The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Decadence? February 8, 2006 by RedStar2000

This collection is rather closely related to the one on "Using Historical Materialism" that immediately precedes this one.

The real question is: Has capitalism changed in some fundamental way since the "days of Marx and Engels"?

A lot of "big names" thought so in the years prior to World War I. And the "temptation" to see a "new stage" of capitalism has been "with us" ever since.

One reason that such alternatives to Marx's basic ideas are so "tempting" is that they can be used to explain failure.

There haven't yet been any successful proletarian revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries "like Marx predicted". So perhaps capitalism has "changed" in such a way as to make that "impossible" and the "locus" of revolutionary change is "really" in the backward "third world" countries.

In those pre-capitalist or semi-capitalist countries, it's now "possible" to make a revolution that will "leap over capitalism altogether" and, by means of rather ferocious despotisms, jump directly to the "high road to communism".

That looked plausible through most of the last century...only to stumble over the ugly facts of open capitalist restoration in Russia and China.

And capitalism, of course, is "what Marx predicted" for those countries.

If Marx turned out to be right about those large countries, both of which were mostly pre-capitalist at the time of their "socialist" revolutions, then perhaps he was also right about the advanced (or "old") capitalist countries.

That they would be the sites of the first real communist revolutions.

And it was just the time scale that he got wrong.

We'll see.


quote (Wikipedia):

Vladimir Lenin continued and extended the use of the word "decadence" in his theory of imperialism to refer to economic matters underlying political manifestations. According to Lenin, capitalism had reached its highest stage and could no longer provide for general development of society. He expected reduced vigor in economic activity and a growth in unhealthy economic phenomenon, because society was ripe for socialist revolution in the West. Politically, World War I proved the decadent nature of the advanced capitalist countries to Lenin, that capitalism had reached the stage where it would destroy its own prior achievements more than it would advance.

It is customary for Marxists to note signs of "decay" in late capitalism as "straws in the wind".

The rise of various superstitions -- supernatural and secular -- in the "west" is considered significant because this was characteristic of the "decline and fall" of both ancient despotism and feudalism.

The implied assumption is that a "decaying" ruling class gradually loses the capacity to make rational choices in its own class interests.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq is now expected to cost U.S. imperialism trillions of dollars, for example. It has become a catastrophic blunder...and one can only wonder what will be next.
First posted at RevLeft on January 13, 2006

quote (International Communist Current):

This has in fact been the historic situation since the First World War: this war marked the end of the ascendant phase of the capitalist mode of production, a phase which began in the sixteenth century and which reached its zenith at the end of the nineteenth century. The new phase which followed was that of the decadence of capitalism.
-- December 30, 2004

I stopped reading at this point...because anyone who could say something like this is clearly living on another planet.

The "ascendant phase" of the capitalist mode of production may have ended in the "west" around 1970. It has certainly not "ended" in Japan, China, etc.

To blandly re-state Lenin's discredited analysis as if it were "self-evident" in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary does not inspire any confidence on my part that they might have anything of any further interest to say.
First posted at RevLeft on January 13, 2006


That does not mean that it became a society incapable of economic growth and development. It means it became a society in which the price of that became disproportionate in a new way, one which means that it has ceased to be, on balance, historically progressive.

Since we have no clear way to measure "disproportionate price", this would seem to be an intractable problem.

I would opt for the "simple" solution: capitalism has "ceased to be historically progressive" when it stops growing and the old ruling classes can't think of anything to get it started again. Only when technological and economic stagnation is interrupted only by further decline can it reasonably be said that capitalism as a system has become self-evidently decadent.

Nor do I think it reasonable to imagine this, like Lenin did, on a global scale. There are still many parts of the "third world" in which a bourgeois revolution would be "historically progressive".

Nepal, for example.

Which is really what the Maoists there are trying to do...even though they're not conscious of that.


As I have shown in my last post, since the 70s conditions around the world have become progressively worse.

If you were just talking about working class life in the U.S., I'd have no problem agreeing with you. I've seen it with my own eyes.

In countries like Japan and China, what you suggest is self-evidently false. Workers there are, by and large, enormously better off than a mere generation ago...both materially and culturally.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there is no hardship or poverty; those things "naturally" accompany capitalist development everywhere.


With regards to the growth in China this is largely the result of the world economic crisis forcing the main industrialised countries to export their businesses to the third world to make use of the cheap labour.

Yes, that's how it starts. But it doesn't necessarily have to stay that way. The Chinese ruling class (like the Japanese ruling class 40 years ago) have already decided that "high tech" is the "way to go".

And it is! As long as any capitalist society can technologically innovate, I don't see any usefulness in calling it "decadent".

It just misleads people...suggesting that the "end of capitalism" is "just around the corner".

That's what Lenin sincerely believed...but he was wrong.

For what I have taken to calling the "senile" capitalist countries -- Western Europe and North America -- this may be indeed the truth. Capitalism could be "on its way out" before the end of this century.

Japan? How does 2150 sound?

China? How about 2250?

Maybe a little sooner...but not much. An inter-imperialist war between those two giants might "speed things up" the country that loses. That's a possibility that can never be entirely ruled out.

And think of the countries where modern capitalism is really just beginning...India, Brazil, Mexico, and a long list of others. Is there any historical materialist reason why capitalism should not flourish in those countries for at least the next two or three centuries?

Why should the rest of the world not go through the same paths that we in the "west" went through? Do you imagine that our "senile" imperialism will be able to "stop them"?

The U.S. and E.U. cannot "stop Iran"...a very weak proto-capitalist country still handicapped by a medieval superstition.

And as is becoming increasingly obvious, the U.S. cannot "hold" even weaker country torn by ethnic, cultural and superstitious internal conflicts.

I think sometimes that we in the "old imperialist" countries are so "used" to being "top dogs" that we simply cannot imagine a world in which new imperial powers have "usurped our supremacy".

Like that neo-Hegelian dummy suggested, history has "come to an end".

No, it hasn't.


[China's] growth as an imperialist power to be reckoned with clearly makes the world a more dangerous place...

Yes, the emergence and rise of new imperial powers is indeed "dangerous" often as not because the old imperialist powers refuse to recognize new realities.

But "dangerous" is not synonymous with "decadent".


Overall the point is that decadence does not mean a complete stop of all economic growth but mainly it represents the period where capitalism is no longer progressive for humanity and it becomes a historic necessity for it to be overthrown.

The problem with formulating the definition in this way is that from a historical materialist point of view there is no such thing as "humanity" in the abstract.

There are particular humans who live in a particular country with a particular economic system based on a particular technology, etc.

Capitalism may be entering its decadent (terminal) phase in the "old" imperialist countries...but that says nothing useful about the rest of the planet at all.

Lenin and his few remaining disciples maintain that the world can be usefully treated as if it were "one integrated system"...making it possible to have a successful "socialist revolution" anywhere.

That's been falsified...and I see no evidence to challenge the "verdict of history" on this one.
First posted at RevLeft on January 14, 2006


Firstly if capitalism still exists anywhere in any major way by 2250 the world (or humanity at least) won't be there for it.

I take it that you are one of the "end of the world" acolytes.

That's a shame.

If you think that capitalism is going to "destroy the world" or make humans "extinct", then what else is there to say...about anything?

Last Days -- The "End of the World" Scenarios


Secondly capitalism has to be seen from a global perspective...


"Perspectives" are tools. For some purposes, a "global perspective" might be the most useful one; for other purposes, a more localized perspective might be more useful.

You cannot usefully study the stars with a microscope or bacteria with a telescope. You have to use the right tool for the job.

In this instance, only a very few places have economies that are completely dominated by foreign trade. Most countries today still have predominately national, regional, and local economies.

Therefore, what happens there is mostly a product of local economic development.

And from a historical materialist perspective, that's what really counts.


Therefore you have to ask is communism becoming more or less possible; the longer capitalism lives, the answer due to global warming, war, etc., is that communism is becoming less possible as time goes on.

So what are we doing on this board? If the probability of communism is declining with the passage of time, then we're just wasting ours.

Better to entertain ourselves "until the end", right?


I also don't quite understand why you keep including Japan as a country where capitalism is still growing or progressive (not that I think that it really is anywhere) because Japan has been a major capitalist power since the early 20th century and has also been in an almost non-stop recession since the 90s.

Japan is presently leading the world in the development of robotics.

In addition, they've taken a series of technological advances that were actually developed in the U.S. and turned them into new means of production.

Something which U.S. capitalists were too moribund to manage to do.

I think the difference is quite striking.

It's true that the Japanese economy has been stagnant for the last fifteen years...a possible symptom of "late" capitalism.

But given their continuous and successful economic expansion in Asia, I think it's too soon to call them "decadent".

As to the academic question of exactly when Japan became a "major imperialist power", I see little to be gained from such a controversy. Some will date it from Japan's victory over Czarist Russia in 1905 and the occupation of Korea and Taiwan. Some will put it in the early 1930s with the invasion of China. And others might pick a later date.

I don't think it matters all that much.


Lastly if we look at the example of China compared to Britain in the 19th century at a time when there was an entire world market to expand into and take over, whereas now China can only expand into already capitalist countries and a world market which is already largely carved up between the major imperialist powers.

The Chinese bourgeoisie appear to be focusing their efforts on Africa and Latin America...places where "western" capitalism "fears to tread". This may be due to the fact that Japan already has Asia "all tied up".

The idea that the "division of the world" is "finished" for "all time" is just a-historical.
First posted at RevLeft on January 15, 2006


I also think you underestimate the severity of the international situation now. Global warming is only one of the many dangers facing the planet. While war has been and will continue to be a constant threat and will only become more widespread as the world economy sinks further into crisis at the same time that resources dry up. Nuclear weapons are also spreading at an alarming rate and will continue to do so as every country more and more tries to fight for its own imperialist interests.

Quite possibly I do "underestimate the severity of the international situation now".

I think we'll learn to get along on a warmer planet just fine...though we might have to abandon some coastal cities like New Orleans.

I don't think we are "running out of resources"...although the temptation to contrive artificial "shortages" in order to increase profits is always present.

The limited use of nuclear weapons in localized conflicts is certainly possible...though keep in mind that the two Japanese cities bombed by the U.S. imperialists have now been completely rebuilt and are flourishing.

"First use" of nuclear weapons is now a course fraught with peril...for the first user. Any number of neighboring countries might decide that a nuclear response is imperative to get rid of those nutballs.

So it might happen...but I wouldn't bet my lunch money on it.

Your "grim scenarios" might turn out to be far more realistic than my relatively "optimistic" scenarios.

But given your pessimism, I don't understand why you are here.

Do you just want to tell us that "we're all doomed"? We've heard it all before...and in fact can just tune in to the Christian Dummyvision Network and hear it all again.

If we are truly all "doomed", then the most rational course of action would be to indulge ourselves continuously in whatever sensual pleasures we can afford.

Why haven't you decided to do that?
First posted at RevLeft on January 16, 2006


Civilization first started in the east (in Egypt, China, Mesopotamia) but they weren't the first capitalist societies. Greece was the first society to have developed a "democratic" society. But they weren't the first to establish a republic in a "modern" sense. The U.S. wasn't even the first capitalist society that has developed but it is the most advanced capitalist society today! Why? Law of Uneven Development.

You have the details here all messed up...nothing new about that. *laughs*

But what's really bad is covering your ignorance with an alleged "law".

What's it supposed to mean? That some capitalist countries have developed "faster" than others? That capitalist countries do not all advance "at the same pace"?

Why do you need a "law" to cover such a trivial observation?

Here's why. You have to have some "scientific sounding" formula to cover the seizure of power by Leninist parties in societies that were fundamentally pre-capitalist!

You know damn well that there's nothing in the Marxist paradigm that permits a pre-capitalist society to "leap over capitalism" and "into socialism" by means of a Leninist party despotism.

But you're too scared to say "Marx was wrong" and "we Leninists can repeal Marx's laws"...if you were honest, you'd quit trying to cover yourself with Marx's reputation. The whole appeal of Leninism in the "west" was based on the proposition that Leninism "was modern Marxism". And you don't want to give that up.

Too bad...the scam has been exposed.


So it goes to say that while the U.S. is the most advanced capitalist society today, it doesn't mean it will be the first to develop a communist society. It can be anywhere else. Who knows, it might be East Timor?

Yeah, right.

The U.S. may not be the "most advanced" capitalist country now, by the way. The western members of the EU are, I suspect, at least 50 years "closer" to a proletarian revolution and communism than the U.S.

Historically speaking, that's a trivial difference.

I'd guess 2500 for East Timor -- so don't hold your breath. *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on January 18, 2006


Capitalism right now can produce enough to create an abundance for the entire population of the planet, but it cannot distribute these goods to the population.

I think that's disputable...though I'm not sure how the matter could be resolved.

I imagine around 1-1/2 billion people live at what we would consider a minimal acceptable level...leaving 4-1/2 billion people in the shit.

That's a "lot of ground" to make up.

The "new" capitalist economies have been doing that in various ways -- from China to Venezuela.

But there are large places where not much of anything is happening yet...rural Africa for example. African oil deposits are being developed but nothing of any consequence "trickles down" to the people living there.


I don't believe that there were any bourgeois revolutions during the 20th century, the examples you give such as Mao's coup in China are usually simply conflicts between factions of the bourgeoisie of that particular country, usually with one side being supported by one imperialist power against the other.

Well, I think you are being "unfair" to Mao on this one; it wasn't a coup, it was a civil war.

The native bourgeoisie in China hardly existed as an independent force there.

There are some people -- not saying you are one of them -- who just don't want to admit that the bourgeoisie can be "progressive" any longer...mostly, I suspect, because Lenin said so.

They really do seem to think that you could take some wretchedly miserable country and make it into a "worker's paradise" by decree.

If the Maoists win in Nepal, watch the "red" rhetoric flow like lava. *laughs*

What will life actually be like there for most people? At best, maybe France in 1800 or something like that.


Not to doubt you, but to promote my education, any chance of a date for that M to E letter?

Well, I tried to find it in the Marxist Internet Archives...but unfortunately, only a tiny portion of the Marx-Engels correspondence has been posted. And as you probably know, their search engine is the worst on the either get 10,000 hits or nothing at all.

My guess: sometime after 1865. If I'm not mistaken, it actually appears as a postscript. And the phrase is "humanity must choose between socialism and barbarism" least that's how I remember it.

The phrase has been periodically revived. Luxemburg used it in 1915. A small group of left-Trotskyists after World War II actually called their group "Socialism or Barbarism"...and went on to abandon Trotskyism altogether. And the American publisher Monthly Review Press has published a couple of books in the last few years on the same theme.

What seems to be at work here is an "apocalyptic" vision of the present situation...that is, when things look "really awful", some lefties think that it's "now or never".

I think we have to be more "cool headed" and realize that yes, capitalism always behaves horribly, but that it's never "the end of the world".

Because if it "is" the "end of the world", then there is no more to be said or done. It's a perspective that invites surrender.

And who needs that?
First posted at RevLeft on January 19, 2006


This point came in the early years of the Twentieth Century with the first imperialist war signaling, definitively, the onset of capitalism’s decadence. A new epoch had begun, one of war and revolution where the working class were faced with a stark choice between, as Rosa Luxemburg (and others, it seems) so famously stated, socialism or barbarism. The ‘boom’ years of capitalism’s ascendancy were over. Reforms were no longer possible.
-- emphasis added.

This is historically wrong.

It was after World War I that "the age of reform" began...and lasted for decades in all of the "old" capitalist countries.

One can argue the details about "when" it ended in a particular country; but I think the evidence now shows that it has ended in all of the "old" capitalist countries and, indeed, all the "great reforms" are being dismantled as a decaying social order can no longer afford them.

By contrast, the "age of reform" is beginning in the "maturing" capitalist countries in Latin America...that's what the "rise of the (bourgeois) left" really means in those places.

I think that to a considerable extent, Luxemburg, Hilferding, Lenin,, thought that Europe was "the whole world". Clearly they completely missed the enormous booms that characterized capitalism in North America (both 1920-29 and 1940-70).

Inspite of the great depression of the 1930s and two incredibly destructive world wars, the 20th century was nevertheless western capitalism's "golden age"...a period of development in the means of production that makes even the complete sum of the 19th century look trivial.

It is only within the last few decades that "old" capitalism has faltered; while "new capitalism" (in Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, etc.) goes from triumph to triumph...and while even newer capitalisms are making their appearance (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Mexico, India, etc.).

What this suggests to me is that Marx's idea that the "old" capitalist countries would be first to experience proletarian revolution will be confirmed.

Why? Because it is in those particular countries that capitalism is decaying to the point in which it is becoming a fetter on the further development of the means of production.

What are the basic requirements for proletarian revolution?

1. A very high degree of technological development.

2. A very culturally developed and sophisticated proletariat.

3. A chronic stagnation in the further development of technology.

4. Consequent falling standards-of-living of the proletariat.

5. Practical impossibility of significant reforms.

6. A major (or "terminal") economic crisis, an unsuccessful imperialist war, or both.

There are countries where those conditions are clearly "on history's agenda" and many other countries where those conditions lie in the distant and even very distant future.

May I respectfully suggest that the ICC needs a "software update".
First posted at RevLeft on January 23, 2006


State capitalism was another consequence of this process of degeneration. In periods of decadence, whether in the 15th century or in the 20th century, the state, faced with “the exacerbation of the system’s contradictions” (ICC, Platform & Manifesto), is forced to take responsibility for the ‘security’ of the existing society in order to defend the existing mode of production. The state “thus tends to strengthen itself to the point of incorporating within its own structures the whole of social life”

This is a plausible hypothesis...but again faces empirical difficulties.

The capitalist state apparatus today is indeed bloated beyond recognition of a 19th century robber baron.

But the trend in the "old" capitalist countries is, of course, privatization.

Even in the area of its most vital concern -- military security -- the U.S. has privatized its entire logistics. The ammunition that an American mercenary uses in Iraq was not only manufactured by a private corporation, it was delivered to him by a private corporation...most likely Halliburton.

The uniform he wears was probably made by prison labor contracted out to a private corporation. Indeed, it's increasingly possible that the prison itself is privately owned.

One could say, of course, that the capitalist state apparatus is "administering" all of this...because private capital is no longer "up to the task".

And there's probably quite a bit of truth to that.

But I don't think that's much help in coming to grip with the concept of "decadence". If the idea is to be useful, it must tell us in which countries has capitalism reached "the end of the line" or at least might be approaching that.

A "sweeping" declaration that "global capitalism has become decadent" doesn't tell us anything's like saying "the earth will be slightly warmer next year". Which parts of the earth? How much warmer? Will there be parts that get colder?

In the U.S., capitalism is stagnating. In China, capitalism is booming. Are both "decadent"?


As capitalism’s crisis has deepened over the last 35 years the state can no longer afford these ‘great reforms’. This is true in the ‘new’ countries on the periphery of capitalism (e.g. Japan has been in a deep economic crisis for 15 years) as it is in the ‘old’ heartlands of capitalism.

Well, I am not an "expert" on the situation in Japan...but it does seem that Japan continues to advance the development of the means of production. This suggests to me that an "age of reform" ought to be possible in Japan.

Clearly, the rise of the bourgeois "left" in Latin America suggests the beginning of an "age of reform" in those countries.

How much substantive rise in proletarian living standards will actually materialize from those reforms is speculative at this point. Venezuela can, I think, easily afford to be a Latin American "Sweden"...Brazil may find such matters more difficult to manage.
First posted at RevLeft on January 24, 2006


But the point is that capitalism, in general and on a global scale, is decaying.

Even if true, that's a meaningless statement. As I said before, that's like saying "the world is getting warmer". It doesn't tell us anything useful.

And I'm not even sure that it is true...though it may be true.

Capitalism is a "many-headed" monster...and accordingly difficult to "sum up".

We are told that the "world economy" continues to grow...but we have no way to validate the numbers given to us by "the authorities". The only thing we really know is what we can see around's the economy doing where you live?

The daily newspapers in the U.S. speak of large layoffs, corporate bankruptcies, steeply rising energy costs, a real estate "boom", a "falling rate" in personal savings, and so on. Yet they nevertheless claim that the U.S. economy is "continuing to grow" and "unemployment" is "declining".

I don't see how all of those things could be simultaneously "true".

I know what living in the U.S. "feels like"...and "prosperous" or "expanding" are not words that spring to mind.

Capitalism here "feels decadent".

From what I have read, this does not seem to be the case in Asia or Latin America. Not only do their economies continue to grow at a rapid pace, but they continue to advance the development of the means of production.

The Chinese are actually starting work on a nuclear fusion plant!

Need I elaborate on the implications of that if their efforts are successful?


But in reality, it was a mere step done by an Imperialist country to sustain its existence and prevent, even a little longer, its decay.

When a corporation from one of the "old" capitalist countries invests in one of the "new" capitalist countries, I agree with you that that is not capitalist development in the "classical" sense.

But what I think is happening is that these "new" capitalist countries are evolving their own "advanced" bourgeoisie...who are quite capable and quite determined to "take matters" into their own hands.

A western corporation, for example, that wants to take advantage of "cheap Chinese labor" to offset its own declining profit margins is welcomed. But there's a catch...the western corporation must hand over to the Chinese its advanced technology so that Chinese capitalists can build their own plants and compete with the western capitalist -- and not just in China but globally!

Chinese capitalism "booms" while western capitalism has only dug its own grave a little deeper. *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on January 25, 2006


Because as far as I can tell, the old capitalist countries are the ones pushing the latest technology.

The scientific "infrastructure" of the "old" capitalist countries is still superior...and still capable of innovating new technologies. But the application of these new technologies to the means of production is increasingly located in the "new" capitalist countries.

Bright kids from Asia or Latin America still come to western universities to study science and technology. But instead of staying in those western countries (like they used to do) they go home...because the opportunities are better.

Western capitalists actually encourage this process. When they build a plant in China, they don't just "copy" the old plant that they closed in the U.S. or the U.K., they build a new "state of the art" plant with the most modern technology they can obtain...which in turn is copied by Chinese capitalists.


How can a country be [a] "booming new capitalist state" when it has no finance capital?

If you go back at look at the U.S. from say 1850-1900, you'll see that the role of finance capital was relatively small.

Moreover, a great deal of the necessary capital investment actually originated in Europe...where American railroad bonds were extremely popular.

Much was made in the years immediately before World War I of the "power" of "finance capital" over "industrial capital"...this was one of the rationales of the "new and final stage of capitalism" hypothesis.

In my opinion, it was much fuss over nothing. The influence of finance capital and industrial capital waxes and wanes...probably depending on technological innovation. Sometimes the banks "rule" and sometimes industrial capital is so profitable that it reduces the banks to spectators.

I think it would be difficult now to even clearly separate the two; industrial corporations routinely buy and sell financial products to "hedge" their position in both market share and currency variations. If I'm not mistaken, the currently most profitable division of the General Motors Corporation is GMAC...the division that handles consumer auto loans.


Why would a capitalist hand over technology to a competitor?

Because that's the price of doing business in China at all. When Boeing Corporation wanted to build jets in China, for example, the Chinese said sure...but you have to hand over the technology to us. Otherwise, we'll just build our planes ourselves.

Boeing had no choice but to agree.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2006


Recently the dot com ‘revolution’ was hailed as being as important as the ‘railway age’, well the majority of these companies quickly ran out of steam and capitalism’s crisis continues to deepen.

There's another parallel with the "railway age". In the 1880s and 1890s, there was a massive "shake-out" of railroads in the U.S....during which many collapsed and were bought out by a few big outfits.

This is normal under capitalism.


Capitalism, I’m sure you would agree, won’t simply stop or ‘reach the end of the line’ but what it may do, through its pursuit of profit, is destroy the very basis of human life, the planet which we live on before the working class is able to realise its historic task.

If that's the practical consequence of the "decadence" hypothesis, then it's not much help.

Telling people to overthrow capitalism "or human life will come to an end" just sounds wacko!

Granted that in a really decadent capitalist country, "end of the world" superstitions enjoy a modest revival...supposedly some 7% of the American population expect to "see" the "Rapture". *laughs*

I don't think that sort of thing has any significant appeal in the "new" capitalist countries where capitalism seems to have a "bright future".

I do expect capitalism to come to "the end of the line" in western Europe and North America before the end of this century...but that won't mean "the end of the capitalist epoch".

Any more than 1789 meant "the end of feudalism".


Anyway, didn’t Rosa Luxemburg write somewhere that being a revolutionary meant having to repeat the same thing over and over again?

I know the feeling. *laughs*

But there's a danger lurking in that sentiment. If you just "repeat the formula", you may miss something new and unexpected.

Marxist theory cannot be treated as an exhibit in a large glass museum case...kept safe from "contamination". The various versions of Leninism do that...which is why everything they say sounds so "old-fashioned". In the Trotskyist "universe", the clock stopped in 1940. In the Maoist "universe", it stopped in 1976.

The dead oppress the living.

I think we should emulate the approach of Marx and Engels and attempt to look critically at modern phenomena the way they did in their own lifetimes.

That doesn't mean passively "buying in" to the "flavor of the month" in bourgeois ideology. But it does mean paying attention to how the world has changed and is changing.

Just "saying the same thing over and over again" is unlikely to prove useful in the long run.
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2006

quote (Comintern):

On the basis of its assessment of the world economic situation the Third Congress was able to declare with complete certainty that capitalism had fulfilled its mission of developing the productive forces and had reached a stage of irreconcilable contradiction with the requirements not only of modern historical development, but also of the most elementary conditions of human existence.

Yeah, I think they missed really badly on that one.

It "looked that way" in the aftermath of World War I...I'll grant you that.

But it completely missed the enormous technological development of the means of production that took place throughout the remainder of the 20th century.

It missed the decline of countries like England, France, and Germany and the rise of the U.S. and (monopoly state capitalist) Russia.

It missed the "computer revolution" completely.


It is this method of understanding which shows that modes of production go through phases of rise and fall, of progress and reaction, of ascendancy and decadence: not this or that particular country.

Well, there's a sense in which that is true...but new modes of production do happen to arise or decline in specific countries in specific historical periods.

If it were the case that every country's economy was completely dominated by foreign trade and investment, then a "global approach" would be suitable. If capitalism lasts long enough, this could happen.

But it certainly hasn't happened yet. We know this because if it were true, then wages would be approximately the same everywhere.

The whole world would be economically "on the same page".

I personally don't expect capitalism to last long enough for that to happen.


If you think China is a booming economy then you really have 'bought in' to the lies of the bourgeoisie. The 'boom' in China is in fact a fantastic expression of the crisis of capitalism taken globally, because it is flooding the already saturated world market with products and exacerbating the economic crisis. And the 'boom' is being paid for by the working class through massive attacks on its working and living conditions: mass unemployment, poverty, famine and environmental destruction.

The article that you link to suggests that the current Chinese "boom" is somehow "different" from 19th century "booms" in the "old" capitalist countries.

But, frankly, it looks very much the same to me.

Overproduction? Happened all the time. Environmental destruction? Commonplace. Air pollution? London used to actually be called "the Smoke". Immiseration of the proletariat? So universal in 19th century capitalism that Marx thought it was a "built-in trend". Bank failures? Routine.

Will China have a "great depression"? I don't see how it could possibly be avoided...they'll probably have several. The U.S. had a whole bunch in the second half of the 19th century. So did the other new capitalist countries of that era.

To take a slightly different example, consider the "deflationary" trend in the Japanese economy over the last 15 years or so. The U.S. had a trend like that from 1870 to 1880...and still went on developing the means of production.

What strikes me about China and the other "new" capitalist countries is the building...the new factories, the new railroads, the new power systems, the new office buildings, etc.

This is what a confident young bourgeoisie does. While the infrastructure of the "old" capitalist countries deteriorate, China's is modernized. I've even read that they're planning a "new city" (realistically, a town of about 75,000) that will be entirely solar powered.

Not to mention building a working nuclear fusion plant. (!)

Can you imagine the truly decadent capitalist countries doing anything on that scale?

Well, France, I think, is working on a model fusion plant that could, in principle, be "scaled up".

But if the Chinese can "show the world how it's done", imagine the consequences.

I certainly share your skepticism about the hype surrounding different "models" of capitalism...probably a product of the desire to show that capitalism "does have a future". But I think most of this hype originates in the "old" capitalist countries where it's starting to look like capitalism doesn't "have a future".

Capitalists in China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Brazil, etc. don't have to "hype themselves"...their landscapes speak for them.

To be sure, there's no reason to think that their "hour in the sun" will last any longer than that of the "old" capitalist countries. If we posit that capitalism becomes decadent in a particular country after two or three centuries (at most!), then the China of 2206 or 2306 will be just as moribund as American capitalism is now. And it could happen even faster.

In the course of another discussion, I came across this interesting remark by Engels made back in 1848.

quote (Engels):

So just fight bravely on, most gracious masters of capital! We need you for the present; here and there we even need you as rulers. You have to clear the vestiges of the Middle Ages and of absolute monarchy out of our path; you have to annihilate patriarchalism; you have to carry out centralisation; you have to convert the more or less propertyless classes into genuine proletarians, into recruits for us; by your factories and your commercial relationships you must create for us the basis of the material means which the proletariat needs for the attainment of freedom. In recompense whereof you shall be allowed to rule for a short time. You shall be allowed to dictate your laws, to bask in the rays of the majesty you have created, to spread your banquets in the halls of kings, and to take the beautiful princess to wife — but do not forget that

“The hangman stands at the door!" (a line from Heine).

We may, if we are fortunate, see the hangman show up where we live before the end of this century.

But a "new" capitalist cannot even imagine such a thing. He thinks capitalism is "immortal". *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on January 26, 2006


Even at its very last day, capitalism would continue to develop new technologies.

That ain't what Marx said.

Doesn't mean Marx couldn't have been wrong and you are right.

But I'm inclined to go with Marx on this one. As long as an "epoch" of production continues to advance the means of production, it "ain't dead yet".

It may well be "dying" in certain areas. Feudalism was dying in 18th and 19th century western Europe...but still growing (at least in substance) in eastern Europe and Latin America.


Every time new technology is developed, more and more workers are laid-off of their work, more and more workers are thrown into poverty and misery.

That does seem to be the effect in the "old" capitalist countries. In the "new" capitalist countries, the standards-of-living are rising.

They are still below what we would consider a "tolerable minimum"...but they're getting there.


And every time that [a] general crisis of capitalism bursts, it is ever more destructive, more violent.

Well, we only have two examples in our "sample" so far...that is, two "world wars".

But note that the "Asian melt-down" did not result in a regional war between rival "new" capitalist countries.

The logic of historical materialism does suggest that regional wars in Asia or Latin America are probable as capitalism matures there.

How "destructive" and "violent" they will be remains to be seen.


But now, the condition of living sinks deeper as every crisis comes and goes unresolved.

I do not know what you can possibly be basing this assertion on...except observation of life in the "old" capitalist countries.

Yes, here every "recession" is not followed by any significant improvement in the life of ordinary people. Things stagnate or even get worse.

That does not seem to be happening at all in the "new" capitalist countries.

Of course, we are not "there" and it's quite possible that if we were, my opinions might change. As it is, we must perforce rely on what people say who are or have been there and what they say they saw.

I've read articles written by western journalists about Beijing and Shanghai...and they are "shocked and awed" by the rapidly changing landscape of those cities. There's nothing like that going on in the "west". And, from what I've read, stuff like that is going on all over China...even in its "backward western" provinces.

However realistic the concept of decadence looks in the "old" capitalist countries, it simply sounds metaphysical when applied to the "new" capitalist countries.
First posted at RevLeft on January 27, 2006


In fact, more than three billion people, or half of the world's population today, live on a meager USD2 a day.

Capitalism evidently has "lots of room" to develop, then.

Do you imagine that people living in destitution are capable of even imagining communism...much less doing it?

Or, like a good Maoist, are these the people that will hail you as a "Great Leader" when you impose a new despotism on them "for their own good"?

Well, you might be right...they might well hail you as "the red sun in their hearts". *laughs*

Desperate people do desperate things.

But I wouldn't feel too smug if I were you. As we've already seen, Maoist "socialism" becomes modern capitalism.

Enjoy your brief "moment in the sun"...if it's not already passed.
First posted at RevLeft on January 28, 2006


As an aside, Redstar's determination to see this question in black and white terms reflects his discomfort with dialectical forms of thinking in which ideas that are contrary are placed within a more complex broader conception.

Yes, I am quite "uncomfortable" with any form of "thinking" that allows people to talk out of both sides of their mouth...saying whatever may be convenient for them without regard to its truth-content.

A satirical song from the early 1940s...

They call it
that good old party line;
And for them that
adheres to it, it's fine.
It's not very static,
it's extremely acrobatic,
read the Worker,
and get the Party Line.


By diagnosing capitalism as decadent, the Third International justified moving away from [movement-building].

Not really. The Comintern moved away from building one kind of party to building another kind of party...which, over time, actually decayed back into a 2nd International-type party.

The word "movement" is really entirely out of place in this, of course, is the word "revolutionary".

The Comintern borrowed its strategy and tactics from social democracy and added a dash of "red pepper"...which made it taste better for a decade or two...but that was it.

As is almost always the case: being determines consciousness.

What you politically do determines, over time, what you become.

Imitate the strategy and tactics of social democracy and you will become a social democrat.


Decadence was always an international concept, even in Luxemburg's and Bukharin's flawed conceptions - both emphasised it as applying to capitalism as an international economy rather than a national economy. just doesn't tell us anything useful then.


To propose that the concept of decadence is ineffective unless it applies to national economies is to desire a black and white world, and it is to demand a simplicity that the world will not provide.

No one would attempt to argue that social reality is not enormously complex. But any concept that fails to make that complexity easier to understand is simply of no use.

At the beginning of each hurricane season, the Tropical Storm Center issues a "forecast"...telling us how many storms they expect and how many of them will be "really big". Presumably they do this simply because it's expected of them...the forecasts say nothing about when, where, or how strong any particular hurricane is going to be.

It's essentially a meaningless verbal saying capitalism is "decadent".


The linkages between seizures of state power by workers' movements will not flow directly from economic fundamentals (that would be reductionist), they will flow from the tactical accidents occurring in varying political contexts.

It's very fashionable these days to sneer at reductionism...for reasons that entirely escape me.

Reducing complex phenomena to smaller and smaller pieces until we actually understand what is taking place has been an extraordinarily useful scientific tool; Marx himself uses it often in the pages of Das Kapital.

To posit that proletarian revolutions "will not flow directly from economic fundamentals" but will instead result from "tactical accidents" is likewise not very helpful.

Even if that were true, what could we possibly do about it? How could such an "understanding" ever have an impact on our practice?


The Leninist conception of revolution generally involves a concept of tactical seizures of state power within national economies within which (taken in isolation) capitalism would not be considered decadent - but which are justified because a nationalist concept of decadence would be wrong.

With a predictable -- if "reductionist" -- outcome...the emergence of modern capitalism.

If Leninists "seize power" where capitalism is not decadent, then all they'll end up doing, at best, is clearing the way for modern capitalism.

That's been demonstrated.
First posted at RevLeft on January 28, 2006


With all due respect, if you continue with such excessively one-sided, merely analytic methods of thinking (and you seem quite committed to the approach), I cannot see that you can ever recognise the role of the concept of decadence in Marxism.

I cheerfully reciprocate that respect...I think your posts are often of a very high quality and well worth serious attention.

But you haven't really given me anything to "work with" on this subject.

I can recognize phenomena that would seem to merit the descriptive term "decadent" in the "old" capitalist countries.

Otherwise, I'm entirely at a loss as to what concretely could be meant by the term...or what would be gained by using the "concept" in a general way.

Why don't you tell me what conclusions you derive from this concept?

It can't possibly mean that we could reasonably expect a proletarian revolution at "any time" in "any place".

That simply makes no sense.

As to hypothetical "programmatic" variations...well, I'm not greatly impressed by programmes myself. By necessity, they are extremely verbose documents that attempt to "sum up" the whole world...meaning so general that one can hardly use them at all for any practical purpose.

Hypothetically, I suppose a very large team of experienced scholars could use the tools of historical materialism to "sum up the whole world" at a given point...but it would be massive. A "hard copy" might require a small fork-lift just to move it.

I suspect that the idea that we "must" have a "programme" is misconceived.

We do need tactical and strategic ideas that may (or may not) assist in the building of a revolutionary movement. And those ideas must be built on a historical materialist understanding of "how the world works".

But I'm skeptical that "more than that" is really possible; I don't even think we have the "tools" to do that at this point.

If it seems to you that I have "evaded" your points, I ask you accept the possibility that I simply did not understand them.
First posted at RevLeft on January 29, 2006


You mean to say you are hoping that someday all the people would become capitalists? You keep that illusion that these three billion people must have a good life first before capitalism would die?

Historical materialism is not a matter of "hopes"...yours or mine or anyone else's.

Those people will not "become capitalists"...but they will live in capitalist societies until those societies do indeed develop to the point where they have "a good life" -- by comparison, of course, to how they live now.


You can't even clearly show how, for example in the U.S., the workers can be able to seize power from the bourgeoisie aside from saying that revolution is inevitable.

That's because I don't know how it will happen...I can't see 50-100 years into the future.

Neither can you...nor anyone else.

Maoism is, in fact, outstandingly useless for such a task...we don't even have a significant peasantry, remember?


Does it apply to Maoist China only?

Well, the only places that Maoism can win are places that are reasonably "like China" as it was before 1949.

So if the Maoists won in the Philippines, for example, I would expect the emergence of modern capitalism there after 50 years or so of economic development.

Russia, in a way, was a kind of "advanced China"...which would make Lenin a "proto-Maoist" in a historical materialist sense.

So if a "classical" Leninist revolution ever took place then, yes, I think it would also develop the conditions for the emergence of modern capitalism. It's speculative to wonder just what countries that might be possible in now...but I would nominate Turkey as a distinct possibility.


1. All factions of the bourgeoisie are now equally reactionary, the progressive bourgeoisie of the 19th century no longer exists. This means not participating in the democratic circus, never supporting either side against another in inter imperialist wars and an end to reformist programmes.

If you are speaking here of the "old" capitalist countries, then I am in complete agreement with you.

But I do not think those conclusions hold for the "new" capitalist countries.

That doesn't mean, of course, that communists should "support" the new bourgeoisie. What the "left" actually does in the "new" capitalist countries is support pro-working class reforms.

In fact, they often organize a mass working-class party to do that.

Along with putting enormous amounts of energy into organizing trade unions.

From a historical materialist standpoint, there's nothing else for them to do.


2. Trade unions have now become tools of the bourgeois state and workers must break away from them.

In the "old" capitalist countries, that's actually happening!

Just the opposite is happening in the "new" capitalist countries.


3. National liberation also becomes impossible.

I'm skeptical on this one. It is certainly more difficult to break the imperialist stranglehold on the economy of a particular neo-colony now than it was, say, 50 years ago.

But "impossible" is putting it too strongly. As the "new" capitalist countries develop their own technological expertise, they are no longer as "dependent" on the "old" imperialist countries as they used to be.

They can begin to become "players" in the global marketplace instead of wretched dependencies.

That's something else that seems to be actually happening.
First posted at RevLeft on January 30, 2006


The point is that as the 20th century shows, national liberation now means siding with one imperialism against another; this was especially clear during the cold war.

Again, "siding" is putting the matter too strongly.

What "national liberation" seems to mean now is navigating between the "old" imperialist countries -- and some of the "new" ones -- in such a way as to maximize autonomy and minimize exclusive dependence.

In fact, that's kind of one way in which modern imperialism is new...imperialists both "old" and "new" realize that exclusive possession of a neo-colony or emerging capitalist economy is no longer practical.

Only the U.S. still tries for "exclusivity"...with increasing lack of success as well as a monstrous "overhead" in the costs of conquest and occupation.

Consider how Venezuela courts China as a rival to the U.S. -- the implication being that all of Venezuela's oil production will be diverted to China unless the U.S. "behaves itself".

This may be how "national liberation" will work out in practice in this century.

We'll see.
First posted at RevLeft on January 31, 2006


How could such a state, a state with a mere quarter of its population living in its cities, be described as an "rising imperialist force" ?!?

Because they're "out there" seeking investment opportunities. They're going to mine nickel in Cuba, refine oil in Venezuela, and they're looking for more oil in Africa.


The social relations in the Philippines can only be described as "mainly capitalist" even though there is little domestic capital.

It remains a neo-colony of the U.S. and therefore its "capitalist social relations" don't really have any political reflection except a Maoist "people's war".

If the Maoists won, they would impose a period of "primitive capital accumulation" on the Philippines and develop it into a modern capitalist country.


The emergence of Leninism, indeed the most backward form of Leninism, Maoism, is confirmation of the usefulness of Leninism in capitalist countries.

If you believe that, then why not try for the "virgin birth"? *laughs*


You have yet to demonstrate that any of these "new" powers even have domestic capital!

They obviously do...if you wish to go research the details, be my guest.

Oh, I know, like my other critics are always nagging me to "write a book" analyzing the economy of every country in the world "in detail".

Be then as skeptical as you like. Eventually the reality of the new capitalist countries will hammer you in the face.


How can any of these countries develop domestic "expertise"? All of their "intellectual capital" continues to run to the "old capitalist states".

No, that's not really true anymore. A large number still go to university in the "old" capitalist countries, particularly to study science and engineering...but then they go home.

The opportunities are greater in a rising capitalist economy than a stagnant one.


If we look at where most of the innovation is coming from, it continues to be the old imperialist countries like Japan, the US and Western Europe.

I consider Japan to be "the oldest of the new" capitalist countries rather than "new" the way China is new...and certainly far "younger" than the capitalisms of western Europe or North America.

Some technological innovation does continue to originate in the "old" capitalist countries...but those innovations are actually implemented increasingly in the "new" capitalist countries.

Those are the places that are really developing the means of production.
First posted at RevLeft on January 31, 2006
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