Understanding the decline of a mode of production (I)

The Author’s Introduction

C.Mcl. has written previous articles which were primarily aimed at criticising the positions of the International Communist Current on the decadence of capitalism, one of which – “Has Capitalism entered its Decadence since 1914?” – presented a substantial set of empirical evidence relating to the development of capitalism from the start of the 20th Century.

In my opinion this text requires serious examination, because it certainly does raise questions as to the ICC’s interpretation of what has happened to the economy in the past hundred years. It questions the validity of the ICC’s reading of empirical evidence and its head-in-the-sand approach to economic development.

However, C.Mcl. draws from this data an analysis which simply rejects the start of capitalist decadence in 1914, instead of reassessing what decadence is or should be. Capitalism has got itself into a mess that is substantial and it seems simply unjustifiable to depict all that we have experienced as the era of a progressive capitalism. C.Mcl. does this on the basis that ascendancy is a period of economic growth for capitalism and decadence is a period of economic decline.

What I aimed to do with earlier texts – “Is Decadence an Economic Phenomenon?” and “What are fetters on the Forces of Production?” – was to question this point of view and discuss, within the context of historical materialism, further interpretations of what is happening in capitalism’s decadence and particularly to bring the role of the productive forces back into the discussion.

I do thank C.Mcl. for the substantial and serious response to the arguments I presented on the AFRD website and the ICC forum, but in my opinion I do think that he fails to address directly enough the issues raised in my text “What are fetters on Productive Forces?” and focuses too much on the ICC. I therefore feel it appropriate to develop and repeat some of the content of this earlier text to strengthen my argument against some of the classic interpretations of historical materialism.

I too will reply in two parts, and this first part will focus on the theoretical issues and criticisms raised by C.Mcl., because these issues are key to an understanding of Marx’s historical materialism, and I do not see that C.Mcl. interprets this correctly. To this end I am using a number of quotes from Marx and others to show that there are opinions which have to be considered as valid, despite C.Mcl.’s objections.

I am sure there is substantial agreement between us about the importance of historical materialism, and by this I mean the concept that being determines consciousness and human society is the basis of historical development (not man the individual, and not god the all-powerful). On this foundation we see that history is the history of class struggle, which leads to successive modes of production, each experiencing periods of ascendancy and decline.

However it is clear there are differences in the interpretation of the decline of modes of production and this is the focus of my discussion; not, as C.Mcl.’s title implies, the whole of historical materialism.

My previous text: “What are fetters on Productive Forces?”, raised questions about the traditional Marxist viewpoint of the decline of a mode of production as a purely economic contradiction, a view that has dominated the latter part of the 20th Century. This view is represented by both C.Mcl. and the ICC.

I believe that Marx presented more than this one argument to explain the process in which societies reach an obsolete phase and I have quoted him to demonstrate this. As C.Mcl. ably showed in his reply, Marx was also not that clear on what exactly the decline of capitalism would involve and when it would happen (1) so it seems rather inappropriate to contend that it is necessary to recognise only one theory as to its cause and its effects.

I intend to produce a further response, to tackle the questions raised by C.Mcl. as to whether 1914 or 2000 has been the turning point in the development of capitalism; this is an important issue for discussion and I do not intend to ignore it.

Finally, I would like to clarify one point: according to C.Mcl., I believe that “…it is no longer the brake but the acceleration of the development of the productive forces that would constitute the reason for the entry into decadence of capitalism”. This is just not what I said. There are causes for the entry into decadence but the acceleration of the productive forces is not one of them.

Link, February 28, 2022.

Next page:

Interpretations of the Decline of a Mode of Production


1 In fact to add to the examples provided by C.Mcl., in my understanding of Chapter 25 of Capital Volume 1, Marx presents an analysis of what is happening to the working class and capital and appears to suggest that the revolution must come because of the trends taking place at that time, i.e. capital getting wealthier and the working class working longer hours and being paid less, leading to absolute pauperisation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s