Nonrevolutionary times

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sat Apr 22 19:29:57 MDT 1995

On Sat, 22 Apr 1995 JenaSee at wrote:

> What is "revolutionary reformism"?  I've never heard the phrase before.  It
> seems to me to be a contradiction of terms.

As I mentioned in the post were I introduced this notion, the term comes
from the English translation of the pre-perestroika work of the Russian
New Leftist Boris Kagarlitsky, in particular from his The Thinking Reed.
(K is now a leader of the Party of Labor, the main anti-Stalinist
socialist grouping in Russia.) K was thinking in the context of
Brezhnevism, when the old regime seemed stagnant but utterly stable.
Basing his strategy on a re-reading of some of the lesser-known classical
figures in the socialist movement whom the Bolsheviks stigmatized as
"reformist," such as Jean Jaures, he (K) suggested an approach for Soviet
dissidents of a Marxist persuasion of pushing for democratic and socialist
reforms of the Stalinist system, some of which might be attainable and
others maybe not, but in a revolutioinary spirit. K thought that attaining
socialism in the former USSR would require a worker's revolution and could
nbot be won by a reform Communist strategy of the sort which Dubcek had
advanced and Gorbachev was to push. However, in the circumstances
advocating a maximal program would get you exiled at best and sent to a
labor camp at worst (K did time in the can for dissident politics
himself, ikncluding for writing some of the things which went into The
Thinking Reed.) So under those circumstances, he suggested that socialist
dissidents push--working independently of the CPSU--for reforms such as
revitalization of the soviets, prying the unions somewhat free from Party
control, democratic rights, including greater freedom of spedch and
association, and using the formal language of the Soviet Constitution to
press through legal means for greater worker's power. Obviously neither K
nor, hardy, anyone else, expected the reform Communist to come to power
and to axhaust their resources so quickly and utterly.

Now clearly the situation is a bit different here. We don't have to worry
about exile or the Gulag. (SCott--do you think those were good things?)
Dissidence is permitted, but marginalized. The analogy is that the system
seems stangnant but utterly stable--it's hard to see, based on where we
are just now, that the left will be in any position in the foreseeable
future (10-20 years?) to mount a threat to capitalist control of the state
and the economy. Maybe that's wrong, but that's the way it looks. In these
circumstances, we can

(a) advocate a maximalizt program, build a fighting party of underground
cadres, and carry on like the RCP, which will get us nowhere. The people
we want to reach will ignore us.

(b) go utterly reformist like DSA or indeed, from my experience, the
CPUSA, maintaining fidelity in our minds and internal writings to
socialist pieties, but in practice working to elect Democrats to defend
(they will no longer enact) the reform gains of a bygobe liberal era.


(c) We can recognize that fighting for reforms is what we can do
practivcally that will make a difference and win the respect and
attenntion of workers and other ordinary people, but do so with a
revolutiuonary aim and direction. That means, among other things,
independent political action--no truck with Democrats--and rank-and-file
labor militancy rather than hanging about with the labor bureaucracy. The
point is to fight for reforms in a way that builds an independent movement
with socialist potential, as well as to keep socialism alive as an
intellectual project rtaher than somerthing finished and accomplished in
some previous model, be it the former USSR or Sweden.

ANyway, that's what I meant by Revolutionary Reformism. I should note that
my use of this expression and the analogy on which it is based reflects my
own thinking and is not necessarily shared, and is certainly not widely
shared, bvy many of my comrades in Solidarity.

--Justin Schwartz

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