Friday, March 2, 2012

Reform or Revolution?

Rosa Luxemburg, author of Reform or Revolution a seminal Socialist text

I declared that "Teh Revolution" had come soon after the appearance of Occupy Wall Street last September. It was a heady time to be sure, and from all appearances, there was no way to tame or stop this Revolutionary endeavor from prospering, growing and eventually succeeding.

Time passes, the crackdowns and evictions grow in brutality and viciousness, there appears to be no progress toward achieving goals, and "Teh Revolution" falters. Tactical errors are commonplace, though the strategies involved seem sound enough. Deliberations turn into recriminations, anger, frustration and sometimes sabotage toward the Movement. A strong Reformist element attempts to take control and cancel "Teh Revolution" before it actually finds a coherent way to express its coherent nature.

The Revolutionary elements that have been with the Movement since the beginning, indeed before the beginning, are called "infiltrators" and "hijackers." It's classic projection and propaganda by those who are actually infiltrating and hijacking the Movement: the Reformists. But then, many of those Reformists have been with the Movement from the beginning as well, only a few of them are actually coming from outside the Movement to assert some sort of authority over it now.

The tension between the Revolutionaries and the Reformists has been one of the strengths and the energy centers of the Movement all along. As an observer and periodic participant in Occupy affairs, I've never quite understood why a Revolutionary endeavor cannot also travel along a Reformist path, simultaneously or sequentially. The two are not all that incompatible. They require different skill sets perhaps, but there's nothing wrong with a diversity of skills in any Movement. Those who are interested in pursuing a Revolutionary path can do so along side those who seek to Reform the System rather than to overthrow it. In my view, both can work together to set up parallel alternative Systems, "the Demonstrations" I've written about so often, to show how Another World Is Possible, what it will look like and how it will function. The Demonstrations of where we are going (in a handbasket or not) and how we can get there are crucial to the realization of the most widely expressed Occupy Goal:


to make them more just, equitable, fair, and peaceful. That is a Revolutionary goal; one cannot achieve it in a purely Reformist context. In fact, in my view, Reformism alone gets you where we are, which is basically an upside down version of where we were supposed to be by now had Teh Revolution of my generation actually taken hold rather than being transformed into a Reformist program of gradual and incremental "change."

Nobody at the time, so it seemed, knew how to carry out a Revolutionary program without engaging in armed insurrection, sabotage, and the use of deadly force to achieve objectives. I've used the example of Mark Rudd several times because I've now met him and have considered his change of heart on the merits of armed insurrection vs nonviolent something or other. (It's not actually clear how he sees pacifist adherence succeeding.) What Rudd, et al, were doing back in the day included a variety of tactics, more and more violent and potentially deadly (actually deadly in a few cases) as time went on. From my vantage point at the time, I thought what they were doing wasn't very smart -- primarily because it didn't resonate with The People. It alienated The People, much as the violence and murder at Altamont essentially ended the huge music festivals that had been a part of the counter-culture up till then.

While the violence itself had a negative effect among Ordinary People (not so much among those already Radicalized), it wasn't the main reason for the decline of the anti-War Movement back in the day. That was due, primarily, to the ending of the draft. Once it was clear that young men would no longer be required to serve in the military against their will -- a requirement that had been at the center of anti-War protests -- the necessity of protest (to save your own life, for example) diminished greatly. Ending the draft was a key demand -- and it was the key achievement -- of the anti-War Movement of the '60's and '70's. Now that we can look back it may not have been such a good idea over the long run. Having achieved it, most of the young men who had been such activists against the War got on with other things. The Indochina War continued just the same, but now primarily as an air bombardment campaign, filled with misery and bloodshed for its victims, and most Americans really didn't care all that much, just as they didn't care all that much when Vietnam was initially being subjected to air power and destruction during the Kennedy Administration.

The Revolutionaries at the time kept up their campaigns of bombings and sabotage nonetheless, in the belief that they could thereby bring about a more general uprising and eventually install some kind of Socialist Paradise (I guess, I really don't know that that was their objective no matter their pious pronouncements.)

The Socialist/Communist Revolution was not something most Americans ever gave much attention to. There were plenty of Revolutionary tendencies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but they were mostly co-opted by the Progressive Movement -- which I've written about rather critically elsewhere -- and that took much of the fire out of the bellies of the Revolutionaries, because many of the demands of the Revolutionaries were being at least partially met through Progressive alternatives to Revolution. Reformism proved to be "good enough" -- and durable.

Now we're in a situation where much of the Reform of past eras is being undone primarily for the amusement and the profit of the very few. It's obvious as sin that Our Betters relish their engagement with The People to undermine, subvert, take away and destroy rights and benefits that were won over long years of sometimes bloody struggle. Really, everything that the People have gained over the last century or more is under continuous threat and assault by a very small cohort of determined (and apparently gleeful) individuals and their agents who are determined to plunder and destroy without let up until they "have it all."

And they're winning.

The Reforms of the past are being rolled back left and right, with the full connivance of the political class, a class that has chosen to govern contrary to the public interest and the will of the People. They simply do not care what the People have to say about it. They don't, I've argued many times, because the People have shown they will do nothing their Rulers believe they need pay attention to.

None of the institutional remedies for this state of affairs function any more. Voting doesn't change anything. Politicians are immune to persuasion from Below. The courts are manifestly corrupt and decadent servants of the Very Few. There are no Constitutional protections for the masses any more (as if there really ever were, but that's another issue.) And the National Security State is a metastasizing cancer on the body of the State. (Yes, this is the appropriate use of the "cancer" analogy as opposed to Chris Hedges' dangerous and spiteful use of the term to describe the "Black Bloc anarchists.") Debt-slavery is becoming commonplace. Poverty is skyrocketing. Hunger stalks the land.

Under the circumstances, we (the People) are in a much more difficult situation than was the case forty or fifty years ago.

Reformism on the People's behalf is all but impossible over the short term -- at least under the current circumstances. "Reforms" are all taking place on behalf of the Few against the People. Attempts at "Reform" counter to the will of the Few are primarily matters of preserving what little can be maintained of the status quo, or returning to the status quo ante. As far as I'm concerned, that's not Reform at all; it's reaction and it is bound to fail.

Pretenses that we can start anew and be activists for Reform and wait several decades or generations to see a return to the way things once were are bewildering to me. But then, I've been an activist for decades, and I've done so many of these things that some insist we should start over and do again, taking as long as it takes, generations if need be. It's as if there is no history any more. There seems to be no conception that we are where we are in part because we did what we did back in the day. Our current situation is the result of actions taken (or mis-taken) when time was. In order to change our current situation substantively (within the lifetimes of our descendants at least), we have to do something else.

Repeating what we did won't work this time.

Yet realistically, Revolution in the sense of armed insurrection (as attempted, futilely, by Mark Rudd and others forty years ago) is not the right path forward. Some other kind of Revolution is called for.

The struggle within the Occupy Movement over the last month or so has been largely between those who don't want a Revolution at all and who primarily assert the primacy of "nonviolence" (which honestly many of them don't seem to understand at all) and those who see the necessity of Revolution but have yet to find effective means to engage in it and accomplish Revolutionary objectives.

Not that there is a consensus on those objectives, mind you...

Yet here we are; Spring is nigh; and there are many, many Occupy actions and events in preparation or under way to fill the year with... tumult. The Movement has by no means gone away, but from my perspective, neither has it consolidated (or in some cases even recognized), its victories. It has instead condensed itself, streamlined somewhat, and is now in the process of developing a more coherent set of strategies that can be utilized more broadly toward still somewhat vague interim objectives and "demands". The way I see it, the vagueness of Occupy "demands" is a key strength of the Movement, for it ensures that the Power Structure cannot co-opt or ultimately dismiss the Movement as irrelevant. The vagueness of demands or lack of demands requires Established Powers to attempt to recognize what the People want by discovery rather than by hearing pleas. They have to come to realize what they have been doing wrong, why the People are so upset, and they have to work out their own ways of dealing with their discoveries.

If they do not -- and few of Our Rulers seem particularly interested in the process of discovery -- they will face the consequences.

Reform or Revolution? In my view, both. But the mechanics are still being worked out.

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