A Discussion at the ICC’s online forum
(brief summary, Link, November 2021)
My discussions on the ICC forum over the summer started with an article entitled “Growth as Decay”. (1) A reader had posed a simple question: “How can the ICC maintain that capitalism is a decadent system since 1914 when there has been such enormous growth in the capitalist system since then?” (2)
The ICC’s response was in my opinion weak and poorly directed. It started with quotes from Marx’s ‘Grundrisse’ which posed the end of capitalism as result of its completion of world domination but this is not really an answer to the question.
The article was written by Amos who has also written some interesting articles on the environmental issues. He is willing to accept that capital is growing which puts the environment at risk but puts this down to military production and debt:
“We can even say that as long as capital continues to grow, to accumulate, in an epoch where it has become obsolete, the more this very growth increases the danger that it will destroy humanity and end any possibility of a communist future. This is evident when we look at the perfection of military production which has become such a central part of the capitalist economy in the last century and more. It is equally obvious when we see the ecological consequences of capitalist expansion into the very last corners of the planet. We also need to recognise that the very means used to continue growth in an era in which the economic crisis has tended to become permanent attest to the obsolescence of the system. This is the case in particular with the resort to gargantuan infusions of debt to create a kind of artificial market.” (3)
This quote is interesting but the article is unsatisfactory because it fails to address the actual level of accumulation and growth in present day capitalism and simply quotes [from its pamphlet on the decadence of capitalism:] ‘Decadence: A total halt to the productive forces?’ (4) to confirm that the ICC has never said capitalism cannot grow in decadence. Accumulation and growth are presented as incidental.
The article ends with a flourish which is almost meaningless:
«Less than any previous mode of production can capitalism cease “revolutionising” the productive forces. But revolutionaries who lay claim to a scientific method must be capable of recognising the point at which the perspective of communism unites the realms of possibility and of necessity; in other words, when the existing forces of production are turned more and more into forces of destruction, and when humanity can only maintain itself if it carries out a fundamental change in the social relations of production, so that the development of the productive forces now coincides with “the total, universal development of the productive forces of the individual.”» (5)
My response to this article was to focus on the enormous and increasing growth achieved by capital as evidenced by empirical GDP figures in contrast to the ICC’s attempts to play down this growth and avoid discussion of its meaning. I raised the viewpoint that “I think the data itself provides a strong argument for a reconsideration of decadence not as an economic phenomenon but as a political or social phenomenon”.
Kamerling made 2 responses to my contributions (including a number of references to ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’) in which he stresses that:
“But your argument that decadence must not be considered as “an economic phenomenon but as a political or social phenomenon” bends the stick too far and brings you in contradiction with the historical materialist method.” (6)
And he further states that:
“The qualitative change in the conditions of world economy are caused by insoluble economic contradictions, by the increasingly sharpening antagonisms between the productive forces and the social relations of bourgeois society. In decadence these contradictions lead to continuously emerging economic crises, accompanied by political and social crises, including war, which take on a global character, expressing themselves on a world level.” (7)
After various quotes from my contributions on ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’ he suggests that I am calling into question decadence because I reject the ICC’s explanations like permanent crisis, market saturation and the lack of pre-capitalist markets in decadence and secondly because I see differences in the period from WW1 to WW2 and the period from the post WW2 reconstruction up to the present day.
In Kamerling’s second response he states that the high level of growth by capitalism in the past half century may be true but is irrelevant. He relates this growth to a malignant tumour. He then goes onto suggest that the negative elements of growth are greater than the positive elements of growth, so therefore asserts I am downplaying decadence again.
Now I do think this point is interesting to discuss but I’m afraid Kamerling does not go into appropriate detail for such a discussion and failed to write a further contribution despite my expression of interest.
I have since made a further contribution to a new thread on this forum. (8) In an attempt to make my argument about the significance of capitalist growth, i.e. accumulation in the period of decadence. Baboon also made a sharp dismissal of my arguments:
“I believe that this obsession with bourgeois graphs and figures, that can be useful if handled with care, showing capitalist growth is not only a rejection of decomposition but a calling into question of decadence and all the consequences that come from that.” (9)
This is not at all my position however as can be seen from previous contributions to ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’ and really just amounts to a denial of the reality that capital is growing. He also distorts my argument to suggest:
“No fundamental problems of capitalism have been overcome by capitalism and new, profound problems can be added which marks this period as one of the decomposition of a dying body.” (10)
I certainly did not suggested that the accumulation that is taking place solves fundamental problems faced by capitalism – overall all his responses do is try to avoid any serious discussion of what is happening in the current period.
I continue to argue in this contribution that decadence is not to be seen as an economic crisis but as political, social and I would now include environmental here, and I also criticise the ICC’s problem in recognising that growth has taken place and link this to Luxemburg’s economistic view of this period of decay. Rather than try to repeat all I said here and in ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’ I would just like to quote from the end of my contribution where I develop the argument to reflect an issue that is becoming more common today, the problem of infinite growth in a finite world:
“The final point I want to make is probably the most important in that the economic growth taking place should not be seen as somehow positive. The idea that because crisis are bad does not mean that growth is good. For example most of the waste production that capitalism has developed can be done away with. Growth may enable capitalism to maintain itself but it does not solve capitalism’s contradictions and in fact it just exacerbates the contradictions which is what we are seeing in society today and threatens major problems for the sustainability of industrial society I think that the concept of ‘Growth as Decay’ that the ICC used in a title for an article is an important concept because it points to the negative impact of growth (although as I said, I do not think the ICC explained the issue at all well). In this stage of mature or late capitalism, we need to recognise growth itself as a fundamental contradiction of capitalism. It is the enormous growth it has achieved so far that is now a threat to humanity and to the natural world. Growth today is more destructive than productive precisely because we can see today the major impacts that this growth is having upon our environment and on humanity.” (11)
Link, November 24, 2021.
1 Amos, Growth as Decay, available at https://en.internationalism.org/content/17032/growth-decay. (June 30, 2021), also in ‘World Revolution’ 389 – Summer 2021.
4 Pamphlet: The Decadence of Capitalism, 4. Decadence: A total halt to the productive forces?
6 Kamerling, available at https://en.internationalism.org/forum/17040/growth-decay.
8 Link, available at https://en.internationalism.org/forum/17087/growth-decadence-what-does-it-mean.
9 Baboon, available at https://en.internationalism.org/forum/17086/recent-texts-and-discussion
11 Link, available at https://en.internationalism.org/forum/17087/growth-decadence-what-does-it-mean.