We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Building Power and Advancing: For Reforms, Not Reformism

Click here to access article by Thomas from InfoShop News.

I agree with so much of the views argued here, but with one exception: the issue of reforms is a lot more complicated than presented here.

For example, I totally support this view which sums up the crucial argument against capitalism, for revolution, and the creation of a libertarian-socialist (or "anarchist communist") type of society:
...why are some allowed to own and control the land, wealth and the means of production? Shouldn't these be the common property of all as the inheritance of all that has been contributed by human history and the complex social processes that interacted to bring us to, and maintain the wealth that we have today? So how can we justify maintaining a system where some benefit more than others from the historically developed and socially maintained wealth? And how can we call only for reform of that system? It'd be like sitting at a family dinner where your brother claims to own the kitchen even though you're cooking dinner with your parents. Your brother then receives all of the food produced and gives you and your parents each 10% of the food while he keeps 70% of it as the owner. A reformist response would be to say that if only each member of the family were able to get a 15% or 20% portion each (leaving your brother with a 55% or 40% share for being the "owner"), everyone would be alright and less hungry.
However, the author expresses a classic leftist view of supporting reforms with which I take issue:
We see this revolutionary situation coming about after decades of battles- wins and losses- in which the popular classes steadily increase their power and continue to demand more and more until the demands of the popular classes are too much to concede for the elite classes; and the power of the popular classes is enough to effectively carry-out revolution....
The key justification for this argument is as he wrote:
...winning in reform struggles can build confidence, organization, capacity, solidarity, skills, and power; and losing in a reform struggle, can strengthen resolve and sharpen strategy. The point is that although we want reforms because they improve the lives of the oppressed and popular classes of which we are a part; even more fundamental to struggle– whether we win or lose- is developing the strength of the movement, which can come out of both wins and gains in reform struggles. 
He briefly mentioned, but didn't elaborate on, the fact that "Losing in a reform struggle can demoralize participants around the possibility of struggle achieving gains...." Thus, the key question regarding any proposed reform struggle will be the possibilities of winning, or the achievement of, real gains. This consideration is often viewed in very simplistic terms. 

More specifically, look at the reform struggle currently being waged in Seattle to pass a $15/hr minimum wage law which I have commented on previously at a post entitled "The Murky Politics of the $15 Minimum Wage". I think that this struggle could result in harming a lot of workers in small businesses and non-profits, dividing the community, and accelerating the introduction of more labor saving technologies. If this happens, activists for the $15/hr minimum wage will likely be thoroughly demoralized and drop out of any activism.