Theories of Decadence: Decadence of Theory

Draft translation of GCI-ICG’s text originally published in French in “Le Communiste” N°23 (November 1985) and in Spanish in “Comunismo” N°25 (October 1988).

* For the critique of political economy *

Theories of Decadence: Decadence of Theory

First Contribution: the Methodology

We broach in this first contribution the methodological aspect shared by all the decadentist conceptions, which is an indispensable premise to criticize them more thoroughly. Almost all the groups pretending today to defend the communist perspective claim to adhere to a decadentist conception about the capitalist mode of production, but also about the whole succession of class societies (cycle of value), thanks to several “theories” like the “markets saturation,” the “imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism,” the “third age of capitalism,” the “real domination,” the “stopping of development of the productive forces,” the “falling trend of the profit rate,” etc. We will first focus on the content shared by all these theories, i.e. the civilizing and moralizing conception they result in.

The myths of “Progress and civilization”

The only communist point of view is that of the totality, but the concrete totality and therefore the only reality for us is that going from the “natural communities” (so-called primitive communism) to integral communism. Human prehistory can be understood (and consciously influenced) only from this historical arch and so communism can be considered as a fact which already happened. Bourgeoisie always grasps things in an immediatist way: grasping the inevitability of its world domination but also desperate attempt to maintain its durability (i.e. end of history).

“That is to say, if the bourgeoisie is held fast in the mire of immediacy from which the proletariat is able to extricate itself, this is neither purely accidental nor a purely theoretical scientific problem. The distance between these two theoretical positions is an expression of the differences between the social existence of the two classes. (...) For the bourgeoisie, method arises directly from its social existence and this means that mere immediacy adheres to its thought, constituting its outermost barrier, one that cannot be crossed.”

(Georg Lukács: “History & Class Consciousness” (1923), Merlin Press, 1967)

In its victory against all the preceding modes of production, the bourgeoisie had to justify ideologically the validity of the mode of production it was the embodiment, and besides the motto “Liberty – Equality – Fraternity,” another ideological foundation was that of progress, of historical evolution towards democratic ideal it represented (i.e. evolutionism). The bourgeoisie thus explained all the preceding modes of production as “barbarian” and “wild” ones, which became gradually “civilized,” as historical “evolution” went by. And the capitalist mode of production is obviously the embodiment and final result of civilization and progress. The evolutionist grasping fits therefore with the capitalist social being, and anyway it’s not for nothing that it was applied to all the sciences (that is to say to all the partial interpretations of the reality from the bourgeois point of view): e.g. natural science (Darwin), demography (Malthus), history, logic, philosophy (Hegel), etc. The ultimate self-justification of the capitalist mode of production being the outcome of this evolution, the full and wholehearted realization of civilization and progress thanks to the advent of accomplished democracy.1 The bourgeoisie stands as the end of history, and even as the living realization of civilization, which means to always more interpret all the preceding modes of production (and all the more the natural communities, “primitive communism”) as expressions of an unspeakable barbarism, while depicting in an apocalyptic way the black plague under feudality, the Asian barbarity of Attila and the Huns, the “Quest of Fire” and other “horrors” of primitive communities. Unlike this, our analysis is based on the vision of the whole historical arc – from primitive communism to integral communism – and it’s therefore about grasping how the forced march of progress and civilization has meant each time more exploitation, and the production of surplus labour (and for capitalism solely, the transformation of this surplus labour into surplus value), which means in fact the real affirmation of barbarity by the increasingly totalitarian domination of value (capitalism being both the outcome and the full realization, not of “History,” but of the cycle of value, the cycle of class societies).

“Our ‘official’ pattern is on the contrary quite different: Ante-prehistory (barbarism, according to you) of primitive communism – Prehistory of humanity, described by your war epics, and full of fierce class struggles (that you call succession of civilizations or realization of Spirit’s values) – History that begins with the abolition of the classes, of which you deny the inexhaustible fruitfulness and that ourselves we can foresee only in a weak extent.”

(Amadeo Bordiga: “Communism and human knowledge” (1952), our translation)

Our analysis is based on the cycle of class societies, from the dissolution of natural communities by exchange, and the development of value through the different modes of production following one another and/or coexisting in a concomitant way, to the unification and superior synthesis of class societies within the first universal mode of production: i.e. capitalism, that asserts itself therefore as the outcome of the cycle of class societies, as the unification and simplification/exacerbation of class antinomies by the increasingly polarized confrontation between both fundamental classes: proletariat against bourgeoisie. And this is the only methodology that allows understanding the unavoidable victory of communism as resolution of class antagonisms, as beginning of the conscious human history.

The classic ideological justification of the bourgeoisie in its comprehension of the development of class societies is therefore based on its class prejudice, on the conception fitting with its social being. This is why it justifies the victory of the preceding revolutionary classes (in the image of its own victory) by the decadence, and the obsolescence of these societies, which these revolutionary classes struggled within, to impose a new mode of production. And therefore it sees each time an “ascending phase” (that is to say without contradiction) that reaches a peak at a certain point, to then decline, opening thus a “new phase” of decadence, the only period allowing the antagonism between dominant class and revolutionary class to develop.

But the ABC for the communist movement is the ongoing existence of motion, and therefore of a fundamental contradiction that constitutes it:

“What constitutes dialectical movement is the coexistence of two contradictory sides, their conflict and their fusion into a new category. The very setting of the problem of eliminating the bad side cuts short the dialectic movement.”

(Karl Marx, “The Poverty of Philosophy,” Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1955)

“Whereas the whole antithesis is nothing but the movement of both its sides, and the precondition for the existence of the whole lies in the very nature of the two sides.”

(Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Holy Family,” Progress Publishers, Moscow 1975.)

Therefore as for class societies, as soon as new mode of production appears as a “new category,” a new fundamental contradiction appears inevitably, as a “precondition for the existence of the whole,” contradiction that “is nothing but the movement of both its sides,” that is to say nothing but the antagonism between the dominant class – living personification of the existing mode of production – and the revolutionary class (that solely for the proletariat is both revolutionary class and exploited class), bearer of the contradiction (negation) because bearer of another social project, a new mode of production to come. Therefore within the capitalist society, the proletariat is “the negative side of the contradiction, the anxiety in the heat of the contradiction, the dissolved and dissolving private property” (Karl Marx: “The Holy Family”). As Marx clearly wrote: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (“Manifesto of the Communist Party”), therefore this struggle, this driving force of the prehistoric cycle of class societies, obviously always exists. It’s permanently that the antagonistic classes confront each other. It’s permanently that the State exists (organization of the dominant class in force) in order to maintain this confrontation in tolerable limits and to maintain the impersonal interest of the dominant class. It’s permanently that the contradiction between conservative force and revolutionary force develops each time more strongly. Therefore there are not two stages: on one hand a stage where the class contradiction (in other words, the contradiction between social productive force and production relation) would not exist, that is to say a progressive stage where the “new” mode of production would develop its civilizing benefits without antagonism; and on another hand a stage where, after the “progressive development of its benefits,” the mode of production would become obsolescent and would begin to decline, which results therefore, only at that point, in the emergence of a class antagonism. The dynamics of class societies is not like a mountain with its ascending slope, its summit and its descending slope, but on the contrary – in accordance with the materialist dialectic – it’s each time more an antagonism between the dominant class and the revolutionary class, and this until the resolution of this contradiction into a superior unity (negation of the negation), which corresponds with the overtaking of the two poles of the preceding unity, that is to say as a new movement of two contradictory poles.

The decadentist conceptions are therefore methodologically anti-dialectic conceptions that don’t correspond to the proletarian point of view, but to that of the bourgeoisie and its evolutionism and immediatism (= gradualism):

“The theory of descending curve compares the historical development with a sinusoid: any regime, the bourgeois regime for example, starts with a rising phase, it reaches its maximum point, and then begins to decline until a minimum; and after that, another regime undertakes its rise. This conception is that of gradualist reformism: no shock, no leap, and no jump. The Marxist conception can be depicted (with the goal to be absolutely clear concise) as a lot of branches, and curves, which are all of them ascending until their peaks (in geometry: singular points or cusps), replaced by a sudden violent fall, almost vertical, and finally a new social regime arises; there is another historical branch of rise. (...) The common affirmation that capitalism is in its descending branch and cannot ascend contains two errors: a fatalist one, and the other gradualist.”

(Amadeo Bordiga: “Meeting of Rome” (1951), in “Invariance” No.4, our translation)

As for feudality, for example:

“As from the 15th century, citizens of the cities had become more essential to the society than the feudal nobility. Needs of the nobility itself had grown and had changed to such a point that even for it, the cities had become essential. (...) A certain world trade had developed. Whereas the nobility became increasingly unnecessary and always more disrupted the evolution, bourgeois of the cities, as for them, became the class that personified the progression of production and trade, as well as social and political institutions. (...) Its relations with the countryside appear in a characteristic way, that is to say directed at the countryside, with the excise duties and others appropriated at the gates of the cities (“octrois:” city tolls) and indirect taxes in general.”

(“Succession of production and society forms in Marxist theory” (1957), in “Fil du Temps” No.9, 1972, our translation)

This text brings interesting elements, although it largely reproduces the mechanical conception of the succession of the modes of production with a linear and non-worldwide point of view, which will be later the basis for Stalinist structuralism falsifications.

The centre of the feudal mode of production was therefore the countryside (and not anymore the city as in the antique Rome, for example), around fortresses, and “fortified towns.” These last were not destroyed by the antagonism serves (exploited class) vs. aristocracy (exploiting class), but rather by the bourgeoisie whose main weapon was money. In the same way, as for the dynamics of capitalism and that of all the other class societies, Bordiga showed us that:

“The Marxist conception of capitalism collapse doesn’t certainly lay in claiming that after an historical phase of accumulation, capitalism becomes anaemic and empties of its own substance. This is the thesis of the pacifist revisionists. For Marx, capitalism grows non-stop beyond any limit; the curve of the world capitalist potential, instead of presenting a progression, then a decline sloping down gently, on the contrary rises until the sudden and huge outburst that ends the period of the capitalistic form of production, and changes the profile of the curve. During this revolutionary leap, it’s the political machinery of capitalist state that is exploded, in order to hand over to that of the proletariat that will wither away in the course the development.”

(Amadeo Bordiga: “Dialogue with the dead” (1956), our translation)

Besides the fact that obviously the materialist dialectics is grossly discarded, the decadentist conceptions represent a serious alteration of the practical comprehension of the revolutionary struggle itself. If indeed, it’s the society itself that declines at a certain point, there is almost no reason anymore to see an always growing contradiction between the antagonistic classes (nevertheless we have seen that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”) since the collapse of the society is “automatic,” and even inherent to the naturalist process of societies’ “decline”. Therefore the only thing the revolutionary class has to do is to peacefully wait (as bourgeois wait their relatives’ legacy) the mortal conclusion of this decline. This is the counterrevolutionary “fatalism” denounced by Bordiga. But, complementarily to this gradualist fatalism, there also exists the voluntarist corollary, quite as erroneous as the previous, peculiar notably to Trotskyites’ decadentism. For these last indeed, “the productive forces stopped growing” (since 1914 for capitalism to be specific), and the system is already “objectively” dead. There is nothing else to do than to put the “subjective” finished touches to this death, by the voluntarist creation of a new international that would have to give a bit of a boost for helping the whole of the system to collapse. This is what the “children of the prophet” are waiting since decades, while developing restlessly a counterrevolutionary program. Moreover we can note that the claim that “the productive forces stopped growing since 1914”2 is directly discarded by the simple observation made by some decadentists themselves:

“The world industrial production in 1948 was 36% bigger than the level in 1937 and 74% bigger than in 1929. Between 1878 and 1948, the world industrial production increased 11 times. During the same period, the population on earth increased from 1,500 to 2,300 millions of inhabitants, that is to say a rise of approximately 50%.”

(Pierre Chaulieu – aka Castoriadis: “The temporary consolidation of world capitalism,” in “Socialisme ou Barbarie” No.3, 1949, our translation)

We see thus how even some decadentists (Castoriadis to be specific) discard the “material,” “objective” basis of decadentist theories, and they have then nothing else to do than to fall back on the “moral decadence,” as did a group like FOR (“Alarm”). In the same way, we already emphasized in our introduction to the controversy on “The causes of imperialist war” (controversy between “Bilan” – “Prométéo” and the majority of the “League of internationalist communists of Belgium” – Hennaut’s tendency) in our central review in French “Le Communiste” No.6 (April 1980), that the idea of decadence is closely linked to that of the defence of the “workers’ character of the USSR,” as cherished by Stalinists and Trotskyites as well.

“Both erroneous theses were inextricably linked: it was possible to uphold that capitalism had ceased to grow only while considering the USSR to be non-capitalist. (...) In order that the reader could understand to what extent it was the time in 1936 of the peak of Stalinists’ and Trotskyites’ thesis of ‘socialist industrialization’ and the ‘end of the capitalist growth,’ all you have to do is compare the figures of industrial production growth of the ‘capitalist power that grew the most rapidly,’ the United States, with these of the fantastic growth of the USSR at the same period.”

(Cf. “Le Communiste” No.6)

We have also to note that:

“On the ruins of the second world war, capitalism could momentarily break the obstacles to its development, and increase its domination on a world scale. One single figure can perfectly illustrate its fantastic expansion: in 1952 the GNP of USA, the capitalistic mammoth, reached 300 billion of dollars, then it tripled and 20 years later, it reached a trillion of dollars.”

(“Le Communiste” No.6)

“Never, in all its history, capitalism had known such substantial rates of growth. In France, the average growth rate reaches 5.1% between 1950 and 1972 to 1.6% between 1870 and 1913 and 0.7% between 1913 and 1950. For the whole capitalist world, the growth has been, during the last twenty years, at least twice faster than between 1870 and 1914, that is to say during the period generally considered as that of ascending capitalism. The claiming that the capitalist system had entered since the First World War in its decay and decline phase has become simply ridiculous.”

(Pierre Souyri, former member of the Marxist tendency within “Socialisme ou Barbarie” and founder of “Pouvoir Ouvrier”: “The dynamics of capitalism in the 20th century,” Editions Payot, 1983, our translation)

* * *

Once again, the common point of all the decadentist theories (as well as the social practice of their defenders) lies in the negation/destruction of the dialectic method. For them, after having determined arbitrarily a peak to each mode of production, they determine the progressive and “rising” stage of the former, confirming thus the very ideology of the dominant class of this period; what at the political level is equivalent to actively supporting, not communism, but the current system, and to praising it under the pretext of progressivity, that is to say that it’s equivalent to negating and refusing the interests of the exploited classes and therefore of the revolutionary proletariat within this mode of production. And then they determine the stage of decline that they justify, as perfect moralists they are, by the “decadence of morality,” by the appearance (why at this precise moment and not another one) of class contradictions. And all that, as if in the first stage, the unity “mode of production” didn’t bear inside itself its own negation, its own contradiction and that the former would appear only after a certain time (how much time?). So, let’s be clear: either each class society is permanently based on class antagonism (which is the communists’ thesis) or during an ascending stage peculiar to each mode of production, this contradiction would disappear (or would become of “secondary importance”), and we fall inevitably in the bourgeois thesis of evolutionism towards an always greater progress, even if this progress is arbitrarily limited to such or such date and/or in such or such area, according to opportunist contingencies that we will explain farther. And it’s therefore not “by chance” that our decadentists (irrespective of which school they belong to) are gathered in a common band with all the reactionary jackals yelling about “decadence of the West,” from Jehovah’s Witnesses to “new philosophers” to euro-centrist neo-Nazis and Moon’s worshippers. And if the decadentists are found in this grim company, it’s because in the reality, they defend the same reactionary and counterrevolutionary perspective of an ascending stage progressivism (positivism of vulgar materialism); and thereafter, they have therefore to justify antithetically the generalized degradation of what they define as a descending stage. The decadentists are therefore in favour of slavery until such date, in favour of feudality until such other date... and pro-capitalist until 1914. As a result of their cult of progress, they are therefore each time against the class war of the exploited, against the communist movements that have the misfortune to start in the “wrong stage” because, according to them, the exploited would have had to support their exploiters, considered as being still progressive, as if exploiting and massacring the mankind in the general interest of human development. The ridicule turns into tragedy when the decadentists have to take a stand, for example on the Commune of Paris that, as everybody knows, revolted “in a full ascending stage of capitalism.” As utter clowns they are they evade the question: “It was an accident in history...” Babeuf and the Enraged, Blanqui, Marx and the thousands of proletarian fighters were as well? Thus, once again, either these movements are the expression of the permanence of class war (through all the class societies) and therefore of the communist movement (of which the communists of today inherited), and the invariant task of the communists is to take on their revolutionary direction, or these movements (all the more so when it’s about the proletariat as the bearer of the communist resolution of class antagonism) go against the current of history (and therefore the communists would no longer be the heirs of the struggle of the exploited classes of prehistory, but the heirs of the exploiters), and the communist movement, in each ascending stage, would therefore become a reactionary movement. Within the capitalist mode of production, the proletariat invariably exists and struggles as a class when it fights for the defence of its own and exclusive historical interests. When it becomes allied with any bourgeois faction, even a progressive and humanist one, the proletariat no longer exists as a class and is nothing else than a mass of citizens, atomised by democracy (it’s the tendency to be nothing else than “variable capital”); it then acts as a mass to be manipulated by the different bourgeois factions (republicans vs. royalists, fascists vs. popular fronts, etc.). Therefore as soon as the capitalist mode of production appeared, class struggle materializes the permanent confrontation between both poles of the capitalist contradiction: i.e. proletariat vs. bourgeoisie. The proletariat in its struggle for its historical interest is therefore directly antagonistic to all the bourgeois factions; it is invariantly and systematically anti-frontist, rejecting (because mortal) any alliance with a bourgeois faction. Moreover it’s what the experience of workers’ struggles proved us each time, when the proletariat lost its class independence to become allied with such or such bourgeois faction: it’s with its blood that it paid for this loss of historical perspective.

In the contradiction bourgeoisie vs. proletariat (as in any contradiction), the qualitative resolution (negation of the negation) is never the unilateral affirmation of one of its poles. Thus, when in the antagonistic relation between bourgeoisie and proletariat, it’s the bourgeoisie that is asserting itself (notably, as we explained above, when the proletariat loses its class independence) in an almost entirely totalitarian way, in fact and in a dynamic point of view, the contradiction is never entirely cancelled, the proletariat, as a denying pole, is never entirely “digested,” comparable to “variable capital.” There is always a contradiction, even if the former is strongly lessened by such a balance of force that it’s more a pole that predominates clearly on the other. But inevitably, the contradiction re-emerges at a stronger level of confrontation, by an always more marked polarization between both elements of the contradiction. The only thing the bourgeoisie manages therefore to do when it succeeds almost entirely to destroy – through war for example – its denier, it’s simply to postponed in the time the unavoidable expiration date for the communist resolution of the contradiction. The materialistic dialectics is the confrontation, always more developed, always more antagonistic between both poles of the contradiction, and this until, not a “peak” followed by a “decline,” but until the resolution of this contradiction by the appearance of a “superior unity” (negation of the negation); and this superior quality has qualitatively nothing to do neither with the positive pole (thesis) nor with the negative one (anti-thesis). The development of the contradiction (= the movement) therefore means always more the exacerbation (the struggle) of both poles consolidating each other in their confrontation, and this until the dialectic moment of the resolution by the negation of the negation. Class confrontation has nothing to do with the vulgar logic of “communicating vessels”, according to which a pole becomes weaker in an inversely proportional way to the other one when it strengthens; on the contrary, from an overall point of view, it’s an always more exacerbated balance of force, it’s a always more antagonistic confrontation, and this until its resolution. The dialectics produces the “resolution” by a quantitative/qualitative change, and has therefore nothing to do neither with a simple addition of the poles of the contradiction nor with the unilateral affirmation of one of its poles. On the contrary, the “resolution” means a double negation going beyond the simple negation of the denying pole within the contradictory unity. In our example, the unity “capitalism,” within which the fundamental contradiction is bourgeoisie (thesis) vs. proletariat (anti-thesis), the resolution of this contradiction is not the unilateral affirmation of the denying pole (a “proletarian society!?”), but it’s communism (classless society) implying therefore the double negation, the proletariat denying the bourgeoisie and denying itself as a denier – the self-negation of the proletariat as a negation of the negation, as a resolution of the contradictions of all the class societies through the appearance of a classless society, communism, the world human community.

All the decadentist conceptions have therefore in common the same bourgeois understanding of the progressive and evolutionist development of human history (even if the former is, for each mode of production, limited in time to a date from which this mode of production would no longer be considered as “progressive”). Class antagonism exists, as we explained above, in a permanent and each time more developed way; therefore the only thing remaining to the decadentists is the ideological justification, the moralizing3 argumentation of a superstructure decadence reflecting (as utter vulgar materialists they are) the decadence of the production relations. “Ideology decomposes, the old moral values run down, artistic creativity stagnates or functions in opposition to the status quo, there is a development of obscurantism and philosophical pessimism.” Who wrote this sentence? It’s the big question… A philosopher? A fascist? The pope? Not at all! It’s a quotation from ICC’s brochure “The Decadence of Capitalism” (in “Chapter 2: Crisis and decadence”). The same moralizing speech corresponds therefore to the same evolutionist conception, and no matter if the priest who talks is a leftist, a rightist or an “ultra-leftist.” As if the ruling ideology was decaying, as if essential moral values of the bourgeoisie were collapsing!? In the reality, there is rather a movement of decomposition/recomposition each time more important: old forms of the dominant ideology lose credibility and at the same time give rise to new ideological recompositions whose content, the bourgeois essence, is invariably the same. This is what we can observe in the worldwide re-emergence in force of religious ideologies (and also those who in their social practice are partisans of these ideologies): from the “rebirth of Islam” to the travelling of the sales representative John-Paul II, as well as to the considerable development of sects, and the renewed oriental religions, etc., materializing the double movement of decomposition and recomposition of the multiform unity of the ideological structures of the world bourgeois state. The same way, if anti-fascism is lesser a big success than before the second world war, there is the recomposition in force of humanistic and democratic myths (materialized by the return of many countries, former “fascist-like dictatorships,” to the “free game of democratic rights and liberties:” Greece, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, etc.), from the defence of (bourgeois) human rights to the disgusting campaigns of “Touche pas à mon pote” in France [“Don’t touch to my buddy”], from the “anti-terrorist” campaigns to those for Ethiopia, etc., it’s each time about campaigns preparing ideologically and practically the bourgeois trend for a new world slaughter, and this by the totalitarian and terrorist maintenance of social peace that they represent and strengthen. The dominant ideology constitutes a totality (with its considerable and various phenomenological expressions) that expresses the relative force of the class that is behind. In this sense, the ideologies – material forces – are active elements within the class struggle, they are weapons that the bourgeoisie sharpens for its anti-proletarian fight. There could therefore be no question to consider them as simple “ideas” hanging over the “superstructure sphere;” on the contrary, the bourgeoisie, even with its limited conception (limited from the point of view of its class social being), has drawn a huge amount of lessons from the past and has consequently strengthened, refined the utilization of its ideological weapons. The consolidating of kinetic violence (open terror) finds its complementary nature with the consolidating of the development of potential violence (an “ideological” one), and both of them dominate more and more absolutely, from birth to death, the atomized citizen, the bourgeois individual, who’s free, equal, voter and supporter of a football team...

The decadentist conceptions, in their bourgeois methodological essence, as a negation of the materialistic dialectics, as a cult of Progress, Evolution, Civilization, Science, Morality, etc., are therefore conceptions extraneous to the communist point of view, and are therefore directly obstacles to the comprehension and to the invariant practice of the proletariat struggling for the defence of its historical interests. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, the communists stand up for (and are characterized by) the defence of the invariance of the revolutionary program: world social revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat for the abolition of wage labour, world human community.

“We neither share ideals nor are we stemming from a common trunk of civilization. We have clearly said ‘that one cannot’ lean on your liberal claim, as a lever of economic and social claim. The question is not that liberalism stops midway, and that we would have to continue alone: liberalism stands on the way that goes against our social goal and this, since the first moment.”

(Amadeo Bordiga: “Communism and human knowledge” (1952), our translation)

Decadence: the negation of universal substance and capitalism’s world

We have already criticized the curve ascent-peak-descent, it’s now necessary to come onto the meaning of the application of this bourgeois theory to the very history of capitalist development.

As we have already developed in other texts, the capitalist mode of production asserts from its appearance, its universal and directly worldwide character, and essence. Capitalism – as a world social relation – unifies all the preceding modes of production, it dissolves them, and turns them into its appendixes (even while preserving in a phenomenological way some social relations whose shape inherited from the past, like slavery, still exist today). But in fact these ancient modes of production are entirely subsumed in the capitalist mode of production; they are in fact only different disguises for wage labour; capitalism integrates them, and this each time with the purpose (its unique and permanent goal) to produce always more surplus-value. The goal of the capitalist production is therefore the production of always more value or, better said, capitalism can be defined as value valorising itself, as a movement of valorisation, and an increasing accumulation of value (A⇢A’), “value that is greater than itself” (Karl Marx: “Capital”). But, the substance of value – under the capitalist mode of production – is abstract labour (worldwide and social abstraction of the many different concrete works, and the different consumptions of physiological energy), it’s the exchange of the commodity labour force for an equivalent corresponding, not to the created value, but to the reproduction of the labour force itself (difference between the necessary labour and the surplus-labour = the surplus-value). It’s directly about a world social relation (wage slavery) that subsumes and “overcomes” the whole previous process of exchange.

“The turn into its opposite [Umschlag] therefore comes about because the ultimate stage of free exchange is the exchange of labour capacity as a commodity, as value, for a commodity, for value; because it is given in exchange as objectified labour, while its use value, by contrast, consists of living labour, i.e. of the positing of exchange value. The turn into its opposite arises from the fact that the use value of labour capacity, as value, is itself the value-creating force; the substance of value, and the value-increasing substance. In this exchange, then, the worker receives the equivalent of the labour time objectified in him, and gives his value-creating, value-increasing living labour time. He sells himself as an effect. He is absorbed into the body of capital as a cause, as activity. Thus the exchange turns into its opposite, and the laws of private property – liberty, equality, property – property in one's own labour, and free disposition over it – turn into the worker's propertylessness, and the dispossession [Entäusserung] of his labour, [i.e.] the fact that he relates to it as alien property and vice versa.”

(Karl Marx: “Grundrisse,” “Notebook II: The Chapter on Capital – Section Two: The Circulation Process of Capital,” Penguin Edition, 1973)

The substance of value is therefore directly a world and social abstraction of living labour, which implies the concomitant existence of the world market (market that develops always more its world character).

“In the trade between the markets of the world, the value of commodities is expressed so as to be universally recognised. Hence their independent value-form also, in these cases, confronts them under the shape of universal money. It is only in the markets of the world that money acquires to the full extent the character of the commodity whose bodily form is also the immediate social incarnation of human labour in the abstract. Its real mode of existence in this sphere adequately corresponds to its ideal concept.”

(Karl Marx: “Capital, Volume One,” “Ch. 3: Money, or the Circulation of Commodities – Universal Money,” First English edition of 1887, Progress Publishers, Moscow)

The very appearance of the capitalist mode of production historically happened with the appearance of concentration poles of capital in different places of the planet: Lisbon, London, Venice, Potosi, Amsterdam, Bruges, Constantinople, New-York, Shanghai and the multiple commercial trading posts in Africa, Asia and America have unequivocally materialized the directly international character of the capitalist mode of production, even if this last is not “directly” present with its “civilizing benefits” (but formally, not today either) in each fragment of territory on the globe. All the more so since the very movement of capital (i.e. competition) determines permanently the former to invest in poles where the profit is the most important, what determines a permanent movement between different poles of accumulation, concentration, and organization. In this process the “historical” poles are superseded4 by “new poles” of concentration (each of them being as capitalist as the others): e.g. Sao-Paulo, Israel, Hong-Kong, Japan, South Africa, California, Siberia, etc.

“A great deal of capital, which appears today in the United States without any certificate of birth, was yesterday, in England, the capitalised blood of children.”

(Karl Marx: “Capital, Volume One,” “Ch. 31: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” First English edition of 1887, Progress Publishers, Moscow)

The very essence of capital is the competition between different capitals determining a permanent movement of accumulation poles, “money attracting always more money.”

“Conceptually, competition is nothing other than the inner nature of capital, its essential character, appearing in and realized as the reciprocal interaction of many capitals with one another, the inner tendency as external necessity.”

(Karl Marx: “Grundrisse,” “Notebook II: The Chapter on Capital – Section Two: The Circulation Process of Capital,” Penguin Edition, 1973)

The movement between these different concentration poles of capitals (leading dialectically to desertification poles) and therefore of concentrated class struggle, is the very movement of capital that has, since its origin until its disappearance, the whole world as a ground and limit to its contradictory development.

“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China.”

(Karl Marx: “Capital, Volume One,” “Ch. 31: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” First English edition of 1887, Progress Publishers, Moscow)

Marx brilliantly demonstrates here, not only the fact of the existence, since the dawn of capitalism, of the world market as a “theatre” of the capitalistic civilization, but also the directly imperialistic character of capital, which didn’t have to wait such or such date to establish itself through the systematic looting of the earth. It didn’t have to wait a “highest stage” in order to be competitive on a world scale, that is to say: to be imperialistic. The essence of capital is worldwide as well as directly imperialistic.

“... it is (1) its necessary tendency to conquer the mode of production in all respects, to bring them under the rule of capital. Within a given national society this already necessarily arises from the transformation, by this means, of all labour into wage labour; (2) as to external markets, capital imposes this propagation of its mode of production through international competition.”

(Karl Marx: “Grundrisse,” “Notebook II: The Chapter on Capital – Section Two: The Circulation Process of Capital,” Penguin Edition, 1973)

These elementary explanations being done, let’s now see the restrictive, non-dynamic and counterrevolutionary meaning of the application of decadentist theories to the history of the capitalist mode of production. The consequence of all the decadentist conceptions – as well as those of the bourgeoisie – is the long and progressive conquest (that would have therefore logically to continue until today!) of the world market (that therefore isn’t originally!) from one point (preferably Western Europe) to the rest of the world... These conceptions are therefore active negations of international competition and worldwide market as a ground of international exchange materialized by the circulation of the universal currency representing the value: i.e. the socially abstract human labour on a world scale. Who speaks about international trade, universal currency, and value... speaks inevitably about the full and wholehearted existence of the world market as a presupposition of the very appearance of the capitalist mode of production (even if this world market is permanently in expansion because of the development in ever-increasing commodities trade).

In fact, reservations and negations of decadentist conceptions are double: both in time and in space. In time: decadentist conceptions establish a caesura in the time line of capitalism’s life (the most classical is the caesura of 1914!) in order to define capitalism from this date as “objectively” senile (because the world market would be finally set up among other things!). And only after that “the era of communist revolution would open.”5 In space: different moments (1848, 1871, 1914...) would close “the progressive evolution” of capitalism in such or such geopolitical area. For this variant, it’s about defining zones where, due to the fact of the development of productive forces (one-sided conception of the positive pole of capital, without seeing its corollary, i.e. desertification!), the communist revolution would be “directly on the agenda” (e.g. Western Europe since 1848), other zones where the “double revolution” would be at stake (e.g. Russia in 1917 with a “politically” proletarian and “socially” bourgeois revolution, according to the degenerated Bordigist version of the permanent revolution, as cherished by Trotsky), and others where the “bourgeois national revolution” (formalistic justification for supporting national liberation struggles) would be at stake. But it’s clear that in the bourgeois conception, this last variant is formally the most coherent, since it takes only the poles of concentration of capital into account (always from the point of view of the progressiveness peculiar to the bourgeoisie) in order to define “which kind of revolution is on the agenda.” Besides obviously the non-worldwide and national conception (not to say definitely a nationalistic one) of the capitalist mode of production, it’s about seeing comically how some “historical” zones of the development of capital (and areas where therefore the communist revolution would be more rapidly “on the agenda”) would become, due to the transfer of concentration poles (and therefore to the concomitant desertification), areas where another kind of revolution would have first to be made.6 The fact to restrict the capitalist mode of production with a limit in time or with a restrictive conception in space (such or such zone at such or such period), in both cases it’s about the very negation of capitalism’s world character and therefore the negation of the directly internationalist character of the proletariat, bearer of the worldwide communist revolution, since the appearance of capital.

Finally, it’s necessary to emphasize one of the fundamental consequences of the directly and invariably universal character of the capitalist mode of production: the nonexistence, from the global point of view, of the so-called “extra-capitalist markets.” Indeed, as we explained above, the world market is the very presupposition of the world appearance and domination of the capitalist social relation that through its very nature subsumes all the preceding modes of production (and their social relations). Thus, capital itself sets out all its presuppositions, it is itself “self-presupposition” of its world domination; as soon as it appears as a mode production, it sets out throughout the world and as a whole its universal character (and this is its essential “originality”), and therefore the contradiction proletariat vs. bourgeoisie. To a certain extent, we could say that if the so-called “extra-capitalist” markets exist, it’s either in a completely marginal way, as self-subsistence systems, non-productive to such a degree (i.e. non-profitable from the capitalist point of view) that although the capitalist mode of production dominates the whole planet, it leaves them to remain formally because of their lack of interest (e.g. such or such tribe in “Mato Grosso” or in “New-Guinea”...), or these so-called “extra-capitalist” markets are directly dominated and subsumed on account of the very fact that there is exchange (mediatised by money) between them and the capitalist mode of production. And as a result, they disappear as “extra-capitalist markets.” The exchange is obviously running in the world sphere of circulation and is the immediate driving force of the dissolution and integration of all the pre-capitalist modes of production, even if some shapes of these ones keep on existing in a complementary way to the total domination of the capitalist mode of production. To see thus, in the so-called “extra-capitalist” markets, the very driving force of the capitalist development (because these last would be the “only solvable demand” – Rosa Luxemburg’s theory), it’s basically not understanding that the real problem is the production necessarily always more important of surplus-value (and not its realization) and, that thus, the exchange between capitalist production and “extra-capitalist” production is a nonsense because it means directly the existence and the domination of the world market, it means as a very result of this exchange the destruction (the non-existence) of the so-called “extra-capitalist markets” that, in the very theory of Luxemburg, disappear right from the first exchange.

“... general overproduction would take place, not because relatively too little [sic] had been produced of the commodities consumed by the workers or too little [sic] of those consumed by the capitalists, but because too much of both had been produced – not too much for consumption, but too much to retain the correct relation between consumption and realization; too much for realization.”

(Karl Marx: “Grundrisse,” “Notebooks II: The Chapter on Capital – Section Two: The Circulation Process of Capital,” Penguin Edition, 1973)

There are two possibilities: either the so-called “extra-capitalist” markets exist and are the “very hub” of the capitalist development, and this one would have to be in decline (if not definitely “self-crumbled”), not since some little decades, but rather since several centuries, or capitalism isn’t interested at all in the very existence of these so-called “extra-capitalist markets” (and this because the surplus-value is produced not from “the exchange”, but from the difference between necessary labour and surplus-labour within the very capitalist production), or these so-called “extra-capitalist markets” are directly subsumed to capitalism as complementary shapes and are therefore not “extra-capitalists” at all, but rather directly integrated and dominated by the world market, by the capitalist mode of production. The basis for the question of the so-called “extra-capitalist markets” is to be found once again in the non-worldwide and progressive conception of the capitalist mode of production, in the unilateral conception of capital from the point of view of its positive pole (concentration, industrialization, factories, wealth, progress, etc.; it’s the apologetic conception of capital by itself), and not from the point of view of its global existence, positive pole and its negative one as well (desertification, pauperization, famines, destructive wars, shantytowns, etc.), the whole on the move. The essence of all the decadentist theories, whatever their different ideological justifications, means therefore the negation of the world and universal substance of capitalism, the incomprehension of the domination of the value, that is to say of abstract labour; in this sense, they are therefore bourgeois conceptions.

Theories of decadence: apology of social democrat reformism and therefore of capital

We are going now to see, in conclusion of this first contribution, some political consequences resulting from decadentist conceptions.

The very origin of decadentist theories (theories of the “change of period” and the “opening of a new capitalist phase: that of its decline,” etc.) is “oddly” to be found in the thirties, theorized by Stalinists (e.g. Varga) and Trotskyites (Trotsky himself), as well as some Social democrats (Hilferding, Sternberg, etc.) and academics (Grossmann). So it’s following the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-21 that some products of the victory of the counterrevolution began to theorize a long period of “stagnation” and “decline.” This theorization allowed after the event to maintain a formal coherence between “the benefits of the previous century workers’ movement” (here it’s obviously about the bourgeois “benefits” of Social democracy: unionism, parliamentarianism, nationalism, pacifism, “struggle for reforms,” “struggle for the conquest of the state,” rejection of revolutionary action, etc.) and, because of the “change of period” (classic argument to justify all the revisions and betrayals of the historical program), the appearance of “news tactics” peculiar to this “new phase,” from the defence of Stalinist “socialist countries” to Trotsky’s “transition program,” and also the rejection of the trade-union shape in favour of that of “ultra-left’s” councils. All of them confirm thus uncritically the past history and mainly Social democrat reformism, which is justified in no time at all since it stood “in the ascending phase of capitalism,” but every current draws political conclusions from the “change of period,” conclusions suiting its own ideology. The “change of period” allows thus anybody to justify after the event any position, while always claiming formally another period where other positions would have been valid. This is how all the revisionists function, they always formally agree with the revolutionary program (for yesterday but not for nowadays anymore) but “comrades, it’s necessary to understand that capitalism changed, that other problems arose...” And once again, communists are considered as “dinosaurs of history,” those for whom nothing fundamentally changed, those for whom “old methods” of direct struggle, class against class, violent and world revolution, internationalism, dictatorship of the proletariat, etc. always remain valid – yesterday, nowadays, tomorrow. Communists are therefore those who practically defend the historic invariance of proletariat’s interests and therefore its program. The use of the myth of the “change of period” obviously goes in both ways: on one hand most of the decadentists (Trotskyites, Stalinists...), it’s about justifying their open betrayal of the revolutionary program (in real accordance with Social democracy or better said as “radical” factions of Social democracy), on the other hand for “ultra-left,” it’s about explaining (while maintaining as the first ones a relation with Social democracy, with the “Second International”) how the counterrevolutionary practices of Social democracy are not valid anymore nowadays (and were therefore valid yesterday!).

One of the cruxes is therefore, whatever the use of the “change of period”, the class nature of Social democracy and the perpetuation of the defence of its basic positions within the degenerated “Communist International” and within the currents that didn’t break (or did but inadequately) with this last. For our part the primacy is the historic invariance of proletariat’s interests and needs determining the historic invariance of its program as well as the unicity of this one (rejection of so-called minimal, and transition programs). Social democracy (e.g. the “Second International” and its leading “national party:” i.e. German Social democracy) developed in the heat of a period of counterrevolution, just after the crushing of the Commune of Paris. The historic function of Social democracy was directly, not to organize the struggle for the destruction of the system (which is the invariant point of view of the communists), but to organize masses of workers atomized by the counterrevolution in order to educate them and to make them participating the better possible to the wage slavery system. “Marxism” wasn’t then anymore an expression of the historic and revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, but a new radical ideology useful for justifying (against lesser “liberal” bourgeois factions) positively and scientifically the necessity to integrate the proletariat as a non-class, as a mere variable capital (= struggle for reforms). The direct results of this are the ongoing practices of Social democracy: i.e. not the direct struggle against capital, but rather the pseudo-struggles for the universal suffrage (in fact systematically twisting the first on the ground of bourgeois legality), pacific and automatic transition from capitalism towards socialism thanks to the obtaining of the right to vote, etc., and therefore parliamentarianism (participation in the state and “bourgeois” governments), electioneering, legalism, nationalism, democratism, culturalism (since it “was necessary” to teach workers “how to vote correctly”), pacifism, unionism (negotiation in the framework of the system for a “true” price of labour force), etc. And even though Marx and Engels expressed some reservations (cf. the critiques of the Gotha and Erfurt programmes) when Social democracy was boosted, nevertheless Engels, at the end of his life, strongly supported it and really handed on the “Marxist doctrine” to Kautsky (hence his mythical crown of guarantor for “the orthodoxy”) who thus succeeded in completely turning “Marxism” into a theory and practise for social reform and welfare, for the progressive and gradual consolidating of the capitalist system.

“After the Coalition Congress Engels and I will publish a short declaration and say that we have nothing to do with this programme of principles.”

(Marx’s letter to Bracke, 5th May, 1875)

“But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect’s servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism.”

(Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”)

Marx even understood clearly what was at stake and if he clearly showed his disapproval in private (cf. numerous letters), he supported de facto, while saying publicly nothing about, the hybrid birth of a Lassalian German Social democracy, a reformist one and much closer to Proudhon than to him (without speaking of the real leader, the famous Dr Dühring).

“These people are full to repletion of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas. If these gentlemen had created a petty bourgeois Social democrat party, that would have been their absolute right. But in a workers’ party they constitute a foreign element. The rupture with these people is only a question of time. This moment seems to have come besides: ‘You always consider these people as comrades of the Party. We are not able to do it.’”

(Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Letter of September 17th-18th, 1879)

And yet these bourgeois tendencies denounced by Marx will entirely dominate Social democracy and that, since the birth of the “Second International” (1st Convention in 1889). Even when Bernstein began to express aloud the real class content of Social democracy: i.e. its reformist and counterrevolutionary function (with his famous: “The final goal is nothing, the movement is everything”), never the pseudo-Orthodox like Kautsky, Plekhanov, Vollmar and even Luxemburg opposed about the content, but they rather theorized a “connection” between reform and revolution, that is to say that they justified de facto reformism while maintaining formally “the revolutionary ideal” for an always more distant and utopian future.

“The Second International became the active centre of the bourgeois social development; after an international struggle against 1/ the revolutionary, elements such as left factions that made the critique of it 2/ and the anarchist-communist movement expelled by force from the Conventions of 1891, 1893 and 1894, the Second International never degenerated, it was set up whereas there wasn’t any revolutionary perspective, hence its participation, since the beginning and totally, in the bourgeoisie’s political system.”

(Jean-Yves Beriou: “Revolutionary theory and historic cycles:” postscript to the book “Socialism in danger” by F. Domela Nieuwenhuis – Ed. Payot, 1975, our translation)

There were obviously and very often left oppositions within international Social democracy, oppositions that were moreover very toughly fought and most of the time expelled, which materializes once more the essentially bourgeois nature of Social democracy. Let’s mention as examples: the Danish and Swedish left regrouped around the weekly “Arbedjeren” (“The Worker”) and expelled in 1889; “Die Jungen” (“The Young”), antiparliamentary and anti-reformist radical opposition to German Social democracy, expelled in 1891; F. Nieuwenhuis and the Dutch radicals expelled in 1897, as in the same country in 1907, the constitution of the group “Die Tribune” (Pannekoek, Gorter, Roland-Holst, etc.), which set up later one of the first Communist parties of the world in England, the group of William Morris, etc. Let’s also not forget lesser radical but more “famous” oppositions like the Bolsheviks, the internationalist radicals of Germany, the SDKPIL in Poland, and the abstentionist faction in Italy... But all these factions never really recognized explicitly in their struggle the nationalistic and bourgeois character of Social democracy, character that this last yet persisted in proclaiming and demonstrating practically:

“It goes without saying that we will conform to the law, because our party is certainly a party of reform in the strict sense of the word and not a party that wants to make a violent revolution (...) I strongly deny that our efforts aim at the violent overthrow of the current law and order, the state and the society.”

(Wilhelm Liebknecht, declaration in the Reichstag March 17th, 1879, our translation)

What remains then from the myth of the August 1914 “betrayal” whereas it’s since its dawn that the “Second International” always defended the same bourgeois program!? What was necessary, once again, it was to break and struggle outside and against Social democracy, so that proletarians and revolutionary anti-reformist factions were not left under the only influence of anarchist ideology (that never regrouped so many struggling proletarians than at this time).

“It was necessary to ring the alarm. Denouncing Social democracy as being social patriotic and militaristic. Breaking with it and calling the workers to break. Stigmatizing its hypocrisy and denouncing these conventions of suckers. Instead of that, Luxemburg and Lenin provide it with a left cover, and congratulate each other on these conventions, etc. This is how they delude themselves (and more seriously how they delude the workers) about Social democracy.”

(“The International” No.2 – Organ of the Internationalist Left, our translation)

The presence of revolutionary militants within the “Second International” didn’t therefore mean that it defended the proletariat’s interests (the “immediate” ones and the historic as well) but allowed to guaranty – through lack of rupture – all the counterrevolutionary practice of Social democracy. And each time as revolutionaries criticized the “Second International,” they were described as agitators, and anarchists, e.g. Nieuwenhuis, and Pannekoek, but also somehow Lenin later when he partially restored the communist conception of the necessary destruction of the bourgeois state (cf. “State and revolution”) using Pannekoek’s and Bolshevik Left’s contributions (some years before). “Anarchism” acted thus as a negative foil to Social Democracy. And as “Marxism” meant nothing but reformism, it only remained for revolutionaries to join the “anarchist ideology”. The “collapse” of Social democracy is nothing but one aspect of the general collapse (and since its dawn) of Social democrat reformism (“anarchism” and “Marxism” included). It’s in direct continuation with their antithetic program, but really a bourgeois one, that both currents ended up calling actively the proletarians to take part to the “First” World War: there was nothing to choose between some Noske, Bernstein, Vandervelde, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Guesdes, Jaurès, etc. on one hand, and some Kropotkin, Hervé, Grave, Cornelissen, Malato, Reclus, Almereyda, etc. on the other hand. The essential incomprehension of the directly bourgeois nature of the “Second International” didn’t allow the constitution of a Third International in a strong rupture with all the Social democrat bullshit. The lack of a fundamental programmatic rupture led very quickly the Comintern to follow Social democracy on the ground of the bourgeoisie, even though its speech was more “radical” (e.g. parliamentarism becoming “revolutionary” parliamentarism, etc.), and that, in spite of more clear-cut attempts of rupture represented by the International Communist Left. Let’s mention, as an example, one of its most unrecognised expressions: the Communist Left in Belgium that was only one of the various expressions of the Communist Left in Holland, Germany, England, Indies, Italy, Russia, Mexico, and USA, etc.

“Democratism, which is nowadays so much praised during election campaigns and during all the demonstrations of Social democracy, hasn’t stopped decreasing into the masses the need and the sense of direct effort. Modern communism arose from a violent action against this democratism. This action was a necessary condition for the revolutionary movement. It is the necessity that imposed in Belgium, the creation of the Communist party (...). During the development of capitalist states, the nationalistic ideology became the opium that made possible the murder of the peoples. (...) In Belgium, the always wider introduction of joint committees, the control on wages according to the cost-of-living indexation, the presence of union leaders in the bourgeois government Councils, the always closer relations with the different bourgeois ministries are only aspects of an important politics having the tendency to neutralize the revolutionary action of the unions, to transform them more and more into organisms of the bourgeois state.”

(War Van Overstraeten: “The Communist Worker,” 1921, our translation)

* * *

The decadentists thus never succeed in understanding the real relation, the historic invariance between the revolutionary factions from this century and the past century as well. They are praising in the most opportunist way the “benefits of Social democracy,” and spitting thus on (or ignoring voluntarily) the struggle of the revolutionary factions that fought against the current, although with immense programmatic weaknesses, against Social democracy, against the bourgeois left. The invariance is also and definitely the invariance from the capitalist point of view: there is a line of continuity between all the revolutionaries defending the communist program as there is one between all the reformists from Prudhon, Louis Blanc, Kautsky until “our” more modern “Gorbatshow”, Fidel Castro and other Scargill... But the function of decadentist theories is to break this line of continuity, to break the invariance in order to support, for one or the other “period,” a counterrevolutionary politics. Not to recognize the counterrevolutionary function of Social democracy in the last century is not “a little mistake of interpretation of the history” but directly means for today the incomprehension of the invariance of methods and proletarian action, the incomprehension of the historic interests of the proletariat, the incomprehension of the revolutionary program, which results for example by councillists in the replacement of the form of “reformist unions” by that of “soviets” (change of form that should guarantee “in itself” the proletarian content!), or even by Trotskyites for whom the “change of period” means to put forward “transitory demands,” while substituting for example the “workers’ and peasants’ government” for the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc. For all of them, the tasks of the communists would not be anymore – as ever – the organization of the struggle and the world direction of the party for action, but the communists would rather become, according to some, “spiritual advisers” who since 1914 cannot “substitute” for the masses, and, according to others, “builders” of mass parties bringing the “conscience to uneducated masses,” etc. The myth of the “change of period” thus allows all the currents not to break with the real practice of Social democracy (and with its bourgeois nature), as thereafter with the same practices (verbally radicalised) within the more and more degenerate Comintern (cf. the 21 conditions, etc.). References to Social democracy, to Kautsky’s very formal “orthodoxy” (then his transformation overnight into a “renegade”) are not simple “literary references,” but they imply in nowadays practice the reproduction, under different shapes, of reformism, of bourgeois practice for the proletariat (that is to say its maintenance as a non-class, as atomised citizens), and this through the defence of “national liberation struggles,” of democratism (even and especially under its radical shape of “workers’ democracy,” and “assemblyism”), of legalism (i.e. systematic antiterrorism), of indifferentism as for the workers’ struggles taking place outside of the sacrosanct “Western Europe,” of culturalism (educationism by councillists and Leninists as well), of the myth of “spontaneously revolutionary masses,” of “trade-union general strike,” etc., which are all of them comprehensions and practices of non-rupture with Social democracy and therefore in continuity with the counterrevolution.

To set out, antithetically to Social democrat tactics (without grasping the bourgeois essence of these ones), “new tactics”, which are finally(!?) allowed by the “period of decadence” is not to break with the bourgeois content, with the counterrevolutionary politics, but to repeat and reproduce this content under other shapes, e.g. in the question of the party, the councils, the workers’ state, violence, revolutionary defeatism, internationalism, etc.

As Marx and Engels clearly pointed out: never, neither yesterday, nor nowadays, or tomorrow, the communists are (nor become for “a while” or “a period”) “Social democrat;” between Social democracy and communism, there is the same class boundary than between bourgeoisie and proletariat:

“In all these writings, I never call myself a Social democrat, but a communist. For Marx, as for me, it is absolutely impossible to use such a flexible expression to refer to our own conception.”

(Frederick Engels: “Preface to the booklet of the Volkstaat of 1871-75,” quoted in “The German Social democracy – Marx & Engels,” revised and updated by Roger Dangeville)

The “new conditions of the period of decadence” are therefore nothing but a justification after the event of the counterrevolutionary positions notably defended by Social democracy since its development at the last century, with the result nowadays to support in action, not needs and methods of proletarian struggle, but “tactics” that already proved to be strictly anti-proletarian. And this, even though some bourgeois positions are vociferously thrown out through the door (like, for some, the question of the bourgeois nature of unions, of parliamentarianism, etc.), it’s to get back in through the window under other “shapes,” under another name (unionism becoming soviets’ managementism, parliamentarianism becoming assemblyism, the electioneering becoming delegates " elected and revocable at all times ", pacifism becoming indifferentism, etc.). The bourgeois content remains the same: it’s about reforming the capitalist dictatorship and therefore to consolidate it. Never – except in certain statements of pure form – it’s about organizing, centralizing, and leading the workers’ struggle for the complete destruction of the world bourgeois state. All the decadentists preserve in fact the Social democrat substance and methodology: “masses” cult (under its partitist or soviet shape), separation between “economic struggles” and “political struggles”, separation between “objective conditions” and “subjective conditions,” rejection of revolutionary defeatism, and internationalist social war, rejection of direct action, etc., in fact rejection and destruction of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. It’s in this sense that fundamentally, the theories of decadence (and therefore the practices they result in) materialize the decadence of theory, the sliding in the bourgeois swamp of reformism and this under various phenomenological shapes.7

  • 1. “Democracy was born of the dissolution of the primitive community, the development of exchange, the commodity, private property, class society, the historic creation of the individual, of the separation of human beings from themselves in the production of their lives. Its development is the development of the dictatorship of value over human need, the development of state terrorism against the exploited classes. With the total domination of value valorising itself and the total domination of the fetishistic character of the commodity – capitalist terrorism – democracy reaches its peak. This does not concern a particular sphere or a simple form of domination, but rather the invariant essence which perpetuates capital's society – by atomising and unifying on a fictive basis. By subsuming all aspects of life, democracy practically denies the existence of classes with irreparably antagonistic interests in order to affirm the only community which belongs to it: the community of money. This reproduces the free individual-citizen, national competing-being, whose corollary is the people – all within the framework of the structures of parties and unions which make up the state.” (GCI-ICG’s “Theses of Programmatical Orientation,” thesis No.11, our note).
  • 2. Which is more grotesque by the Lambertist Trotskyites of the PCI and mitigated into a “slowdown in the development rate of the productive forces” for the most “crafty ones,” and notably for the group “Socialisme ou Barbarie” that on this question also proved to be a precursor of the modernist revisionism, in the so-called economic questions as well as in their political implications.
  • 3. And which morals can exist if always that of the ruling class; because the communist movement doesn’t develop a “new proletarian morality,” but rather anti-morality, i.e. the negation in action of any class morality.
  • 4. To such an extent that today, some “historical centres,” and particularly in Western Europe, are reduced, as Portugal for example, to a desertification worthy of the so-called “under-developed countries.” Third-Worldists and Euro-centrists, what do you have to reply to these facts!?
  • 5. Even in Luxemburg’s decadentist theories, as in Lenin’s ones in “Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism,” it is emphasized that the possibility of the communist revolution is directly on the agenda throughout the world, and it’s out of question to define a phase of more than 70 years [in fact of one century when translating this text in English, our note] where capitalism reaching its “retirement years” would thus continue to die (while expanding...) in the image of some corpses of heads of state “kept alive” for the purpose in succeeding. Here once again, theories of decadence formally repeat sentences of revolutionaries of the past to justify the own decadence of their theory. If for Luxemburg, Lenin, and Bukharin... there was a caesura in 1914, it was immediately the world collapse of capitalism and not its long agony within a “new” phase of decline. It’s notably with Eugene Varga (theoretician of the Stalinist Comintern) that the theory of the phase of decline has appeared, to justify in fact the “progressivism of soviet economy” faced with the “decadence of capitalist West.” “Analogies with the course of industrial cycles of pre-war years couldn’t be really used for the current period of decline of capitalism.” (Eugene Varga: in “International Correspondence” No.101, 1930).
  • 6. It’s thus “comic” to remember a group like the “PCI – Communist Program” zigzagging along in the definition of geopolitical area in the Middle East and in Latin America where, according to their wandering within the bourgeois ideology, some zones switched overnight from a kind of revolution to another…
  • 7. See the original article, in French, here: https://web.archive.org/web/20091027103741/http://geocities.com/communisme_gci/lc23_decadence.htm

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Jun 22 2015 14:55

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