The Catastrophic Failure of the Theory of “Catastrophism” (Part 2)

 

 

What will come after Capitalism?

 

 

 

The inevitable collapse of capitalism does not automatically mean that this system will be replaced by a historically progressive socio-economic mode of production, i.e. socialism. Unfortunately, this is by no means inevitable. We know from various examples in history that the terminal crisis of a given socio-economic mode of production does not necessarily result in higher type of society. It can also lead to historic regress and the emergence of an inferior, more backward type of society.

 

To give a few examples we could refer to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the annihilation of the Abbasid Caliphate with all its cultural and scientific achievements by the Mongols in the 13th century (the monstrous devastation of Bagdad in 1258!) or the destruction of the emerging bourgeois society in Northern Italy by the Vatican and other feudalistic rulers in the 14th and 15th century.

 

Rosa Luxemburg, the famous Polish-Jewish Marxist who became the founder of the German Communist Party before she was murdered by right-wing Freikorps troops under the command of the social democratic minister Gustav Noske, formulated it so famously in her draft program for the Spartacus League: humanity is faced with the alternative “Socialism or Barbarism”. [1]

 

Such a danger is much more present in the current historic period. As we outlined somewhere else, the decay of capitalism provokes not only hunger and poverty, but also a dramatic climate change with devastating consequences as well as the risk of a nuclear world war between the Great Powers. In short, the very survival of humanity is in danger! It is only a successful socialist revolution of the international working class which can avoid such a horrible outcome. Hence, the struggle for socialism is not only a struggle for the improvement of the living conditions of the popular masses, it is also a struggle for their survival!

 

In one of RCIT’s world perspective document, we concluded:

 

To summarize, capitalism is in the throes of a historic period of decline which threatens not only the world economy but also the living standard of the popular masses, and even puts the survival of humanity in danger. The current period is characterized by what Trotsky described as a “declining curve of capitalist development”. It is the decay of the productive forces which constitutes the fundamental, the most important factor, for the acceleration of the contradictions between the classes which is so characteristic of the historic period since 2008. It is because of the declining dynamic of capital accumulation and the growth of profits that the bourgeoisie is forced, lest it face ruin, to relentlessly attack the working class. For the very same reason the imperialist bourgeoisie is forced to relentlessly strangle the semi-colonial countries of the South and to wage more and more military interventions and occupations. And it is for the very same reason that the rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers is accelerating, since they have to struggle against one other to gain a larger share of the relatively decreasing production of global capitalist value. Finally, if the imperialist Great Powers are not smashed by revolutionary international working class, their rivalry will lead to World War III. The working class can only end this continuous chain of misery, wars and catastrophes via a world socialist revolution. Rosa Luxemburg’s statement that humanity is faced with the alternative “Socialism or Barbarism” is more relevant than ever. Under the conditions of the early 21st century, the concretization of Luxemburg’s statement means: “Socialism or Widespread Death through Climate Destruction and World War III”! [2]

 

 

 

Epoch and Periods

 

 

 

However, it is widespread misunderstanding – purported both by supposed defenders of Marxism as well as critiques – that the classics would have concluded from the theory of breakdown that capitalism would be about to collapse at any time or that one could mathematically calculate the number of years until its vanishment.

 

In fact, capitalist development – as life in general – proceeds in a dialectical way, with ups and downs, progress and setbacks, etc. It is therefore not sufficient for Marxists to point out the unavoidable decay of capitalism. One has to dissect also the different periods and phases in the development. Without this, a revolutionary organization is without a compass and a concrete orientation for the strategy and tactics in the struggles ahead.

 

Lenin, and with him all orthodox Marxists, define the epoch of capitalism which began at the turn to the 20th century, as the epoch of imperialism or as epoch of “monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism. [3] Such an epoch is very different from the earlier epochs of capitalism in which this socio-economic mode of production prospered and ascended.

 

Furthermore, the RCIT and its predecessor organization have always emphasized that Marxists are obliged to carefully analyze different historic periods within the epoch of imperialism. What do we mean by a historic period? On an abstract level – and we have to be abstract to clarify a theoretical category – a period is a phase distinct from others by:

 

* The economic development (dynamic of capital accumulation, profit rate...) or as Trotsky called it: "the curve of capitalist development"

 

* The relation of forces between the classes; i.e. between the antagonistic classes – bourgeoisie, proletariat and other oppressed classes –, as well as between the ruling classes organized in different national states.

 

It is the concrete combination and interaction of these two factors – politics and economy – which defines the character of a period. Trotsky always insisted that there is no mechanic, one-sided relation between these two factors but rather a dialectical one.

 

We have elaborated on this issue more extensively somewhere else. [4] At this place we intend to illustrate this point only with a few examples. World War II, at least from spring 1943 onwards, opened a period of massive political convulsions including revolutionary crisis, civil wars and radical political and social transformations – especially in Europe and Asia. However, due to i) the massive destruction of capital – laying the basis for a new phase of accelerated accumulation of capital -, ii) the treacherous role of Stalinism resulting in severe defeats of the working class, as well as iii) the emergence of the U.S. as the absolute hegemon among the imperialist powers, capitalism was able to able to temporary halt its decay of productive forces (the so-called period of the “long boom” in the 1950s and 1960s). The working class was faced with a historic period which we have characterized as “democratic counterrevolutionary”.

 

However, unable to overcome the fundamental contradictions of the imperialist epoch, the capitalist world system entered again a period of crisis and a tendency towards economic stagnation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was combined with serious defeats for U.S. imperialism (Vietnam) and a massive upsurge of the international class struggle (e.g. France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Palestine, Turkey, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Burkina Faso, etc.).

 

However, given the deep crisis of leadership the working class and oppressed people suffered a number of defeats and setbacks so that the imperialist bourgeoisie and the capitalist class in the semi-colonial countries were able to launch a counterrevolutionary offensive in the 1980s (neoliberal austerity policy, second Cold War against the USSR, military coups in Latin America, Pakistan, etc.). The Stalinist counter-revolution in Poland in 1981 added another defeat for the international working class.

 

Without going into detail we can mention, as other bifurcations which opened new historical periods, the collapse of Stalinism and the capitalist restoration in the former USSR and China after 1989-91 and, later, the 9-11 attack and the Afghanistan war in 2001. Each of these periods was characterized by a different relation of forces between the classes. The victories capitalist counterrevolution shifted the relation of forces in favor of the imperialist bourgeoisie, without however overcoming the over-accumulation of capital, the tendency of the profit rate to fall and the stagnation tendencies of the capitalist productive forces.

 

From 2001 onwards we saw an acceleration of the capitalist contradictions and in particular the beginning of the end of the absolute hegemony of U.S. imperialism. This development resulted in the Great Recession in 2008/09 which opened a historic period in which we currently living in.

 

While all features of the imperialist epoch exist in all periods within, different features have varying importance in each of these periods. In the current historic period, for example, the rivalry between the imperialist Great Powers and the decay of capitalism are much more relevant than in previous periods. The struggle against imperialist intervention and occupation in the semi-colonial world has played a more significant role in the periods since 2001 than before.

 

We hope that this brief overview is sufficient to demonstrate our argument that different historic periods exist within the imperialist epoch and that these periods are characterized by different dynamics in the capitalist world economy as well as the political relation of forces between the classes.

 

As a side-note we remark that a close analysis of the world political developments will demonstrate that even within these historic periods, different political phases can be identified. [5]

 



[1] Rosa Luxemburg: Was will der Spartakusbund? (1918), in: Gesammelte Werke, Band 4, p. 441; in English: What Does the Spartacus League Want? (1918), http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1918/12/14.htm

[2] RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries (January 2016), Chapter II, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/.

[3] We have to begin with as precise and full a definition of imperialism as possible. Imperialism is a specific historical stage of capitalism. Its specific character is threefold: imperialism is monopoly capitalism; parasitic, or decaying capitalism; moribund capitalism. The supplanting of free competition by monopoly is the fundamental economic feature, the quintessence of imperialism. Monopoly manifests itself in five principal forms: (1) cartels, syndicates and trusts—the concentration of production has reached a degree which gives rise to these monopolistic associations of capitalists; (2) the monopolistic position of the big banks—three, four or five giant banks manipulate the whole economic life of America, France, Germany; (3) seizure of the sources of raw material by the trusts and the financial oligarchy (finance capital is monopoly industrial capital merged with bank capital); (4) the (economic) partition of the world by the international cartels has begun. There are already over one hundred such international cartels, which command the entire world market and divide it “amicably” among themselves—until war redivides it. The export of capital, as distinct from the export of commodities under non-monopoly capitalism, is a highly characteristic phenomenon and is closely linked with the economic and territorial-political partition of the world; (5) the territorial partition of the world (colonies) is completed.

Imperialism, as the highest stage of capitalism in America and Europe, and later in Asia, took final shape in the period 1898–1914. The Spanish-American War (1898), the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) and the economic crisis in Europe in 1900 are the chief historical landmarks in the new era of world history.

The fact that imperialism is parasitic or decaying capitalism is manifested first of all in the tendency to decay, which is characteristic of every monopoly under the system of private ownership of the means of production. The difference between the democratic-republican and the reactionary-monarchist imperialist bourgeoisie is obliterated precisely because they are both rotting alive (which by no means precludes an extraordinarily rapid development of capitalism in individual branches of industry, in individual countries, and in individual periods). Secondly, the decay of capitalism is manifested in the creation of a huge stratum of rentiers, capitalists who live by “clipping coupons”. In each of the four leading imperialist countries—England, U.S.A., France and Germany—capital in securities amounts to 100,000 or 150,000 million francs, from which each country derives an annual income of no less than five to eight thousand million. Thirdly, export of capital is parasitism raised to a high pitch. Fourthly, “finance capital strives for domination, not freedom”. Political reaction all along the line is a characteristic feature of imperialism. Corruption, bribery on a huge scale and all kinds of fraud. Fifthly, the exploitation of oppressed nations—which is inseparably connected with annexations—and especially the exploitation of colonies by a handful of “Great” Powers, increasingly transforms the “civilised” world into a parasite on the body of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations. The Roman proletarian lived at the expense of society. Modern society lives at the expense of the modern proletarian. Marx specially stressed this profound observation of Sismondi. Imperialism somewhat changes the situation. A privileged upper stratum of the proletariat in the imperialist countries lives partly at the expense of hundreds of millions in the uncivilised nations.

It is clear why imperialism is moribund capitalism, capitalism in transition to socialism: monopoly, which grows out of capitalism, is already dying capitalism, the beginning of its transition to socialism. The tremendous socialisation of labour by imperialism (what its apologists-the bourgeois economists-call “interlocking”) produces the same result.(V. I. Lenin: Imperialism and the Split in Socialism; in: LCW Vol. 23, pp.105-106)

[4] See e.g. chapter 14(i) in Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, pp. 372-394, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/; See also Michael Pröbsting: Building the Revolutionary Party in Theory and Practice. Looking Back and

Ahead after 25 Years of Organized Struggle for Bolshevism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2014, pp. 81-84 and pp. 101-103, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/rcit-party-building/

[5] For a detailed analysis of the different political phases in the current historic period, we refer readers to the various World Perspective documents which the RCIT has published since 2013.

Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, RCIT Books, Vienna 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2018/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2017: The Struggle against the Reactionary Offensive in the Era of Trumpism, 18 December 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2017/; RCIT: World Perspectives 2016: Advancing Counterrevolution and Acceleration of Class Contradictions Mark the Opening of a New Political Phase, 23 January 2016, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2016/; RCIT: Perspectives for the Class Struggle in Light of the Deepening Crisis in the Imperialist World Economy and Politics, 11 January 2015, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-january-2015/; RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism (English-language Journal of the RCIT) No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/; RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/; RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists. Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, RCIT Books, Vienna 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/.