Answering Jose was Re: Replying to Brian was Re: Referendum Down Under

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Fri Nov 12 11:33:54 MST 1999

Gary MacLennan wrote:

> To conclude I suspect that what is at the heart of the disagreement between
> ourselves is the old reform-revolution duality.  I think reforms are
> important, even constitutional ones which get rid of monarchs.

I won't try to comment on the specificity of Australian politics, I don't
know enough, and I am being constantly irritated on pen-l and lbo by
by the attempts of one of Gary's compatriots to explain the specificity
of racial politics in the U.S. But I am not happy with this formulation
of Gary's.

There  is historically and at present a "reform-revolution duality," but it
is a complex one -- and reform struggles exist on both sides of the
duality. The chief though not the only marker of "reformist reforms" is
that they are offered up by the bourgeoisie for the passive acceptance
of the working class. Usually such reforms turn out to be not very
reformist even -- that is, to cite the classical formulation, they fail
rather badly to even add a kopek to a ruble.

The chief marker of "non-reformist reforms" (I avoid temporarily the
label "revolutionary reforms") is that they do at some level involve the
active participation of at least some progressive sectors of the working
class. (Beware of Greeks bearing Gifts.) Unionization is not a revolutionary
reform -- but company unions are a counter-revolutionary, even counter-
reformist, reform.

Now, as you describe the ballot on the republic it sounds at this distance
to resemble a company union. Could you comment? And one other
point -- the specific ignorance you describe happens to be on a merely
factual question. And I don't really consider non-knowledge of
particular facts as any necessary indicator of political ignorance.
Political ignorance (which of course characterizes all working classes
in periods of capitalist strength) is itself an active rather than a passive
force, and consists mostly in an active inability or refusal to recognize
what facts are relevant and what are not. Political ignorance consists
in an active identification with the enemy.

Let me illustrate what I mean from u.s. politics. In the article from
Alex Cockburn that Lou posted the other day, Cockburn explicitly
expresses his "hopes of a populist coalition of left and right on basic
issues of liberty."  Now *that* is serious political ignorance. It as much
a pipedream as Chris Burford's hopes for an alliance with progressive
elements of the big bourgeoisie and far more of a pipedream than
Doug's illusion that the admittedly derivative Butler has anything to say
about the initiating or organizing of collecive action. And it is serious
political ignorance because Cockburn asks us to pursue an alliance
with a sector of the u.s. working class which is anti-black, anti-woman,
and nationalistic. The error of Australian workers as to the content of
the referendum seems trivial in comparison.


More information about the Marxism mailing list