Reform vs. Reformism: How it relates to OWS

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Reform vs. Reformism: How it relates to OWS
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Hi cdes,

I'm at the house again today, back from the encampment. Been having some interesting discussion with the ISO people. I had a lengthy discussion with them at our march against Police brutality (which was joined by many of the residents living in the housing projects) and it culminated in them sending me a Paul D'Amato piece and asking for a response:

I haven given them a basic response, and I have some questions for clarification. Can someone help me better understand the distinction between reformism and reform, especially as it relates to class terrain?




On reformism

Just read that ISO article. Pretty standard fair for leftists. Some initial thoughts...

1) Remember the historical/objective situation. In late 1800s, early 1900s, capitalism was in its ascendency and capable of granting meaningful reforms. Workers movement at that time thus had a strong reformist current, but minorities were beginning to warn of its dangers and the need for a 'maximum programme'. Post-WWI capitalism was increasingly incapable of granting meaningful reforms: inflation eats away at pay rises, mass unemployment becomes a permament feature of capitalist society.

So, the ISO use quotes from the pre-decadence epoch, ignoring the break that communists made with social democracy. With the ebb of the revolutionary wave post 1917 the reformist weight that still hung on the communists strengthened (United Front, etc)

2) The old accusation of sectarianism is there too: "According to this approach, socialists have nothing to do in the here and now but wait with folded arms until revolution comes. The counterposing of social reform and revolution, then, leads to sectarian sterility."

What then is the role of revolutionaries in the current epoch? To quote the ICC's Platform:

16 b. The role of revolutionaries

Revolutionaries are those elements within the class who through this heterogeneous process are the first to obtain a clear understanding of "the line of march, the conditions and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement" (Communist Manifesto), and because in capitalist society "the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling class", revolutionaries necessarily constitute a minority of the working class.

As an emanation of the class, a manifestation of the process by which it becomes conscious, revolutionaries can only exist as such by becoming an active factor in this process. To accomplish this task in an indissoluble way, the revolutionary organisation:

  • participates in all the struggles of the class in which its members distinguish themselves by being the most determined and combative fighters;
  • intervenes in these struggles always stressing the general interests of the class and the final goals of the movement;
  • as an integral part of this intervention, constantly dedicates itself to the work of theoretical clarification and reflection which alone will allow its general activity to be based on the whole past experience of the class and on the future perspectives crystallised through such theoretical work.

So, what do we do?

1) Get stuck in.

2) Stress general interests: solidarity, unity, workers' autonomy, class demands. Final goals: classless society.

3) Pass on the lessons of past struggles to contribute to the development of class consciousness, especially the danger posed by leftists and the unions!

Hope that helps...

Helped a ton, thanks cde

Hello Cdes,

Thank you Beltov for your reply. It was helpful indeed. Last night/early this morning I wrote a reply to the ISOers after they accused me of advocating spontaneity--- saying the Proletariat will remain in the dark without the struggle for reforms. I did a lot of reading and re-reading using the links below:

Heres what I wrote:


"To understand our positions on Reformism vs. "the struggle for Reform", we have to first understand the current historical context of capitalism. During the 19th century, the time which Marx, De Leon (since D'Amato mentioned him earlier) and others were active, capitalism had not completed a critical phase in it's historic mission--- the globalization of the world market. As SWPer Arnold Peterson wrote in a 1947 re-print of De Leon's Reform or Revolution, "social systems are born, grow and mature and eventually decay."

This notion is of course also true of capitalism.

In the current times, capitalism is very close to, or already has reach its historic limits, especially in terms of the development of the productive forces. It has ceased to be a progressive social order, as evidenced by its hindrance to human development, its tendency towards global conflict, and other events. Specifically, the globalization of the markets, the globalization of labor, the rise of multinational corporations, the globalization and finicialization of constant and liquid capital, energy crisis, and global warming.

In capitalisms ascendant, progressive period (the late 15th to early 20th centuries), the struggle for certain reforms within capitalism were progressive causes. Reforms did two things; 1) improved the lives of workers, and 2) further developed the productive forces thus making capitalism more efficient. The struggle to win the 10 hour work-day in 19th century England is a good example of this. Some other examples would be universal suffrage, the outlawing of child labor, and to a large extent the American civil rights movement. These were not struggles for a "congealed reaction" as De Leon called them. "De Leon was wrong when he opposed reforms, right when he opposed reformism, and was wrong for confusing the two." (

It is also worth noting here that "Reformism has always meant the theory and practice of a peaceful transition to socialism, whose hallmarks have been a commitment to parliamentarism, legalism, and pacificism. This theory and practice of reformism…has always been antithetical to the interests of the working class and has represented the invasion of bourgeois ideology into the ranks of the proletariat." (Internationalism #21)

So once again, in the epoch of capitalisms ascendency, the acute struggles for the reform of capitalism served "durable gains for the working class, that provided a preparation for future revolutionary struggles, and also served as a goad [for] capitalism to continue its further development. In the ascendant phase of capitalism, the struggle for reforms was not separate from the revolutionary struggle." (

With the onset of World War I in 1914, so also began a new epoch of capitalism. With the working people of all nations pitted against each other by the bourgeois states and governments, capitalism began its downward spiral into decadence and barbarism. "It was the change in historic period that led to the workers’ revolution in Russia as the first act in the world revolution, to the founding of the Third International to regroup the left revolutionaries and to help spread the world revolution, and to the founding of the Communist Parties." (

The cyclical crises of capitalisms ascendency are now in this globalized economy permanent, insolvable crises. It is in this decadent phase of capitalism that "the general tendency of capitalistic production…to sink the average standard of wages"(Marx, Wages, Price and Profit) "prevails precisely because the accumulation process itself has come up against the insurmountable barrier of a saturated world market." (

We need to understand that the acute struggles for reforms in this decadent period of capitalism are no longer progressive struggles, and even further, are no longer revolutionary (except in a very few and limited number of special cases, i.e. the American civil rights movement, the struggle for gay rights, etc). However, in a period of ever increasing attacks and repression aimed directly on the working class (beginning with World War I), a new struggle arises--- the revolutionary defensive struggles against the repression of the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. As Marx himself said, "Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches beyond salvation…'By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement." (Wages, Price and Profit)

So today, our tasks as communists are three-fold; 1) to particiapte in the classes defensive struggles against the repression of the bourgoiesie and its state capitalist bueracracy, 2) to foster and facilitate the development of a revolutionary class consciousness among working class, and 3) to participate in any revolutionary  situations that might arise from these struggles."

- []D[]D*

All power to p-p in his fight

All power to p-p in his fight against the leftists, and in everything else that he's doing. And all power to those comrades who are holding meetings in New York this weekend; let's hope they can provide some clear orientations to the occupy movements. But something that p-p said in his otherwise good article replying to the ISOers struck a discord with me to this effect. I don't see how the civil rights or gay movements can be regarded as in any way 'revolutionary'.

Civil rights was only claiming the right for black people to be treated equally within bourgeois society, and the gay movement the right to be gay under capitalism's archaic legal system. Neither threatened the bourgeoisie - neither was (is) in any way revolutionary - and neither movement will achieve what they really want as long as capitalism prevails. Any sort of meaningful freedom from repressions, can only be attained when we have the true democracy of communism; which will give us all the opportunity to discover and then start to become what we are. But, apart from this, totally agree with and support p-p and all the comrades. In solidarity.