The REDSTAR2000 Papers

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

What Reformism Really Means July 19, 2003 by RedStar2000

It seems to me that modern reformism is an ideology of surrender to capitalism; the reformist "spirit" is that of a defeated army trying to negotiate the "best terms" for laying down their arms. They feel as if their only hope is to persuade capital to be "merciful", to exploit and oppress in a somewhat more "humane" fashion. Their doctrines of "gradual improvement" turn out, in practice, to mean slowing the pace of retreat.

The very idea of genuine resistance to capitalist hegemony is, to them, utopian...even when they can imagine it at all. These posts are a good illustration of how they really think...and what they really mean.


As was the case in an earlier thread on this subject, the matter appears to turn on the question of "reducing human suffering".

Those who propose to vote for the U.S. Democratic Party do so on the basis that there will be "less human suffering" under any Democrat than under Bush. Though no one has yet said so, the logic of that position demands that you campaign for the Democrats as well. That is, you campaign for Kucinich in the primaries and, after he loses, campaign for whatever mainstream Democrat wins the nomination. You would register voters in areas likely to produce a large number of Democratic votes, you would put up posters and hand out leaflets, you would take part in "getting out the vote" on election day or even be a poll-watcher, etc. This is what bourgeois electoral politics means down at the level of ordinary people, and if your motive is to "reduce human suffering" and you think electing a Democrat will do that, then--if you are sincere in your conviction--you have to do all that other shit, too.

You may, of course, keep quiet about it at Che-Lives to avoid being "flamed"...bourgeois electoral politics is very tolerant of the "need to lie" in a "good cause".

I would like to address the central proposition: is our purpose as leftists to "reduce human suffering"?

In my opinion, the answer is no. The left is not supposed to be a more sincere or less arrogant "charity", offering tastier soup in our soup kitchens and more comfortable beds in our homeless shelters...not to mention secular sermons or more "caring" politicians.

We should not want people to "look to us" as politicians who "care", as "concerned individuals" who people can "trust" to "look after them".

Those who have such a conception of political priorities should be in the charity racket...and in the Democratic Party. It's where they belong.

I think we "of the left" have an altogether different concept of what "human suffering" under capitalism really is wage-slavery. All of the forms of "human suffering" that even the bourgeois media publicize from time to time follow from the existence of wage-slavery.

We "of the left" are for the overthrow of the capitalist class and the abolition of wage-slavery. We are, in fact, in exactly the position of the abolitionists in the United States prior to 1850...a despised minority who, disregarding "human nature", wished to end a form of exploitation of humans by humans that had hitherto characterized most human societies.

There were those, of course, who wished to "reduce human suffering" by making slavery "more humane" and, perhaps in a few instances, they had some limited successes. But we know, do we not, who really "reduced human suffering"...those who "stuck to their abolitionist guns" until Lee's ragged and starving army of slaveowners and fools finally surrendered.

We are in the same position as those early abolitionists. Many people think we are "crazy". Others think we are "blue sky utopians" who "don't care about people" because we refuse to become involved in trivial "improvements" in the conditions of wage-slaves. And our contempt for the shams and spectacles of bourgeois electoral politics is derided as "infantile" and "purist".

(One of the early abolitionists said that the United States Constitution was "a compact forged in Hell and endorsed by the Devil." Allowing for the theological rhetoric of that era, he was right!)

So be it. I am not interested in which slave owner gets elected in 2004 or any other year. I am not interested in which party of slave-owners gets elected to which offices. If that makes me a "cold-hearted bastard who doesn't care about people", then make the most of it.

Here's one of my favorite quotations, from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in the first issue of The Liberator, January 1, 1831:

I am in earnest-I will not equivocate-I will not excuse-I will not retreat a single inch-and I will be heard!

He was heard. We will be too.
First posted at Che-Lives on June 21, 2003


Should we fight for more welfare for people? Should we fight for better medical coverage for people? Why should we fight for that if these people are still under capitalism? Those reforms would help people; what's wrong with that?

You can...if you think it will make a significant difference. You can also give a quarter to every homeless person that you see in the street...with a similar degree of effectiveness.

And you don't have to be any kind of leftist to do that...just ordinary generic compassion will be sufficient justification.

My argument, which you did not respond to, suggested that real leftists have a different conception of what it means to "help people".


...the abolitionist just before the civil war also had many, many people on their side. They had enough to overthrow the system, we do not. We cannot live our lives thinking that most people in this country want socialism, because they don't. So, we must deal with that.

I think you have missed my point again. From 1830 to roughly 1850, the abolitionists were a tiny minority without any public support to speak of. No one would have predicted that they would ever have significant public support.

It is the same for us now. If Marx was right, then material conditions will inevitably create a "receptive climate" for our happened for the abolitionists. We do not need to busy ourselves with velcro chains and shaded auction blocks.

To improve our ideas and figure out how to insert them into the public domain is work enough for real leftists.

Bourgeois electoral politics is just a distraction from our real work.
First posted at Che-Lives on June 26, 2003

It seems to me that terms like "liberal" or "conservative", "right" or "left", etc. are fundamentally misleading when applied to modern capitalist political parties.

In the 19th century and perhaps even well into the 20th century, political ideas actually had a real meaning to the capitalist class...there really were such entities as the "progressive bourgeoisie" and the "reactionary bourgeoisie".

Since the end of World War II (at the latest), I don't think that has been the case. Bourgeois political ideas, such as liberalism, conservatism, social democracy, etc., have been replaced by what Guy Debord and the Situationists called a "spectacle"--an extravagant display of lights and sounds and smoke and mirrors, without any substance at all except the preservation of capitalist power.

Any capitalist politician may take any position on anything...and no one is surprised except the terminally naive. Yesterday's "liberal" is today's "anti-welfare, more prisons" semi-fascist. Yesterday's "conservative" is today's outspoken opponent of American "criminal folly in Iraq". It's all for show since everyone knows it doesn't really mean anything.

The basic political consensus of the capitalist class has been in place for some time: yield as little as possible to the working class and that only under extreme pressure; otherwise, reduce the class to near absolute misery and utter demoralization.

Bourgeois electoral politics is a distraction from the class struggle. A thousand people in the streets is worth far more than a thousand "votes" on any issue at any time.

This does not mean that there are not still differences among capitalists (over how the plunder is to be shared, if nothing else). But the struggles over these matters take place far above the public eye. C-Span (or whatever it's called) does not have a camera and a microphone at meetings of the Federal Reserve System...much less in the plush men's room where one rich bastard speaks quietly to another and an "arrangement" is agreed upon.

What we have now (regardless of what we "used" to have) is the "appearance" of democracy...all real decisions are made elsewhere.

Campaigning and voting in modern capitalist elections is precisely as meaningful as campaigning and voting in a "Student Government" election in high school: utterly futile and useless.

I know that won't stop some folks from doing it anyway...but at least I tried to warn them.
First posted at Che-Lives on July 9, 2003


The last time people employed this stategy of going after liberals before the right, we got Adolph Hitler and the 3rd Reich.

A popular misconception and one widely-circulated by bourgeois historians...perhaps for less than "scholarly" reasons.

The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) campaigned vigorously against the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Reichstag elections of 1932 and in the November elections actually outpolled the SPD, becoming the largest working class party in the German parliament.

Something else was happening on the other side of the politicial spectrum; the old conservative and centerist parties were melting away into the Nazi party. Only the Catholic Center Party, based mainly in Bavaria and fundamentally conservative despite its moderate image, managed to "hold its own" against the drawing power of Hitler.

Bourgeois critics of the KPD suggest that "if only" the KPD and the SPD had formed some kind of "alliance" against the Nazis, things would have turned out "differently".

Utter nonsense, of course. The majority of the German parliament was reactionary. The only reason it took until January 1933 to bring Hitler to power was the necessity of working out various "arrangements" so that all the ruling class scum were promised their share of the spoils. Empty promises, it turned out, as the Nazis grabbed everything.

The KPD opposition to the Nazis in 1932 was actually far more intransigent than the SPD...which was, in many ways, a demoralized party. Their faith in the "reasonableness" of the ruling class and the "rule of law" was shattered by events in 1930-32. The KPD, on the other hand, fought the Nazi stormtroopers in the streets of Berlin and other cities right up until the end. Their slogan was "Smash the Nazi Wherever You Find Him".

If any criticism of the KPD could be made from the left, it's that the KPD should have been even more radical in its opposition to the Nazis. The KPD leadership admitted, after the Nazis came to power, that they had been held back by too great a concern for bourgeois "legality"--some suggested that the leadership was also worried about being driven underground and losing some of the accumulated "goodies" that they had acquired during the 1920s.

Thus, what really happened. The use of the bourgeois version of events has a purpose, of course: to frighten the working class in general and the organized left in particular into supporting the class enemy.

It is a pathetic argument, especially since if the ruling class wishes to impose an overt fascist despotism, they will simply do so, no matter what the election totals are.

We should attack the ruling class on real issues in the workplace and the streets...and ignore their smoke and mirrors. We might still succumb to fascist repression (history offers few guarantees)...but at least we'll go down in struggle against the real enemy.
First posted at Che-Lives on July 10, 2003


Redstar goes to great lengths to explain why all sorts of people who have called themselves socialists for hundreds of years, some of them before Marx, are not socialists.

Actually, that's not quite true. I haven't actually talked much at all about "socialists" and "socialism" and the varieties thereof. I prefer to speak of "communism" and "communists", as Marx and Engels did.

The reason for this is that what we have seen under the banner of "socialism" in the advanced capitalist countries has been nothing but vulgar reformism...especially since the end of World War I.

Everyone "understands" that, in the modern functional meaning of the word, when you speak of "socialism" you are harmless, but when you speak of "communism"--not to mention "anarchism"--you are (potentially) dangerous.


Redstar is in fact in favour of Redstarism and will happily denounce anybody who disagrees, as not being either a socialist or a communist.

I suppose it must look that way to anyone I criticize...but it can't be helped. I think theoretical clarity about what communism is and isn't is important...and that's bound to be irritating to those who would rather keep things fuzzy and obscure. Too bad.


He is an anarcho-communist who wishes to dictate how people should think to the extent that he can see no reason not to misrepresent even the meaning of words if he thinks it will help him get his views accepted.

It's pretty clear that this is one of my real "fans" speaking.(!)


Like all anarchists he has no idea how Anarchy could ever be brought into existence and no concept of how to behave other than as a dictator.

Someone once called me--jokingly, I think--an "anarcho-stalinist"...simply because I suggested that anyone who tries to give people orders should be taken out and summarily shot.


Anarchy is a philosophy for intellectuals who wish to pontificate endlessly on how if everyone was nice the world would be nice. It sounds lovely and clever to support it, but it is quite possibly a bigger obstacle to ever establishing a Marxist order even than America is.

"If only those fucking anarchists would go away, everything would be...nice".


Anarchists like to regurgitate the books they have read and throw pointless little bricks. Thats about it.

"Yeah, you bastards, quit reading all those damn books! Keep that up and you'll starting thinking you know better than your rightful leaders! And put down those bricks, dammit."


I'm a marxist socialist in favour of making use of market mechanisms for regulating the supply of commodities.

At last, a positive statement. And what a statement it is.

Here is a "Marxist" who wishes to retain the market and the production of commodities for sale (and profit, presumably). Here is a version of "socialism" that will retain the economic laws that produced capitalism.

In other words, here is a perfect exercise in futility.


Socialism will be achieved only if people in the west use the existing, though very imperfect, representative democratic systems to vote in a government which will impose Marxists socialism.

Engels toyed a bit with this idea towards the end of his long life...but he had an excuse. Working class participation in capitalist politics was a "new" strategy that looked like it "might" work, especially in Germany.

To have people bring this up more than a century later is rather like suggesting that we design commercial airliner wings with feathers.

Or that we try breeding pigs with wings.


The only other mechanism that may help is if a socialist organisation starts to gradually aquire control of capitalist business interests. Which means running them as Capitalist businesses until socialism is actually achieved.

Just think, the American civil war was "unnecessary"...if only the slaves had pooled their money to gradually "buy themselves free".

Just think? Perhaps that's asking too much.


And to achieve such a government all socialists need to pull together, not be distracted by intellectual BS like Anarcho communism.

By all means, don't ever listen to a word I say--it's all a "distraction" from this splendidly "practical" goal of market "socialism" through capitalist elections and the purchase of shares in the stock market.

Why be distracted by my "intellectual bullshit" when you can get generic capitalist bullshit so much more easily? It's available at a website near you.

This is why I don't talk much about "socialism".
First posted at Che-Lives on July 14, 2003


I assume that it is the act of purchase that you find absurd in the idea. Once purchased all you have is common ownership of a means of production. Exactly what we all say we want. If we cant run things once purchased or prevent someone from becoming exploitative then socialism is impossible. Just pack up now. I dont believe this of course.

It is certainly possible and even practical for a group of unusually well-compensated workers to pool their resources and purchase a functioning business and run it anyway they please. If I'm not mistaken, The Economist ran an article a few years ago about a company in England that is the largest manufacturer of surgical instruments in Europe and is owned and managed by its employees. It's also, again if I'm not mistaken, been around for decades. The account I read suggested that it's a wonderful place to work.

That probably suggests the difficulty, even in a "best case scenario". A group of workers who managed to organize such an enterprise would quickly see the immediate benefits of such an arrangement; why then would they reduce or eliminate such gains in order to benefit another group of workers? They truly would be "bourgeois-workers" (a hybred-class) and would likely consider themselves truly "superior" to the poor sods who were still working at regular companies. (I have no way of knowing, of course, but I suspect that English worker-owned factory recruits its young workers from the competent sons and daughters of the existing work force...inheritance would logically follow from such an arrangement.)

And this worker-owned factory has shown no inclination to purchase other factories and convert them into worker-managed enterprises.

That's the best case; the experience in Yugoslavia is even less promising. Many workplaces (or enterprises) were effectively owned and managed by the workers who happened to be there as of a certain date (when the central government released control); almost at once, the workers who were the initial beneficiaries of this move set up barriers against "new hires" enjoying the same benefits...not only lower financial compensation but less or no voice in management decisions. Eventually--that is within a few years--you did indeed have "workers" exploiting workers.

This suggests to me that the idea of "ownership" is, in and of itself, incompatable with any form of socialism or communism; that is, the "feeling of ownership" matched with the actual ability to make "ownership-type decisions" leads directly to capitalist or quasi-capitalist consciousness. This has not yet happened in the English factory mentioned above...but at some point it ought to.

In theoretical terms, the workers in a particular workplace must indeed be "in control of" that workplace and must "manage" it directly...but that is not the same as "ownership" and should not be confused with the latter.

The point is not to transfer ownership from the capitalist class to the working class; it is to abolish private property in the means of production altogether, in any form. The means of production will "belong" to everyone collectively...the use of those means of production will be decided by the people that work there and the people that need what they produce. No doubt this will generate many arguments; classless society will be very argumentative.

Not unlike message boards, though the stakes will be considerably higher.
First posted at Che-Lives on July 17, 2003


You do give a very slim justification for why ownership within a Marxist society might lead to different consequences than ownership by socialists within a capitalist one - that the 'feeling' of ownership would be different. Again I'm sorry, that is way too tenuous and vague an idea to hang the contention of there being a fundamental difference in how people will behave on. You don’t even describe in what way the feeling is different, you just say it is – not nearly enough even for prima facie objection, sorry.

No, I think that "ownership" is actually quite different from "control"...though in many practical ways the two ideas can overlap.

If I'm sitting in the public library using one of their computer terminals, I am "controlling" it for a certain period of time...within the limits of the installed software and my own knowledge, I am telling it what to do every second I'm there.

But it isn't "mine" in the sense that my home computer is. I can't install new software on a whim. I can't pick it up and take it home with me or modify the operating system in such a way that no one can ever use it again except me.

When we say that we "own" something, we implicitly assert that it is "ours" to do with whatever we please. Naturally, there are "real world" limitations on that "global" inference...I "could" run "my" car over a cliff, but the consequences would be unpleasant. I "could" neglect basic maintenance...but that would simply mean I was rendering what is "mine" to become eventually useless. I "could" operate it in an especially unsafe or reckless manner...with more unpleasant consequences.

Nevertheless, however "abstract" those possibilities might be, they are "part" of what is enfolded within the "feeling" of "ownership".

It occurs to me that there is a very good word to summarize the different relationship that will prevail under communism: trusteeship. Workers will manage and control their workplaces...but as trustees for the whole of communist society, not as owners of each individual workplace.

I think, as I indicated, that the responsibilites of trusteeship will be enforced by the sanctions of the larger networks that a particular workplace would find itself. In the event of gross negligance of those responsibilities, questions would eventually be raised, controversies would ensue, and the particular group of fuckups might eventually be deprived of the use of the social property that they have been misusing.

It may be possible to "simulate" this sort of thing under capitalism with a mass of red tape restrictions on the structure of a "socialist-owned" business...attempting to successfully anticipate and thwart every possible manifestation of capitalist consciousness. Trusteeships do have a place in the bourgeois legal codes and, not being an attorney, I know of no limits on how restrictive they can be made.

But I think the "feeling" of "ownership" would arise anyway, "naturally", as a result of operating in a capitalist world...and once arisen, a "legal" way would eventually be found to bring it into the real world, into the "socialist" business itself. That may seem excessively "cynical" to some; I think it's Marxist.

If anyone agrees with a so-called "practical road to socialism", by all means, give it a try and see how things work out. It's always possible that everything that reformists say about me is true--"idealistic", "impractical", "utopian", "dogmatic", etc.

That's the chance we all take, no matter what we do or don't do. We can try for what we really want--and possibly fail--or we can try for something less, and possibly succeed...or fail at that too.

Perhaps it's as much a matter of temperament as it is of rational argument. Some hate the prevailing social order with such intensity that we want to bring it any means necessary. Others are quite willing to struggle for gradual improvements for an indefinite period into the future.

These sorts of disputes broke out before Marx's corpse was cold and have continued ever since.

What I want is communist revolution and classless society.

What do you want?
First posted at Che-Lives on July 18, 2003
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