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reformism and lifestylism - not all bad?

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Tacks
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Mar 6 2007 12:34
reformism and lifestylism - not all bad?

this is more about reformism than lifestylism but some people use the same word for both.

The first time this crossed my mind was when i was with some trots and our bank account was with i dunno, barclays, and i asked why they didn't change to the Co Op or some other liberal bank. Their response was - there is no such thing as good capitalism, we want a good interest rate to fund ourselves to fight capitalism.

Now whilst i see this as essentially true it is also fucking stupid. And i see the argument made by anarchists all the time - that there is no such thing as good capitalism, therefore there are no ethical choices. This is then fleshed by denouncing any ethical choice - not flying, growing your own veg - as wholesale reformism.

There is no such thing as good capitalism, but certain choices are better than others. Barclays = arms companies and 3rd world debt. Coop = neither. Now why on earth does saying this immediately label the person who said it as a total reformist who is somehow trying to argue that the Coop Bank is the be all and end all?

The thing is, most of the anarchists i know actually ARE 'ethical consumers' at the same time as being unwavering revolutionaries. I don't see the 2 as contradictory. Whilst resisting attempts by capitalism to divert genuine dissent to their profit. Fighting government propaganda that puts the responsibility for global warming with us rather than capital is essential; but it doesn't mean that we sould all go and buy 4x4's cos we aren't as bad as a nuclear power plant.

Fighting for revolutionaries change inevitably makes our surroundings and lives better ANYWAY, if we are fighting for a reason; fighting for a revolution simply because you want a revolution is stupid (but very common), what revolutoonaries should be doing is fighting for a better world, recognising this REQUIRES a revolution. If this is the case then we can recognise what things a better than others under capitalism.

where am i going wrong here?

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 12:55

Not only would I agree with you but I would say that the logic of your argument pretty much backs up what I have been trying to argue on another thread i.e that a whole gamut of positive community-based activism can be a good thing, beneficial both in the here-and-now and for the cause of ongoing revolutionary change. cf. Social Ecology & Permaculture.

I believe that there might be a category between reformism and The Revolution which you might call revolutionary reformism - this category might include anything that prefigures the new society but doesn't bring it about in its entirety today.

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Mar 6 2007 13:00

well the thing is, i don't even think it IS a separate category. I think that you can be a revolutionary fighting for revolution, and still get some decent change going in this economic mode right now. What is fighting for better working conditions if not demanding what capital can never really deliver? Its not reformism.

What i hope to try and get out this discussion is what levels of 'reformism' people are comfortable with and what is counterproductive.

especially small cooperative workplaces or housing schemes (genuonely cooperative, not just by name).

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 13:16

But I don't think that calling it reformism makes much sense. If you call it that - even though the intention of the agents is revolutionary then everything is reformist until the final act that creates the (mythical) end of history revolutionary society.

A new society must be built one brick at a time, one cultural step after another. If the intention is to undermine and destroy the status quo then that ain't reformism.

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Mar 6 2007 13:20

when i say reformism, and i don't think i've said it recently, i mean activity which seeks reforms granted by working for them within capitalism, rather than conceded by threatening to go beyond it. the latter, revolutionary approach doesn't preclude accepting reforms but always locates them in a matrix of class struggle, i.e. materialism, the latter tends to idealism; 'the power of a good example' etc to appeal to the powerful to implement the proposed reforms. obviously these are to some extent abstracted, ideal types, but i think the former does preclude the latter because its goal is to ameliorate capitalist contradictions rather than exploit them to our benefit.

i don't know much about co-op housing schemes etc, but they seem like practical responses to living in capitalism with its high housing costs etc, practical, but not particularly political. a movement of co-op housing schemes could challenge the logic of capitalism by positing housing as a fundamental human need, demanding (or even seizing) property from the state/capital etc, and so could be conceivably revolutionary, or it could posit housing co-ops as the solution to remedy the 'housing problem' within capitalism, which would be factually misguided and reformist.

workers co-ops? i don't know much about them, but again, positing co-ops as 'the answer' would be a reformist strategy, working in them to get slightly less (albeit self-managed) exploitation may simply be a pragmatic response to the imposition of wage labour, which has no real political content in itself. as to the possibility of workers' co-ops being revolutionary, as long as they're based on the production and exchange of commodities for the market i think that's impossible - much as i think zanon is a beacon of possibility, i also think it is a sign of failed revolution.

petey
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Mar 6 2007 13:25

kudos to tacks. lifestylism is only bad if you mistake your choice of purchases for the method of fundamental change, though it is a method. and reformism, as i understand it, is the only way change is going to happen, unless you think that revolution is going to sweep the globe within 24 hours with the change in time zones.

posi
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Mar 6 2007 13:38

Buying different bananas does not shore up illusions in capitalism. Holding street stalls telling people that buying different bananas is the way to contribute to social change does. Tacks is suggesting the former, not the latter.

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 13:46

So what Revol? Couldn't you say the same about any ethical activity? Perhaps we should all be as anti-social as possible in order not to shore up the illusion that we live in a civilised society in which we respect the authorities and subscribe to judaeo-christian values. Let's leave little old ladies unable to cross the road and call that anarchism! Let's let people die of starvation to show how clever we are!

That was a shit post Revol!

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 13:59

Could you or could you not take your - paper thin - argument and apply it carte blanche to any ethical decision in our very flawed world?

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 14:27

grin That would be interesting. No but, look Revol some ethical decisions are political. It's not an open and shut case. Some actions do have implications that are political, it's not a question of elevating them to the political.

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Mar 6 2007 14:34
posi wrote:
Buying different bananas does not shore up illusions in capitalism. Holding street stalls telling people that buying different bananas is the way to contribute to social change does. Tacks is suggesting the former, not the latter.

Yeah, but that sort of ethical consumerism is ultimately apolitical. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with it, just that we shouldn't be going around claiming that it's a form of political action or claiming moral superiority over those who don't. We all engage in ethical consumerism to one degree or another, in any case, whether we do it consciously or not.

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Mar 6 2007 14:50

Tacks, going back to your first post - and I don't mean to be patronising - I think you're misunderstanding reformism and lifestylism. I'm not sure I can see how they would be applied accurately to what you're talking about.

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 15:01

I think that those questions are all relevant Revol. I do not believe that examining ethical questions as political questions need necessarily lead to self-righteousness or moral superiority.

For me the best socialism, and certainly anarchism has to be ethical. That doesn't mean that we all have to be perfect. In fact, as I am sure you agree, that would be impossible. I am not preaching intolerance and I always look for collective solutions rather than individualistic ones.

If you buy the right bananas then you help to keep basically good people on family holdings free from the horror of the corporate pesticide-driven nightmares of much of Central America. That does not mean that it is wrong to say either should I be supporting the transport of fruit around the world at all? Or there has to be an even better way to produce bananas and get them here.

petey
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Mar 6 2007 15:06
Quote:
I think you're misunderstanding reformism and lifestylism

lots of us seem to be "misunderstanding" it. can we get a specific definition? you go first.

Pepe
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Mar 6 2007 15:52

reformism- small changes in the way capital operates, little victories for the working class. e.g higher wages, saving the local bus station. Good, as long as you look beyond them.

lifestylism- individual choices which have nothing to do with class struggle. e.g. who you bank with, what you eat. Irrelevant and possibly counter productive because it will make people associate anarchism with annoying hippies.

?

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Mar 6 2007 16:11
Jess wrote:
reformism- small changes in the way capital operates, little victories for the working class. e.g higher wages, saving the local bus station. Good, as long as you look beyond them.

Is that really reformism though, as opposed to winning reforms?

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Mar 6 2007 16:19

Reformism means explicitly getting reforms within capitalism without trying to go beyond them.

Lifestylism is trying to drop out of capitalism by changing your consumption patterns and generally not working.

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 17:04

Revol, I could provide you with what you ask for but that would hardly be the point. I would not suggest that anyone try to live in that way or account for everything they do. I do not advocate the equivalent of Jainism for the shopping basket, in any event a vainglorious pursuit in a world in which the economic system is a seamless fabric. Nevertheless, little things can make a difference and decisions based on ethics can be important. I am not making any kind of absolutist argument here.
There's a pretty broad streak of intolerance running through the counter-argument I think. I can't see what the motivation is for the searing attack in what, say Jess, has to say about 'lifestylism'. It would be just as easy to construct a dismissive critique of reform on the basis that it is often largely irrelevant, if not destructive to some third party hidden from the agent or recipient of the reform. In addition you might argue that put together intelligently, for example credit unions as opposed to a "green" bank account ethical/lifestyle choices can do more to get people "looking beyond" capitalism than reforms which might well tie them ever more tightly to the status quo.

I make these arguments not in order to suggest that there is one right way; I hope to make the point that what's needed is a little understanding for people involved in real life situations whether they are workers defending their rights in a shit job working for Mr Shit making shit burgers, or a bunch of folks getting together and forming a co-op, a credit union or even a social centre.

John, the "generally not working" phrase means what? Do I take it you think that good class struggle anarchists should all hold down jobs or be lifestylists?

petey
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Mar 6 2007 17:21

see these are already different:

Quote:
reformism- small changes in the way capital operates, little victories for the working class. e.g higher wages, saving the local bus station. Good, as long as you look beyond them.

i agree completely inc. with the last bit. these victories are always good, as long as you look beyond them. the idea that reformism innoculates people to a desire for further change is erroneous, IMO.

cf:

Quote:
Reformism means explicitly getting reforms within capitalism without trying to go beyond them.

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Mar 6 2007 17:31

Traditionally Reformism is the belief that a series of reforms to capitalism will add up over time and eventually bleading to "socialism".

Reforms happen, but revolutionaries say that reforms can always be taken away, therefore unless we change the system, we'll be on a treadmill of reforms. Much different than above.

The Leninists are kind of in between these two positions because while they claim the revolutionary position, they practice reformism, adviocating reforms which will lead to a situation giving rise to socialist revolution.

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 17:39

No I'm not! It is relevant.

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 6 2007 18:07
newyawka wrote:
see these are already different:

Quote:
reformism- small changes in the way capital operates, little victories for the working class. e.g higher wages, saving the local bus station. Good, as long as you look beyond them.

i agree completely inc. with the last bit. these victories are always good, as long as you look beyond them. the idea that reformism innoculates people to a desire for further change is erroneous, IMO.

cf:

Quote:
Reformism means explicitly getting reforms within capitalism without trying to go beyond them.

they are different, because i think Jess equated reforms with reformism, and John. pointed that out. i would say the looking beyond is what precludes the gaining of reforms becoming an ideology of reformism.

petey
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Mar 6 2007 19:32

yes, but strict anti-reformists (i just invented a tendency there) will criticize the desire for reforms as reformism, and it isn't. just to be clear on that.

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Mar 6 2007 19:37
revol68 wrote:

I mean what next will we have libcom discussions on what implications dumping your partner has for communism?

Sounds like a NEFAC meeting I was at once in Baltimore...

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Mar 6 2007 20:50
Blacknred Ned wrote:
John, the "generally not working" phrase means what? Do I take it you think that good class struggle anarchists should all hold down jobs or be lifestylists?

Are you naturally this dishonest, or are you making a special effort today? You other thread is full of your inventions of other people's positions, like suggesting those who would support NHS workers struggles are just "waiting for reforms" to improve the NHS. Now you're talking bullshit about me. Obviously you know I don't think anarchists should all have jobs. Where have I said anything that even approaches that? Apart from anything else, not everyone can ever have jobs since there'll always be unemployment under capitalism. And jobs are shit. All I said was that some "lifestylists" think you can drop out of capitalism by not having a job, which is true. roll eyes

Blacknred Ned
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Mar 6 2007 21:41

John wrote:

Quote:
Are you naturally this dishonest, or are you making a special effort today?

That's not very nice. I didn't mean to offend you and I certainly don't think that I've been inventing things about people's positions on another thread. If you disagree with me that's fine; not liking me is also fine, but I've not been dishonest. On the other thread I think that there has been a lot of misunderstanding going around and perhaps I have contributed my share, but no more.

I asked a question, it wasn't rhetorical and it wasn't meant as a slur. You have, in a pretty aggressive way, elaborated. Thank you for that. I understand your position better now. I have never & would never talked bullshit about you.

nosos
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Mar 11 2007 18:43
Blacknred Ned wrote:
I believe that there might be a category between reformism and The Revolution which you might call revolutionary reformism - this category might include anything that prefigures the new society but doesn't bring it about in its entirety today.

I completely agree with this but the problem is that revolutinary reformism can easily collapse into reformism without a sustained critique of the limitations of the reform being engaged in. I think it's an important but difficult balance to attain between on the one hand accepting that capitalism isn't likely to be going anyway any time soon (thus avoiding sitting & waiting for the revolution) while on the other hand continuing to be unsatisfied with the fact that the actions we take are not in themselves going to challenge the system we oppose. It's that dissatisfaction that keeps the reformism revolutionary.

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Bodach gun bhrigh
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Mar 11 2007 20:53

revol in "I'm an anti-social toad" shocker!

robbo203
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Mar 12 2007 09:37
Tacks wrote:
this is more about reformism than lifestylism but some people use the same word for both.

I'm new here and have only just come across this thread. You make some excellent points. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what constitutes "reformism". To me at any rate in order to distinguish between reformist activity and other forms of activity you need to understand two basic concepts

what is the FIELD or domain of a given activity?

what is the FOCUS of a given activity

Using the marxist base-superstructure model - I have some reservations about this but it is useful for this particular purpose - you can differentiate between activities in terms of their field/focus configuration.

For example, trade union activity operates within the economic field and is about workers obtaining economic benefits . So its focus is economic as well.

Lifestylism is a bit more complicated but broadly speaking the field is mainly economic e.g. growing your own veg etc -but with a strong ideological component. Its focus too is economic/ideological

Consciousness raising activities are ideological in respect of their field and focus

Now reformism I would say differs from all of the above insofar as its field is political and its focus is economic. It entails using the state (i.e. the political domain) to effect measures that are intended to modify the workings of capitalism (its focus) in some way capitalism being defined in essentially economic terms) Reformism is ultimately foredoomed to failure because sooner or later it comes up against the limits imposed by capitalism itself that are an expression of its lawlike workings of which the problems of capitalist society are an inevitable by-product. For example it isnt the case that capitalism in some sense deliberately sets out to create poverty. This is anthopomorphising what is merely a set of social relationships - only human beings have motives not social systems. The problems that arise in capitalism are simply a by-product of the way society is structured along capitalist lines. The problem with reformism however is that it lures workers into supporting the system on the pretext that it can be improved by one or other political party competing in the political field to gain control of the state machine.

One final point -some anarchists and many trots make this mistake in assuming that political activity in the sense of contesting elections is reformist in itself. I think this is mistaken. Reformism is about political measures that are designed to tackle certain problems that arise within capitalism without getting rid of the very system that generates these problems It is completely possible to engage in electoral activities with the express purpose of getting rid of capitalism rather than modifiying its behaviour

I would be interested in any comments

Cheers

Robin

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Joseph Kay
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Mar 12 2007 09:54
robbo203 wrote:
It is completely possible to engage in electoral activities with the express purpose of getting rid of capitalism rather than modifiying its behaviour

if you win a landslide, could you legislate capital out of existence?

robbo203
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Mar 12 2007 10:35

Hi Joseph

Hmm. Well I think if you "win a landslide" this surely presuppose a massive sea-change in consciousness beforehand, a radically altered social landscape and morevoer, the significant growth of social relationships outside the reach of the market and the state . In effect, the legitimacy of capitalism would be virtually nonexistent. Any formal "enactment" of communism would merely be a rubber-stamping exercise, a kind of social signal to all and sundry that the changeover to a new society had been accomplished. At the very least it has the advantage in soliciting the compliance of any vesitigal opponents of communism who would probably be willing to accept the will of the great majority and recognise the pointlessness of any further resistance...

But my main point is that such electoralism/abstract propagandism on its own will not bring us to this happy conclusion. It has to be reinforced and backed by a host of other approaches. We need to move beyond black-or-white thinking about achieving an anarcho-communist world. A plurality of approaches is required providing we have the same end in sight

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

Cheers

Robin