In an earlier post I proposed two guidelines for action
. One is that actions which are intrinsically reformist be judged according to whether or not they’re on a vector toward revolutionary change, the other was that whatever compromises we must make, we can never engage in active destruction or be aggressively pro-system. These are the two core criteria, as I see things. Today I’ll add several more, which mostly modify these two.
1. Here’s some additional vector questions/issues, for any particular piece of reformism.
*Is it intended/prone to cause stagnation (is it a “roach motel for progressive energy”, as some put it), or can it coexist with and help foster real action?
*Taken as a training exercise, does it teach good lessons or bad ones? This is a direct function of how much it instills the direct action/participatory political consciousness, as opposed to reinforcing proper-channels passivity.
*Does it tend to reinforce faith in Leadership, or discredit/dissolve it? All electoralism, and especially astroturfing “progressive” cults like that of Elizabeth Warren, is destructive. Anything which educates about the fact that ALL system leaders are evil, as proven by their actions, is constructive.
*Would the failure of a particular action move the perception of the right strategy/tactics in a constructive direction (will those who failed tend to learn a lesson), or will it accomplish nothing, or even demoralize? Telling people to psychologically rely on any piece of reformism, to actually believe in it as opposed to seeing it as on a vector and/or as an educational opportunity, is to set them up for complete failure.
2. In trying to decide what to do, we can use one of the corporatists’ own terms and forecast the “return on investment” (ROI) of something.
*There are plenty of cases where rhetorically siding with a piece of reformism, especially opposition to a particular system assault, is inexpensive enough and can help transformational ideas get a hearing, but where expending significant effort may or may not be worth it.
Good examples are the many pieces of malevolent legislation coming down the pike, like SOPA, the NDAA, and now expanded anti-protest legislation (passed unanimously by House Democrats, by the way). As a rule these merely ratify the status quo rather than truly worsen it. SCOTUS decisions like Citizens United have the same character. Sometimes, like in the case of the Food Control bill, citizen opposition can force small improvements or even defeat a bill. So the question is always whether it’s worth fighting a particular assault, as opposed to exposing its nature and how it further proves that we must reject the system completely along with reformism as such.
*As a rule this is a question only in negative cases. It’s almost never worth lifting a finger to get “good” legislation passed, and definitely never worth getting a Leader elected. It’s only in the case of trying to defeat something bad that we may ask:
A. Do we agree with it in itself, as a good action in principle?
B. In practice can this reform action move things toward transformation?
C. Given that people are undertaking this reform action, is it worthwhile for us to devote resources to it?
California GMO labeling is a ballot initiative (not begging legislators for Better Laws) which, if enacted, could deal a major blow to this assault on our food and democracy. Also, since it’s an initiative, it’s an exercise in bottom-up action. For these reasons, I’d say this is worth fighting for, and if I were in California I’d get involved with it, even though it’s technically reform action.
By contrast, the petition to Obama to sack Michael Taylor as “food czar” is ultimately a pointless endeavor. Food czars are as fungible as it gets, and even if Taylor were gone, he’d be replaced by an identical thug. The point is to get rid of the food czar completely. Petitionism is also the worst kind of passivity reinforcement, if one sees and describes it as worth anything in itself. At best it can be represented as an educational measure. It can be the occasion to get people to read about something, and when the petition is rejected, this is further proof of the unresponsiveness and illegitimacy of the system.
So while it’s no cost to sign a petition if you want to, it’s not worth expending effort to help it along, unless you have a good plan to use it as an educational vehicle.
*As for where we agree with reform calls in principle, one of our basic negative principles is:
Total Austerity For the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People.
So we oppose every top-down cut in public interest spending and services, no matter what it is, and agree with any bottom-up protestor against such cuts, no matter who it is or for what. At that point we can apply to ROI question to what action beyond rhetorical sympathy is worth taking.
3. One guideline helping with those questions is the nature of the fight – who are the combatants? Is something a stark assault of the 1% on the 99%, or is it more like the 1% against the petty bourgeoisie, who if the 99 as a whole helped them win a round, they’d turn back around and side with the 1%?
This comes up in any case where it’s a struggle of homeowners, pensioners, any petty beneficiary of system property and the rentier economy. As a rule, as long as such groups feel secure in their meager share of the loot, they’ll support the looters in general. Where they feel insecure, they’re prone to conservatism, to clinging to what little they have, and against running the risks of change. This remains true even where they understand how they’re under assault from above.
Here we know we have no choice but to support the lower dog in principle while trying to use the occasion to spread anti-system ideas. Petty property will inertially support system propertarianism even through its own liquidation unless convinced to do otherwise. History proves that sometimes this switch can be accomplished. In Russia the peasants could sometimes switch from a conservative cringe-over-my-crumb to a revolutionary let’s-seize-ALL-the-land consciousness. The fact is that especially in the case of a country where a large petty-property class exists, for a critical mass to see things this way is necessary for any transformation to occur. So we have no choice but to put great effort into propagating the ideas which undermine this mindset.
For another example, is corporate shareholder reformism like trying to force more “responsible” practices, or to rejigger the power imbalance between management and shareholders, ever worth any outside support? It’s clear that corporations as such can never be reformed, only abolished completely. So any such fight within them is the epitome of a squabble among crooks which we can ignore.
Since people will certainly remain physically on the land, it’s necessary to fight it out on the battlefield of how they’ll conceive themselves on the land. But corporations don’t need to exist at all, so we don’t need to join squabbles over how those within corporate hierarchies see themselves.
4. This corporate example is a good example of another way of looking at a piece of reform. If you’re in doubt ask: Is it like a central government election? We have no problem understanding that voting for Democrats or Republicans is a waste of time and energy, and is actually destructive in that it reinforces passivity, helps prop up the pseudo-legitimacy of the system, makes one a collaborator in organized crime, and leads to demoralization and apathy.
So it is with all types of proper-channels reformism, reformism which implicitly accepts the existence of malignant and unnecessary structures like corporations and governments, reformism which reinforces the notion that the status quo is a law of nature and that “there is no alternative” to picayune reforms (or complete surrender). In the vast majority of cases, particular “actions” which have this character will be worthless.
5. If there’s ever a Hobson’s choice where one has to either appeal to core cadres at the risk of alienating the broader mass, or make a potential mass appeal but alienate proven fighters, as a rule we must always reinforce the morale of the fighters. Except in an actual revolution, mass sympathy is always shallow and flighty, and anyone who tries to build there builds on sand. The core fighters are always the movement’s rock. The same is true of radical consciousness.
Always keep in mind, much of the measure of what’s possible isn’t on account of so-called objective conditions, but whether or not a critical mass comes to believe in an idea (almost any idea) enough to fight for it. One fighter is worth a hundred shallow, passive sympathizers.
6. It’s always worth repeating that direct action and bottom-up participation are good in themselves, even if a particular fight is lost, while passive within-the-proper-boundaries reformism is always bad. This is especially true where if a particular action attains a temporary fig leaf of pseudo-success, since this then reinforces belief in the efficacy of this kind of passivity, and in the system itself.
7. Never moralize against fellow activists, anyone who’s actually doing something. Criticize on practical grounds if necessary, but don’t play the system game here. Here’s a basic rule:
*If the system propaganda/corporate media moralizes about something, that means it’s really a tactical/technical/practical issue. Or that it’s morally right.
*If the propaganda says something’s a technical detail or implicitly a law of nature, then it’s really a moral issue and a politically chosen policy.
I’ll stop here for now. Someday I’ll get around to writing this all out more systematically. But for now I wanted to jot down some notes on the subject. In comments and future posts I’ll analyze more examples from the point of view of these notes.