April 18, 2011

The Impossibility and Undesirability of Reformism


Up until a few years ago I thought reformism was possible and might be desirable. But then I considered these facts:
1. The Bailout, a brazen act of autocracy, and which was obviously hideously bad policy, was imposed right in the face of overwhelming opposition from the people.
2. The Democrats had what was arithmetically a one-party dictatorship in 2009-2010. This resulted in zero change from Bush policies. Indeed, every Bush policy was intensified and/or accelerated.
3. Everywhere you look, the entire system in all its aspects – including both criminal parties and the entire mainstream media – is bent on a zero-compromise, scorched earth, unconditional surrender, neoliberal onslaught which is veritably totalitarian. There is literally no policy proposal anywhere which is not corporatist and kleptocratic. (And all public interest policies and programs which still do inertially exist are under attack, with the intent to destroy.)
4. This has been the entire political and economic history since the 1970s, in response to incipient Peak Oil and the terminal decline of the capitalist profit rate, as all sectors reached maturity. (That is, the primary causes of the neoliberal onslaught were structural, not “chosen”.)
For further reading I refer to the posts linked on my Neoliberalism page in the above right-hand corner, especially the four-part series starting here.
When you put all that together, it’s clear that reformism within this system is impossible. The system is too corrupt, rotted, and evil, right to its very core. It’s calcified in these ways in all its aspects.
So I had to look for a new way, and developed my philosophy of a new society based on truly federal direct democracy (since I was also forced to reject representative pseudo-democracy as inherently corrupt). And the more I lived with it, the more I realized that economic and political democracy is not just the only possible way, but is also the only way which has any moral validity, and constitutes the culmination of humanity’s political development. This assumes that the progress of democracy ever had any logic, and wasn’t just a cult which was accidentally empowered by the fossil fuel surplus. One would have to be a kind of atheist where it comes to politics and humanism, who believes in nothing but stupid chance in human affairs (even though people have thought so systematically and fought so passionately according to a plan), to think that the development of democracy was only about the coal and the oil.
(Not to mention that by now shouldn’t we really consider it beneath our human dignity to still supplicate before political “elites”, begging them to trickle some better crumbs down upon us after they steal what only we produce? We know they’re nothing but parasitic scum. We know they’re morally and intellectually inferior to the productive people. So why would anyone still want them to exist at all, even if it were somehow possible to reform their conduct? Are we really such children? Or do we really doubt out own capacity to rule ourselves? Or are we just too lazy? Any of those would, I guess, prove the tyrants down through history correct after all.)
But if we don’t believe that, if we believe that history, while not necessarily progressing (as witness its final crisis in our times, and the all too likely prospect that the human flame shall be stifled forever), does have a definite logic and a progress in principle, then we must recognize that the spirit of 1788 was a growing pain and a hijacking, and that it’s time for humanity to take the next step, onto the true path of positive democracy.
Positive: Direct, participatory, federative, and encompassing all economic production.


  1. Human society requires intelligent management and a moral perspective. We seem to have lost both. The idea of democracy as some glorious panacea is childish. Keep doing what you do best- identifying specific instances of corruption, propaganda, stupidity, etc. Sometimes things must get worse before thay can begin to get better.

    Comment by jake chase — April 18, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

    • Have modern elites ever provided this management and perspective? Nope. Next?

      I certainly don’t consider democracy a “panacea”, but I do think it’s the best we can do and far, far better than what we have.

      I have the feeling you’d consider any point of view other than cynicism to be childish, but if you have an alternative to elitism or democracy, I’d love to hear it.

      Unfortunately, I agree that things probably will have to get worse before they get better.

      Comment by Russ — April 18, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

      • You could have made the same arguments in 1931 and many intelligent people did, running out to embrace Stalinist Russia. A more sensible solution would be to stop wasting any votes on the Democratic Party and organize a true working people’s party devoted to actual reform. Of course, that is not so original and will not be easy. Things have reached their current state because people were bought by easy credit as a substitute for fair wages over a period of thirty years. They fell in love with movie actors and tough talking aristocrats and intellectual hillbillies and, lately, a Tomshow. You expect these same people to reorganize an economic, political and social system? Good luck with that.

        Comment by jake chase — April 19, 2011 @ 7:41 am

      • I don’t follow the Stalinism analogy.

        You’re right about rejecting the Democratic party. That’s one of the absolutely necessary prerequisites.

        As for your wanting to thread a needle by organizing a new workers’ party which would be dedicated to reform, I’m not sure why you think that would be easier or more practicable than organizing a movement dedicated to completely renouncing the kleptocracy. If someone still thinks the system can be reformed, he’s bound to remain mired in a syndrome of ambivalence, compromise, delusions of negotiation, “pragmatism”, and so on. And then this newest reformism has to succeed and remain intact where all previous ones failed. Even if it could momentarily triumph, it must then somehow continually win the endless war of attrition which follows, which the criminals have won every time before. I’ve written before that to believe in regulation one is assuming the permanent advent of regulators who are a combination of hero and saint.

        That all sounds pretty unlikely to me.

        Comment by Russ — April 19, 2011 @ 7:57 am

    • The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

      Democracy may not be a “panacea,” but it is precisely what the elites don’t want to see. Thus, advocating true democracy is not childish by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, I’d argue that it is curiously childish and elitist to denigrate the focus on true democracy, which the elites fear more than anything else.

      And I say this as somebody who has deep personal doubts about true democracy, which I believe can and will be exploited just as effectively as our representative version of it has been. That being said, true democracy clearly has a role to play in the political sphere.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — April 18, 2011 @ 10:18 pm

      • Well, it’s possible that nothing at all can work. And for true democracy to not become corrupted one way or another would require that the citizens actually live up to their responsibilities.

        But on the other hand, for example many American Indian tribes apparently existed for many centuries without such corruption setting in. It’s true that they evolved organically out of, forgive the word, relative “innocence” (politically speaking), while we’d be trying to build something new and vibrant out of hideous decadence and depravity. The task will be extremely difficult.

        But one thing which guarantees its failure is if people assume it can’t work a priori and therefore never try.

        Comment by Russ — April 19, 2011 @ 2:29 am

  2. Russ, Another inspiring broadside.
    I don’t think that one needs to see democracy as the result of some kind of progressive evolution, exclusively: there have been elements of true or direct democracy all along at various stages of Western history and the history of peoples all over the world at various times and places.

    Ancient Athens for a brief time, confederacies of American Indian Tribes… “primitive” tribal structures that still exist or did.

    In other words, there may be more hope than you suggest, since democratic structures have existed long before the fossil-fuel promulgated surplus of carrying capacity.

    However, the downsize of peak oil and a contraction of carrying capacity is highly dangerous.

    I would posit that much smaller units of political integration will be much safer and will take care of their members better under the coming peak oil collapse. There will inevitably be horrendous competition and violence between political units, though, which we are already seeing.

    The globalists will claim that only they can prevent disorder, when they are the main instigators due to the privations they will claim are necessary.
    Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Publius — April 18, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    • Perhaps I should be more clear about my referring to democracy within the secularized context. That’s certainly the nature of the world today; however much people still pretend to be religious, they live secular lives. That’s what Nietzsche meant when he wrote, “God is dead.”

      Post-oil we may and probably will eventually return to forms of tribalism, which will hopefully have a higher democratic preponderance than the original tribalism did.

      This, I think, will be greatly influenced by the nature of our transition to the post-oil age in the first place. If we take responsibility for ourselves and resume the normal course of history taking along all we’ve learned (or should have learned) about citizenship and freedom, we can move to the ultimate stage of democratic evolution, and this in turn will be decisive for future tribalism.

      If, on the other hand, we continue on our current course of craven moral collapse and surrender to slavery, and thus the energy transition is to a feudalism far more vicious than the medieval version, then there’s little hope for the stages beyond, or for there to be any further development at all. It will simply be the end of humanity, once and for all.

      Comment by Russ — April 18, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

  3. Here’s the attitude of the Corporate-Bureaucratic elite encapsulated in an article about new popular resistance to the “bailouts” (corporate welfare) in Europe:
    “Whether European authorities can keep the lid on the populist pressure cooker remains to be seen.” (Full article: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/18/us-eu-populism-idUSTRE73H27B20110418?pageNumber=2

    Comment by Publius — April 18, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    • Sickening.

      Comment by Russ — April 18, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  4. I agree. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where reform from within is out of the question. For if any one individual made such an attempt, they would be cut down just as the tallest blade of grass on the tidy white house lawn.

    The destruction of solidarities has gone hand in hand with the devolution of our democracy. Possibly in the structure of solidarities, however in a broader sense, we may begin to find solutions.

    Comment by Katie — April 18, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

    • Yes, and these will have to be new solidarities, created outside, both structurally and intellectually.

      Comment by Russ — April 18, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  5. I was at a local mall yesterday collecting opinions on the political system and whether people understand what the parties stand for. My goal is to create a study that exposes the ineffectiveness of the current system.

    However I got kicked out the mall because:

    1) I didn’t have 2 million dollar liability insurance
    2) I wasn’t a registered not-for-profit with the government
    3) I was conducting political/moral work in a place that is suppose to be neutral (don’t bother the consumers when they are grazing)
    4) based on a policy that no one knew why it is existed or who decided it, but was aptly implemented by low level management who refuse to use their own judgment

    Overall it was a sad experience. It is hard to find a good public space to interact with other people!

    Comment by Strieb Roman — April 27, 2011 @ 11:59 am

    • Sorry to hear that. That’s the goal, all right: to corporatize all rightfully public space. Naomi Klein wrote extensively about that in No Logo.

      “Neutral” – that’s a laugh. I call that the Status Quo Lie. The aggressively ideological status quo, no matter how radical, is fraudulently set as the neutral, non-political, moderate, normal baseline. Then any dissent from it, no matter how rational, moderate, common-sensical from any objective point of view, is fraudulently called radical, “political”, “ideological”, etc.

      But I am glad to hear that you’re out there doing such work.

      Comment by Russ — April 27, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

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