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

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Sun Mar 12 2006 - 15:58:07 EST

The concept of crisis does not necessarily imply decline.
What may be involved is an increasing difficulty in
maintaining existing class relations of dominance, and
an increasing inability of the mechanism of private
accumulation to produce real accumulation of capital.

Suppose that we look 30 to 40 years on, then we can expect
to see on a world scale the sort of conjuntural balance
that existed in western europe at the end of the 60s.
The accumulation of capital then met limits in the 
slowdown of the relative growth of the proletariat.
This manifested itself both economically as a declining
rate of profit, and politically as a crisis of dominance
and of the private mechanism of accumulation.

Capitalism escaped this crisis through the opening up
first of the asian periphery and then of China and now
India. A lesser short term factor has been the re-proletarianisation
of the working class of eastern europe.

But because of the chinese one parent family policy the 
labour reserves of China will only sustain the current
rate of accumulation for another couple of decades at
most - India will last a bit longer.
The decadence that will ensue then will be a global
shift in the balance of class forces towards labour
and away from capital. This form of decadence is something
we can reasonably look forward to.

-----Original Message-----
From: OPE-L on behalf of Jerry Levy
Sent: Sun 3/12/2006 4:17 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] The ideology of capitalist decline and decadence

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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Mar 14 2006 - 00:00:01 EST