There are two kinds of reformism. One has no intention of bringing about revolutionary change – indeed it may use reforms to oppose such change.
The other kind cherishes the mistaken belief that successful reforms will somehow prepare the ground for revolution. Reforms are seen as necessary first steps on the long road to eventual revolution.
The first type can be summarised thus:
Political parties have already become rival groups of professional politicians with virtually identical policies and certainly identical practices, offering themselves as the best managers of the system. So it would mean that politics would be reduced to pressure group politics as different sections of the population tried to persuade governments—whichever the party in power—to make changes in their particular sectional interest or, in the case of campaigning charities, of the disadvantaged group they have chosen to champion. Political action would consist of lobbying, backed up from time to time by direct action, for reforms in the sectional interest of some group.
Politicians' logic prevails:
1. Capitalism is terrible.
2. We must do something.
3. Reforms are something.
4. Therefore we must enact reforms.
The second type of reformist the "revolutionary reformist" has certain assumptions which seem to be the following:-
1. The working class has a reformist consciousness.
2. It is the duty of the Revolutionary Party to be where the masses are.
3. Therefore, to be with the mass of the working class, we must advocate reforms.
1. Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence.
2. So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.
And just how does the jump from reform-mindedness to socialist consciousness happen? There are three basic models for how this may come about:
1. The working class will learn from its struggles, and will eventually come to realise that assuming power is the only way to meet its ends.
2. That the working class will realise, through the failure of reforms to meet its needs, the futility of reformism and capitalism, and will overthrow it.
3. That the working class will come to trust the Party that leads them to victory, and come a social crisis they will follow it to revolution.
The World Socialist Party rejects the above political strategy and offers its no compromise, no minimum programme alternative .
Fighting for reforms is to fail in the duty of socialists to demystify and dispel capitalist ideology. This is important to note: capitalism is in the end an ideology; everything it does, all of its workings, all of it is a human product, constructed in the minds of humans, and obeyed because it presents itself as the natural law, as the real world, and the realm of the possible.For so-called socialists to fight for reforms then is to fail as socialists, to become enmeshed within the working of capitalism.
The World Socialist Party does not oppose reformism because it is against improvements in workers' lives lest they dampen their revolutionary ardour. Nor, because it thinks that decadent capitalism simply cannot deliver on any reforms.
But because our continued existence as propertyless wage slaves undermines whatever attempts we make to control and better our lives through reforms. Our objection to reformism is that by ignoring the essence of class, it throws blood, sweat and tears into battles that will be undermined by the workings of the wages system. All that effort, skill, energy, all those tools could be turned against class society, to create a society of common interest where we can make changes for our common mutual benefit. So long as class exists, any gains will be partial and fleeting, subject to the ongoing struggle.
Socialists make a choice. We choose to use our time and limited funds to work to eliminate the cause of the problems. One can pick any problem and often one can find that real improvements have taken place, usually after a very long period of agitation. Rarely, if ever, has the problem disappeared, and usually other related problems have cropped up to fill the vacuum of destruction or suffering left by the "solution".
We want the majority in society to take over and run the means of production in the interest of all. However, at the moment these are in the hands of a minority of the population whose ownership and control of them is backed up-and, when necessary, enforced-by the State and its repressive forces. The State stands as an obstacle between the useful majority and the means of production because it is at present controlled by the minority owning class. They control the State, not by some conspiracy, but with the consent or acquiescence of the majority of the population, a consent which expresses itself in everyday attitudes towards rich people, leaders, nationalism, money, etc. and, at election times, in voting for parties which support class ownership. In fact it is such majority support expressed through elections that gives their control of the State legitimacy.
In other words, the minority rule with the assent of the majority, which gives them political control. The first step towards taking over the means of production, therefore, must be to take over control of the State, and the easiest way to do this is via elections.
But elections are merely a technique, a method. The most important precondition to taking political control out of the hands of the owning class is that the majority are no longer prepared to be ruled and exploited by a minority; they must withdraw their consent to capitalism and class rule-they must want and understand a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control.
The plain fact is that you can't "Smash the State" while it still enjoys majority support - and when those who control it no longer enjoy majority support there is no need to try to "smash" it because the majority can use the power of their numbers to take control of it via the ballot box, so that it is no longer used to uphold class ownership.
To do so they will need to organise politically, into a political party, a socialist party. This is what we advocate.
The WSPUS doesn't suffer from delusions of grandeur so we don't necessary claim that we are that party. What we are talking about is not a small educational and propagandist group which we are presently, but a mass party that has yet to emerge.
It is such a party that will take political control via the ballot box, but since it will in effect be the useful majority organised democratically and politically for socialism it is the useful majority, not the party as such as something separate from that majority, that carries out the socialist transformation of society.
They neutralise the state and its repressive forces - there is no question of forming a government - and then proceed to take over the means of production for which they will also have organised themselves at their places of work.
This done, the repressive state is disbanded and its remaining administrative and service features, re-organised on a democratic basis, and are merged with the organisations which the majority will have formed to take over and run production (the workers councils and industrial unions, the co-operatives, the neighbourhood and community organisations), to form the democratic administrative structure of the state-free society of common ownership that socialism will be.
When the time comes the socialist majority will use the ballot box since it will be the obvious thing to do, and nobody will be able to prevent them or persuade them not to.
The World Socialist Party does not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, there is little wrong with people campaigning for reforms that bring essential improvements and enhance the quality of their lives, and some reforms do indeed make a difference to the lives of millions and can be viewed as “successful”.
There are examples of this in such fields as education, housing, child employment, work conditions and social security. Indeed, how could a party composed of workers and committed to the working-class interest be opposed to any measure that improved, however marginally and temporarily, conditions for workers - but our opposition is to reformism, in the sense of a policy of actively seeking reforms.
However, in this regard we also recognise that such “successes” have in reality done little more than to keep workers and their families in efficient working order and, while it has ameliorated the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely.
Reformism means POLITICAL action or pressure put on the state to modify the economic behaviour of capitalism . For example, voting for the Democratic Party to introduce a $15 minimum wage is reformist; joining your local BLM movement is not. There is no attempt to influence the state to introduce reforms therefore it is not reformist - anymore than joining a trade union is "reformist". Another example could be advocating the abolition of the death penalty which would not be reformist .
What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be made palatable with the right reforms, By that, we mean that we oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a program of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order that the organisation dishing out the promises can gain a position of power.
Such groups, especially those of the left-wing, often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. In this, they are being as dishonest as any other politician, from the left or right. The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.
On the other hand, a concession wrung from the capitalists without compensation, such as a reduction of the working day with no loss of daily pay, is a triumph.
The World Socialist Party has always drawn a distinction between reformism and trade-unionism (economic action,against employers, over the price and conditions of sale of labour power). We oppose the former (even if we don't necessarily oppose all reform measures as such) and support the latter as long as it is one sound lines (democratically organised, recognising that employers are the class enemy, etc).
As socialists, we see in this something that is to the good in the class struggle. These efforts of the workers to combine, either to resist the onslaughts of the master class, or to gain whatever they can, must meet with the support of all workers who understand their class position.The struggle on the economic field must be looked to and encouraged. The particular form of economic organisation through which the struggle is conducted is one which the circumstances of the struggle must mainly determine. The chief thing is to maintain the struggle as long as capitalism lasts.(Things get complicated when trade-unions start getting involved in reformist political action, but then our members in the unions oppose such actions as unsound.)
The World Socialist Party wholeheartedly supports the efforts of workers everywhere to secure democratic rights against the powers of suppression. Whilst we avoid any association with parties or political groups seeking to administer capitalism we emphasise that freedom of movement and expression, the freedom to organise in trade unions, to organise politically and to participate in elections, are of great importance to all workers and are vital to the success of the socialist movement.
In other words, although individual reforms may be worthy of support, the political strategy of reformism — promising to win reforms on the behalf of others — is a roundabout that leads nowhere. Some improvements are made and some problems are alleviated. Yet new kinds of problems arise which require addressing in a society that is forever changing. Or of defending the status quo against some ‘anti-reform’ when gains are being undermined. For the reformer’s work is never done under capitalism.
Another factor to be considered is that organisations that have a commitment to socialism but who also advocate a reform programme were in practice swamped by people who were attracted by their reforms rather than their supposed commitment to abolishing capitalism. In these circumstances,and those those who viewed reforms as a stepping-stone to socialism were themselves swamped by people for whom reforms were simply an end in themselves, palliating the worst excesses of the system.
In 1890 William Morris wrote an essay ‘Where are we now?’, as he left the Socialist League and looked back over his time in that organisation and the Social Democratic Federation. He saw two ‘methods of impatience’, as he termed them.
One was futile riot or revolt, which could be easily put down. - The armed struggle in modern terms .
The other was, to use the then-popular label, ‘palliation’, what we would now call reformism.
Morris (and the WSPUS) resolutely opposed both, since they would be carried out by people who did not know what socialism was and so would not know what to do next, even if their efforts were successful on their own terms. Instead he advocated propagating socialist ideas:
"Our business, I repeat, is the making of Socialists, i.e., convincing people that Socialism is good for them and is possible. When we have enough people of that way of thinking, they will find out what action is necessary for putting their principles in practice. Until we have that mass of opinion, action for a general change that will benefit the whole people is impossible."
As Sinn Fein was described as the political wing of the IRA, some would describe ourselves as the political wing of the anarchist movement.
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