A Framework for The Concept Of Decadence of Capitalism

The following is a discussion document for the MDF Meeting on 24th Feb. For further information do contact: llink678mdf@ymail.com

Along with recognition of society as divided into social and economic classes, the idea of ascendance and decadence of each society is one of most important and most fundamental concepts of Marxism. Both are intrinsic to the approach taken by historical materialism and arises from a scientific approach to the analysis of social history,

So what does decadence mean and how does it affect us today?

“There have always been leaders and lead, rulers and ruled“!?!

We need to start by looking back in history and understanding the Marxist framework. This framework establishes that the development of society has followed successive stages which are identified by the economic relationships between classes at each stage. Each stage is a new and distinct form of class society. The political and social environment in each society is defined by its particular form of economic relationships between classes.

Primitive Communism

A society of scarcity where all members of relatively small tribes cooperate to survive. No private property. Ended with the emergence of large scale agriculture (cattle and land) which promoted private property and slavery

Slave Society

Agriculture develops to support large populations. Society of Slave owners and slaves. The workers themselves, their tools and their produce are all owned by the rulling class. Subsistence is provided to the workers. A political state emerges as does democracy – for members of the ruling class

Ended as slave empires expanded so much they became too wealthy and yet too costly to maintain themselves Roman empire broken up by wealthy robber barons who established manorial/aristocratic rights over specific regions and lead to feudalism

Feudal Society

Established a ruling class comprising of inherited aristocratic or theocratic rights and ownership over the land, produce and people in their domain. All land, tools and produce owned by ruling class. Workers are serfs who are tied to the land/landowner. Their labour and its produce are owned by the ruling class who allow a portion to be retained by the serf for subsistence.

Feudal society came to an end as technology and skills developed to generate sufficient wealth for merchant class to grow and develop international trade and manufacturing systems


Established a commodity market economy based on wage labour and the accumulation of capital. It is a production system which is far more dynamic than previous societies and expands rapidly. Merchant class develops into an industrial class which owns means of large scale production and its produce. Workers are free socially and sell their labour to earn subsistence

In the decline of Capitalism, industry becomes so productive and expands rapidly to dominate the whole world. The greed and squabbling of ruling class now hinders social progress

These different class societies are stepping stones in social progress. Each one enables a certain social and economic development to take place but when that systems limits are reached, internal conflicts emerge as do new classes who represent the next phase of economic development. So each of these society has a period when it is new, fresh and dynamic – a period of ascendance – followed by a period when it is in decline because it has reached its limits and its internal contradictions fester – a period of decadence or decline.

Its as simply as that – or as complex.

“There have always been markets and money “!?!

Capitalism establishes a market based on commodity production. This is what enables capital accumulation to proceed independently of the need of the producers or the owners.. Perhaps not present in primitive communism but in both slave society and feudal society there were markets selling surplus goods and money was used to represent values, to facilitate exchange and for accounting purposes. What is clear however is that both societies, the sales of surplus was a side issue as production was for self ie for individual members of the ruling class.

Marx’s concept of historical materialism therefore establishes the existing mode of production and the social relations of production in each society give rise to a the ideologies , class relationships culture and behaviour of people that dominate in that society. This means that leaders and the led exiting in each society as classes existed but they are different in each society and behaved and believed in different values. IN feudal society allegiance to your king, duke lord of the manor was absolute. They set the law and had personal right to make decisions affecting those below. In capitalism this approach has disappeared and commodity manufacture and wage labour require and support a system of individuals’ rights and representative democracy.

Furthermore each society exhibits a more dynamic and progressive development of the productive forces above that achieved by the previous society. Slave society , feudal society and capitalism all grew within the previous society when the latter began to struggle to develop the production forces in a positive fashion and indeed started to became a barrier to further developments. New classes emerged that brought forth new economic structure and approaches and who came to dominate society and established a new class structure, a development that would remain positive for humanity for a period.

“To the extent that the labour process is solely a process between man and nature, its simple elements remain common to all social forms of development. But each specific historical form of this process further develops its material foundations and social forms. Whenever a certain stage of maturity has been reached, the specific historical form is discarded and makes way for a higher one. The moment of arrival of such a crisis is disclosed by the depth and breadth attained by the contradictions and antagonism between the distribution relations and thus the specific historical form of their corresponding production relations, on the one hand, and the productive forces, the production powers and the development of their agencies, on the other hand. A conflict then ensues between the material development of production and its social form”

Capital Vol 3 Chapter LI

So Marx did not use the term decadence but he clearly outlined for each mode of production a period of progressiveness followed by a period of internal conflict and hence decline. He also clearly indicated that capitalism could create no new class to develop the productive forces further. The conflict remains between the bourgeoisie and the working class and the outlook remains barbarism or socialism.

So what is decadence under Capitalism?

Decadence is the period when the social relations of production come into conflict with the productive forces. Decadence as a concept is the product of historical materialism

The Social Relations of Production are the class structure and the political and economic relations within and between the classes; the economic and political structures of capitalism, wage labour and the extraction of surplus value, capital accumulation, commodity production for the commodity market; hence all economic contradictions of the system

The Productive Forces are the working class itself, the bourgeoisie, the level of development of technology and manufacturing achieved the system, the physical scale of manufacture of the system

The conflict between the 2 does not prevent expansion and development taking place. In many senses this conflict always exists and drives class society forward but at a certain point the social relations of society became a barrier and a hindrance to free development, they cause political conflicts and economic crisis because they do not work in harmony with the sheer physical size and structure of society. In capitalism the nation state and exploitation of the working class hold back social and economic development leading to wars and a great need to manage the production and distribution processes in capitalist society.

What causes decadence?

It is not a straightforward process to determine specific causes once the general framework of ascendance and decadence is accepted and each mode of production has specific factors involved. Decadence is a political concept of growth and decline of a social system and it suggests that that mode of production has simply outgrown itself. In the end the causes and onset of decadence are not convincingly identified by the crisis theories that have emerged. Its consequences are to be seen and understood in actual events. It ameliorates or exacerbates the crises in the system. However neither of the 2 main crisis theories that try to explain decadence appear to be able to do this with any certainty. Capitalism is either too complex or too capable of ‘reinventing’ itself and it is still even now unclear just where decadence leads.

The tendency for the rate of profit to fall theory does not aim to present a specific value of the Rate of Profit which defines when the relations of production become an absolute hindrance to the productive forces. Indeed the FROP cannot be measured quantitatively (effectively) and its level changes continuously anyway. Its consequences and its counter tendencies are to be seen in society both before and during decadence however and its value appear to lie in its uses to make judgements about progress of crises.

Luxemburg’s theory of the need for extra capitalist markets to enable capital accumulation does raise the issue of how capitalism grows during ascendancy and perhaps provides an understanding of the capacity to of the system to expand. But the theory loses clarity when applied to decadence itself and fails to explain how the remnants of pre-capitalist markets enable capital accumulation to proceed in this period

There is general agreement however that the period of the high point of capitalism coincides with the completion of a world market and the exacerbation of imperialist conflict between nation states and perhaps this is simply how we should perceived the onset of decadence - The achievement of a world dominated by capitalist relations and imperialist conflict between national bourgeoisies and perhaps then crisis theory should be using this a framework to explain events rather than trying to explain decadence itself.

To return to Marx’s framework for viewing an obsolete social system then, we have a framework that identifies that the national state, the world domination of capitalism, wage labour, commodity markets, the profit motive now work against ongoing free growth of manufacturing industry and the working class itself. This is not to say that no growth has been possible, clearly it has, but that the capacity for growth provided by what exists ie technology, the size of the working class and the productive machinery across the globe, is relative and much greater than has been achieved within capitalism

An issue for clarification is the course of decadence. With the onset of the imperialist phase, revolutionaries believed they had to argue for the short term collapse of capitalism to distinguish themselves from reformist to argued that capitalist could go on. However capitalism has gone on for a century and to the surprise of the current generations, the crises of the 60s did not become the final crisis either. The ICC’s current formulation of decomposition leading to the final crisis seems hollow and uncertain therefore. Socialism or Barbarism and War or Revolution seem self evident or sensible interpretations of reality but rather long term views in the current context. What has enabled capitalism to persevere rather than collapse during the last 50 years? The CWOs use of the FROP analysis sees an ongoing crisis and does not try to identify the final phase of collapse whereas the ICC is keen to put exaggerated labels to periods and phases of capitalism. Neither provide a clear model of capitalism development in this latter period. Perhaps we should not expect crisis theory to explain the collapse of capitalism in decadence but use them to focus on the explanations of ongoing crisis. The causes of decadence appear to lie in the more general contractions in the system ie exchange value and use value, the economy vs social need, the need to accumulate and grow vs the consequences of that growth

Why is the concept of decadence so important?

Nevertheless, Decadence is the main defining characteristic of the current period of capitalism. If the concept of decadence is correct, it is the framework for our understanding of all events and ideas that emerge in the period, even if aspects of the current situation are yet clear to us

When capitalism was progressive because it was able to expand itself and wrestle domination of society from feudal structures as well as grow and strengthen productive forces on a scale previously unknown. The expansion of capital was a historically progressive development no matter how brutal or exploitative the system actually was. Reforms could and would benefit all in society (the ruling class, the working class and pre-capitalist classes) because the growth of productive forces improved the supply of all commodities eg food, clothes, housing to the whole of humanity over and above what it had been in previous societies.

When capitalism moves into decadence this development of the productive forces is declining relative to the human social and economic needs of society. The completion of the world market and the exacerbation of conflict between capitalist states vividly marks the change in period. The leads to greater conflicts caused by the social relations of production and brings the working class revolution onto the agenda

“Resolution on the Tactics of the CI” at its 4th Congress

“II. The period of the decline of capitalism. 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. This fundamental contradiction was reflected in the recent imperialist war, and further sharpened by the great damage the war inflicted on the conditions of production and distribution. Obsolete capitalism has reached the stage where the destruction that results from its unbridled power is crippling and ruining the economic achievements that have been built up by the proletariat, despite the fetters of capitalist slavery…What capitalism is passing through today is nothing other than its death throes”.

From the perspective of the bourgeoisie, the period leads to ever sharper conflict and disruptions because reforms are generally not able to improve the potential of capitalism, they are primarily there to retain control over the working class change and prevent the emergence of a new revolutionary class. Capitalism cannot improve in a historical sense as the possibility of the creation of a new more productive society, that possibility is politically and economically now in place.

From the perspective of the working class, it cannot achieve its full potential if it does not recognise the failure of the bourgeoisie to make qualitative improvements in society. Only within a political conflict with the ruling class can the working class learn what it can achieve and take control of society. Its long term objectives become its only objectives and all factions of the bourgeoisie must be seen as an enemy to its objectives.

So the concept of decadence is important to use because it demands a sharp demarcation between capitalist institutions and ideologies and those of the working class. For capitalism it has led to state capitalism as the means to manage a conflicted society and the greater and greater mystification of capitalist ideologies to present itself as normal and natural despite what it actually does. For the working class, reformism of the system is dead. The period dictates only revolution will as an objective because the working class holds no wealth within capitalism, it can have no institutions to protect itself - only a revolution itself can do that. The view of political minorities, workers councils and the rejection of reforms, nationalism, trade unionism are direct consequences of this viewpoint.



The text raises more questions than I have time to asnwer just now. Just to say that your judgement

The CWOs use of the FROP analysis sees an ongoing crisis and does not try to identify the final phase of collapse ...

is sound (I would not like you to think that my comments on the other thread were the last word).

There are a couple of points that appear as contradictions in the text that you migth want to consider.

Enemies of the idea of decadence would seize on your description of it as "Marxist" whilst then admitting later on in text that Marx did not ever use the term. Only some sections of the Communist left use the term (true we do so in the spirit of historical materialism but that should be the argument).

Similarly to quote the theses of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern from 1922 saying capitalism is in its "death throes" takes some explaining 90 years later. Capitalism is going through a longer death agony than any Wagnerian heroine. I think the error is to mistake the era of "parasitism and decay" which teh First World War heralded as equivalent to the final crisis of the system (which is where the real differences between the CWO and the ICC lie I think).

More seriously the omission from the analysis of the use of the state to redistribute wealth (in order to maintain social peace in face of the rise of the working class after 1909 (the so-called People's Budget) in the UK) is an aspect of decadent capitalism which we tend to understate. If the class was still as militant as at the beginning of the crisis (when we all came into the political arena) would they dare attack benefits in the way they are doing now?

I think that far more important than discussing "decadence" in the asbtract we need to by addressing what the prospects for the working class are today but no doubt you will get on to that.

Report of Midlands Discussion Forum in Birmingham

February 23 2013

As Link had posted his introductory text on our website and as we were engaged in an exchange with him and others in this forum I went along. Link obviously put a good deal of work into the introduction and it was successful in that it sparked off a wide-ranging discussion amongst the initially 9 people there (but the 3 SPGB left after few minutes to go to their own meeting in the same pub).

Link’s text is on our Forum so I won’t repeat his summary of it. If there was anyone in the meeting who did not now think we were living in a period which could be described as the decay of capitalism they kept quiet (although there was one person who had never been to such a meeting before and it was all new). I did not take notes so this is a brief summary of the discussion as I recall it. Broadly there were three approaches expressed in the meeting. Although it was not stated it was clear that Link supported the (ICC) idea that without a theory of decadence you cannot really understand all the phenomena of this period and all its features and decadence is what holds revolutionary politics together in a coherent fashion.

The first response to this was by Spikeymike who supported the notion of International Perspectives that although 1914 was an important moment in the transformation of capitalism as the first significant turning point from an ascendant to a decadent phase of capitalism, that the transition from the “formal to the real domination of capital”, that lay behind this, was a continuing process that was extending both geographically and socially through a number of other equally significant points such as the 2nd World War and the collapse of the Soviet bloc to just name two. This was a correct response to those cruder theories of decadence which capital wakes up one morning decadent in August 1914 and it is certainly true that the process of decadence does not halt capitalism’s capacity to grow (as the ICC used to argue in their early years). I did not object to the formula about the formal and real domination of capital but something in my memory was telling me that Marx and/or Engels had use similar words about the mid to late nineteenth century when capitalism was in its “golden age”. However Spikeymike went on that these material changes needed to be understood in terms of their influence on the composition and consciousness of the working class both positive and negative. He argued that class struggle (short of a revolutionary break) was also relevant as against competition between capitals in continuing capitalist modernisation (or as he put it “deepening of the real domination of capital”). I agreed that too often the role of the class struggle is left out of discussions on decadence (and pointed out that income distribution via the welfare state after WW2 would not have happened without the fear of the working class) but did not see how the abstract theory of decadence related directly to the issue of consciousness (the defeat of the revolutionary wave in the 1920s seems to me more critical in the formation (or rather the lack of it) of class consciousness today. That defeat still stands before us. This led to an agreement between us that the notion of decadence and crisis as simultaneous was a mistake (the neo-Luxemburgist ICCist vision). Link sees this but still maintained that the theory of decadence was central to anyone trying to understand the period. I contested this as I had a theory of “decadence” long before I had heard of the concept as in my youth I had struggled to come to terms with the transformation of capital from the laissez faire model to the statist version we see today. You don’t need a concept of decadence to see that unions are barriers to working class revolution, that state capitalism is not a step towards socialism but the opposite, that parliamentarism is the ultimate form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Only on the notion that national struggles are a thing of the past is it useful (and this was what Onorato Damen realised sometime before 1943).

The meeting seemed to agree that the automatic application of the ascendant/decadent phasing theory to all pre-capitalist societies as represented by the simplified schematic put forward in the introductory text was not valid. I gave an account of the decline of the Roman Empire which showed that ultimately it was not the class struggle within it which led to its decline but the impact of barbarian societies from outside which finished it off. Similarly we noted (and Link agreed) that the Asiatic mode of production was omitted from the “Eurocentric” schema derived from the Communist Manifesto. The Asiatic mode of production which arose from primitive communist societies in the Neolithic phase gave rise to an enormously stable but static mode of production which only ended when they were attacked by a more dynamic mode of production from outside (Cortes and the Incas being a classic example). The meeting seemed to agree that the notion of decadence in every mode of production was different (if applicable at all) and that each society had to be understood in its own particular way. We could not extrapolate from past societies to say how long capitalist decay would take. As a more dynamic mode of production was it doomed to a swifter or end or would that dynamism prolong its existence? Not a question that can yet be answered.

Some have criticised the Marxist theory of Hisotry as Eurocentrisc and Link raised this in the discussion. I added that what we were really was “Capitalocentric” and the mode of production had its origins in Europe so I was not too phased by criticism of Eurocentrism of Marxism.

Link also introduced into the discussion this idea of the nation state as the archetypal integument for the capitalist mode of production. I agreed and said this was rooted in property relations, as under feudalism you had no “countries” merely the landed possessions of the monarch. You were a subject not a citizen. Under capitalist conditions in which property was not merely grounded in the land but took various forms from mercantile capital to landed and industrial capital you needed to define the limits of the state – the invention of the “nation” derives from this. Link added that the nation as such was thus also a limitation on the development of capitalism in the present epoch. No-one disagreed.

I also argued that the notion of decadence should not be confused with the capitalist crisis which would periodically occur due to the insoluble contradictions of the accumulation process. At this point I underlined the weakness of the introduction in seeing the establishment of the world market as the beginning of decadence. As Marx thought the world market was established around 1850 this clearly cannot be right. Instead I pointed to the cyclical crises of capitalism which are brought about by the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Each cycle leads to a crisis which not only eliminates capital but leads to an increase in the centralisation and concentration of capital (I said it was like an upward spiral) which ultimately leads to monopoly forms of capital which can be parasitic on the system extorting surplus value as extra-profit not only from the working class but also smaller capitals. This is what transforms the nature of capitalism at the end of the nineteenth century when the state is called upon to regulate monopolies (e.g. US anti-trust laws). At the same time the concentration of capital also makes the nation state the defender of capital invested abroad so it coincides with the onset of imperialism. As we have always maintained capitalist competition alters to one between firms to one between states. I think Link does not accept the notion of cycles (and his text does not even mention it). It made me wish we had republished the Economic Foundations pamphlet either warts n’ all with an intro updating it or in revised form to take account of all that had happened since 1974.

By this time the discussion was becoming a bit fragmented but some individual points made included one by Spikeymike that the automatic application of the ascendant/decadent phasing theory to all pre-capitalist societies as represented by the simplified schematic put forward in the introductory text ought to be rejected. I agreed and Slothjabber seemed to agree with this too (he told me in the break he had written a text called “The Decadence of Feudalism” for an earlier MDF meeting). Spikeymike made his usual point that the differences on decadence might be down to small groups defending their own identity (might be true about some issues but not fair here I think).

We did have one useful clarification in that after praising Link’s text for insisting not that “reforms were impossible under decadence” but for saying that reforms were only intended to save the system (state capitalism, welfare state) I then criticised him for saying just that in his introduction. But both he and Spikeymike corrected me to say that he had actually said reformism was impossible or rather it was no longer credible for Social democracy to maintain that capitalism could be reformed out of existence. After this we had a little digression into the meaning of “reforms” today (i.e. an attack on the working class).

One interesting confirmation of the decadence thesis came from a letter to the FT (Jan 8 2013 if anyone wants to check it) by Robert H Wade professor of Political Economy at the LSE. I mentioned it in the meeting but did not have it with me so include it here for everyone. His letter is about the fact that China has still along way to go to catch up with the US but in it he gives the unwitting testimony that

“Since the Industrial Revolution – 200 years – fewer than 10 non-Western countries have become developed even using expansive criteria for “non-western” and “developed”. The list includes Japan, Russia, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Israel; and then?”

He argues it is the West’s control of the laws of international commerce that has caused this but it could equally be the West’s control of capital which it makes flow back to the centre of the system. What is interesting also about the list is the role of the state and monopolies (like chaebols etc) play in the development of these places. These places have succeeded through responding to monopoly and state capital with their own versions. If China does the same it will be with a similar model.

There seemed to be considerable degree of agreement in the meeting despite the wide range of views on the issue (perhaps it would have been better if there had been a decadence rejectionist there)

The meeting lasted about 3 and half (what seemed to me rapid) hours but at the end I said I thought the most important thing was to understand where we are now. And the first thing we have to say is that we are in a unique situation. Capitalism has never had a crisis phase which has lasted so long and coming after the greatest boom in history. We have now had 40 years of a “managed” crisis which once again is threatening to get out of control. We don’t apriori see the outcome of this as the end of civilisation as we know it but without a devaluation of capital no new round of accumulation can take place. It might take time but the capitalist solution is global war (and the capitalist are doing all they can to avert it except that their material interests keep driving them back towards conflict). The only alternative is proletarian revolution.


Benefits of the theory of decadence?

Yet again i start with an apology for the delay. I wrote some of this reply to the discussions with Cleishbotham some time ago but failed to post it and as I’m now that im back on home turf id like to take up the discussion again as I am still trying to understand what the CWO is saying about decadence. I cant really get a proper grasp of it as yet so ive completed things and added requests for some more explanations. I have tried to explain myself here then as well as ask specific questions about the CWO’s view.

I realised that you disagree with the concept but perhaps yourself or even spikeymike can explain what is meant by the formal and real domination of capital as an alternate approach to understanding decadence. I have come across the phrase but never seen an explanation I’m afraid.

The CWO seem to be saying that decadence exists but that economic crises unfold on a different level and I am left with the impression the CWO accept the idea of decadence but don’t see it as significant and your statements in the report seem to put this view too. Somehow I don’t feel this is an adequate understanding, yet I can’t pin it down further and I cant see that you have explained why this is so.

Why is decadence less important than crisis then. Without a view of decadence how is it possible to definitively state that reforms are not possible, that reformist policies and trade unionism lost to the wc and are in fact now on the sign of the capitalism, why cant rank and file organisations be class organisations, why cant capitalism become a progressive system again, why cant economic growth in underdeveloped signify a progressive capitalist state? Sorry, don’t need answers to them all as that’s all one question really. Without accepting decadence, I cant see how you can rule out capitalism being ascendant again?

So in the end I still don’t see what is wrong with saying that ‘without a theory of decadence you cannot really understand all the phenomena of this period and all its features and decadence is what holds revolutionary politics together in a coherent fashion’ Correctly you suggest I am still influenced by the ICCs view here, but I fail to see why you disagree with this view

I would agree with you that I see therefore decadence as like a prism through which society is viewed as it colours our interpretation of events and people as well as changing the way events and people develop. Ultimately this signifies simply that capitalism is a dying system whatever the particular phase is that it is going through currently.

I do agree that it makes sense to separate decadence and economic crises but I don’t see that this makes decadence less important.

So I also stand by the idea that the ascendance/decadence schema is simple not simplistic. Being clear and simple is not a criticism of the schema as it is a generalisation which can be applied to different societies. Just because the schema is simple though, the application to each individual mode of production is clearly much more complex since, as you say, each of them has their own history and own contradictions so ascendance and decadence will clearly develop significantly differently in each society. You seem to be saying that the concept is invalid or less valid anyway because each society is different though?

Also I would that we need some flexibility in viewing the turn into decadence during capitalism. It does not just happen at one point but over a period of time. So the acceptance of the onset of WW1 as definitive end of ascendance means just that the process has progressed and that the start of the war marked a political deciding line. We should therefore see the events of the late 19th century as reflecting both the completion of ascendant period and the onset of the period of decline.

If Marx saw the world market as being completed in 1850 is that not the start of the change in period from ascendance to decadence. The period from that period on was after all marked by significant episodes of class struggle as well as statification and imperialist conflict. Why then is it wrong to take the emergence of a world market as a marker for the end of ascendancy?

Also capitalism continues to develop and change during decadence and we should not see in the events of post 1914 a herald of an abrupt collapse or decline of capitalism as they revolutionaries, as you say, were incorrectly expecting at that time. Further given the experience of the last 100 years, we should not expect to see in future anything other than a continuation of the interplay of the contradiction between productive forces and productive relations

So what does it contribute? If we agree that it is not the prime determining factor in how of crises evolve, it does provide (1) a framework within which economic and political crises unfold and as stage of conflict between the stage of development of productive forces and productive relations of capitalism itself, must impose limits on economic activity; (2) a strong framework understanding how all elements of capitalism are against working class action and consciousness; (3) it does provide a framework for wc organisations to understand their role.

Link sorry to delay replying but there seems to be much going on at the moment! The real issue you pose is in this paragraph

"Why is decadence less important than crisis then. Without a view of decadence how is it possible to definitively state that reforms are not possible, that reformist policies and trade unionism lost to the wc and are in fact now on the sign of the capitalism, why cant rank and file organisations be class organisations, why cant capitalism become a progressive system again, why cant economic growth in underdeveloped signify a progressive capitalist state? Sorry, don’t need answers to them all as that’s all one question really. Without accepting decadence, I cant see how you can rule out capitalism being ascendant again?" But if you read it again you have performed the ICC trick. You have slid from accepting that there is an alternative view of decadence to then saying we don't have one! We have had the same operation performed on us by the ICC many times. Capitalism is still capitalism what is different is that the centralisation and concentration of capital has brought about a change in its ways of dealing with its cyclical crises. In the nineteenth century a mere economic degvalaution of capital via bnakrupticies etc could allow the cycle of accumulation to begin again. Today that is not enough - it takes much more massive devalaution such as that of global imperialist war. Today we are the end of the third cycle of accumautlion of the twenthieth century but it still has not been resolved. Using the state in various ways at various times the capitalist have managed this crisis (but not solved it). Today they seem to have few options but hang on and hope that future inflation will cancel debt. The conditions are not ripe for an imperialist war therefore they are fixated ona global attack on working class living standards. Yoiu can understand the nature of unions today without understanding decadence (there are many groups who do). Unions have never been revolutionary but by 1914 they whad entered into pacts with the capiatlist state in the advanced centres of capitalism. I don't know that the formula "no reforms possible" is true since the biggest reformof all was the post-war welfare state (a state capitalist measure which ensured the survival of the system but defended today as again for the working class)? Decadent capitalism is limping along (and all the attempts of free marketeers to roll back the state fall down on the need to keep the system functioning and the state is the last guarantor). It is in cul de sac from which it is difficult to see a solution in capitalist terms. What we have rejected is to see decadence, which is a useful way of seeing how the features of modern capitalism now impede the system, and precisely where we are in the crisis as the same thing. Today we have arrived at what looks like the endpoint of a capitalist cycle of accumulation but the key issue for us is not that but how the working class will respond. At the moment it is not being held back by unions but by its own lack of a movement against the system.

I have read the article 'A framework for the concept of decadence of capitalism' carefully. I have not been to the recent London CWO meeting, but regularly read Leftcom articles on the web. I agree that the concept of decadence can be useful in explaining current problems, but would offer the following as being more important, as I see it, for propaganda. For some years I have held the opinion that the main ideological obstacle to persuading workers that communism would work is the current lack of what might be termed a clear engineering plan of how it could do so. A young person with a Ph.D commented that he didn't see how a communist economy would be administered. However, if we continue to harbour the notion that 'it is too early for blueprints', that line of propaganda might give way, temporarily, to what is, as I see it, much more important, which is to explain to workers and students and everyone how a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' , presumably necessary in some form or other, could be maintained without resorting to a 'secret police' type of regime in which ordinary people start to fear that their normally good neighbours and workmates might report on them one way or another. It is perfectly fair comment to argue that 'Stalinism wasn't really real communism', but we must acknowledge that despite gains in some respects for workers, thousands of workers, yes, workers, bloody hated it, not only because they could see consumer-material advantages to workers in 'the west', but because they felt trapped and enslaved. I've just read 'A Taste of Ashes' by Marci Shore, and plan to read Anne Applebaum's book on the 'Iron Curtain' and Irina Prokhorova's '1990 Russian's Remember a Turning Point'. It won't do to just dismiss some books as being 'bourgeois propaganda', we have to tackle all the criticisms of Stalinist regimes head-on, in order to persuade workers that they can make revolutionary socialism and communism work to the full satisfaction of our working class. Unless we do that, imperialist disasters are more likely to overtake us than revolution, even allowing for all that is currently happening in Turkey, Egypt and Brazil and elsewhere.

DKTZ thanks for your thoughtful comment. There are many in the CWO who agree with the need for an outline of the future society. There are others who take the "anti-blueprint" line. However we did reach an agreement recently that we need to do more to underline the principles of communist society without being prescriptive in advance of the nature of the precise forms it will take (indeed we cannot since we do not know what condition capitalism will reduce the world to before international proletarian resistance really generalises). Hopefully we should be getting something into print on this during the year.

Whilst noting your reply, for which thanks, it seems to me that already we can assess the stages of technical development in the many areas of the world, which in some ways, are not the same as the the stages of proletarian resistance in them. Do you regard 'international resistance' as an all-world fully global more or less simultaneous major event, or do you think that spasmodic outbreaks will occur in various hotspots across the world until those spread more widely ? We obviously come to the problems of whether or not socialism can start to be built in revolutionary areas surrounded by imperialism. If there is reasonable scope for commencing construction of socialism in them, then, for them, some plans would seem to be essential, to convince those involved, and external spectators and supporters, that the whole thing can become successful, and justifiably serve as examples for other areas with similar stages of technical development.

It wasn’t a trick honestly Cleishbotham. I accept I am coming from an ICC perspective but I am genuinely trying to understand your viewpoint. I agree that you do recognise decadence and I must agree that I then started to suggest that without decadence your cant do xy and z. I think I was explaining my point of view there and why I see it as important rather than suggest that is your viewpoint so sorry if that wasn’t clear. I do agree with you that is necessary to see the development of crises as separate and as part of the unfolding of decadence (my view) and I understand you see crisis as more important than the concept of decadence but I feel I need I am not clear yet how you see the impact of decadence. Now im worried about how im phrasing things!!

You said near the end that you see decadence as a useful way of looking at capitalism is blocking social development. Agreed TUs can be seen as non-revolutionary with understanding decadence but my point was that I need decadence to recognise that all trade unionism is rotten and part of the capitalism system and so that I can reject say proposals for new rank and file unions as something that would give a genuine alternative to existing unions. Do you make the same connection or do you have a different viewpoint of its impact?

On DKTZ’s point about what is communism, its interesting that the same issues, about the impact of the USSR (and its collapse) and a view of how communism can be built once the working class takes over, came up a the recent ICC day of discussion too. Perhaps Azdak can comment explain the different viewpoints and I look forward to CWO texts on the topic .

DKTZ, left communists would answer you quite simply that it is not possible to build socialism in areas surrounded by imperialism. The starting point has to be that a world revolution is necessary to build socialism/communism. Clearly however there is unlikely to be a revolution throughout the world at exactly the same time as you are suggesting. There is a need then for holding operations by isolated areas under workers control ( as the Bolsheviks saw their role initially before the counter revolution took over) and think I would agree there is also a question as to how powerful the areas that workers have taken over, needs to be to initiate steps to socialism. Some areas of the world are very weak economically and if (lots of ifs here) workers were in control of a powerful economic regions (is that what you call areas of technical development?) and the main imperialist powers were not longer standing, then I cannot see that the workers would not then be initiating measures that would demolish capitalism social structures. Prior to that then the most important actions would be presumably self protection and extension of workers power – hopefully that’s not a contradiction!

I would also like to ask what would be the first steps taking by workers in control . In this day and age, then presumably initial steps would have to be taken to manage the banking system and therefore credit, interests and mortgages, also churches/religions and local council functions. Can’t say ive thought this through though.

Replying to Link's comments of 2013-07 01 12:07, Link says that left communists claim that it is not possible to build socialism in areas surrounded by imperialism. Isn't that a fundamentalist all-or-nothing view ? Surely a start could be made, even allowing for the considerable time needed for completion. At the end of his comments, Link presumes that revolutionaries would need to control the monetary system, which, of course, is a considerable way from the view of the 'communist left' that money would be unnecessary in communism. As people are so conditioned to expect money to be necessary, it would be a giant step to abolish it rather than to take overall control of it in the early or medium term of revolution, with all the usual questions, such as to how a plumber would be motivated to go out on late night calls etc. It seems to me necessary to leave aside all the routine labelling of policies as being either Stalinist or Trotskyist or 'communist left', and then try to tackle existing conditions guided by proletarian aspirations, keeping in mind the saying that 'Practice is the Sole Criterion for judging truth'.

On blueprints again, since ALL the foregoing comments, in Anne Applebaum's new book 'Iron Curtain - The Crushing of Eastern Europe' I came across a section in the introduction, page xxviii, which summarises the situation in Russia in the early days in the wake of the Revolution, in which she says that Bolsheviks did not begin with a blueprint and followed a zizgzag course. I haven't read much further so far, but would recommend the introduction, which may well interest both newcomers and experienced students of the events following 1917 and of those leading to it. No doubt workers there had enough to do in the circumstances to organise revolution and would not deserve any criticism for not having drawn up blueprints for their economy in advance. However, we could consider whether or not a blueprint would have made much or any difference for the economy between 1917 and, say, 1925. We could and probably should go to ask whether or not a blueprint would be helpful and necessary for parts of the world likely to develop revolution as in and from 2013. The sheer vast extent of latest population, technology, communications and weaponry make it seem to me likely that unless economic planning with the aid of international proletarian computing is initiated and then steadily reviewed in the light of ongoing circumstances, the outlook would be of even more chaos whilst matters are sorted out. It seems unlikely that children will be able to vote in 'workers' assemblies', but let's remember that children tend to suffer most in all sorts of chaotic situations, and that, comrades, is not just sentiment.

Response to DKTZ

Not being member of the CWO I do hope somebody from the organisation comes back to respond to you shortly. Have you been discussing with them in the past because I am unclear what you are saying about the Russian revolution firstly and then about a period of transition to communism

May I ask what you mean when appear to criticse “fundamentalist all or nothing views” ?Do you agree with the CWOs positions on socialism in one country and state capitalism in russia?

My viewpoint is that the Russian revolution failed precisely because it was isolated and no world revolution followed. Russia was a very large country at the time even if the working population was relatively small, so is that not the main lesson from its failure – that socialism cannot be built when isolated and faced by imperialist powers. Various economic and political measures were taken to support the workers and peasants and to help fight imperialist forces trying to destablise. At the start the Bolsheviks emphasised the need for world revolution and Lenin talked about measures they took being state capitalist. It was only with the lack of extension of the revolution that the counterrevolution came and groups within the bolsheviks came to justify social in one country.

Again I am not sure about your criticisms of labels but it not their policies that we would criticise the Stalinist and the Trotskyists for, it is their practice precisely in the defeat of the working class movement in Russia.

We are in process of producing RP so giving the comments above the care they deserve won't be easy. I don't know who Applebaum is (heard her onthe radio when half asleep the other morning so am little wiser) but I have argued long and hard against theories of a "Bolshevik plot" that despite the CWO and ICT sharing Link's view that the critical factor in the decline of the Russian Rev the Bolsheviks did not have a programme for dealing with the situation once the proletariat was in power. The debate in 1917 led to the acceptance of the April Theses (by the rank and file more than by the old leadership which was always divided about them). The April Theses ditched the old Social Democratic programme but were themselves not detailed nor explicit enough to act as a new one. I would not say that the Bolsheviks zigzagged (it s very bourgeois way of seeing events - the circumstances the found themselves in (civil war, imperialist attack, economic collapse they inherited from the PG) meant that policy had to be made on the hoof (the setting up a Sovnarkom being one such Social democratic throwback (in continuiity with the SRs and Mensheviks) which undermined Soviet power). Although the Bolsheviks extended soviets they should have left the EC elected by the soviet congress (naturally dominated by Bolsheviks and other revolutionary tendencies at the time) in charge whilst they got on with spreading world revolution. We know this with the wisdom of hindsight but it now has to be part of our "communist programme". Link, I appreciate you consciously did not mean to deny the idea that we have view of decadence but it always seems to be the tendency. I read your posts on the ICC website and agreed with most of what you posed there. Give me a few days and I'll take up your other points unless someone else chips in first.

I am not so sure that Lenin's idea that State Capitalism was an advance was such a bad idea. Socialism in one country is not a solution, the whole strategy was a holding operation till the revolution spread, there was not much else but State capitalism on the agenda, perhaps a mitigated form, but nonetheless, recognisably state capitalist. At some point state capitalism had to destroy the revolution, but I think a dialectical approach could see that the two opposing forces could co-exist without the result being necessarily foretold. I think this was Damen's perspective, he saw State cap. as eventually being the clear winner and rev. lost, but there was a time period when this balance could have gone another way, dependent on the dominos falling around the world.

As I say, I am not too coherent on this, but I think maybe we are following formal rather than dialectical thinking in totally dismissing state capitalism as a moment in the revolutionary process.

The problem that Lenin did not see (in his polemics with the Kommunist group) was that he considered state capitalism a step towards socialism (and for many Trotskyists, Stalinists etc that is still the case). In fact it is a step towards the preservation of capitalist relations under the mystification that the workers are now owners of the means of production. The working class may have to acquiesce in all kinds of capitalist hangovers (I think the position of Damen) but that does not mean we defend them. On the contrary we seek to transcend them by ensuring that class wide organs and not a government of a state take the lead in economic decision-making.

Link, I know you have been patiently waiting for a reply to your question about decadence and the trades unions. Your point is that people can be against unions but not against all forms of unions like rank and file unions unless they have a concept of how capitalism has changed - that it is "decadent". I'm quite comfortable with that but "decadence" is not a thing in itself. It is a useful heuristic device or interpretation if you like but it does nothing in and of itself (although I remember hearing a member of the MDF once saying "decadence did this). Decadence is made up of anumber of features in which we have seen the process of centralisation and concentration of capital lead to monopolies which in turn ahve threatened the very lifeblood of the system (the placement of new capital) and its very existence (imperialist war) This brought forth the action of the state (in various ways over the last 100 years or more) to create a framework for all capitalists to continue to operate. This in turn involved the state in managing the wage labour capital relationship and the msot fruitful way it has doen this has been through the co-option of the trades unions into the management of labour. In return for accepting the rules of the game unions grew into vast appendages of the state. Unions though had never been revolutionary even if they started life as semi-legal fighting organisations of the class which rose and fell to the rhythm of the class struggle. What happened was that even before "decadence" they had travelled the road from "schools of socialism" (Marx) to bastions of capitalism (even anarcho-syndicalist unions before the First World War had succumbed to "reformism" as the main axis of their activities - the Solfed pamphlet which came out last year is very good on that). I can perfectly understand that you think that a complet critique of unions can only be made using teh concept of decadence but there are concrete ways in which someone who does not think in terms of decadence as we do could agree with us. In the age of imperialism (or decadence if you prefer) capitalism demands total obedience from the working class or forces us to consider its revolutionary destruction. At the moment the former tendency still dominates in the working class despite crises and numerous atrocities committed by the system. However as we started out "decadence" only pulls together all the features I have mentioned in this post. It won't be because the working class accepts decadence that the scales will fall from its eyes and then it will be free. This will be for more material reasons and that is why the nature of capitalist crises in the age of imperialism is much more concretely connected to the rise of any workers' resistance. It won't happen mechanically but there will be some connection between the actual situation of the working class and its revival as a revolutionary subject.I don't know if I have done anything to make myself clearer but I know you have been thinking long and hard about this and deserved some sort of reply.

Again, I am not claiming any great authority or clarity but I think I see it thus.

Capitalism produces anarchic conditions of unco-ordinated production, it tends towards a concentration of production in larger and larger enterprises but cannot finish the process of concentration, instead the process culminates in crisis and war.

The proletariat organises itself to take power into its own hands and is confronted with the task of re-organising the process of production for its own ends.

Initially the multiple separate economic units have to be integrated into one. The small business sector emplying millions has to be phased out. I think Lenin correctly saw State capitalism as a step in that direction.

At the same time a socialist process has to arise and take over. For example, communist saturdays. Otherwise state capitalism becomes permanent.

Totally vague, I know, but I am yet to be convinced by the line that says State capitalism is absolutely outside of the revolutionary process, but possibly reality will prove that it is.

Reality already has in the shape of the experience of the Russian Revolution. State capitalism is merely the form capitalism takes in its decadent epoch. Its adoption (by Trots and Stalinists) as a model for "socialism" leads straight back to state-directed economy of the USSR. Lenin who in 1918 said state capitalism was the best bit of the Russian economy was proved wrong by events. State capitalism is not the antechamber to socialism but a barrier to it. In the end it was the best model for the militarisation of the backward USSR economy in double quick time. It did not end commodity production or exploitation. We do not know what circumstances the future revolution will take place in but it will initially be at the local level that the eeconomy will have to be reorganised to meet real needs and to organise free exchange, The millions in small businesses providing services will have to reintegrate with that. Communist Saturdays? You must be joking! The whole notion of the weekend is a capitalist idea (they give us 2 days off so we will come the other 5 but we had to fight to get Saturday off - it was only our generation which fully enjoyed it thanks to the workers' struggles of the past). Not much vision in your version of our brave new world!

I am not going to defend State capitalism.

I query if it can be absolutely ruled out from day 1 post the fall of the bourgeoisie which may not be as simultaneous as we would like.

I am totally prepared to say that any state capitalist initiative prior to a revolutionary destruction of the capitalist state and the establishment of proletarian power exercised by class wide organs without any permanent ruling class is to be condemned.

The probnlem arises when the transformation of capitalism to socialism has to be tackled. I don't think we can overnight go to a utopia (no, we will never go to a utopia) and the process has to begin from where we are, capitalism, under the conditions of the moment.

From Marx, I think the essential outline is that the process begins as follows- Society takes the productive forces out of private hands, workers are rewarded according to the work they do. there is a deduction to provide for replacement of productive forces and to care for those who cannot work. No mention of cigarette trees, or lemonade fountains.

It's still inequality, there is not much vision of a wonderful world, its a sober assessment of what is possible.

A constant improvement may be possible, but it won't necessaily start off as any Brave New World, full of pneumatic beauties and endless conformity, it may be a hard slog under adverse conditions.

I also think that we may be suffering from a problem of interpretation.

Lenin was keen to point out that State capitalism under the bourgeoisie and under the proletariat were not the same. However as far as I know Lenin was only echoing Marx when he said that the opening stages of the revolutionary process would be heavily characterised by capitalist features.

"What we have to deal with here [in analyzing the programme of the workers' party] is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it comes."

I think that if the ''state capitalist" term is imprecise because it does not differentiate between various real manifestations in bourgeois society, the other danger is utopianism, imagining that a post -insurrection phase which is dominated by capitalist features is avoidable.

Lenin - And so, in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) "bourgeois law" is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained, i.e., only in respect of the means of production. "Bourgeois law" recognizes them as the private property of individuals. Socialism converts them into common property. To that extent--and to that extent alone--"bourgeois law" disappears.

So I can easily embrace that use of the State capitalism lable is not presenting our case, dismissing the reality of a situation dominated by capitalist relations which cannot be transformed overnight is also to be criticised.

I would not totally rule out people doing voluntary work on Saturday either.

But Lenin thought "common property" was state property. We now know (amongst other things thanks to the experience of the Russian Revolution) that this is not the same thing. And why just Saturday? There will be voluntary work every day ...

And why just Saturday? There will be voluntary work every day ...

That's how a real communist thinks.

from wikipedia

Subbotnik and voskresnik (from Russian: суббо́та; IPA: [sʊˈbotə] for Saturday and воскресе́нье, IPA: [vəskrʲɪˈsʲenʲjə] for Sunday) were days of volunteer work following the October Revolution. The tradition is continued in modern Russia and some other former Soviet Republics.[1] Subbotniks are mostly organized for cleaning the streets of garbage, fixing public amenities, collecting recyclable material, and other community services.

_The first subbotnik was held on April 12, 1919, at the Moscow-Sortirovochnaya railway depot of the Moscow-Kazan Railway upon the initiative of local bolsheviks. The subbotnik was organised by Bolshevik party members, and it was stated in the Resolution of the General Council of Communists of the Subraion of the Moscow-Kazan Railway and Their Adherents that "the communists and their supporters again must spur themselves on and extract from their time off still another hour of work, i.e. they must increase their working day by an hour, add it up and on Saturday devote six hours at a stretch to physical labour, thereby producing immediately a real value. Considering that communists should not spare their health and lives for the victory of the revolution, the work is conducted without pay."[2]_

_The first all-Russian subbotnik was held on May 1, 1920, the one participated by Vladimir Lenin who took part in removing building rubble in the Moscow Kremlin, an episode portrayed in a famous painting by Vladimir Krikhatsky, Lenin at the First Subbotnik, of Lenin carrying a log. Lenin was excited by the idea of subbotniks, regarding them as seeds of free labour of communism._

Subsequently "communist subbotniks" and "voskresniks" became obligatory political events in the Soviet Union, with annual "Lenin's Subbotnik" being held in the vicinity of Lenin's birthday.

Subbotnik was also promoted in the 1950s in the Eastern Bloc countries and in particular in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as the USSR sought to build up the GDR as the westernmost outpost of socialism in Europe.

_In Czechoslovakia, a similar kind of work was known as Akce Z ("Action Z"), from Czech word zvelebování, "improvement", referring to the typical activities from garbage removal to housing construction. Folk wit claimed that "Z" stood for zdarma, i.e., "without pay"._

V. I. Lenin

From The First Subbotnik On The Moscow-Kazan Railway

To The All-Russia May Day Subbotnik[1]

Written: 2 May, 1920

First Published: Pervomaisky Subbotnik, May 2, 1920; Published according to the newspaper text

Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 31, pages 123-125

Translated: Julius Katzer

Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala

Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

The distance indicated in the above title has been covered in a single year. This is an enormous distance. Although all our subbotniks are still weak, and each subbotnik reveals a host of defects in arrangement, organisation and discipline, the main thing has been done. A heavy and ponderous mass has been shifted, and that is the essence of the matter.

We are not deceiving ourselves in the least about the little that has yet been done and about the infinite amount of work that has yet to be done; however, only malicious enemies of the working people, only malicious supporters of the bourgeoisie, can treat the May 1 subbotnik with disdain; only the most contemptible people, who have irrevocably sold themselves to the capitalists, can condemn the utilisation of the great First of May festival for a mass-scale attempt to introduce communist labour.

This is the very first time since the overthrow of the tsars, the landowners and tho capitalists that the ground is being cleared for the actual building of socialism, for the development of new social links, a new discipline of work in common and a new national (and later an international) system of economy of world-historic importance. This is a matter of transforming the very habits of the people, habits which, for a long time to come, have been defiled and debased by the accursed private ownership of the means of production, and also by the entire atmosphere of bickering, distrust, enmity, disunity and mutual intrigue that is inevitably generated—and constantly regenerated—by petty individual economy, the economy of private owners in conditions of “free” exchange among them. For hundreds of years, freedom of trade and of exchange has been to millions of people the supreme gospel of economic wisdom, the most deep-rooted habit of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. This freedom is just as utterly false, serving to mask capitalist deception, coercion and exploitation, as are the other “freedoms” proclaimed and implemented by the bourgeoisie, such as the “freedom to work” (actually the freedom to starve), and so on.

In the main we have broken irrevocably with this “freedom” of the property-owner to be a property-owner, with this “freedom” of capital to exploit labour, and we shall finish the job. We are combating its remnants ruthlessly, with all our might.

Down with the old social links, the old economic relationships, the old “freedom” of labour (subordinated to capital), the old laws, the old habits!

Let us build a new society!

We were not daunted by defeats during the great revolutionary war against tsarism, against the bourgeoisie, against the omnipotent imperialist world powers.

We shall not be daunted by the gigantic difficulties and by the errors that are inevitable at the outset of a most difficult task; the transformation of all labour habits and customs requires decades. We solemnly and firmly promise one another that we shall make every sacrifice, that we shall hold out and win in this most arduous struggle—the struggle against the force of habit—that we shall work indefatigably for years and decades. We shall work to do away with the accursed maxim: “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost”, the habit of looking upon work merely as a duty, and of considering rightful only that work which is paid for at certain rates. We shall work to inculcate in people's minds, turn into a habit, and bring into the day-by-day life of the masses, the rule: “All for each and each for all”; the rule: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; we shall work for the gradual but steady introduction of communist discipline and communist labour.

We have shifted a huge mountain, a huge mass of conservatism, ignorance, stubborn adherence to the habits of “freedom of trade” and of the “free” buying and selling of human labour-power like any other commodity. We have begun to undermine and destroy the most deep-rooted prejudices, the firmest, age-long and ingrained habits. In a single year our subbotniks have made an immense stride forward. They are still infinitely weak, but that will not daunt us. We have seen our “infinitely weak” Soviet state, before our very eyes, gaining strength and becoming a mighty world force, as a result of our own efforts. We shall work for years and decades practising subbotniks, developing them, spreading them, improving them and converting them into a habit. We shall achieve the victory of communist labour.

N. Lenin -->


[1] The first communist subbotnik was held on April 12, 1919, by railwaymen of the Sortirovochnaya marshalling yards of the Moscow-Kazan Railway. Subbotniks were soon being held at many other enterprises in various cities. The experience of the first communist subbotniks was summed up by V. I. Lenin in A Great Beginning (Heroism of the Workers of the Rear. “Communist Subbotniks” ).

An all-Russia subbotnik was held on May 1, 1920, with over 425,000 people in Moscow alone participating, including V. I. Lenin, who, together with Kremlin army cadets, worked on clearing away building rubble on the territory of the Kremlin.

Lenin's article “From the First Subbotnik on the Moscow-Kazan Railway to the All-Russia May Day Subbotnik” was brought out on May 2, 1920, in a specially published handbill Pervomaisky Subbotnik, which was drawn up, set and printed during the May Day subbotnik by the staff of the newspapers Pravda, Izvestia, Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn, Bednota, the ROSTA Telegraph Agency, and by workers at the printing-house of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.—Editor.

There are 2 discussions on this thread so im hope you dont mind me coming back on decadence again cos I am still pondering and have tried to review where i am

I do agree with you that decadence itself is not what the wc struggles against and that as previously discussed decadence is not the crisis itself. I believe I am using the term in 2 senses. Firstly its part of the analysis of capitalism and class society in general. It helps understand the historical process. It helps militants understand the historical pressures on capitalism or rather the B and the WC, over the past century.

I agree with you about the TUs as explained in Cleishbotham post on this topic and in that we used the TUs as an example a similar argument applies to social democracy and reformism, nation state and nationalism, parliament and the vote and so on. The need for the state to coopt however is a product of the period and an indicator of a distinction between ascendancy and decadence.

However secondly it would see that this period whatever we call it has material consequences.

The wc struggles against the concrete effects of crisis so again I agree with your point “This will be for more material reasons and that is why the nature of capitalist crises in the age of imperialism is much more concretely connected to the rise of any workers' resistance” which I think states succinctly your perspective. In ascendancy workers resistance could lead to change that benefited wc and rc.

I have just read your articles on crisis and class struggle in RP02 and in particular the section on the ‘contradictions between relations of production and the productive forces’ and I agree again with the core of what is said here too. My interpretation here is that in decadence, the rc has less room to manouevre and hence resistance deepens the crisis for the rc - the relations of production are a fetter (not a block) on the productive forces and this contradiction leads to a period of social revolution. I wonder whether there is more for me to understand in this concept – eg does is mean a period of decline as I would have argued or simply that socialism is now possible? I would be interested in your understanding of this contradiction posed by Marx.

In the new epoch of imperialism, economic crises occur and in the right conditions can generate a reaction that leads to wc revolution. So the nature of capitalist crisis and hence of class struggle in this age of imperialism is conditioned and intensified by consequences of this contradiction whatever we call the period

Before this period started, economic crisis existed, class struggle took place however capitalism created conditions and institutions that benefited mankind in an immediate and an historical sense and a wc revolution was not on the cards. Crises happened but did not create the conditions for a wc revolution.

In the end I am starting to feel – almost - like I just like to use the term ‘decadence’ and you prefer the term ‘period of imperialism’?? Hope that’s doesnt sound insulting though,

I have read your post three or four times Link but I am unclear as to where we are going on this (although you are right to re-assert the original theme of the discussion). My reading of Marx gives the sense that Marx only considered the prospect of proletarian revolution from the point of view of the subjective preparation of the proletariat (and not from the idea that capitalism had exhausted all its "progressive" possibilities) thus he seems to see a possibilty for socialist revolution even as early as the Commune (he puts its defeat down to it isolation not because it was premature (but then it might be argued that the isolation was due to the fact that capitalism still had more tricks up its sleeve). But then perhaps too much has been made of the idea that capitalism is decadent (which it surely is) and thus proletarian revolution is imminent - the two are not so linked. Historically we have never lived under such a dynamic social system as capitalism but that leaves us the question - does that mean that it will be more capable of surviving despite its manifestly more desperate contradictions or - onthe other hand - does it mean that those contradictions will increase in intensity more rapidly and pose the very existence of humanity sooner rather than later? The key thing for us in every case is the preparation of the proletariat which has now been in retreat over 3 or 4 decades (making it difficult for any revolutionary revival or regroupment). To me this is more important than the precise meaning of decadence but some want to use the idea of decadence to pose the either or of socialism or barbarism in the immediate term to try to stimulate some intensity to the issue. Perhaps well-meaning but ultimately can backfire if your immediatist perspective turns out to be false. I think (as I have said to them many times) this was what lay behind the splits and disasters of the ICC from 1984 on.

The above analysis is sound but I would like to ask if the word ''barbarism'' has any precise content.

I think it has been used to refer to a return to a lower stage of development but as a general term expressing a host of negative phenomena, I think it is valifd to say that we are living in barbarism, but perhaps we could have said that many decades ago as well.

a quick net search gives us

The successive stages of history include primitive communism characterized by equalitarian hunting and gathering, barbarism characterized by rule by chiefs, slave society with a slave class and agriculture, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism.

I doubt we mean barbarism in this sense. However if we think of authentic socialism as the rule of the class and barbarism as the rule of a usurping minority, it is quite apt.

Words like decadence, decomposition, barbarism, perhps even socialism, communism, can be handy tools to quickly convey more complex thoughts, but have their limits.