The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Vulgar Reformism May 20, 2003 by RedStar2000

This is a series of posts discussing the most debased form of parliamentary cretinism...the kind that doesn't even "pretend" to have any "socialist" objective but rather profess that "differences" between capitalist political parties have some genuine significance to anyone except the capitalists themselves.

It's as if someone were to argue that what happens on a movie set in front of the cameras is "real" and everything that takes place out of camera range is of no interest...just a "Marxist fantasy".


Yes, it is one of the oldest theoretical questions of our movement.

Do we merely wish to "reduce human suffering", as some suggest, or is there more?

Because if reducing human suffering is all that matters, then the best immediate course of action is charity--e.g., feed the homeless, etc. In politics, you would try to find the "most humane" capitalist and vote for him, even work to elect him. That might present some practical problems...just how exactly do you tell which of these bloodsucking barbarians is the "most humane"?

If you believe that the purpose of our revolution is the liberation of the working class from wage-slavery, then no matter how discouraging things look now, you stay the course. You fight for what you really want even if you lose. No one can predict the future except in one sense: you will never get what you really want if you don't fight for it.

If you settle for shit, that becomes the most you can ever hope for.

Things will not really improve here for us until U.S. imperialism suffers some staggering defeats...and who can say how long that will take? Maybe a few years, maybe a few decades, maybe not until the end of this century.

But in the meantime, there is much useful work to be done elsewhere. Find some and do it.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 4, 2003


Would you rather be hit with a stone or crushed with a boulder?

I think if you look honestly at the history of mainstream American politics since 1940 or so, the drift towards fascism under both parties has been pretty consistent. The war in Vietnam wasn't started by Republicans. The Aid-to-Dependent-Children program wasn't abolished by Republicans. The initial war plans for U.S. invasion of an unspecified Middle Eastern country were not the products of was that "good ole boy" and celebrity-humanitarian Jimmy Carter who authorized "war games" for U.S. forces in Egypt back in the 1970s.

Other examples could be cited, many of them. What you are really arguing is that there's a "choice" between boulders. Pragmatism does have its limitations.

Then, there is the actual experience of people and groups who follow the course you advocate. Without exception, they become corrupted by their political work into supporting the capitalist system. They cease to think "long term" altogether. The most outstanding example of this is the Communist Party USA itself...but there are many, many others.

Your dismay with sectarianism in the left is understandable, but it may be something that is "part of the package".

Leftists are not very good "followers"...that even includes Leninists and Stalinists. The very process of becoming a leftist involves a good deal of "thinking for oneself"...and, once formed, that's not an easy habit to break. If we're in a group and we think something is fucked up, first we try to change that, and if we don't succeed, we simply move on to another group or create a new one.

The Leninists have spent three-quarters of a century trying to "discipline" us...with less success than ever. If you want something to be optimistic about, realize that we are becoming more rebellious rather than less.

If there is to be a kind of revolutionary "unity" on the left, I think it will take the form of a large "umbrella" federation with a huge reliance on local initiative. The best idea would be theoretical unity on revolutionary principles with practical work left to local initiative according to local conditions but in general compliance with those revolutionary principles.

And it wouldn't really be very "unified"...because those "revolutionary principles" would be subject to constant internal and even external struggle.

This is all very "messy", to be sure, but I frankly don't see any other way that will work. Trying to treat lefties as if they were "soldiers" that could be moved around on a "political map" just hasn't worked...and has alienated the hell out of people in the process.

I don't mean to discourage you in your chosen path. If you want to try your fortunes in the Democratic Party, by all means, go ahead.

But realize and accept the consequences; after a while, you won't be any kind of leftist at all.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 4, 2003


I speak of people...accepting that compromise is part of life.

Hold on tight to that one, it will serve you far better than anything I could say.

Somewhere along the way, I decided not to accept that "compromise is a part of life." So I quit doing it. Now I don't even miss it any more.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 4, 2003

The word "reformism" is not just a term of abuse to be thrown at anyone one happens to disagree with.

It has a specific political refers to the parliamentary road to "socialism".

Your perspective of doing political work within the Democratic Party clearly falls within that part of the political spectrum. Whether you "like" the word or not, you are a reformist.

As to "starting with the working class", why not start with the ones who don't vote at all? I would guess that their estimate of capitalist politics -- "they're all a bunch of crooked bastards" -- is rather closer to our views than those who still have "faith" in the system.

As it happens, most workers in America today work compulsory unpaid over-time; it's made pretty clear that if you want to keep your job, you'd better be willing to "do what it takes". So the legislation that you mentioned doesn't really mean all that much.

Reformism usually doesn't.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 5, 2003

It's always possible that I've misunderstood your posts, or anyone's. Indeed, on several occasions I've had to choke down a generous serving of crow for a major league misunderstanding.

Is that really the situation here?

Well, you tell me. Do you or do you not want people to vote for the Democratic Party? Do you or do you not think that supporting the Democrats will make "a real difference"? Do you or do you not think the Democratic Party is, in some sense, "the party of the working class" or can somehow be made to become that?

Should communists concern themselves at all with the passing scene of bourgeois politics and manufactured personalities?

I'm certainly willing to order up another serving of crow...but only if I've earned it.

As for trying to portray me as a "cold-hearted ideologue indifferent to human suffering", that's not nice.

There are those who are most concerned with winning a particular battle in the class struggle...and those who want to win the class war. There's a difference in the way we look at things...and the time horizons we deal with. Neither viewpoint is "more humane" or "less humane" than the other.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 6, 2003

Actually, it really wasn't necessary to explain the reasons behind your views at such least not to me. I have heard them before.

I think your views are essentially reformist...even though you hedge them around with all sorts of qualifications.

I'm glad to learn that you don't actually work for Democratic Party candidates or send them money...though it would actually be more consistent with your views if you did.

I'm likewise glad to learn that you don't think that work in the Democratic Party has anything to do with socialism.

I do think you suffer from an unjustified faith in bourgeois legality; that laws and courts can be used in the interests of the working class. On rare occasions, it sometimes "looks" that way, I'll concede, but in fact the only real guarantee of workers' rights is and has always been militant class struggle.

You wish me to suggest a "practical alternative" to the perspective you support? That's it! Militant class struggle, in the streets and in the workplaces, is the only way that working people ever get or keep anything.

I know, that's hard. But if you pull it off, then you really have something.

Otherwise, I think Ralph Nader had it right: "The only difference between Bush and Gore is the speed with which their knees hit the floor when a corporate CEO enters the room."

Guess I get to pass on the crow this time.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 7, 2003

You say that I am "foolish, desperate, unable to deal with reality, and don't seem to care for the suffering of real people."

You left out "arrogant bastard".

Your reference to DeLeon, though, is curious. "DeLeon was right, of course, if the workers take to the streets, the State will bring its massive resources against them."

Yes, that is the initial response of the bourgeois state apparatus to proletarian insurrection. Now, what happens if this massive effort at repression fails? What happens if the attempt to repress a significant portion of the working class simply provokes an uprising of nearly all of the working class?

It's called proletarian revolution. You may have heard of it.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 7, 2003

I am too poor to afford prescription drugs unless they give them away...which they are not going to do whether the Democrats pass their fucking plan or not.

So, I frankly don't give a shit!

"I think it's very safe to say that we are nowhere near a proletarian revolution." Wow! Guess we can agree on that one!

"That doesn't mean what happens between now and then doesn't matter."

What, in general? What are you talking about?

If you are speaking of convincing people that proletarian revolution is what is needed, that matters a lot. Not that revolutions occur simply from intellectual conviction, but the more people that understand what is needed, the better our chances of winning when it finally erupts.

If you are speaking about mucking about in the sty of bourgeois politics, I think that's a total waste of time and energy.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 7, 2003


Why did you become a socialist, anyway? Most socialists I know care deeply about the suffering of humanity.

I became and remain a communist because I wished to be free of the capitalist ruling class and its institution of wage-slavery.

Selfish bastard, ain't I?
First posted at Che-Lives on May 8, 2003

It is something of a tradition in American politics to hold the current occupant of the White House responsible for whatever happens to be taking place in the economy.

This is not only un-Marxist but extremely misleading as well. The factors that govern the ebb and flow of capitalism as well as its long term tendencies have little or nothing to do with the parade of ambitious personalities in bourgeois politics.

America's imperial presidency can make more or fewer wars; there's little it can do (or wants to do) about corporate behavior. It can regulate, if it wishes, but even regulations are easily evaded...and usually are.

Bush's tax cut for the rich is indeed deplorable, but hardly unexpected. It's not the first such rip-off and won't be the last. One must always remember that the capitalist class does not believe (with a handful of exceptions) that they should pay any taxes, ever. Whatever they can "pass on" to the ordinary consumer, they do. Wherever they can evade, they will. No one who is rich enough to afford the services of a tax advisor is without one or more "off-shore" bank accounts..."beyond the reach" of the tax collector.

The long-term strategy appears to be the "value-added tax" or "national sales tax". This highly regressive tax targets ordinary working people (who must spend all their disposable income and even go into debt to maintain a minimal standard-of-living)...while having a marginal effect on the wealthy, who invest the largest portion of their income.

As I believe someone else has already said, the capitalist state could be summarized as "socialism for the rich" and "barbarism for everybody else."

It will stay that way no matter who is in the White House.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 9, 2003

I think I understand your views quite well. You sincerely believe that the Democratic Party is "better" for the working class than the Republican Party and you would like it if we would register and vote Democratic.

Isn't that a fair summary?

Now, here's my view: I don't care if people register and vote or not because I don't think we live in a democracy, in any meaningful sense of the word.

And I think it's lying to people to suggest otherwise. It confers "legitimacy" on the capitalist state machinery...whereas I think it has none whatsoever.

It seems to me that the best way to "help people" is first, tell them the truth.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 9, 2003

Yes, I readily concede that my political outlook is extremely negative.

I really have nothing "positive" to say about late capitalism or its leading public figures at all.

I understand that my "negativism" is wildly at variance with traditional American (bourgeois) "constructive, positive attitudes". To me, that contrast is entirely in order.

The mythology of American thought goes "if you criticize something, then you must put forward a constructive improvement or a positive alternative."

No. It seems to me that communist revolutionaries should be entirely negative about the prevailing capitalist social order...if revolution is our goal.

It's not, after all, as if there will be no ebb and flow of "reforms" and "reformists"...capitalism supplies such things with regularity. But it's not our job.

I know that many disagree with me about this and I'm well aware of the line of argument: if socialists or communists are perceived by the working class as the "best fighters for reforms", then the working class will "trust us" to "lead the revolution".

I'm not interested in being a "leader". I don't think that's our job either.

I have no doubt that in the days of slavery there were people who diligently worked for improvements in the conditions and the treatment of slaves. If my memory serves me, there were even laws passed in the slave states providing for more humane treatment of slaves.

But I identify with the abolitionists. I am a "stiff-necked, cranky extremist" on the issue of capitalism and wage-slavery. I am not interested in velcro chains in designer colors...I am only intrested in smashing the chains altogether.

Perhaps you might respond with an argument along the lines of "Americans will not accept your attitude" or "Americans demand a positive outlook". I daresay you'd be right about that...and I still wouldn't give a shit. I am uninterested in "popularity" or being "acceptable" in that sense...and I think history strongly suggests that people who do have such motivations are inevitably corrupted in the process.

I do think American workers will be receptive to my "negative" attitudes when, and only when, U.S. imperialism suffers a series of catastrophic defeats...when the working class must pay a truly horrible "blood tax" extorted by the ruling class to save its empire.

History strongly suggests that it is unsuccessful imperialist war that most sharply undermines the legitimacy of the capitalist system, that lays the foundation for revolution. And, as I mentioned in other posts, militant class struggle in conditions of capitalist economic crisis have also been very significant.

Without one or, preferably, both of these circumstances, it is "business as usual" in the empire...and the sorts of trivia that you concern yourself with are essentially meaningless. If it makes you feel better to agitate yourself and others around such "issues", go right ahead. If it makes you feel better to believe you are "helping people", fine. I won't argue the matter.

I just have different priorities.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 9, 2003

Well, you certainly neatly evaded every point that I made; I rather doubt that you should be talking to me about the "real world".

I did not assert that tax policies have "no" effect on the economy; in fact, I didn't even mention the subject.

What I do suggest is that, most of the time, the effects are marginal. This is to be expected in a country where the state apparatus is entirely under the control of the bourgeoisie; any change in the tax structure that would have significant negative impact on accumulated wealth would not be permitted.

A massive increase of federal spending on anything will certainly have a measurable effect on some part of the economy; the overall effect will probably be too small to measure accurately. (I might add here that of all the unreliable statistics we are deluged with on a daily basis, I strongly suspect official economic statistics are the worst.)

Yes, a national sales tax would have an impact on the economy; a further transfer of wealth from the working class to the bourgeoisie...something that is routine in any event.

There is nothing "magical" about any of this; the laws of capitalism have been more or less well-known for more than a century. If anyone here is invoking "magic", it is you...with your peculiar insistence that it really matters who sits in the Oval Office; that the occupant has some "magical" power to create or destroy jobs.

Your fascination with this kind of trivia suggests not an interest in the real world but rather an interest in the spectacle of "issues" presented by the bourgeois media...things we are "supposed" to concern ourselves with lest we perceive the reality of wage-slavery and imperialism.

The difference between us, is not that you "really care" about people and I don't; the difference is that you have succumbed to distraction and I have not.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 10, 2003

Well, I read the excerpt from Rosa Luxemburg's article and followed the link to read a couple of chapters...and I can't see the relevance in the context of this thread.

Luxemburg was arguing against a fully developed theory of opportunism, that of Bernstein. Neither of the parties to the dispute suggested that the working class should vote for bourgeois parties, much less that "socialists" or "anarchists" should do so.

Further, it should be understood that at that time it still appeared "reasonable" that the working class could rise to power by winning a majority in parliament in a bourgeois election. To not participate in electoral politics at that time would have been a mark of "unseriousness" or even "anarcho-terrorism".

Things have changed.

Even the issue of "reforms" in and of themselves is tangential to this thread; neither I nor anyone has expressed opposition to any reform per se. Indifference, yes; opposition, no.

The question in this thread is: does it make sense to "struggle" for "reforms" in modern capitalist society by voting for "left" capitalist parties?

I say no!

1. The two major parties in the United States are both right-wing parties and, if history is any guide, they will continue to move rightwards, as they have since 1940 or thereabouts.

2. The legal norms of capitalist elections are such that they become less and less responsive to progressive opinion as time goes on. After Florida, I think even the assumption that a capitalist election is "honest" is no longer justified.

3. At the same time, elections in capitalist society have become more and more a "spectacle" (as the Situationists put it back in the late 1960s)...a lavish and enormously expensive extravaganza meant for entertainment and distraction.

4. There is also the question of how much the outcome really means except to the candidates and their intimate supporters. One could well argue that bodies like the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Supreme Court have much more domestic clout than congress or the presidency...there does seem to be a trend towards having appointed administrative bodies "do the dirty work" while congress and the president "put on the show".

5. The imperial president still has the power to make war. But I submit the situation now is simply which imperialist war will be fought by the next administration. No matter which party is in the white house, war is on the agenda. Both parties are more or less agreed that "the Empire must grow"...but they can certainly disagree on which country is to become the next province.

How then are reforms even possible any longer under capitalism? They may not be!

But if they are, the only way I know how to get them is the hard way...massive struggles in workplaces and on the streets, involving millions of people who are really pissed off. Whenever that happens, even "conservative" politicians suddenly discover that maybe a reform or two (or the appearance thereof) would be "a pretty good idea about now".

They may publicly reassure everyone that "communism is dead"...don't think for a second that they believe that privately. They are well aware of what happens to ruling classes that ignore serious discontent or try to rely solely on measures of repression.

In fact, it seems to me that at this point in history, the ruling class is far more class-conscious than we are. Their understanding of the material realities that underlie politcs is superior to ours as well.

When will we learn better?
First posted at Che-Lives on May 23, 2003


because basically this thread is about social reforms in capitalism vs. revolution.

No it isn't, and I actually said so in my last post. If we want to talk about reforms "in the abstract" (outside of historical reality), that's one thing.

But you seem to be under the impression that the Democratic Party is in some way "like" the Social Democratic Party in your country. That is not even remotely true. The U.S. Democratic Party is to the right of the Christian Democrats in your a wide margin!

I understand that it's hard for people who live in civilized countries to understand how reactionary the mainstream of American politics is...believe me, you have no idea how bad it really is.


You say it doesn't make any sense to reform capitalism...

No, actually, I didn't say that. I am more and more skeptical of the possibility as time goes by...but what I did say was that if there are to be reforms, it won't happen because "the Democrats won." The only way in modern capitalist society that the working class gets anything is by raising hell. And the more hell they raise, the more they get.


you don't support reforms by the Democrats (which are currently the only force who are capable of doing any social reforms in the US, just like the German social democrats of 1900)

The modern Democratic Party in the U.S. is nothing like the German Social Democracy of 1900...there is simply no comparison.


...nor you support any other third party or other organisation in the US to do social reforms.

Well, if you're speaking of the American Green Party (both factions), it does not seem to me that they have any reasonable chance of winning anything more substantial than a seat on the Berkeley City Council. I wouldn't look for a second edition of the "New Deal" from those folks. (It's hard to generalize from one country to another...but my guess is that American Greens--most of them anyway--would be in the right wing of your Green Party.)


...and discredit every socialist who is participating in the bourgois US party system as reformist.

Yes, exactly. That doesn't mean they're "evil" or "betrayers of the proletariat" or any thing like that; it just means they're wrong and all their efforts will accomplish nothing.

To the extent that they mislead people, it probably does delay the revolution...for maybe a few days. Not much in the long sweep of history, when you stop and think about it.


I'm from Germany, were we have (soon had!) a reformed capitalism, the conditions for the average workers are still much better than in the US, we wouldn't have that better conditions, if there wouldn't have been socialists who fought for that better conditions in the German parliaments.

That was then, this is now. Yes, there certainly was a time, particularly during the Weimar Republic, when Social Democracy could pass extensive reform legislation and actually get it implemented.

To a much lesser extent, that was also the case here in the first two terms of the Roosevelt administration (1932-1940).

Since then, with a blip or two here and there, it's been downhill all the way in the U.S....and, from what I've read, things don't look so good where you live either.

Without trying to put a "grand theoretical flourish" on the matter, it seems to me that the working class is under attack in every advanced capitalist country. To ask for "reforms" from the people that are attacking us simply makes no sense to me whatsoever.


As Rosa said, social reforms in capitalism are not the final goal, that is still the revolution, but an important mean of the class struggle...

Perhaps that was true in her time; I wasn't there.

But I have little confidence in the ability of present-day capitalist society to "institutionalize" any significant improvement in the lives of working people...or even keep the ones that already exist. It's that old Marxist "devil" at work: the tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time. They don't have as much "room" to make concessions (or reforms) as they used to.

That doesn't mean you still can't fight for reforms (at least if you pick your spots with sufficient care), but it does mean that such fights will, from now on, take place outside "the norms of bourgeois political life".

That is, if you expect to get anywhere.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 23, 2003


But on a much lower level, the Democats are the advocate of the trade unions and the workers in the dirty game of politics, just like the Social Democrats here, and unlike all the socialist sects around, they actually have power to really change things, so we have to arrange with them somehow.

Since I can't read German and have no access to sources there, I will take your word for the the fact that the SPD "actually has power to really change things". But I ask you honestly, what is their practice? Are they changing things for the better or for the worse?

Here that is what we call a no-brainer: the Democrats under Clinton changed things dramatically for the worse...most notably with the abolition of the Aid-to-Dependent-Children Program. This was a program that paid unattached women with children to stay home and take care of their kids. Now these women have been added to the already depressed job market, forcing wages down further than they already were.

In other words, the Democratic Party here may have the abstract power to change things for the better...but in practice, they change things for the worse.

I won't even bother adding that nearly all of those "progressive" Democrats were and remain enthusiastic supporters of imperialist war...last month's and next month's too.


I just think we shouldn't leave the political ground totally to the reaction...

It's already their's...and here, at least, has been more or less since 1940 or, if you want to be generous, 1948.

Why things have turned out that way is a rather thorny own suspicion is that capitalism "naturally" evolves into something very much like fascism as it ages; I don't mean with Hitlers and Mussolinis and Francos...those were specific to their time. I'm thinking more along the lines of a semi-formal aristocracy with ritual plebiscites held on a periodic basis to select ceremonial office-holders.

Like we have now, only more so.


But all protests on the streets won't do anything now, if we haven't allies in politics, I doubt that even rasing hell will change anything, if the government is led by poeple like Bush, no, he will only defend the interests of the US industry by all means, the reaction would be massive repression, and a big step forward to fascism.

Well, we really don't know that, do we? When the time comes when large numbers of working people are willing to raise hell...then we'll see. One possibility is certainly a vicious fascist repression...but the capitalist class is not stupid. They learned a lot in the 20th century and one of the things they learned is that too much repression too quickly applied can backfire.

Historically (at least here), when a significant portion of the working class has raised hell, the response of the ruling class has been to "step back", grant a reform or three, wait for things to quiet down a bit before resuming their attack on the working class.

In this sense, it doesn't matter if we "have" people in bourgeois politics...there will be both Republicans and Democrats who will be eager to portray themselves as "defenders of the little guy" least for a season or two.

The same holds true, I think, for defending historical gains of the class; if the working class is unwilling to defend those gains, a handful of socialists or communists is not going to make any difference...even if they were all in public office instead of just trying to elect the less reactionary politician to office. On those occasions where the class is willing to defend its historical position, the politicians generally back away, cool things down, wait for a better time to make their next move, etc. Something like this appears to be happening now in both France and Italy...the working class is losing ground, but they are bitterly contesting every meter.

It seems to me in a way that this whole ruckus about bourgeois electoral politics stems from an old assumption that people have been making for a century or more, that might be worded something like this: "what we lefties do is not real politics; real politics is what those rich guys do."

It often really does look that way, but appearances can be deceiving. The rapid spread of insurgent views across the internet has had more of an impact, in my opinion, than all of the bourgeois elections of the last six years put together. The sense of isolation and powerlessness that the bourgeoisie rely on to keep us in our place is beginning to look a little ragged around the edges. As technology gets cheaper and more available, the class itself will begin to learn once more the power of solidarity.

The rise of "smart mobs" somebody called it...people who know what's going on and why and very much want to do something about it now. What they will do, I will not venture to predict; but I'm willing to bet that it will have little or nothing to do with bourgeois parties and elections.

Why suck up to dinosaurs when you can play with mammals?
First posted at Che-Lives on May 23, 2003
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