM&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false]ROSA LUXEMBURG AND THE CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY[/url] is the best text I've come across (not that many in all honesty) about Luxemburg. This is because Bellofiore's paper also discusses the Introduction to Political Economy. I don't think even the ICC has quoted from this text by Luxemburg (at least not often). I don't think there is a complete English version of it, so I guess it's been somewhat ignored by everyone.

I quote from Bellofiore's paper just this passage about a key point (for, or rather against the ICC's decadence theory):

"She is convincing in showing the systematic tendency to crisis in
capitalism, due to the impossibility of having an unlimited increase in the share of
investment – the root of the crisis being the uncertainty surrounding this latter in
a changing environment in the course of unbalanced accumulation. But she reads
this tendency as leading, sooner or later, to automatic collapse, once capitalism
has become “purified” from all non-capitalist elements. This is an idea foreign
to Marx, who wrote that permanent crises do not exist, and who saw them as not
only a temporary breakdown of the system but also as purging this latter from its
contradictions for a while."

This was not Bellofiore's main point, he goes over it rather quickly and defends Luxemburg's continuing relevance in a bunch of other areas. He concludes kind of by saying;

"[...] Luxemburg’s economic analysis amounted to nothing
less than a revival of the theory of value reread as a theory of exploitation in
a monetary economy characterised by dynamic competition among firms. Her
originality was in taking up again Marx’s perspective in a framework which
has been further developed by old (Wicksell, Schumpeter, Keynes) and new
(Schmitt, Parguez, Graziani) theories of the monetary circuit. Exactly what
Kautsky or Lenin, Bauer or Bukharin dubbed as her “errors” now appear as
what make Luxemburg a forerunner of a macro-monetary theory of exploitation,
accumulation and crisis."

Luxemburg - great.

Just compare that with this 1972 piece of New Left Anti-imperialist Marxist-Leninism:

"Zuunterst liegt Rosa Luxemburgs Versuch, in der Auseinandersetzung mit dem
Revisionismus gegen Ende des vorigen Jahrhunderts die sich her-
ausbildenden Merkmale des Imperialismus zu formulieren. Darüber
legt sich der aus einem grundlegenden methodologischen Mißver-
ständnis des Marxschen "Kapital" gespeiste spätere Versuch einer
systematischen Erklärung des Imperialismus aus der Zirkulations-
sphäre. Die sofort einsetzende Kritik erlangte schließlich in den
20er und 30er Jahren neue Aspekte. Der sich auf Rosa Luxemburg
berufende Revisionismus erfüllte antikommunistische Funktionen
und richtete sich gegen den Aufbau des Sozialismus in der So-
wjetunion. Auf diese Auseinandersetzung folgt die keynesianische
Bemühung, in erster Linie Joan Robinsons, Rosa Luxemburg als
einen ökonomisch-theoretischen Vorläufer von J.M. Keynes zu be-
trachten. Ihr schließen sich Nettl und mehrere publizistische In-
terpretationen aus der jüngsten Zeit an."

Luxemburg - booh!, for the same reason.

I can live with Bellofiore's 'de-collapsized' Luxemburg even if I still perversely hope there is a way to make sense of the way Luxemburg shows capitalism entered its decadent period and humanity is doomed bar a revolution.

To conclude as disorderly as I started, let me ask if anybody happens to know what the point was of 'Rosa Luxemburg's critique of Marx's schemes of reproduction: A Re-evaluation and a possible generalisation' by Meghnad Desai and Roberto Veneziani.

I mean Meghnad Desai is a labour LSE market guy, right? and is Roberto Veneziani an analytic marxist anti-'neo-liberal'? Are they also proposing a de-collapsized Luxemburg? But for what kind of politics?

And what is Bellofiore's goal with his paper on Luxemburg? He defended her from her marxist critics, but she is still open to be used by anyone for any political programme (witness Desai and Veneziani?), which I will have to live with I guess, because theoretical economic clarification doesn't have to imply any politics.

So far for my ramble.

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Mar 12 2010 08:59

This is interesting - I don't know any of these texts so will try to catch up with them, but this could take a bit of time.
Don't really agree that Luxemburg had the idea of automatic collapse: she said that capitalism would never reach the point where a purely economic impossibility kicked in. She thought that other crises - political and military - would call the system into question well before that. She certainly didn't expect the system to drag on for another century, but then few revolutionaries of her day did. Obviously she could not have foreseen all the mechanisms capitalism used to keep itself going in the absence of a sizeable reervoir of pre-capitalist markets, such as state capitalism and the resort to debt.

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Mar 12 2010 17:21
Noa Rodman wrote:
I quote from Bellofiore's paper just this passage about a key point (for, or rather against the ICC's decadence theory):

"She is convincing in showing the systematic tendency to crisis in capitalism, due to the impossibility of having an unlimited increase in the share of investment – the root of the crisis being the uncertainty surrounding this latter in a changing environment in the course of unbalanced accumulation."

I don't think this was her view. I thought her argument was that there were no purchasers within "pure" capitalism for that part of surplus value destined for accumulation.

Quote:
But she reads this tendency as leading, sooner or later, to automatic collapse, once capitalism has become “purified” from all non-capitalist elements. This is an idea foreign to Marx, who wrote that permanent crises do not exist, and who saw them as not only a temporary breakdown of the system but also as purging this latter from its contradictions for a while."

Paul Mattick already made this point 40 years ago in his Marx and Keynes:

Quote:
Even in the nineteenth century, Malthus, for instance, saw the crux of the capitalist dilemma in the realization problem. And at the turn of the century, the Marxist Rosa Luxemburg saw in the difficulties of surplus-value realization the objective reasons for crises and wars and for capitalism's eventual demise.
All this has little to do with Marx, who saw that the actual world of capitalism was at once a production and a circulation process, to be sure, but who held nevertheless that nothing circulates unless it is first produced, and for that reason gave priority to the problems of the production process. If the production of surplus-value is adequate to assure an accelerated capital expansion, there is little reason to assume that capitalism will falter in the sphere of circulation.
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Apr 19 2010 21:47

capricorn wrote

Quote:
I don't think this was her view. I thought her argument was that there were no purchasers within "pure" capitalism for that part of surplus value destined for accumulation.

In the paper the translated quotes from the Italian version of the Introduction to Political Economy prove that it was.

Quote:
Paul Mattick already made this point 40 years ago in his Marx and Keynes

That's probably the reason why it is mentioned only in passing.

@ Alf

The paper argues against the view that she held a determinist theory of collapse. In the quote I gave, Bellofiore says that she was mistaken to belief that once capitalism has become “purified” from all non-capitalist elements there follows sooner or later an automatic collapse ("Rosa Luxemburg believed in the inevitability of collapse"). But in the footnote he adds "Though the point is contested by some: Zarembka, for example, argues that this statement is excessive, because breakdown only comes at the very last paragraph of the Accumulation of Capital."

I should add that I didn't see a single reference in the ICC's articles to the 'introduction to political economy', which is understandable because the text wasn't published in french until 1970.

EDIT; The ICC in its publications does quote from 'Introduction to Political Economy'. I was a little over zealous here.

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Mar 12 2010 21:03

I think I can see where the confusion is arising. I was talking about her breakdown theory of capitalism as set out in The Accumulation of Capital. This new book discusses her views on the periodic, cyclical crises that capitalism goes through, a discussion of which she excluded from her book. I've only read the "What is Economics?" part of her "Introduction to Economics" but, if her theory of cyclical crises is accurately summarised on the site you mention, then her theory would seem to be the "orthodox" Marxian view:

Quote:
her theory of the crisis is not underconsumptionist. The shortage of effective demand is seen as ultimately due to a fall of autonomous investment caused by inter-sectoral disequilibria springing from the revolution in the methods of production and the consequent relative reduction of workers’ consumption. “Disproportionalities,” as soon as they affect important branches of production, end up in a general glut of commodities.

I have to add that this is not a theory of cyclical crises that has been defended by those here who accept her breakdown theory.

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Mar 12 2010 22:37

I just realized googlebooks shows only a small part of the paper, will try to upload the full to the library.

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Mar 13 2010 09:20

I have heard the claim that Marx didn't see a tendency to permanent crisis made a number of places. What is the standard reference for this?

The way that I'd view the tendency of the declining rate of profit is that, in theory, capital can begin accumulation once a decline in the rate of profit has filtered through the market and most enterprises have adjusted to the new prevailing rate of profit and some portion of pre-existing capital has been destroyed.

However, bringing the discussion to today, it seems clear that we facing a capitalist system that isn't inclined to engage in any adjustments. All the rackets from the last crisis are being systematically supported by the state - Fannie Mae holds up the real estate market, TARP holds up the banks and the Chinese state holds up the China investment bubble.

Thus it seems like we are in a situation where "crisis is ever-present" in the sense that the financial system is going to need to be supported by variety of interventions. Looks like a permanent crisis to me.

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Mar 13 2010 10:10

dp

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Mar 13 2010 10:23
p.mattick wrote:
All this has little to do with Marx, who saw that the actual world of capitalism was at once a production and a circulation process, to be sure, but who held nevertheless that nothing circulates unless it is first produced, and for that reason gave priority to the problems of the production process. If the production of surplus-value is adequate to assure an accelerated capital expansion, there is little reason to assume that capitalism will falter in the sphere of circulation.

Is this really what mattick said? It seems a fairly simplistic and naive interpretation

It also seems to fail on it's first premise that 'If the production of surplus value is adequate to assure an accelerated capital expansion....' - which it's clearly not, and just as nothing circulates unless it is first produced, nothing is reproduced unless it's value inputs have previously circulated

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Mar 13 2010 10:36
Quote:
The way that I'd view the tendency of the declining rate of profit is that, in theory, capital can begin accumulation once a decline in the rate of profit has filtered through the market and most enterprises have adjusted to the new prevailing rate of profit and some portion of pre-existing capital has been destroyed.

this implies to me the view that accumulation and a declining rate of profit are mutually exclusive, which they're not - sure, in theory, once the equalised profit rate declines to an extent that crisis intervenes to destroy capital this allows accumulation to begin again at a higher rate of profit, but that higher rate of profit accumulation is accompanied (for capital in general) by a huge de-accumulation effect of the destruction of capital in the first place - I think there's far too much focus on the rate of profit at the expense of things like the mass in marxist chin scratching

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Mar 13 2010 11:03

Luxemburg's Introduction to Political Economy is a negelcted classic - the What is Economics booklet is just a short extract from it. for example there are several very interesting chapters about primitve communism and its dissolution, and about the actual state of the world economy in the 1900s when Luxemburg was putting together the lectures on the party school on which it is based. You can find the whole text in French on marxists.org, and maybe in other languages, but not in English. The problem is that it really needs to be translated from the original German.

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Mar 13 2010 12:47
RedHughs wrote:
I have heard the claim that Marx didn't see a tendency to permanent crisis made a number of places. What is the standard reference for this?

I don't know. It's really just a passing comment in this text, which I would like to have seen more elaborated on, but maybe that's what Bellofiore does in the first chapter of last year's 'Rosa luxemburg and the critique of political economy' called 'Introduction: Rosa Luxemburg on Capitalist Dynamic. Distributio. and Effective Demand Crises'.

I haven't found that book unfortunately, so I haven't read it.

@ Alf

thanks for giving the site which has 'Intro to PE' in french.

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Mar 13 2010 21:47
RedHughs wrote:
I have heard the claim that Marx didn't see a tendency to permanent crisis made a number of places. What is the standard reference for this?

It's in Part Two of Theories of Surplus Value in a footnote in section 7 of Chapter XVII on "Ricardo's Theory of Accumulation and a Critique of it". The context is interesting as it is relevant to some contemporary theories of crisis:

Quote:
A distinction must be made here. When Adam Smith explains the fall in the rate of profit from an over-abundance of capital, an accumulation of capital, he is speaking of a permanent effect and this is wrong. As against this, the transitory over-abundance of capital, over-production and crises are something different. Permanent crises do not exist (Marx's emphasis)
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Mar 20 2010 19:52

Basically, Bellofiore accepts the problem Luxemburg posed and the need for a third buyer; he leaves open as a possibility Luxemburg's solution of the non-capitalists markets, but he doesn't attempt to defend it; instead he goes for a Kaleckian solution, namely that of 'internal exports' (state deficit, central bank) as third buyer (but there still remain unsolved theoretical issues). Overall, in terms of the previous threads/debates here on libcom, Bellofiore's text (and the later extended version) is more on the ICC's side than that of Mikus and Capricorn.

To be clear, I reject the idea of decadence and the role it plays as theoretical bedrock in the ICC.

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Mar 20 2010 20:14

can you elaborate? What is it exactly you reject?

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Mar 20 2010 21:38

I object to the division of modes of productions into an ascendant and decadent phase in general, but the capitalist one specifically (namely according to the ICC at the point of the conquering of non-capitalist regions, I say ICC because Marx and Luxemburg do not seem to use the division in to ascendant/decadent phases). It's true that the appearance of more destructive wars coincide with the time when this conquering was completed (+-1914), but this is just a description of events, it does not follow that capitalism peaked sort of speak. I don't know how one could know when any mode of production peaks, and if it were possible I don't see how it would tell us anything new, except giving descriptions of terrible events.

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Mar 21 2010 00:32

I can't agree at all with your reading of Luxemburg, or Marx, but let's just stick to Luxemburg for the moment. To begin with, have you read the latest article in our series on decadence: http://en.internationalism.org/ir/140/capitalist-decline-revisionism ?
The article argues that Luxemburg's response to the 'revisionists' at the very end of the 19th century was firmly based on a defence of the notion of capitalism's inevitable decline; and furthermore, Luxemburg predicted that this new period was imminent, both in Reform or Revolution and the Mass Strike.

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Mar 21 2010 19:23

I read it, reread it now and look forward to the next article in the series.

I agree with the purpose for which Luxemburg used the collapse agrument, but not the argument itself.

But does the ICC even agree with the collapse argument? I am actually relieved that not all the ICC positions seem to rest on this argument, contrary to claim that it is the ICC's bedrock for their Marxism. Is the ICC anyways not tending towards officially adopting a 'decollapsed' version of Luxemburg, as Bellofiore promotes? I hope so.

I object to the periodization of capitalism in to a phase of health and maturity and a phase of senility and failure. I don't think Marx held to it, nor do I think this should be a conclusion drawn or a generalization made from Luxemburg's collapse argument (did she even do this herself? for instance did Luxemburg divide the ancient and feudal modes of production each in an ascendant and declining phase?). Would it not be more sensible to accept that her collapse argument proved to be empirically wrong, instead of desperately patching it up with interpretations to save the idea of Decadence, in the kind of way the church re-interpreted the immanent Apocalypse predicted in Revelations to meaning an event that could stretch thousands of years to be fulfilled.

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Mar 21 2010 18:59

Do you think collapse (in the sense of a sudden incapacity of capitalism to continue as an economic system) and decadence/decline are the same thing? Luxemburg's view in the 1900s was that capitalism was in a kind of twiliight period between its ascendant phase and a fast approaching phase of decline. On the eve of war (Accumulation of Capital)she talked about imperialist capitalism entering a "period of catastrophe"; during the course of the war (Junius pamphlet) she recognised that capitalism had now plunged into a period of world wars that posed humanity with the choice between socialism and barbarism. At the same time she did not think that capitalism had reached the point where accumulation was impossible and considered this to be a purely theoretical postulate. Decline/decadence is by definition an epoch in the life of a mode of production, not a one off event like the apocalypse; and I do not understand how you can look at Marx and Engels' writings about ancient and feudal societies and not consider that they saw these systems going through periods of ascent and decline. It would be interesting if you could comment on the earlier articles in the series which went into some depth into the implications of Marx's 'Preface to the critique of political economy' for the 'theory of decadence', which for us is simply an application of Marx's materialist conception of history to the life of bourgeois society.
http://en.internationalism.org/ir/134/what-method-to-understand-decadence
http://en.internationalism.org/ir/2008/135/ascent-and-decline-of-societies

This article from a previous series also provides evidence that Marx and Engels did 'periodise' previous modes of production:
http://en.internationalism.org/ir/118_decadence_i.html

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Mar 22 2010 17:51

Yes, I understand they are not the same, its just that the claim that we entered a phase of decline rests entirely on Luxemburg's argument that when the non-capitalist markets are completely exhausted or conquered, collapse follows inevitably stretched over a period of catastrophe. If I am mistaken here, namely that this is not the ICC's reasoning, it would mean the ICC believes that even if Luxemburg's argument is wrong, the theory of decadence remains unscathed because previous modes of production at one moment really exhausted themselves and therefor capitalism will do (or has already done) the same as well. I am afraid that the ICC does in fact believe this because of their stress on methodology; the very title 'What scientific method do we need to understand the present social order...?' is already a red herring.

I should not have said that Luxemburg and Marx didn't split previous modes of production in ascendent/decadent periods, because first it doesn't matter and second its a sleazy argument trying to separate the ICC from the 'classics'. Its another topic whether the exhaustion of previous modes of production really was the result of a conflict between forces and relations of production (and IMO not relevant to the claim about capitalist decline).

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Mar 23 2010 11:02

Actually, the argument is that decline begins before the extra-capitalist markets are all entirely exhausted, and that within the ensuing epoch of decline, capitalism has found ways to prolong its life even as these markets diminish to an insignificant point. It is also not the case that decadence - the epoch of wars and revolutions as the Communist International put it, of imperialist decay as Lenin put it, of 'social revolution' as Marx put it - is dependent on Luxemburg's hypothesis. There are other economic interpretations of decadence, such as the one favoured by Mattick and others, based on the problem of the falling rate of profit. But we are making progress if you do accept that our views are not detached from the 'classics' on this point.

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Mar 23 2010 20:23
Alf wrote:
It is also not the case that decadence - the epoch of wars and revolutions as the Communist International put it, of imperialist decay as Lenin put it, of 'social revolution' as Marx put it - is dependent on Luxemburg's hypothesis. There are other economic interpretations of decadence, such as the one favoured by Mattick and others, based on the problem of the falling rate of profit.

Its unclear to me from this passage if you accept the theory of decadence based on the hypothesis of Luxemburg and/or Mattick (and others), or, that you accept it based on a marxist "worldview" that by definition holds that every mode of production at one moment enters in a period of decline.

But if I can interpret your comment in my own way, I would agree that Luxemburg's hypothesis does not prove or have to imply decadence.

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Mar 23 2010 23:19

the latter - marxism does by definition hold that every hitherto existing mode of production at some point enters into decline; this has to be based on the workings of fundamental contradictions inherent in the mode of production, but, certainly in the case of capitalism, there can be different interpretations of how these contradictions impel the system towards decadence.
And I do think that Luxemburg's hypothesis implies decadence

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Mar 24 2010 22:24

One more thing...I worry. I mean, little things bother me. I’m a worrier. I mean, little insignificant details – I lose my appetite. I can’t eat. My wife, she says to me, you know, you can really be a pain. So what I'm asking myself is, did Bilan ever mention the conflict between relations and forces of productions or the period of decadence as you call it? And how frequently did this occur? Was it an important enough point to include in their declaration of principles or something?

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Mar 25 2010 08:58

Mitchell (from the Belgian fraction I think) wrote a whole series on the "cycles and crises in dying capitalism" which we republished in International Review a few years ago. Unfortunately, we don't appear to have them on our website for some reason.

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Mar 25 2010 14:05

I actually just first heard about Introduction to Critique of Political Economy (Luxemburg's book) from and ICC cde. in New York less than a month ago. He said it was perhaps the best non-"Capital" text on it's subject around but yes, unfortunately not in English yet. He'd asked a German cde. to try to translate it but he said he wouldn't be able to do it justice.

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Mar 26 2010 02:15
Demogorgon303 wrote:
Mitchell (from the Belgian fraction I think) wrote a whole series on the "cycles and crises in dying capitalism" which we republished in International Review a few years ago. Unfortunately, we don't appear to have them on our website for some reason.

Written in 1934, yes. It mentions a permanent crisis as a result of conflict between forces and relations of production alright, as it does dying capitalism. But to me the few passages where the author talks about this are redundant. Its propagandist rhetoric. I fully agree though with the actual content of the text. Mitchell also wrote a good article on Roosevelt's policies (I think that one is entirely without the rhetoric about dying capitalism and the forces-relations contradiction).

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Mar 26 2010 08:29

Are you saying that you don't agree with the notion of the conflict between relations of production and forces of production as Marx formulated it?
I certainly don't think, or 'dying' capitalism, was 'rhetoric' for Mitchell. The Belgian left fraction was particularly insistent on the need to frame its positions in the context of capitalist decadence. I don't have it to hand right now but the statement of principles of the Belgian fraction, published at the end of our pamphlet on the Italian left, makes this very clear.

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Mar 26 2010 08:49

I haven't read the articles in question for a while, but I didn't get the impression of it being "propagandist rhetoric". The title alone seems to point to something a bit more significant. As for the rest of the content, I'll have to reread before discussing it properly. I only mentioned it as a pointer that at least some within Bilan did have a conception of capitalism in some form of decline.

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Mar 26 2010 09:05
Noa Rodman wrote:
So what I'm asking myself is, did Bilan ever mention the conflict between relations and forces of productions or the period of decadence as you call it? And how frequently did this occur? Was it an important enough point to include in their declaration of principles or something?

I don't know about Bilan's declaration of principles, but in the ICC's booklet on the Italian left there is an appendix which includes the Belgian Fraction's declaration of principles (of 1938), in which it affirmed its "international links with the Italian Left", and following the latter, viewed itself as a fraction of the "International Communist Left".

One of the key parts of this document begins:

"The communist fractions can only forge the theoretical weapons that are vital to the success of the revolution if they understand the internal workings of capitalist society in its stage of historic decline and if they link their analysis of events directly to the significance of this epoch."

"Imperialism -- the last stage of capitalism -- has led social evolution into a dead-end: the productive forces as a whole can no longer develop within the framework of the capitalist system because they have attained the maximum that is compatible with the nature of this system." ... "The regression of the productive forces poses the objective necessity for the proletarian revolution and the advent of communism at the same time as it opens a decisive phase in the class struggle, 'the period of capitalist decadence is the period of the direct struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat' (Second Congress of the Communist International)." (pp. 179-180)

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Mar 26 2010 09:24

I also think Bilan agreed with the ComIntern's platform where it talks about "the epoch of the breakdown of capital, its internal disintegration, the epoch of the Communist revolution of the proletariat"