Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reform or Revolution?

We have been having some great discussions at the last few meetings ( this is subversive activity in itself!) about some aspects of the IWW program and the classic question keeps cropping up. To what degee can we work within the current system for change and to what degree should we totally reject the systems processes and mechanisms? After all, we are plenty aware of capitalisms ability to devise ways to reproduce itself and co-opt attempts at radical change. Control of popular culture, the media, education ,religion, even the boundaries and limits placed on permissible debate or discourse in civil society , all these things subtly align a dominant narrative which sustains capitalism. Can we change things through electoral politics? Should we work for social justice through non-profit organizations? Will incremental change do any good? Can we build a popular movement or just a dedicated vanguard?

Better minds than mine have wrestled with these questions for two centuries but I believe modern times require what is now called "multi-tasking". We should work to build a "popular front" on many levels with allies all along the political spectrum but I believe the most necessary, critical ,and presently lacking political identity in such a front is the left-Left and those with the courage should strive to re-fill this niche. By staking out a radical position, uncompromisingly anti-capitalist, we create political space for everyone, the very thing capitalism hates. If you wish to vote and it helps build trust with allies, fine, but be ready to argue in every conversation that direct action is the only real way individuals become agents of change and that the economic system is the thing that must be replaced.

I say we reject the either-or constraints and work for both reform and revolution, dividing our precious time among those tasks which will bear the greatest fruit. Reform is easy and many choose that road of quick results. Lets get food to poor people. Lets get health care for all. But building the foundation for deep, structural, long term change requires patience and energy for which regrettably few have either the stamina or courage. This is where we are most needed. Let this be our primary task.


Ché Bob said...

We must also be ready to argue that the political system must be changed. I agree with the assumption that being uncompromisingly anti-capitalist opens up a space for everyone.

I also feel that our primary task needs to be working for the deep, structural change because there are still plenty of people who believe in reform. However, I don't know how authentic of an ally I will be if I pretend to want to help get Obama elected. Especially when I know that he won't bring food, health care, the troops home, an end to free trade, an end to supporting Israeli terror, reduce military spending and increase educational spending. He--like reform--is a lot of empty talk.

In my opinion we are well beyond reform.

herb said...

Who authored this post?

It might be a good idea to identify ourselves, unless of course people believe that the authorities can not penetrate the identity of unsigned posters. For those people I can only say good luck.

In regards to this post, I feel that it is hung up on an artificial distinction from the past. In the past ideological identity and correctness mattered a great deal more than it does today.

The authors of the current oppression love for people to identify firmly with doctrinaire ideological assertions. It serves the purpose of effectively dividing folks up the more easily to control and manipulate them.

What actually matters, and is unifying rather than disunifying, are values. Turns out that the vast majority of us share the same values. A given action can be examined from the prospective of values much more effectively than from any ideological position. A values position also leaves us in a more flexible stance and much less subject to external manipulation.

Is voting a bad thing in itself? No. Is voting for someone, or some initiative, that does not conform to ones values a bad thing? Well, not really bad, just stupid and counterproductive. If one perceives of the system of voting as completely corrupt, then one would be justified in abstaining, but that doesn't make voting bad in itself.

Vigorous and open debate among friends who share basic values may occasionally hurt someone's feelings, but, in the long run, it contributes more than anything I can think of to group solidarity and strength.

Strength and solidarity are values in themselves and need to be ranked highly in the priority we place on our values.

Is property destruction a bad thing? Taken by itself, exclusive of any other values, destructiveness is bad, but seen in the context of other values we care about, justice, fairness, kindness, etc. the negativity associated with property destruction can dim to insignificance.

Does being anti-capitalist mean that one hates all individual capitalist? Not necessarily. Capitalism is an economic system. To the extent that this system violates basic human values (which it demonstrably does in our time) then it makes moral sense to oppose it. But it makes a stronger case to be against the actions of the capitalist system, exploitation of the weak, destruction of the environment, etc., than it does to formulaically oppose the abstract economic entity called capitalism.

When people find themselves routinely in conflict with the actions of capitalism they can come to the conclusion that the system itself is at fault (my position BTW) on their own, in their own time, based on their own convictions. Ideological attacks on the system of capitalism that avoid the intervening steps of identifying the fruits of this amoral system can fail to convince because the listener can only see that the speaker has an ax to grind and is therefore likely to be dismissed as opinionated.

Best to start where people are at and engage their innate moral sense of outrage at the concrete effects of capitalism before trying to jump to the end of the story and being perceived as someone trying to exert conceptual dominance.

Trust each other to come to sane moral choices and we can find a sane path without resorting to political labels and doctrinaire ideology.

Graeme said...

I have been told I alienate people by pointing out capitalism is a failure, i've noticed it in person and on my blog. They may have a point, but did those fighting against slavery want to vote in politicians that wanted to only whip slaves 5 times instead of 10? Is that a victory?

We may be denounced as "radical" now, but every progressive movement is at one time or another. Capitalism's time has come, it just hasn't realized it yet.

troutsky said...

This is Dave aka troutsky and that was my post. I agree with Herb that there are some fairly universal values around which some unity can be built, fairness,solidarity,sustainability, for example, but that our organizing has to take into account the fact that even within shared values plenty of antagonism can arise over program, tactics, process and power.I prefer discourse and politics over "hoping" people make sane or moral choices. People have suffered under an oppressive system and are often transfixed by the Spectacle.As Claire pointed out (somewhere else) we can't ignore the unconscious and the contradictory, what has been termed cognitive dissonance and is explored by Lacan and others.

I'm not sure what Herb found doctrinaire in this idea of staking out a politics uncompromisingly anti-capitalist.A post on an IWW blog where I assume folks have a basic concept of Marxian or materialist analysis is different than my interactions with strangers who may only realize they are exhausted or feeling alienated.
As Graeme points out, some people (mostly those benefitting from the system) will be put off and that's fine.Im targeting a different audience and using different strategies.