[OPE-L] The ideology of capitalist decline (was Falling Rate of Profit as Science Fiction?)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Mar 11 2006 - 08:17:44 EST

Hi Jerry,

Yes, Lenin says specifically in his pamphlet on imperialism:

"It would be a mistake to believe that this tendency to decay precludes the
rapid growth of capitalism. It does not. In the epoch of imperialism,
certain branches of industry, certain strata of the bourgeoisie and certain
countries betray, to a greater or lesser degree, now one and now another of
these tendencies. On the whole, capitalism is growing far more rapidly than
before; but this growth is not only becoming more and more uneven in
general, its unevenness also manifests itself, in particular, in the decay
of the countries which are richest in capital (Britain)."

The idea is rather vague, but substantively it appears to mean that
capitalism is unable to impose its mode of production on the whole world,
and that the global growth pattern becomes more and more uneven in space and
time. And there is some validity in that view.

During the 1920s, an extensive debate took place within the Comintern about
the prospects of capitalism after the first world war and its ability to
achieve a restabilisation. This was reflected in the writing of Eugen Varga,
who initially wrote a policy document about the "decline of capitalism", and
then a revised document about the "restabilisation of capitalism". In
reality, the overall predictions of the Comintern were consistently proved
wrong. First, there was supposed to be a decline. Then there was supposed to
be a restabilisation. Then there was supposed to be a decline again. Trotsky
also wrote a few documents with splendid rhetoric, but his political
forecasts were typically better than his economic ones (see e.g. Leon
Trotsky, Report on the World Economic Crisis and The New Tasks of The
Communist International [Part I] Second Session, June 2. 1921
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1924/ffyci-1/ch19.htm ).

Shortly after world war 2, Stalin sacked Varga from his job, because Varga
predicted a restabilisation, whereas Stalin diagnosed a new final crisis of
capitalism (this is described by Paolo Spriano, in  his book Stalin and the
European Communists). In line with Soviet perspectives, numerous Marxist
authors - ranging from Jurgen Kuczynski to the Trotskyist Pierre Lambert -
later tried to prove that the long boom of 1947-73 did not really happen,
and that the forces of production were stagnating. Further on this topic,
see also Richard B. Day's two books "Crisis and the Crash: Soviet Studies of
the West,1917-1939" and "Cold War Capitalism: The View from Moscow

The question arises, why were the communists consistently wrong in their
historical perspectives on the future of capitalism?

Probably the following 10 factors should be considered:

1) They believed that Marxism provided an insuperable approach to
understanding the whole historical process in advance (the "march of
2) Marxists were educated in the doctrine of the inevitable downfall of
capitalism, as a sort of faith.
3) The economic knowledge of Marxists was rather slight (after all, Marx had
supposedly done it all in Das Kapital).
4) The amount of empirical economic research done was very slight.
5) The economic debate was ideologically distorted by political policy
6) Views dissenting from official policy were simply bureaucratically
7) In a climate of political uncertainty, the emphasis was on "being right",
even if one was wrong.
8) The capacity of capitalism to grow and meet people's needs ran counter to
communist beliefs.
9) In the social sciences, it is normally impossible to predict accurately
further than 5-7 years ahead at the most, on the basis of an analysis of the
past and the present (even population projections for more than a few years
turn out to be inaccurate).
10) The conflict between the "forces and relations of production" was
understood in a simplistic and rather crude way.

As I mentioned in my previous post on The ambiguities of Hillel Ticktin, in
this complex topic different sorts of issues are frequently confused and

- the overall functioning of the capitalist system,
- social and material progress,
- the balance of power between social classes,
- the transition between modes of production,
- prospects for revolutionary, rather than evolutionary political change,
- the concept of societal decadence.

That is, objective scientific assessments are confused with moral,
ideological and political positions - the analysis made has to conform to a
prior ideological perspective.


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