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

From: Francisco Paulo Cipolla (cipolla@UFPR.BR)
Date: Tue Mar 14 2006 - 08:55:40 EST

Countdown just posted an artilcle by Loren Gouldner on Bordiga which presents
some reflections on "how communists understood decadence" not in the 1930s, I
think, but immediately after WWII.

Jerry Levy wrote:

> Hi Jurriaan,
> Just briefly -- a couple of points.
> > An indication of how communists understood decadence in the 1930s can be
> > gleaned from Christopher Caudwell's "Studies in a Dying Culture" (some
> > bits of it here Gyorgy Lukacs
> > also refers to it in several writings (e.g.
> < ).
> > It was a kind of "conception of the epoch" people had - not entirely
> > unreasonably, given two world wars, numerous smaller-scale wars, and great
> > social havoc. Maybe difficult to understand in retrospect, but at the time
> > it seemed very real.
> I agree with you completely here: the belief  by Trotsky that capitalism
> was in the throes  of its "death agony" also has to be contextualized
> historically.  Yes, I think that was a not unreasonable belief in 1938.
> But,  _our_ perspective has to take into account what has happened
> historically since that time.  We can not allow the rhetoric of decadence
> to get in the way of analysis simply because we like its prose.
> > In reality, possibly the biggest crisis of our time is the growth of a
> > rheumy conservatism and diminished expectations of life, whereas the task
> > of
> > a revolutionary or a radical thinker is to make "the impossible possible",
> > to expand or widen the realm of human possibilities, to inspire confidence
> > in the ability of self-acting individuals to change their world. If people
> > are too afraid or overloaded to dare to do anything, speak out, be
> > adventurous, join together etc. they cannot change society for the better,
> > can they. You might laugh at me, with my humdrum petty existence, for
> > saying  this, but at least I'm not afraid to moot the idea.
> I'm not laughing.  Indeed, I think your comments speak to an issue at hand.
> Let us return to what we referred to as  "the ideology of capitalist decline
> and  decadence."  One such narrative (which I am embellishing for dramatic
> effect) might go something like the following:
> In the epoch of capitalist decay,  economic crises will become more frequent
> and intense.  Then, comes the economic collapse.  What happens after the
> collapse,  after the economic breakdown?  Why, the "revolutionary moment",
> of course. The working class and the wretched of the Earth will rise up in
> revolt:  like a scene from the film "Network", everyone will put their heads
> out the  window and scream "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it
> anymore!"  Then they will rush to the streets, shout "Karl Marx was
> right!", and burst into song --  "The Internationale", of course.   The
> expropriators will be expropriated!, Red Butterflies will Flap their Wings,
> and  (after a brief  transitional  period) everyone will live happily ever
> after.  The End.
> There are, of course, many problems with such a narrative.  One problem
> is the lack of any conception of how workers' consciousness changes.  You
> are right, Jurriaan: the self-confidence of the working class is vitally
> important to any prospect for revolution.  As anyone who is an activist
> should know, workers gain self-confidence as a consequence of victories,
> not defeats.  Victories -- even small ones -- tell them that they can win
> and  therefore encourage them onward to greater challenges.  It is therefore
> not some kind of automatic response to economic crisis which creates
> revolutionary action.  Revolutions are made by those who know that they
> _do_  have something which can be lost -- contrary to the assertion in
> _The Communist Manifesto_ (another example of  excellent prose but
> inadequate analysis).  They know that their lives and the lives of loved
> ones  and communities can be lost.  They have everything to lose and
> everything to gain.  They will risk all only when they believe they can win.
> It's hard to say what is the basis for the mythology that has developed
> about revolutions.  Revolutionaries -- perhaps Marxists most of all, but
> including anarchists -- tend to be hopeless romantics!  Hence, our
> narratives about Crisis & Revolution tend also to be Romantic.  Like
> others I'm a romantic in some senses as well,  but I think what is needed
> for both theory and praxis is clarity and alertness and patience and
> resoluteness and determination, and *humility*.  There's a lot that we
> don't know and we shouldn't be afraid to say that.  Instead of thinking
> that we have all of the answers, we have to realize that a lot of the
> answers will only emerge in the course of class (and other) struggles.
> In solidarity, Jerry

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