On the relationship between reform and revolution, and reactionary reforms vs. revolutionary reforms

I just wrote this in a comment on the MLM Communism 101 page, and I thought I expressed it pretty well, so I wanted to share it here. Credit to a friend of mine in RAIM for a status she wrote that really helped me grasp what a revolutionary reform looks like (the one about ending solitary confinement).

As the RAIM comrade put it, revolutionary reforms are reforms that increase the fighting power of the working class more than they do that of the bourgeoisie, or in a way that doesn’t concede anything (or at least anything of meaning) to the bourgeoisie.

Solitary confinement is a very good example, because it is a way that they lock up and torture the proletariat’s greatest leaders. Winning those leaders back to be able to engage with the masses, even if in prison, is a great victory for the working class.

My claim is not that *all* advancements in the condition of the working class overall help the bourgeoisie. I am arguing that *some*, and *in the long term*, are *overall* more helpful to the bourgeoisie than to the global proletariat.

For instance, if we could disarm the police or end solitary confinement, that would simultaneously improve workers’ situation in the here and now AND make the bourgeoisie weaker. This is true for both the short and long terms.

And in the short term, they are almost all better. If we were in a near-revolutionary situation and a working class guided by a revolutionary party was pushing for a social democratic program, that victory might be an overall positive thing, because it would give an already potent working class more resources to work with, to allow it to more probably consummate its revolution.

However, I believe all historical evidence shows that some worker demands, if not granted in near-revolutionary situations where the working class has become armed and guided by a party, can overall serve the bourgeoisie’s agenda more than the proletariat’s. I believe the social democratic program is an example of this.

. . .

> would you have opposed limiting the 12h work day? payed vacations? minimum wage?

Those demands were being made in an increasingly revolutionary situation by a not-yet-much-corrupted working class. I think they were good demands in their time that were building the proletariat’s strength without sapping much of its revolutionary energy.

But at this point, there are defenders of those concessions even among the bourgeoisie, and there have been since at least FDR’s time. Large sections of the bourgeoisie see a value in having a comfortable imperialist-country working class for a variety of reasons.

> where is the line drawn?

I think the question you’re asking here is, what should communists be doing? Like, where should *we* draw the line, in terms of what we support? The line can only be drawn based on historical analysis.

Basically, since we are in a non-revolutionary situation, we have to assume that these reforms will stick around for a long time and have their long-term effects. This means that pushing for social-democratic reforms is probably overall harmful for the proletariat’s position in the global class war.

So I do not think we should support economistic reforms like Fight for 15. Let the SEIU and other lapdogs of the bourgeoisie fight for that. We should not spend any resources on it.

If we do voice support for any, it should be for more political ones, like ending solitary confinement or disarming the police, or for justice for migrant workers.

I think there is a blurry line where it can be good to voice support for resisting austerity efforts. But I need to study this specific question more, and I also think it might be a really nuanced thing where you see what the masses are demanding, especially the lowest and deepest section of the proletariat.

In fact, that’s one of the most important things to look at: as a comrade of mine was just pointing out earlier, while it *looks like* the demand for universal free tuition helps the whole working class, in practice there are all sorts of hidden expenses and obstacles that mean the poorest and most oppressed section of the proletariat actually do not have any better access to education as a result. It is a demand that helps the labor aristocracy, and doesn’t really help the lowest and deepest sections of the proletariat at all.

This is much the same with the question of raising the minimum wage, because the lowest and deepest sections of the proletariat are also the most unemployed, and are the quickest to be fired, so a higher minimum wage is not as helpful as it might seem to the most revolutionary sections of the working class.

But truth be told, I don’t think this whole question is as important as it might seem.

It is not super important because currently, we do not have the power to meaningfully participate in the electoral arena at all. If we were as big as the Communist Party of the Philippines, we might have the power to win those kinds of more political reforms through the work of the united front.

But I sincerely believe that for every imperialist country in the world right now, the primary task of communists should be carrying out the mass line among the lowest and deepest section of the proletariat, Black Panther Party-style, in order to build an uncompromising underground revolutionary party that is providing leadership to a united front and which is carrying out people’s war, or preparing for it.

We cannot build this by participating in electoral movements first. That is precisely what they want us to do. Our first work is to build self-reliant, disciplined, theoretically advanced people power that can survive no matter what laws are passed.

* * *

I was making this explanation as a way of defending a claim I had made earlier:

Welfare capitalism is a strategy that imperialism has used to stabilize itself, and in that way has only deepened capitalism’s grip on the world. . . .

The workers of the Scandinavian countries (those who are citizens, at least) now have even less reason to struggle against capitalism, and more reason to align themselves with imperialism than ever.

Welfare capitalism is twins with fascism. They are both strategies that bring the workers of an imperialist country into tighter alliance with that country’s bourgeoisie while making the super-exploitation of outside workers all the more brutal.