Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dead-End Politics

On Monday,  activists will gather at the U.S. Capitol and more than 30 cities across the nation for the revival of The Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that aims to bring the issue poverty to the center of the political agenda. Inspired by a 1968 initiative organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the campaign will involve 40 days of protests to highlight the issues of racism, poverty, environmental destruction, the war economy and militarism. The movement’s organizers say it will be one of the largest waves of nonviolent protest and direct action in national history. The campaign’s official demands include federal and state living-wage laws, an end to anti-union and anti-workers’ rights efforts, welfare programs for the poor, equity in education, Medicaid expansion, accessible housing and more.

Shouldn't those protesters be asking themselves why after 50 years of reforms, they are still required to return to the streets to defend what reforms they have gained and to ask for new reforms?

The debate of revolutionary or reformist approaches to social change has been argued through the ages. After several years of capitalist crisis and the imposition of anti-working class austerity, socialism still seems as far from the political agenda as it has ever been. We live at a time when resistance to capitalism and the struggle for a better world are almost totally detached from any striving for socialism. "Reformism", in short, has replaced socialism; and paradoxically, the most militant protests of today are fought for the cause of "reformism" rather than of socialism. The fact that protests or struggles today are informed not by socialism but by "reformism" makes the contemporary period rather unique in the history of capitalism, since from the days of the "utopian socialists" right until late into the last century, capitalism had always been haunted by the spectre of socialism. The vanishing of this spectre, therefore, makes the contemporary period quite unprecedented. At present, the working class movement is clearly dominated by reformist forces.

The prevailing narrative is that there is no alternative to "reformism" and a virtue is made out of necessity by pretending that "reformism" also works, that it is, in fact, the only thing that works. The danger of reformism is clear for all see, with any social democratic or labour party that has ever been in existence being dragged to the right by the flawed idea that by creating a catch-all broad front based on reforming capitalism, with socialism as some 'abstract' distant goal. Trying to create a mass movement of people united against austerity attacks is one that must be supported, however not providing a clear and detailed path towards a socialist society to that mass movement, and trying to convince them of socialism as a "long-term aim" is a mistake. A party without a clear commitment towards socialism will be mired in long-term reformism. We don't need to wait until sometime in the future, the time has arrived a long time ago.


Tim Hart said...

This article is at once a depressing and an optimistic view of contemporary politics. It is justifiable to criticise left-leaning reformers for co-opting the term ‘socialism’ to appease their more socialist minded followers and to convince them of the merits of gradualism which, on the compelling evidence of history, will take them nowhere in their quest for socialism. But nevertheless this perspective is optimistic in the sense that it implies a misguided ‘tugging to the left’ of our society. But reformism is not the exclusive realm of the left. Reformists also emanate from the right. It is these who are in the ascendancy around the world; lurching our society to the right and entrenching it in corporate Fascism, thereby creating an even more rapacious and pernicious form of capitalism in the process. As a socialist, if one has a determinist view of history, one might sit back and wait for capitalism to play out its endgame and, through a kind of natural evolution, be replaced by socialism. But the capitalist endgame may be a long time coming. Pluralism in all its forms is being systematically eradicated, to be replaced by the overwhelmingly coercive forces of the state as agents of the corporations. The lock down of dissent may be so absolute as to prevent socialism from emerging in any meaningful Earthly timeframe. But for the first time in history our generation knows something that has never been known by previous generations; that our planet is likely to give up the ghost before capitalism does. All the scientific evidence points to catastrophic environmental destruction within a couple of generations or so and capitalism is hastening things along at an alarming rate. In such circumstances the imperative for socialism becomes ever more urgent. But, as this article points out, most people are being led down the blind alley of reformism. As this article poignantly acknowledges; the revolutionary and reformist approaches have been debated through the ages and certainly since the inception of the SPGB over a hundred years ago in 1904. But it is doubtful whether we have the luxury of another hundred years of debate. How to change these ‘facts on the ground’ in time to avert the Apocalypse – environmental, nuclear, or otherwise – is, as they say, the 64,000 dollar question. Answers on a postcard...........

ajohnstone said...

Another pertinent observation from yourself.

We appreciate comments and wish many others would follow your example. Keep them coming, Tim