WHAT MAKES REFORM MOVEMENTS SO WEAK?
Compared to Egalitarian Revolutionary Movements?*
August 15, 2020
[Also related: "What's the Short Term Goal?"]
A widely held but very wrong idea is that the way to get the most support from the general public for a reform struggle is to make the aim of the struggle/movement as minimal and non-radical as possible. I call this the "Don't rock the boat" idea.
The "don't rock the boat" idea is simply false.
I will now a) explain why this idea makes no sense, and b) provide empirical evidence that this idea is not true.
Why "Don't Rock the Boat" Makes No Sense
By making the goal of a struggle/movement as minimal and non-radical as possible, one thereby tacitly accepts the class inequality nature of our society. This in turn means that one's reform demand will--obviously to everybody!--leave the billionaire ruling plutocracy in power even if it is won.
The general public is not stupid. People know that we live in a fake democracy--a dictatorship of the rich. People have enough bitter experience living in this dictatorship to know the wisdom expressed in the saying, "Be careful what you wish for!"
People know that if the rich implement a seemingly good reform, they will use their power to turn a good thing into a bad thing; they will use some combination of the following two methods to do this:
Method #1. The rich let the reform be implemented, but use it to "justify" making life worse for many people. The rich thereby pit the people whose lives are made worse against the people whose lies are improved by the reform. This destroys our solidarity and lets the rich make life worse for ALL of us.
Method #2. The rich implement the reform but in a manner that prevents it from making life better even for the people who were the supposed beneficiaries of the reform.
1. (Method #1) When the rich agree to raise the minimum wage, it helps workers who see their wage rise from the old minimum to the new minimum. But it harms workers who lose their job or who don't get hired for a job because the employer (this is especially the case with small businesses) had to hire fewer people in order to stay in business with the higher minimum wage. Workers who fear they would be in the category that is harmed by a higher minimum wage are not going to be excited about supporting a movement for a higher minimum wage.
In contrast, virtually ALL working class people would LOVE an egalitarian revolution to make the economy be based on the principle of "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need."
2. (Method #2) When workers demanded the right to form a labor union, the ruling class (in the 1930s, FDR administration) said, "OK, you can." But guess what? The ruling class made sure that the large labor unions were controlled by leaders who were essentially agents of management, not leaders of the working class. The labor unions are legal now but they act to maintain "labor peace" for the benefit of management, and only let the workers "blow off steam" now and then but never win truly substantial improvements. Please read about this in detail in Dave Stratman's "How the Labor Unions Killed the Working Class Movement."
The way today's union leaders serve management instead of the workers is by agreeing to never challenge the class inequality nature of our society, by never challenging the logic of capitalism. Capitalist logic says that if you want to keep your job then you better not make demands on the employer that prevent the employer from remaining competitive. The unions tell the workers they need to accept this logic.
In contrast, an egalitarian revolutionary movement explicitly rejects the logic of, even the existence of, class inequality (capitalism.) An egalitarian revolutionary movement aims to create an entirely different kind of economy, based on the above "From each according..." principle. By aiming for this goal, workers can demand what they want and tell management "Our goal is not to keep you rich at our expense!"
3. (Method #2) When the Civil Rights Movement fought to abolish Jim Crow, the ruling class (out of fear, as I discuss here), did abolish it. But it then right away instituted the New Jim Crow of racist prison incarceration, making life for blacks arguably worse than before. Blacks and Hispanics want a movement that aims to abolish class inequality (and all of its divide-and-rule racial discrimination), not just replace one version of it with another.
4. (Method #1 & #2) People who rent and cannot pay the rent now because of the pandemic stay-at-home rules are very rightly demanding that their rent be cancelled or at least deferred till they can start earning money again. But when small landlords hear this demand they view it as a threat because they still have to pay the bank the mortgage payments. This is why it's much better--more unifying of have-not tenants and have-not small landlords--to demand more, not less: that not only rents but mortgage payments also be cancelled (or deferred.) Otherwise the ruling class pits small landlords against tenants.
But even the demand of cancelling both rent and mortgage payments leaves the rich in power and thus enables the rich to use method #2 to make both tenants and/or small landlords suffer despite perhaps granting this demand in some fashion. How exactly the rich will do this remains for us to discover. Most people already know, however, that the only way to prevent it is by removing the rich from power.
Don't-Rock-the-Boat Reforms Fail to Get the Support of People Not Directly Affected by Them
The inherent weakness of any don't-rock-the-boat reform is that, aside from the problem that the rich will turn a good thing into a bad thing discussed above, such reforms only elicit support from a narrow part of the population, the part that will (supposedly) benefit from the reform. The rich easily take advantage of this fact to isolate a such a reform struggle/movement from the larger population and thereby prevent it from winning a substantive improvement.
When a reform struggle/movement tries to solve this problem by raising multiple don't-rock-the-boat reforms, each appealing to a different part of the population, then many people very understandably--because they know we live in a dictatorship of the rich!--dismiss the movement as hopelessly naive and foolish, or insincere. Why? Because people know that the only way to actually make things substantially better for all working class people is by removing the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor. A movement that doesn't forthrightly aim to do this will be seen as a "pie in the sky" movement undeserving of respect, never mind enthusiastic support.
Only an explicitly egalitarian revolutionary movement can gain the enthusiastic support of virtually all working class people.
Empirical Evidence that the "Don't Rock the Boat" Idea Is False
a. Watch this video of me asking random people on the street in five different neighborhoods of Boston this question:
"If an organization that was fighting for some reform that you liked announced--sincerely!--that it was also fighting to "remove the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor," would you, on hearing this announcement, support that organization more, or less?"
You will see in the video--which has zero cherry picking!--that almost all the people replied, "more." Watch it! Clearly the way to get more support from the general public is to explicitly aim for egalitarian revolution, not by keeping that aim a secret with "don't rock the boat" reform goals.
b. Look at these photos of more than 500 people, all in my zip code of 02135--proudly displaying a sign that says:
"We the People want affordable housing for all. To get it we aim to remove the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor."
I took these photos. For every person who posed for a photo there were about 5 or 6 others who also agreed with the sign but didn't want their photo taken for public viewing for one reason or another (fear, vanity, etc.) The only reason I was able to take so many such photos, all in my own zip code, is because most people agreed with the sign! Most people want an egalitarian revolution and THIS is what excites and inspires them to act more than any "don't rock the boat" demand.
c. Go here to read about how 1021 of my neighbors in the adjacent zip codes of 02134 and 02135 signed (with their street address and often email address or phone number) a statement that read:
"We the undersigned joined (or are hereby joining) the Brighton Allston Community Coalition (BACC) because its goals, including adequate affordable housing and good public transportation and an end to gentrification, are part of our larger goal: removing the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor. We hope that the BACC will declare that it also aims for this larger goal; that would make us be even more enthusiastic members of it."
I collected all of these signature and took all of these photos by asking random people in public places such as the entrance to one of the main grocery stores or drug stores. This is how I know FOR A FACT that most people would LOVE an egalitarian revolution to remove the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor.
The Moral of the Story
If we want to MAXIMIZE our support from the general public, then we need to let the general public know what we REALLY want and really aim for--egalitarian revolution. We need to say it explicitly and proudly and confidently. Most people will LOVE to hear us say it, and it will inspire them to join us with enthusiasm.
If, on the other hand, we adopt the wrongheaded "Don't rock the boat" thinking that says we should keep our egalitarian revolutionary aspiration as secret as possible, we will end up with a very weak movement. The ruling class will easily convince many people not to support us (or to do so with only minimal enthusiasm.)
The choice is ours. Let's make the right choice, the WINNING choice.
* Compared to the Spanish Revolution 1936-9 that pretty much abolished class inequality in almost half of Spain for three years, and the Palmares 17th century slave revolution that abolished class inequality for almost 100 years in a part of Brazil with a population equal to that of the contemporary Massachusetts Colony, the reform struggles/movements in the United States have indeed been very weak. How come? Read why in this article.