Re: [OPE-L] The ideology of capitalist decline and decadence

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Mar 12 2006 - 11:17:41 EST


I don't disagree with your points.  So what I'll write here could
be thought of as additions.

There is a culture among many Marxists which celebrates and looks
forward to and projects crisis. Why celebrate crisis?   The presumption
seems to be that crisis will hasten the revolutionary process.  So, in
a sense, the 'pessimism' associated with continually forecasting crises
could be thought of as being the flip side of  'revolutionary optimism."

Sometimes this thesis is also accompanied by claims about "decadence".
Indeed, there is a group on the Net which was formed to:

"discuss the hypothesis that the capitalist mode of production has
become decadent on a world scale, i.e. incapable of any further
positive contribution to the development of humanity."

(on that group, the following web site was recommended: .)

So, the ideology of capitalist decline goes, at least in some cases,
hand-in-hand, with beliefs about decadence.

I don't really see the usefulness or  historical validity of referring
to a special phase of capitalism as being decadent.  Bourgeois decadence
has existed at all points in capitalist history, hasn't it?  And, before
capitalism, there were plenty of examples of decadence under feudalism
and slavery both while these modes of production were on their
ascendancy and decline.

Further, I don't really see the connection asserted between decadence
and the (alleged) inability of capitalism to make "any further
contribution to the development of humanity."   Certainly there are
lots of examples of bourgeois decadence today (New York City is a
great place to live if you want to observe and catalog some of those many
examples) and historically (e.g. consider the lifestyles of the "robber
barons") and while we could object on moral and ecological and
humanitarian grounds to the conspicuous consumption and lifestyle of the
bourgeoisie, why would that decadence preclude the possibility of
further increase in the forces of production under capitalism?

[Those who make this claim about decadence  have also highlighted
what happened to New Orleans.   While what happened there could be
thought of as representing a crass disregard for (working class, poor,
and minority)  life,  this hardly represents something new, does it?
When in US history, for instance, would the state have responded better
to the needs of the poor in urban areas?   It could be thought of as
being decadent in a sense, but not in a special sense associated with only
the current epoch (supposedly of 'decline') of capitalism.]

Decadence -- just another over-used and imprecise word used by
Marxists intended to convey nothing particularly precise.  In any event,
_even if_ capitalism was decadent in the sense above,  would that
usher in by itself a revolutionary movement and transformation?  I
think not.   The Marxian narrative -- at least for many Marxists -- hasn't
really advanced significantly beyond the summarization of "the general
conclusion" which Marx wrote about in the "Preface" to _A Contribution
to the Critique of Political Economy_.

In solidarity, Jerry

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