500th anniversary of the 95 Theses and reformism's bankruptcy on its own terms

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Jacob Richter
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Nov 12 2017 04:39
500th anniversary of the 95 Theses and reformism's bankruptcy on its own terms

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Ninety-five points were made against the Western Church of that time. How exactly does this pertain to the bankruptcy of reformism on its own terms?

Well, I'm the most consistent opponent of sectarianism, so quotation marks are in order for this "sectarian" discussion.

Over the years, whenever I've written about whether a left reform is something worth supporting, I've always asked:

1) Does this reform facilitate the issuance of either intermediate demands or demands on the threshold? Does it diminish the chances of further gains and/or limit progressive overhaul in other areas, or does it make further progress more likely and facilitate progressive overhaul in other areas also?

2) Does it keep class struggle, "socialist production [...] beyond the framework of existing production" and cross-border politics (inter-nationalism at minimum, transnationalism preferrably) "consciously in view," to quote Kautsky the revolutionary Marxist, so that politics do not seem "to move forever in a circle"?

Because of the recent chatter about "basic income" (two more arguments against it being that it may not eliminate "precarity" and does not address the employability prospects of the long-term unemployed), I fear that this humble and supposedly very simple framework might not be enough to put forward a hard-nosed left opposition.

Earlier, I suggested that such left reforms "should, at a very dynamic 'minimum,' coincide with the 'maximum demands' of modern 'left social-democrats.'" However, what exactly were those demands historically?

Is the state of political education on the broad left deficient enough to validate the anti-Blairite statement of one Sunder Katwala about being "willing to offer a free internet-based phD certificate in comparative social democracy to anybody who can do that"? This would basically mean hard-nosed research on identifying the main areas of left-social-democratic policy (i.e., fiscal, monetary, labour, agriculture, etc.) in each western European and Scandinavian country during the immediate post-WWII era, and identifying the "best" ones implemented on a country-vs-country basis that can also be applicable to "post-industrial" economies. Hopefully, there would be enough of them to make a political laundry list.

Naturally, this laundry list, having arisen from left-social-democratic policy development, would combine those that satisfy both of the two main questions above with those that satisfy only the first one. This is left-social-democratic policy development we're talking about here, not non-participatory "democratic-socialist" policy development.

The "sectarian" approach draws upon Martin Luther's experience by presenting this laundry list as a total ultimatum or "red line" for any sort of front-based work with left-reformists, safeguarding against opportunistic tendencies towards reform coalitionism. Basically, "We don't want to even talk politics with you, let alone work with you, unless you support every bullet point on the list!"

Is this needed?

Note: This discussion is only one angle among others needed to rebut the central proposition of Mitchell Cohen's article (the same old reform coalitionism), which merely mentioned Lenin's perceived opposition to "compromises."