In Defense of Historical Materialism (Part II)

5.5 Marxism, Decadence and Nature

Marx defined three components to the productive forces: the means of production, men and nature (the means of production also include sciences, techniques and modes of organization of work). So far, we have seen – with multiple statistics to support it – that material production and men have increased much more rapidly after 1914 than before. (1) We must now speak about nature.

YES, a thousand times YES, capitalism exhausts and destroys nature and calls into question the very existence of humanity as a result of the unbridled expansion of its material and human productive forces. For this reason alone, it is necessary to overthrow this deadly system. Therefore, concerning this “nature” component of the productive forces, we can indeed speak of “cancerous growth”. However, would this be a proof of the decadence of capitalism and of the decadence since 1914? NO and a thousand times NO. Why not? Indeed, how does the reasoning and argumentation about decadence work? Invariably in two steps, one positive and the other negative:



Real and durable reforms are possible

Real and durable reforms are impossible

New nations can constitute themselves

Impossible for new nations to constitute themselves

The productive forces develop

Development of the productive forces is hindered



Three problems arise at this level:

1. This two-step reasoning cannot be applied to nature.

2. The ecological destruction of the planet is a continuous process that shows no break in 1914.

3. As this destruction has been continuous since the origins of capitalism, the latter’s entry into decadence cannot be situated in time using this criterion.

    1. Indeed, there is no ascending period that would have been positive for nature, followed by a period of decadence that would have been negative… because capitalism has always destroyed nature since its origins! Nature has always been considered as a positive externality by capitalism (i.e. “free”). Capitalism has never paid anything for the damage it causes to nature, for the depletion of resources, for the pollution it generates… This has been true since the origins of capitalism, so the ascendance of capitalism has not been a positive period for nature.

    2. Moreover, if Link and the ICC mobilize arguments to try to validate a change in 1914 concerning economic dynamics, trade unions, the national question, state capitalism… they have never advanced any argument to justify a break in 1914 concerning nature! Indeed, what would be the change in 1914 that would explain why the ascending period would be positive for nature (or less destructive – let’s be generous) and negative after 1914 (or more destructive)? The argumentation is absent!

    3. Finally, as the destruction of nature is, as a general rule, more and more important over time, it is very easy to assert that the ecological problem is more serious today than yesterday. This is obvious, but this evidence does not demonstrate the logic of decadence in 1914 … indeed: the destruction of nature is more serious in 2021 than in 1980, than in 1950 or in 1870 … would decadence then have begun in 1980 or 1950 or 1870? Etc. In what way does 1914 constitute a turning point for nature? Radio silence!

To illustrate our point, let us take the example of CO2 production, which contributes significantly to global warming, and let us try to think: is there an ascending logic (positive or less negative evolution) and a decadent logic (negative or more negative evolution) and is there a marked break in 1914? Let us look at the figures (see graph 28 below): where is the break in 1914? There is none! Generally speaking, the logic of decadence in 1914 does not apply to any parameter concerning nature (we could multiply the graphs that show this).

Graph28 - Global GDP and Global CO2 Emissions
Graph 28: Global GDP and Global CO2 Emissions (1750 – 2015) – Source: M. Husson (2015): Un capitalisme vert est-il possible ?(opens pdf)

Moreover, the evolution of energy intensity (see graph 29 below) contradicts the ICC. Indeed, if CO2 emissions are proportional to GDP before 1914, they decrease afterwards to stabilize until the first oil shock (1973) and then decrease to its 1880 level! While it increased strongly before 1914, capitalism was able to stabilize and then reduce energy intensity afterwards, in other words, it was able to improve energy efficiency while reducing CO2 emissions. In short, energy performance with respect to pollution is better in “decadence” than in “ascendancy”! The ICC should conclude that the ascendancy of capitalism is after 1914 and the decadence before!

Graph29 - Global Energy Intensity in CO2 Volume per unit GDP
Graph 29: Global Energy Intensity in CO2 Volume per unit GDP (1750 – Present & Projection until 2100) – Source: M. Husson (2010): Croissance sans CO2 ? (opens pdf)

NB: the ICC has mainly argued its positions on the basis of the existence of a supposed brake on the growth of material productive forces. It has used only two arguments concerning the human productive forces, arguments to which we have already amply replied. (2) Concerning the third component of the productive forces – nature – this organization does not mention it in any of its reference texts, neither in its platform, nor in its pamphlets, nor even in its International Review until recently. On the other hand, there are many articles denouncing the ecological parties as bourgeois and the ecological struggles as fragmented. In fact, it is only recently that this organization has been talking about nature … but not for the subject itself, mainly as an argument to try to validate its position on decadence since 1914 and to defend the urgency of overthrowing capitalism. Why this sudden solicitude? Simply because the ICC is finding it increasingly difficult to argue its framework of analysis based solely at the levels of material and human productive forces! Indeed, many of its dissidents, contacts and even some of its own activists … realize that this organization denies reality. China and India are good examples. All the texts of the ICC explained that these two countries were condemned to the most absolute underdevelopment, they even put forward a mass of “arguments” to “prove” that it was impossible that these countries develop. (3). Now, forty years after China’s take-off, the ICC is obliged to recognize that it was wrong… but without carrying out any real self-criticism, without providing any satisfactory explanation and while continuing to keep silent about all the other emerging countries (which together represent half the world’s population). In short, in the face of its multiple errors of analysis and its growing inability to demonstrate the brake on the growth of material and human productive forces, the argument of ecological disasters serves as a lifeline to try to save its theory of decadence since 1914 from sinking.

Next page: 6. What are the Real Changes in 1914?


1 Cf. Has Capitalism entered its Decadence since 1914? (The Falsehoods of the ICC – A Critique.)

3 Idem, in particular Chapter 3: The national question before and after 1914, also separately available as a supplement to ‘A Free Retriever’s Digest’ (3rd Quarter 2021).

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