Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The working-class movement has vacillated between four different roads:
1 ) The armed conquest of power by a small determined group which would hold on to power until the majority were converted – Blanquism
2 ) The seizure of the means of production and distribution by some form of industrial action – Syndicalism
3 ) The accomplishment of ever more sweeping reforms until capitalism had been reformed out of existence and society had “glided” into socialism – Reformism
4 ) The conquest of power by a majority of class-conscious workers antagonistic to reform policies, spurning leadership, using democratic methods, and imbued with the single aim of abolishing the capitalist ownership of the means of production and distribution in order to replace it by common ownership – Socialism.

In the history of the working class movement a variety of different parties have been formed; some following one or other of the above roads
Trying to change capitalism, or "reformism" is the one that has been taken by most people who have wanted to improve society. We do not deny that certain reforms won by the working class have helped to improve our general living and working conditions. Indeed, we see 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. Socialists have to acknowledge that the "welfare" state, the NHS and so on, made living standards for some sections of the working class better than they had been under rampant capitalism and its early ideology of laissez faire, although these ends should never be confused with socialism.

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 taken the edge of the problem, it has rarely managed to remove the problem completely. Socialists do 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.What we are opposed to is the whole culture of reformism, the idea that capitalism can be tamed and made palatable with the right reforms.

We oppose those organisations that promise to deliver a programme of reforms on behalf of the working class, often in order to gain a position of power. Such groups on the Left , often have real aims quite different to the reform programme they peddle. Many of the Left are going to put before the working class only what they think will be understood by the workers - proposals to improve and reform the present capitalist system- and , of course they are going to try to assume the leadership of such struggles as a way of achieving support for their vanguard party. These Left parties may try to initiate such struggles themselves and they will try to muscle in on any struggles of this sort that groups of workers have started off themselves.But it's all very cynical because they know that reformism ultimately leads nowhere (as they readily admit in their theoretical journals meant for circulation amongst their members, though not in the populist, agitational journals). The purpose in telling workers to engage in such struggles is to teach them a lesson, the hard way which is the only way some on the Left think they can learn i.e. by experiencing failure. The expectation is that when, these reformist struggles fail the workers will then turn against capitalism, under the Party Leadership.It is the old argument, advanced by Trotsky in his founding manifesto for the "Fourth International" in 1938 , that socialist consciousness will develop out of the struggle for reforms within capitalism: when workers realise that they can’t get the reforms they have been campaigning for they will, Trotsky pontificated, turn to the "cadres" of the Fourth International for leadership.In fact the working class never never happens so all that's achieved is to encourage reformist illusions amongst workers .The ultimate result of this is disillusionment with the possibility of radical change.

It can be summed up in 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.
4 ) The working class is only reformist minded.
5 ) Winning reformist battles will give the working class confidence.
6 ) So that, therefore, they will go on to have a socialist revolution.
7 ) 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.
8 ) 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.
9 ) 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.

It all relies upon a notion of the inherently revolutionary nature of the working class and that through the class struggle this inherently revolutionary character will show itself. Although , it hasn't.
Its also flawed because it shows no reason why, due to the failure of reform, the workers should turn to socialism. Why, since it was people calling themselves socialists who advocated that reform, don't they turn against it, or even to fascism? Under the model of revolution presented by the Trotskyists the only way the working class could come to socialist consciousness is through a revolution is made by the minority with themselves as its leaders.This, then, explains their dubious point about needing to "be" where the mass of the working class is. It is the reason why a supposedly revolutionary party should change its mind to be with the masses, rather than trying to get the masses to change their minds and be with it. They do not want workers to change their minds, merely to become followers. Their efforts are not geared towards changing minds, or raising revolutionary class consciousness.

What of the Labour Party ? They did seek to reform capitalism in the hope that perhaps a sudden change will take place and capitalism will prove to be a fair and fulfilling society for all its members. Now , as the natural conclusion to reformism has completely overrun them, they are a simple party of capitalist maintenance, with objectives of some form of new society being not just shunted into the background but completely out of existence. They are now more dedicated than ever to running with optimal efficiency the very system that creates poverty, misery, homelessness and war. Keeping the system and trying to make it work against its logic is not a viable option. Such reformism has been tried over the years and has failed. Those who set out to change society through winning political power and reforms have had to accept what was always inevitable, that reformism is a graveyard for such hopes. For anyone wishing to bring about a new and better world, reformism requires a pact with the devil. Where the forming of a government means being sucked into running the system. This is what has happened to the Labour Party.
Over decades, millions of workers have invested their hopes in so-called ‘practical’, ‘possibilist’ organisations like the Labour Party, hoping against hope that they would be able to neuter the market economy when, in reality, the market economy has successfully neutered them. they turned out to be the real ‘impossibilists’ – demanding an unattainable humanised capitalism – is one of the greatest tragedies of the last century, made all the greater because it was so predictable.They held idea that capitalism could be reformed into something kindly and user-friendly. It couldn't and it can't.

Socialists understand well the urge to do something now, to make a change. That makes us all the more determined, however, to get the message across, to clear away the barrier of the wages system, so that we can begin to build a truly human society. Why waste time fighting for half measures? We would better spend our time, energies, and resources educating people to establish socialism rather than waste time in the false belief that our present system can be made to work in everyone's interest.We do not claim “capitalist reforms” stand in the way of achieving socialism. If we did we'd logically have to oppose them; which we don't. We encourage workers to fight back against employers and, although we don't propose or advocate reforms, we don't oppose them if they genuinely do improve workers' lives under capitalism. What we say is not that they are obstacles to socialism but merely that they are irrelevant to socialism and that a socialist party should not advocate reforms.
If you are convinced, however, that groups or parties promising reforms deserve your support, we would urge you to consider the following points.The campaign, whether directed at right-wing or left-wing governments, will often only succeed if it can be reconciled with the profit-making needs of the system. In other words, the reform will often be turned to the benefit of the capitalist class at the expense of any working class gain. Any reform can be reversed and eroded later if a government finds it necessary. Reforms rarely, if ever, actually solve the problem they were intended to solve.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 single problem and find that improvements have taken place, usually only after a very long period of agitation. But rarely, if ever, has the problem actually disappeared, and usually other related problems have arisen to fill the vacuum of left by the "solution".
If the view remains that the struggle for reforms is worthwhile then imagine just how many palliatives and ameliorations will be offered and conceded by a besieged capitalist class in a desperate attempt to retain ownership rights if the working class were demanding the maximum programme of full and complete appropriation and nothing less . To stem the socialist tide the capitalist parties will sink their differences and draw closer together, much as religions do today in the face of the world avalanche of atheism. Reforms now derided as Utopian will be two a penny - in an attempt to fob
off the workers. Perhaps, for example, capitalism will provide a batch of free services, on the understanding that this is "the beginning" of a free society, but socialists will not be taken in.

If a pipe bursts and the water is flooding the house , one can start bailing the water out while it continues to flow in , or one can turn the water off, and then start bailing it out . It may take a while to find the tap, but unless the water is turned off, the water will continue to rise and bailing is rather pointless. Socialists are not immune to the human tragedies which occur daily, by the millions, and which generate thousands of social activist groups trying to stem the tide. Socialists suffer those tragedies as severely as anyone else, but work to encourage people to find the tap and turn it off.

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