- Capitalism and Alternatives -

More than reformism please

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on February 06, 19100 at 19:43:36:

In Reply to: speculating posted by Piper on February 05, 19100 at 16:28:12:

: Piper: yes well i certainly don't smell revolution in the air so to speak.

SDF: You can, of course, re-evaluate after the financial bubble bursts...

: Piper: ISn't that also just to say that marx's conception of his work as a science was flawed, precisely because he was incapable of predicting with accuracy what the future would hold.

SDF: I'd recommend caution when propounding the above statement (you did end it with a period and not a question mark). Me personally I distinguish between Marx's messianic pronouncements about the revolution, from his analysis of economic tendency which is mostly reflected in CAPITAL. Nobody in the social sciences is predicting anything with accuracy, and at any rate the publication of a social scientific prediction would itself alter the course of history and allow the social-scientific subjects to defy the prediction. All they're doing is predicting tendencies now, which is what for instance gives Marx's theory of the tendential decline in the aggregate rate of profit a chance.

At any rate, the main advance social scientific discourse offers over lay ("folkloric" in the Gramscian sense) discourse about society is that it can be verified as a description of actual social phenomena. Racist beliefs about human beings can be shown to be false, for instance, by disproofs of the assumed connection racism makes between social behavior and skin color (contra Murray & Hernstein's THE BELL CURVE), or Marx's theory of social classes can be tested for its objective basis in reality, the question at hand in that example being one of the extent of overlap between the two basic classes, how many workers own how much of the means of production.

Generally, society can benefit from verified descriptions of social phenomena -- the idea of the crisis of overproduction for instance -- just because the social sciences do not offer causal predictive models like the hard sciences offer does not itself invalidate social-scientific inquiry.

: Piper: I don't doubt the veracity of that statement. But how do you bring people back from that state. From the time people are born they have the myth of popular success drummed into them.

SDF: Socialists such as Paulo Freire and Antonio Gramsci were asking these questions, so it benefits us to read their works.

: Piper: I don't find a lot to disagree with in this post of your SDF.

: However I don't think there is any other option other than reformism and i don't think we can speculate that one day it will be an option to overthrow the government. We just have to work with what we have and see what happens.

: Reformism is of course a laborious project necause you have to work through entrenched power groups and established social orders. That takes time and is not necessarily achievable at all. A revolution could i suppose attempt to smash these things.

SDF: My suggestion I guess is what you would call "Allendeism" -- while organizing a popular uprising, something nonviolent like most of the protests at Seattle (and don't forget DC April 17th!), try to get the government to act against the interests of its corporate overlords as Salvador Allende did in a somewhat clumsy fashion in Chile after he was elected President of Chile, and before he was overthrown by US interests. Only do it in a much more grassroots-organized fashion than in the way Allende did it.

See, I reinterpret the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity thusly: CAPITALISM and the natural world are on a collision course. The "human activities" that are inflicting "harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment" are the activities that treat the natural world as a mere convenience of market production (or for that matter of undemocratic forms of planned economy; oil production for instance typically sacrifices the people living on the oil fields to its rituals of exploitation). The only thing that's really going to stop this is the replacement of capitalism with democratic economics, economics that does not use money and that does not therefore invoke the tendencies of capital accumulation so deftly discussed in CAPITAL.

: But even then i am not convinced that social hierarchy would be perpetuated. I mean socialism alone isn't a cure for racism, nor is it a cure for sexism.

SDF: You may wish, in this regard, to read Dinesh D'Souza's THE END OF RACISM, especially for its defense of "rational discrimination." Discrimination against black people, says D'Souza, is rationally-based, because people who deny black people housing, jobs, respect, the time of day, etc. are merely thinking like good capitalist insurance sales reps, i.e. they are assessing their contacts with black people as entailing a particular risk based on a common fund of "knowledge" about the behavior of black people, i.e. what we (not D'Souza) call racism. If black people want to do something about this, D'Souza argues, they had better improve their image as a group. So, for D'Souza, racial discrimination is equated with the capitalist behavior of insurance sales reps, and is thusly deemed rational and okay in D'Souza's opinion. D'Souza's is the kind of capitalist logic that provides racism with its best rhetorical defense.

Before dismissing D'Souza as a garden-variety racist, ask yourself this: If your car broke down while you were driving through south central Los Angeles, say for instance at the corner of Florence and Normandie, would you ask the local black people for help?

Now, on the other hand, if we had a democratic economy, entailing democratic control of the means of production (and here I mean direct democracy, not representative bourgeois democracy), there would be no social basis for discrimination because nobody would be granted the power (backed today by your local police force) to discriminate against anyone else. Black people face discrimination because, like most of the working class, if they are to earn a living they must appeal for money to those who would discriminate, i.e. the owning class.

Creating a democratic economy would of course require education, anti-racist education but more importantly education as regards the economic structure and of ways of changing it.

Such education will not come from the revolutionaries you criticize -- it will not happen in response to communiques issued from elitist vanguards but rather requires a process of "conscientization" such as Freire outlined in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.


: Revolutionaries always criticise reformists for taking too much time to achieve results, but how long is it they have been advocating revolution? 150 years and what do they have to show for it?

SDF: Enormous gains in literacy (see once again Freire) and health care, the industrialization of vast peasant nations (Russia, China)... the problem at hand is one of whether revolution can do any more than that, especially as regards the coming ecological comeuppance capitalism will richly deserve for its overexploitation of the global resource bases. And you're right for assuming that, nope, it doesn't look likely right here right now. But I for one refuse to believe that we are reduced to kissing the IMF's butt as the only solution to economic solutions to the global disparity in wealth. More capitalism is not inevitable.

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