decadence again

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jaycee
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May 29 2007 19:46
decadence again

Before I get told that I'm an ICC minion let me say that I've had lengthy discussions about this topic and for a long time I had a lot of doubts about it. What I'll say to those who disagree with the ICC analysis is, that it is fair enough to debate on when exactly capitalism was decadent etc but in my opinioin I can't see how it can possibly be doubted that it is decadent NOW.

The simple fact is that capitalism can't continue for much longer without it causing serious dangers for the survival of humanity. The ecological, economic and imperialist tensions have reached such a level that this is a serious threat. Their is no possible solution to these problems under capitalism.

i'd be interested to hear what people have to say to this general outlook

alibadani
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May 29 2007 19:56

Decadence is at the heart of Marxism. However I think that one could argue that capitalism has not yet reached its decadent phase and still be operating within a Marxist framework. (Then, of course, that person would have to tell us what they think decadent capitalism would look like). But to reject the notion out of hand is to reject Marxism.

Of course for anarchists this isn't a problem. For Marxists, decadence is a given

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May 29 2007 20:22

Capitalism is an imaginary institution. Its decadence is, similarly, imaginary. Communism’s crisis is deeper than that of the prevailing order. The real “crisis for capitalism” is the creative power of the working class as a social historic force.

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madashell
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May 29 2007 21:06

Personally, I don't agree with decadance at all. Capitalism is far from collapsing, it's still plodding along fairly efficiently. Rather, I'd argue that the constant state of "crisis" is actually a means of disciplining workers. It provides capital and the state with a justification for all kinds of anti-working class crap, from increasingly neo-liberal economic policies to higher taxes on petrol, it's all sold as the solution to some real, imagined or artificially generated problem.

Take the pensions and healthcare "crises" for example, it's not that the state can't provide us with decent pensions from the age of 65 or decent healthcare that's free at the point of use, but they won't, because it'd involve lots of fun things like taxing rich people till they turn purple with rage and make funny squeaking noises.

alibadani
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May 29 2007 21:29

DECADENCE: THE GRAPHS

These are from Economic crisis: the descent into the abyss by, you guessed it, the ICC

magnifico
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May 29 2007 21:29
madashell wrote:
Personally, I don't agree with decadance at all. Capitalism is far from collapsing, it's still plodding along fairly efficiently. Rather, I'd argue that the constant state of "crisis" is actually a means of disciplining workers. It provides capital and the state with a justification for all kinds of anti-working class crap, from increasingly neo-liberal economic policies to higher taxes on petrol, it's all sold as the solution to some real, imagined or artificially generated problem.

Take the pensions and healthcare "crises" for example, it's not that the state can't provide us with decent pensions from the age of 65 or decent healthcare that's free at the point of use, but they won't, because it'd involve lots of fun things like taxing rich people till they turn purple with rage and make funny squeaking noises.

This is pretty much how I feel about it too. The ruling class has plenty of our surplus value to play with, I don't see why it couldn't be made to give some of it back, were we strong/organised enough to force it to. The symptoms of 'decadence' are merely a sign of the weakness of the working class and the bourgeoisie taking advantage IMO

I don't know enough about Marxism (despite many good reading intentions which i still intend to fulfil!) to know if this means i am rejecting it or not but I think loads of useful stuff from Marx such as ideas about alienation and the extraction of surplus value are not dependent on decadence theory at all.

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May 29 2007 21:41
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it's not that the state can't provide us with decent pensions from the age of 65 or decent healthcare that's free at the point of use

On the contrary, the state is incapable of any of those things. As if it’d be enough anyway. Indeed, providing “decent” this-or-that would mean its own destruction. The working class is responsible for its own suffering and must depend on itself to solve its problems, not rely on the failed concept of state provided public goods.

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May 29 2007 22:04

Magnifico wrote:
"I don't know enough about Marxism (despite many good reading intentions which i still intend to fulfil!) to know if this means i am rejecting it or not but I think loads of useful stuff from Marx such as ideas about alienation and the extraction of surplus value are not dependent on decadence theory at all".

I would say both ideas are intimately linked to 'decadence theory'. Marx considered that capitalism had taken alienation to its highest point but had also created the material conditions for overcoming it. He tried to show that capitalis, like all previous class socities, would be doomed by its own inner contradictions. He doesn't merely prove the existence of exploitation by developing the theory of surplus value: he also shows why the extraction (and realisation) of surplus value involves fundamental contradictions that will lead to the decline and demise of the bourgeois mode of production.

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May 29 2007 22:15
Alf wrote:
I would say both ideas are intimately linked to 'decadence theory'. Marx considered that capitalism had taken alienation to its highest point but had also created the material conditions for overcoming it. He tried to show that capitalis, like all previous class socities, would be doomed by its own inner contradictions. He doesn't merely prove the existence of exploitation by developing the theory of surplus value: he also shows why the extraction (and realisation) of surplus value involves fundamental contradictions that will lead to the decline and demise of the bourgeois mode of production.

I haven't read much Marx, so I couldn't say whether or not he actually argues this (and since Marx's views developed and changed quite a bit over time, it's a bit odd to try to derive any singular, monolithic Marxism that represents What Marx Really Thought), but I don't think this sort of mechanical determinism follows from the idea that capitalism creates the conditions that could one day destroy it.

Capitalism created the proletariat, which is the class that could one day overthrow the bourgeoisie, but it's not innevitable. It can only come about through the collective struggle of the class for itself, through the proletariat imposing it's demands on capitalism to the point where open class warfare breaks out (which dovetails quite nicely with LR's comments about how the state would collapse if it were to provide proper healthcare and pensions wink).

Decadance theory as posited by the ICC also assumes that capitalism is incapable of adapting itself to ecological and social crises, which is not borne out by any serious examination of history.

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May 30 2007 07:05
madashell wrote:
Decadance theory as posited by the ICC also assumes that capitalism is incapable of adapting itself to ecological and social crises, which is not borne out by any serious examination of history.

I take issue with this. As the ICC has pointed out, the last hundred years have shown that capitalism is more than capable of adapting itself to its historic crisis. Hence the increase of state capitalism, etc. The point is that this adaptation doesn't come without a price (war, crisis, etc.) and also has its limits.

miasnikov_perm
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May 30 2007 07:26

about the graphs.
why are they beginning from the 50s and 60s. if you argue that capitalism is in decadence since the ww1, then they should begin at this time or better 50 years before ww1 to show an increasing and then decreasing curve.
i can interpret (and i do) these graph as a cycle in capitalism rather than a decadence of it.

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May 30 2007 07:38

yeah i'm not sure what those graphs show, other than the post-war boom declining. it needs to show say 1870-2000 to even begin to support a thesis of post-1917 decadence

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May 30 2007 08:58

The graphs are indeed describing the end of the post-war boom and the economic decline that has confronted capitalism since the end of the 60s.

Decadence still contains economic cycles but these take on a mutated form, rather than following the classic formula of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century a new cycle began to dominate: crisis - world war - reconstruction - new crisis. This cycle was interrupted in the 60s when a new crisis appeared but the proletariat refused to be dragooned into world war. The inability of either bourgeoisie or proletariat to inflict a decisive victory over the other led to a kind of stalemate, while the crisis continued to eat away at the economic and political foundations of society. The countries least able to defend themselves against this slowly collapsed beginning with Africa in the 80s, the Russian bloc in the 90s (while Japan entered into a recession it has yet to decisively throw off), the Dragons and Tigers in the late 90s closely followed by the Latin American economies.

But its interesting that no-one has replied to jaycee's central questions:

- is there a solution for the imperialist, economic and ecological crises within the framework of capitalism?
- do these crises, if allowed to continue, threaten the survival of humanity or at least of human civilisation?

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May 30 2007 09:15

imperialist crisis? what's that?
economic crisis? still sounds like wishful thinking. i mean there's ever-escalating debt and the like, but that doesn't seem to be a problem, a crash just means working class assets (houses cars) and some bourgeois ones get repossessed by the bourgeoisie and the state jump-starts accumulation. there's no necessary problem from capital's pov, i think bourgeois economists even praise 'creative destruction'
ecological crisis? who knows? quite possibly, i mean accumulation's pretty difficult if everyone's dead. they're going to try and make us bear the costs though, naturally.

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May 30 2007 09:38
JosephK wrote:
imperialist crisis? what's that?

Oh, you know, Africa dissolving into regional civil wars, the threat of the same in the Middle East. The potential for confrontation between India and Pakistan (two nuclear powers), the threat of a (soon to be) nuclear-armed Iran taking on Israel. That crisis.

JosephK wrote:
economic crisis? still sounds like wishful thinking. i mean there's ever-escalating debt and the like, but that doesn't seem to be a problem, a crash just means working class assets (houses cars) and some bourgeois ones get repossessed by the bourgeoisie and the state jump-starts accumulation. there's no necessary problem from capital's pov, i think bourgeois economists even praise 'creative destruction'

Plus that really annoying tendency those crises have of making large swathes of the bourgeoisie bankrupt, producing extreme dislocation in the social body, pushing countries towards war and, worst of all, encouraging the proletariat to stand up and fight? If crises are no problem, why does the bourgeoisie put so much energy into trying to contain them? And, more to the point, why does the state have to jump-start accumulation. The economy used to manage this quite nicely as part of the crisis-cycle with no need for intervention.

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May 30 2007 09:49
Demogorgon303 wrote:
The economy used to manage this quite nicely as part of the crisis-cycle with no need for intervention.

my 19th century economic history's a bit rusty, but isn't the myth of a pure free market capitalism just that?

Demogorgon303 wrote:
Oh, you know, Africa dissolving into regional civil wars, the threat of the same in the Middle East. The potential for confrontation between India and Pakistan (two nuclear powers), the threat of a (soon to be) nuclear-armed Iran taking on Israel. That crisis.

nuclear confrontation is pretty new, as of course such destructive weapons didn't exist pre-WW1, but i'm not convinced the world is an increasingly more violent or unstable place post WWI vs pre, or that golden age imperialism didn't involve bloody rebellions, civil wars, repression and genocide. i'm not saying nothing has changed, but i don't think history is a linear process either.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
Plus that really annoying tendency those crises have of making large swathes of the bourgeoisie bankrupt, producing extreme dislocation in the social body, pushing countries towards war and, worst of all, encouraging the proletariat to stand up and fight?

like i say some bourgeois economists praise such creative destruction, culling the weaker among them for their greater good. of course economic collapse pisses us off and we might fight back, that's a risk, but there's nothing inherently terminal about the odd financial crisis. i'm not even sure crises are ever-worsening post WWI, East Asia and Japan aren't a patch on '29, or probably on pre-WWI ones either

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pingtiao
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May 30 2007 09:54

The graphs also show the deindustrialisation of the US and Europe and a redistribution of capital to India, the far east and china. Graphs of the GDP per capita in those countries over the same timeframe would be somewhat different, I suspect.

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May 30 2007 09:55
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The economy used to manage this quite nicely as part of the crisis-cycle with no need for intervention.

I’m not convinced by this. Governments kick starting the economy (using war or adventures of various kinds) is as old as civilisation. I mean Diocles hardly took a hands-off approach.

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May 30 2007 11:35

It is the oldest statistical trick in the world to pick the time period and geographic location of statistics to fit the argument you intended to make anyway. Very clearly the ICC has done this here.

They claim capitalism has been decadent since 1914 therefore the only relevant graphs would go from a period before 1914 to the present day.

Just to show that two can play at this game it took me all of two minutes to find a graph 'proving' the opposite for 1/6 of the Worlds Population. You'll notice that unlike most of the graphs above the scale of change on this one has not been magnified through that other old trick of starting the X axis above the 0 point. The solid line is the relevent one for this argument.

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May 30 2007 11:56

wow they're sure producing a lot more value measured by yuan! i mean, don't get me wrong, they're producing a lot more capitalist value full stop, sure, industrialization of the countryside and all, but what do you think that chart would look like if their GDP per capita were translated into dollars? 'cuz this happened too:

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May 30 2007 12:40
MJ wrote:
wow they're sure producing a lot more value measured by yuan! i mean, don't get me wrong, they're producing a lot more capitalist value full stop, sure, industrialization of the countryside and all, but what do you think that chart would look like if their GDP per capita were translated into dollars? 'cuz this happened too:

I posted it more as an example of statistical manipulation through selection of start dates and location then as a statement about the Chinese economy.

That said I'm not sure the dollar would be a more meaningful way of measuring Chinese domestic GNP as only some of that is export dependent. With that said from you graph it suggests that the GNP increase from that date measured in dollars would be nearer 300% than 1000%. BTW the issue is also confused as although the current regime appears to be delibertely under valuing to promote exports the Maoist regime used to over value as a point of national pride. So in a way your graph is another illustration of statistical selection as it starts at the end of the Maoist period (overthrow of 'Gang of four') and so the starting values certainly too high. The way that real and nominal values cross over in 1988 is probably a reflection of this although I'm not sure if that means 1988-90 was the period in which they flipped.

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May 30 2007 13:35

The trend of slowing growth shows up on a global scale. I can't work out how to load up a spreadsheet on here, so I'll have to summarise. All data is from the World Bank. Basically, I retrieved annual growth figures for each year in the period, added them up and divided them by number of years in the period to get an average. The trend is clear.

GDP Growth for the whole world.

Period Average Growth rate

61 - 69 5.39%
70 - 79 4.03%
80 - 89 3.02%
90 - 99 2.72%
00 - 05 2.97%

GDP per Capita Growth for the Whole World

61 - 69 3.37%
70 - 79 2.08%
80 - 89 1.27%
90 - 99 1.22%
00 - 05 1.72%

We can see on a global scale that there is a clear downward trend on both GDP measures since the 60s, with a very slight pick up in the period since 2000. The underlying trend towards stagnation seems blindingly obvious to me.

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May 30 2007 13:43

yes, but as has already been pointed out, demonstrating a decline in gdp growth rates since 1960 does nothing to substantiate the claim that since 1914 capitalism has been in decline. what happened between 1917 and 1960, and thus 1917-today? what about pre-1917?

of course all this is a bit disingenuous because when this has been discussed before, ICCers/sympathisers have said 'decadence doesn't mean capitalism can't continue to expand', only that communism would meet human needs better, which is a ridiculously weakened version of e.g.

baboon wrote:
this irreversible descent into capitalist decomposition

http://libcom.org/forums/news/thousands-flee-lebanon-violence#comment-196378

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May 30 2007 13:46

Yeah. Demo's right, growth is slowing. Due to technological stagnation, raw material costs and the logic of collective action as applied to large groups in the post-industrial economies. However, the current system doesn’t require growth to survive. Indeed, the current system isn’t “capitalism” (as communists understand it) at all. Demo, when communists speak of Capitalism, what do they actually mean? How do we know that this-or-that mode of economic organisation is capitalist and so subject to the law of decadence?

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May 30 2007 13:56

I was responding to comments the some people made concerning China vis a vis the West in terms of growth. Also the figures from that period are harder to get at without some serious research. Some are available in the ICC's decadence pamphlet but I thought I'd go for something a little more independent because of your suspicious minds wink

JosephK wrote:
of course all this is a bit disingenuous because when this has been discussed before, ICCers/sympathisers have said 'decadence doesn't mean capitalism can't continue to expand', only that communism would meet human needs better, which is a ridiculously weakened version of e.g.

This is a selective carricature of what's been said. A better summary would be:

- capitalism continues to expand, but this process encounters ever more difficult blockages;
- the bourgeoisie works actively to overcome these blockages through state intervention, financerisation, etc. and that while this has a measure of success, this success comes at a price;
- the underlying economic crisis drives the growth of imperialism, attacks on living conditions, general social decomposition, ecological crisis (or rather the inability to confront this) etc.
- all these phenomena, taken together, manifest a definite threat to human civilisation (and possibly the species itself) if allowed to freely develop

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May 30 2007 14:01

so was there once a healthy capitalism without state intervention (enclosures anyone?), bloody imperialist rivalries and barriers to accumulation to be overcome?

baboon
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May 30 2007 14:17

Lazy takes the anti-decadence arguments to their absurd conclusions: not only does it not need growth but capitalism doesn't exist at all. How do we know capitalism exists and what is decadence?, he asks. What is reality, Lazy? Why oh why...? And for good measure earlier for him: it's the working class that's to blame for its own existence and the problems of capitalism which, apparantly, doesn't exist.
Joe, you can't use that chart on Chinese capitalism and then disown it. What that chart doesn't show is the number of strikes, uprisings and demonstrations going on daily in China. It doesn't show the enormous increases in forced resettlements, unemployment, industrial accidents, absolute poverty, millions of deaths through TB and millions more from AIDS, let alone everything else, including the aggressive development of Chinese imperialism. You use that graph to show growth but you don't look behind the figures.
It is not the ICC's position that there is a mechanical relationship between the economic crisis, the decadence of capitalism and the revolutionary perspective. The IBRP hold a position close to that with their defence of the Grossman/Mattick theory 'Tendency of the Fall in Rate of Profit". Though figures and statistics have their role it is a more important question than that.
The fact of global warfare, 1914, is proof enough of capitalism's decadence. What more proof do you want?
No longer an expanding system capitalism was forced (not least because of the contradictions of this vampire system), through the development of imperialism, to feed on itself. to eat itself, to fight over existing markets rather than creating new ones. Socialism or barbarism was the keyword as, contrary to idealism and anarchism in general, the proletarian revolution came onto the agenda. With the failure of that revolutionary wave and the success of the counter-revolution up to the late 1960s, we've seen the very clear development of capitalist barbarism.

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May 30 2007 14:23
baboon wrote:
What that chart doesn't show is the number of strikes, uprisings and demonstrations going on daily in China. It doesn't show the enormous increases in forced resettlements, unemployment, industrial accidents, absolute poverty, millions of deaths through TB and millions more from AIDS

because primitive accumulation in say, europe pre-1914 didn't have any of those things alongside economic growth ...?

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May 30 2007 14:40

The major wave of enclosure occurred in the Tudor period and the Civil War. That's not exactly 19th century capitalism is it?

The words lassiez faire were coined to describe the policy of the most powerful capitals (that of free trade) as opposed to mercantilism. Mercantilism was used by developing powers to protect their markets from the more competitive products of industrialised rivals. Certain powers, where development flourished (such as Britain pushed hard for free trade) until the other powers began to catch up. But even the most developed mercantilism of the 19th century was nothing compared to the regulation that is imposed on every aspect of the productive and circulation process today!

You are - once again - presenting a carricature. I didn't say there was no state intervention in the 19th Century but there was certainly no Keynesian-style pump priming! Nor was there the mass of regulatory bodies controlling industry, reams of labour regulation, widespread nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, welfare programmes, quotas managed on an international scale (e.g. EU), etc. To compare 19th century state control with what we see in the 20th century is just plain ridiculous.

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May 30 2007 14:47

i didn't say it was the same, i said i don't think state intervention in the economy is particularly novel, or signifies "this irreversible descent into capitalist decomposition" (baboon)

jaycee
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May 30 2007 15:18

as i said at the beginning i kind of wanted to stay away from these debates. The main question is, what is the situation now and can capitalism offer anything to humanity apart from barabrism and the threat of the complete detsruction of civilization and/or humanity.

The ecological question is extremely important. Many people here seem to undersetimate the importance of the ecological crisis and think capitalsim can deal with it, and even make profit out of it. However what I think is clear is that effectively dealing with climate change is basically impossible, because it contradicts central laws of capitalism. For example it requires a unified, global repsonse, this can not be attained under capitalsim. america as well as others have shown that they are not willing to sacrifice their position in the world (in an economic and imperial sense).

Also the kind of structural changes it requires in the economy, (after all pretty much all aspects of the economy rely on fossil fuels) are simply too massive for a fragile world economy to take. When you add the spread of imperialist chaos and nuclera weapons, the future doen't exactly look bright does it?